ONE month. ONE reason. ONE offering. ONE name. Jesus

Are you worth following?

Are you worth following?

Leaders, those following us will replicate what we demonstrate. Yeah you can tweet that- it’s not an original idea from me, but I’ve been thinking about that statement this week. Jayme Montera challenged us in a meeting recently with this idea and it has stuck with me. Our students and those following us will follow our lead, and it’s so important for us to be leading them towards Jesus in all we do.

In 1 Kings 17, Elijah is sent by God to the widow at Zarephath. We are never given her name, but there are a few things that stand out to me. Israel had its fair share of widows- yet God did not send Elijah to them; he was sent to a widow from another country. God was no respecter of persons- His heart was and always has been broken for those who are far from Him, wherever they may be. This widow was not a follower of God at the time Elijah’s story and her story collide. It seems as though she knew about God and we can speculate about her spiritual state but I don’t want to delve into semantics. What speaks to me from this passage is the way her language changes from the time she meets Elijah to what would seem to be the end of their story together at the end of the chapter. In verse 12, she declares “as surely as the Lord YOUR God lives..” and at the end of the chapter she states that she fully trusts that Elijah is a man of God and the words coming from his mouth are from God. We don’t know all that God spoke to Elijah during this time. We don’t know what life looked like exactly over this season- except that God provided food each and every day for the widow, her son, and Elijah. Somewhere during the course of this story the example Elijah demonstrated for her alongside God’s provision allowed her to see that the God of Elijah was the one, true God. 

My question and challenge for you today: who are you demonstrating the love and hope of Jesus for this week? Who is observing you that will be able to say, “Hey, because of the example of God’s love you’ve shown me, He’s my Savior as well?” Let me take it a step further- I’m not simply asking about the students, adults, or others you are leading from the platform- outside of church, who are you demonstrating the love of Jesus to on a consistent basis? Our students and others following us will replicate what we demonstrate. If personal evangelism is important (and it is crucial), they’re only going as far as we’re leading them. Who are you leading? Where are you loving? Let this be a call to action if need be. Our communities need Jesus. If we’re not setting the example, what do those around us have to follow? My prayer this week is that we will be intentional about pointing others to Jesus, like Elijah demonstrated, and give those following us something worth replicating.

Stuck in the Valley

Stuck in the Valley

I hate being stuck- especially if it’s not a place I want to be. Patience is not one of my strongest virtues, and when I’m in a place longer than I think I should be, I start to get antsy. When I was in college, there was this traffic light that wasn’t on a timer- it ran the same pattern whether it was noon or 2 am. I had just gotten off work and was tired, frustrated, and ready to get home. I watched as the light turned while I was just a bit away, so I decided to find a work-around as to not have to wait for what seemed like an eternity. As I pulled through and prepared to make a U-turn, I felt a smirk cross my face…just as I got rear-ended. It was not my proudest moment or greatest story, but as I sit back and think about it, there’s so much I can pull from it. 

I wonder what thoughts must have gone through Elijah’s mind as he sat in the Kerith Ravine in his story recorded in 1 Kings 17. As I studied this passage, several commentaries spoke of his time in this valley. It is likely that he spent 1 year or more in hiding in this valley, and I have to imagine that at some point he got bored, restless, and ready to take off...but He stayed- and God provided miraculously. God used ravens- some of the meanest creatures on earth- to provide food for him everyday. But if Elijah had not waited and spent this time learning how close God was and being willing and able to trust God with everything, he wouldn't have been prepared for the opportunities to come. God would do incredible exploits through Elijah, but He had to take Elijah a different route to prepare him for what was to come. 

It wasn’t a clear shot from one point to the next- in fact, God sent him way out of his way before he would bring Elijah back for the showdown. But it was all part of the process. God had great plans to use Elijah, but before he could be on top of Mt Carmel, Elijah had to spend some time in the valley.

The process in the valley is part of His plan to shape you into the person, leader, or pastor God has created you to be.

I still don’t like waiting at stoplights. Since I’ve experience what could go wrong when I try and take things into my own hands, I’ve decided to try and be a little more patient. May you find peace for your soul this weekend as God continues to shape you through your times in the valley. He has something in the works to do in and through you- but it might mean spending a little more time “stuck” than you anticipated.

Kings, Wisdom, & the Heart of the Matter

Kings, Wisdom, & the Heart of the Matter

I’ve been reading through 1 Kings this week and I’m always fascinated by the lives and decisions of some of the first kings of Israel. As I was reading about Solomon this week, I started to process through a few things and evaluate my own life because of it.

One thing in particular that stood out was the fact that Solomon met with God. He asked God for wisdom, and God gave it in abundance, as well as riches and anything else it seems he could want or need. Not only did he encounter God that time, but He had direct contact with Him again later in his life. But then as he got older, it seemed he went from being wiser to making horrible decisions. Solomon had heard from God and knew what he should or shouldn’t do. And yet he married women from other nations that turned his heart from God- even after all the warnings. To make it worse, he had altars and temples set up for their gods throughout the land.

It’s hard for me to read this and not think, “How dumb can you be?” You met with God, Solomon. He gave you the desires of your heart! And you did THIS? And just as soon as those words pass through my mind, I felt God gently speak to my heart. “Parker, you’ve spent time in my presence. You’ve heard me lead you. And you might not have put up idols or temples, but what about the things you allow to pull you away from me? I have given you instruction and you’ve made choices to do the opposite. And I still love you. I still pursue you.”

To be clear, I haven’t heard His audible voice…but I long for that day. How many of us have spent time with God and felt Him leading and guiding us? Have you allowed other things or ideas to pull you away from where He is leading you? How easy is it for us to get frustrated with other students or leaders that “should know better?” There is a time for correction and a time to instruct. There is also a need for love, a time to walk beside some of those closest to us and let them know we love them and are for them, even in the midst of some of their decisions. Jesus said in John 13:35, “Everyone will know you as my followers if you demonstrate your love to others.”

Make no mistake, correction and guidance is needed as we see those we have influence with straying away. But more important than our self-righteous indignation is the love with which we correct and instruct. This week, I choose to love. I want to known by others as a follower of Jesus by the way I love, not simply the way I speak. May you be encouraged this week to realize we are all fallible- and yet He still chooses to love and pursue us. Let your life reflect this as well.

Dealing with Disappointment.

Dealing with Disappointment.

I am processing through this past weekend and I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty low. It is not one person or one event- it’s actually the culmination of several things, both personal and ministry related. On Saturday, I found myself frustrated and, in a sense, my feelings were hurt. I don’t like feeling this way, and I try and put on a smile no matter what is happening. But I sat there staring out the window wondering what I had done wrong and how this could have happened. The week had started out great and everything pointed to it ending well…I was excited and expecting a great weekend. And in a matter of a few hours, that euphoric feeling was gone and replaced by doubt and disillusionment. I thought it was going to be better. I had planned well, communicated with everyone involved, and I felt like all the bases were covered. But as I sat there on Saturday, nothing went as planned. 

So how do we get over something like that? Maybe it was a failed event- you planned for 150 and 15 showed up- or a failed diet plan…whatever the case, we’ve all had to deal with disappointing results. So what do we do when things don't go as planned? How do we get out of the dumps when we’ve been sitting there for a while? I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few things I am working through as it relates to events, and maybe they can help you too. 

First, especially in the wake of an event, you need to separate your feelings from the event. It is easy to take these things personally and feel like this was an attack on you, but more than likely it was not. Next, process through this with someone. You are always your worst critic. Maybe you could have done better but you will always beat yourself up alone. Steven Furtick (www.stevenfurtick.com) , in his book “Crash the Chatterbox,” quoted research showing that the average person has 60,000 thoughts a day, and typically 80% of those are negative. The enemy wants to do everything possible to derail you both personally and professionally, and many times it begins in the mind. As long as you allow your thoughts and plans to stay in your mind, you will continue to beat yourself up. Let someone or a select group of people you trust talk through it with you. 

Evaluate the planning and schedule: Was it the best night? Did we promote it well? Was there any conflicting event scheduled? 

After you have evaluated that information, truthfully, how did the event go? It might not have met your expectations, but that doesn’t mean it was a total loss. What can you celebrate? Is there any momentum we can build on? In what ways did we win? Maybe you were hoping for a big crowd and it didn’t meet expectations, but was it a total loss or did Jesus receive glory through the event? We can always find the negative if we are looking for it, but we need to be able to celebrate the wins as well.

It is easy for me to get so focused on results and take each high and low personally. I enjoy reading through Psalms because I feel like it shows that David- King, man after God’s own heart- was a real guy. He had great moments and moments of defeat, spiritual highs and lows, and through it all he found what has been the key response for me: worship. I can’t stay focused on my feelings or my hurt, when I turn my attention and focus to Jesus. 

Does it take care of all the hurt? Does it erase the sting? I will always deal with the doubt and the words the enemy speaks into my mind to discourage me, but the moment I turn my attention to Jesus and the grace He has lavished on me, my discouragement and doubt are pushed aside. So as I fight my own feelings of disappointment and insecurity from this weekend, I will rest in His ability to breath life into me and cover everything I say and do. 

Don’t dwell on the past. There is nothing you or I can do to change it. As David wrote in Psalm 30:5- “The deepest pains may linger through the night, but joy greets the soul with the smile of morning.”

May you find the same strength and grace to cover you on the journey this week.

I'm in pain!

I'm in pain!

I’m in pain!

Yesterday I went for a run. Running is one of my favorite ways to exercise and to clear my head and allow my creative juices to flow. There’s just something about it when I’m on the road, or some path, and it’s just me and what I can do with the strength I can muster. I ran the route I have been running for the last several months, but yesterday was the first time I had run in several weeks. From snow covered roads and sidewalks to a jacked up back from shoveling the aforementioned snow, I hadn't made it out in a bit. The weather cleared up yesterday and I felt like it was time. I took off like usual, stretched and got on the road. As I got back to the house after hitting the distance I was going for, I was relieved to be finishing up. My time was a little slower than I had been running a few weeks ago, and I was feeling the twinges of some pain in my body. 

This morning I woke up with some tight muscles and after rolling out of bed, the pain of my run from yesterday hit me. It was worth it and it was necessary, but my body was screaming at me when I woke up this morning. I thought about it some as I hobbled home yesterday afternoon. My form wasn’t pretty- I was just trying to get home. As I thought through this, I realized that so many times when I consider passages of Scripture like Philippians 3:12-14 about pressing on towards the goal, I have this surreal idea in my head about what that means. 

It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal or have already completed the course. But I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, I can’t consider myself a winner yet. This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and  I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

In my mind, I always see this as a race where everyone has it together, runners have been training for months and years, and everything is just this perfect picture of an Olympic race. But as I ran yesterday and saw my finish line for the day, I was in some pain, I was tired, and I was ready to give in. It wasn’t pretty. I felt like God spoke to my heart and said, “Parker, this race you’re in right now- it’s not pretty. There are gonna be days that you get banged up, days when you are tired and want to quit, days when you are ready to throw in the towel. Don’t give up.” It’s not about how pretty you are or if everything is in just the right place when you cross the finish line. What matters is that you finish. 

You might be tired today. You might be ready to give up. Maybe you feel like you don’t have it together. It’s okay. The most important thing for you to realize today is that Jesus isn’t looking at what you’re wearing, how great your form is, or if somebody is doing better than you. What does matter to Him is that, in the midst of the struggle, you realize He is all you need. He is cheering you on today! Don’t give up because it gets tough. If you have to limp a little to get across the line, do it- don’t quit. You keep moving to take a hold of the prize that God offers to you today through Christ Jesus.

New Year, New Season

I can honestly say I am ready for the snow to be gone. After so many years living on the East Coast where we rarely saw snow and living overseas as a missionary kid and a missionary after college, I’m not made for this cold weather. I realize that some places saw more snow than we did, but it’s more than enough for me. One thing I have learned in West Texas: if you don’t like the weather one day, just wait- it will change.

Change is a major theme at the beginning of the year. We want to be better, we want to do better, and we want the best in everything we do. There are definitely some areas I could do better in, and things I want to be better in, but I wonder at times if our discontentment is rooted more in our wants and desires than in what God is wanting for us. Don’t get me wrong- we all have areas to work on, but I think we get uncomfortable in seasons that we find ourselves in and the easiest thing for us to do is change what we’re doing so we don’t have to deal with it anymore. 

Our society seems to embody this. Don’t like your job? Quit! Don’t want to be married anymore? Divorce! Want a better car, house, etc? Debt! All around us, people are trying to find ways to get more and better stuff, but at what cost? Again, it’s easy for my thoughts to be misconstrued and think, “He just wants us to be miserable.” But that’s not the case. There are areas I plan on changing and growing in my own life this year. There are plenty of ways in which I would rather be comfortable than to be disciplined. 

Ecclesiastes 3 is a well known chapter on “for every season, it’s time.” If you haven’t read it recently, as you’re making your resolutions for this year, I would encourage you to do so. There is a season for everything we go through. There are times for things to grow and for things to die- the important thing is understanding what stage you are in right now. I remember talking with my mom a few years ago. I was discouraged because I wanted to change what I was doing and I was whining to her about it. Her words have stuck with me ever since. “Parker, God is not going to move you into another season until He sees that you’ve grown and learned what’s necessary from this one. Grow where you’re planted, and He’ll take care of the rest.” I didn’t want to hear it, but she was right. 

Discomfort many times is when we are open to hear from God. Some people are looking for a change because they want to be comfortable. Don’t fall into this trap this year. You will find yourself uncomfortable soon enough, and if you can’t grow and learn here, it won’t happen somewhere else. In the midst of the season you find yourself in, Godmay be trying to guide and lead you. Trust Him in the process. Don’t get too focused on what’s next that you miss what He wants to do in the here and now. He is good and He wants the best for you according to John 10:10. 

As you walk into 2016, evaluate your current season. Make sure your itch to change is based more in what you sense God wants for you than in your own comfort. Trust Him. He can speak to any storm you are in and bring peace. He has done it before, and can do it again.