Welcome 2017 – Making it a year of Prayer

Happy New Year to everyone! 2017 is here and 2016 is finished. Some will be happy and hopeful and some will be sad and fearful, but one thing for certain, 2017 is here to stay.

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from posting on here for any number of reasons, but I wanted to do my annual reflection and looking forward post. During the break from writing, which corresponded to a big life change that I will get into in a moment, has been allowed me to rejuvenate my writing desires and I now have the urge to write again. So 2017 may be the year of increased writing as well as prayer (perhaps as an answer to my prayer!)

These reflection posts tend to be long, so if you can’t hang with me until the end…Happy New Year and I wish you all continued blessings in our Lord Jesus Christ in 2017.

Looking back

So let’s look back on 2016. I won’t get into the world news, the people whom have died (at least not the nationally known ones) or politics as there will be plenty of posts about all those and to be honest, I think what people fail to do so often is look back on their own personal lives and reflect on how THEY have changed personally throughout the year for better or worse.

2016 started off for me no different than 2015 was progressing. I was still working my stressful job and not really loving life. I honestly felt trapped and going nowhere. In fact I felt I was progressing backwards in my career to the point of wanting to give up on it entirely. But it is what I do and I had no where to go where I could support my family to the level that we desired. I prayed and prayed and the word I kept getting back from God was this…

Trust me Jason, just trust me.

Well that was easy to hear, but hard to process. I am not a patient person and like to take action right away, so to have God tell me to just trust him (meaning wait on Him) was very hard to take.

Fast forward to middle of summer. I’m on vacation trying to relax, but in fact vacation was more stressful than work, because I knew it was going to end and I would have to return soon enough. At that point, I had a bit of a breaking point. And God put in front of me a few different circumstances and coincidences that led me to put my application into a new company. These events all happened on one Saturday and by the end of the day I said to my wife as we headed to church,

God just put it about as clearly as he could what I was supposed to do without appearing in bodily form and smacking me upside the head.

It was clear that I was to send my application in and on that following Monday, I cleaned up my resume and sent it in. From that point everything moved quickly and only two weeks passed from that moment to the stressful Monday morning I gave my notice at my old job. Things moved smoothly and I started in my new position at the end of August. Fast forward from then until today, I couldn’t be happier at my new job. Is everything perfect, no, nothing is. But I felt God had called me to make the move and while I don’t know his complete reasoning, I’m there for a purpose and I intend to fulfill his purpose in me while I’m there.

Just as note, my unhappiness at my last job was not a reflection on the people (whom I still call friends), the work or the customers. It was me, being in a spot where God did not need me anymore. I spent 5+ years at that position and I made some relationships that will last me throughout my life. God had a purpose for me there, but when that was complete, he put me elsewhere.

That alone, knowing that I truly heard from God and had the courage to act upon it, made my 2016. I now feel that God responds to prayer, not always in my timing, but He does respond. We have to be willing to act, even though it may be uncomfortable, we have to be ready to answer his call.

Moving forward

So what is 2017 bringing and what are some of the initiatives that I am planning to move forward with?

2017 will be my year of prayer. I really want to learn prayer. I’m not talking about special prayer formulas, techniques or patterns, but really learning how to listen, talk and respond to God. I felt a taste of it last year and I want to grow further in that.

I believe that because of what Jesus did for us, we can now have a personal relationship with God. We can talk with him as if I’m talking to a close friend. I can tell Him when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry or glad. I can thank Him for all things that He’s done for me, but can also share my disappointments when things don’t turn out how I had planned.

While prayer is not the only way for God to communicate with us, it is probably the easiest to do and the most common, but yet we don’t make a priority to pray. It is said that Martin Luther used to say, he had so much work to do each day that he was going to spend the first 2-3 hours in prayer. I for one find myself so busy that I’m lucky to get in a quick “thank you” at the end of the day. But those days when I do start my day off with substantial prayer (no I’m not doing 2-3 hours, but even 5 to 10 minutes is a much bigger improvement than what I’m used to doing), my day goes so much smoother, or at least when the rough spots hit during the day, I can feel the presence of God with me because I included him and made my relationship with Him a priority.

My second initiative will be to more diligently follow the “motto” our church has had for years,

We are blessed to be a blessing

However God blesses us, whether financially, spiritually, time or just through compassion, we are called to use a portion of what he blesses us with to further bless others.

More often than not, those blessings, if even small, multiply when we do it out of love. That small smile you may share with a stranger, could pay huge dividends down the road when that stranger shares smiles with everyone he meets, because of your kindness.

To see your blessings grow, you must sow them. So this year, I plan to do more blessing. God has blessed me immensely in 2016, I want to see that multiply. What I won’t do on this blog or anywhere else really, is brag about how I’ve blessed people. That would make it about me, where I want the glory to be on God. I want to do most of it perhaps even in secret.

We recently went to a restaurant for dinner, where my wife and I felt God was calling us to leave a larger than normal tip for the waitress. I don’t know what her need was, but we both felt the calling. So we responded, added the large tip to the bill and left. This isn’t a restaurant we frequent too often so the chances of anyone remembering us is very slim and while my curiosity is such that I would love to know why God led us to do so, I just trust in Him that he used it to fulfill and immediate need and that the dividends will be paid from that. God is faithful in that.

So to help us with that, at least in the area of financial blessings, we’ve started what I call a blessing jar. We have a jar in our home where all of us will throw in some money each week or month or paycheck. This will grow throughout the year so that whenever any of us feel the calling to bless someone in someway financially we can. God has provided us with much, so we are going to set a bit above and beyond our normal giving to help those random people.

The amount of money we set aside is not really important and I’ve told my kids if they feel like throwing in $20 dollars or just $1 at a given time, that is OK. The jar will act as a reminder to us of what God has provided and that we need to be sure we are giving back. Yes the Bible talks about giving a tithe to our church and we strive to do so, but those random acts of kindness are so important that I want to emphasize that in 2017 for us.

Wrap up – finally you may be saying

So I wrap up this reflection post. Usually I like to give a listing of my favorite posts of the year, but this year I won’t. This year, I want to end my post with one of my favorite Bible verses and a wish for everyone to dive into God’s word more. If anything I post does nothing more than lead you to his Word, then I feel I’ve done my job and the rest of the writing is just fluff. So God bless you all and wishing you all a blessed and Happy New Year!

You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.
-Psalm 30: 11-12

Egg Shells in the Cake Batter

My youngest son loves to help my wife cook. From his youngest days, he would ask to help. I can remember my wife patiently helping him along as he delighted in helping in some small way. One day, while my wife is making a cake, my son comes up and wants to cracks the eggs. Despite knowing the potential for a mess, my wife delights in letting him help her. Needless to say, taking a bite into the cake after it was finished, revealed an egg shell that was missed.

My wife didn’t need my son to help her make the cake. She delighted in him, just him wanting to help. To show an interest in what she is doing. Not for the work that was done, but for the heart that they had to do it all along. Now that he has expressed interest and willingness to help, we have encouraged him in this and have given him something that he enjoys doing.

That’s the way that God views us doing work in His kingdom. He doesn’t need us to do anymore than my wife needed my son’s help. But God delights in us helping Him, despite the mess we may leave behind, or the imperfect result of our work. And when we do it with the heart like my son had with my wife, God delights in us doing this work and will give us a passion for more. When we understand this, we can may just begin to understand the reason for the passions that God has give us in this life. We can use those passions to further His kingdom, not so we can accomplish things (because remember, He doesn’t need us to help), but so he can delight in us and our willingness to help.

We can also begin to fully understand humility. We don’t do things for God’s kingdom because he needs us to, but because it builds us up…it adds to us. Read what Craig Gross has to say in his book Go Small,

Here’s another aspect of humility we can draw from Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark: an understanding that our acts of service are all about Him and have nothing to do with us. What do I mean? I mean simply: God doesn’t need your ministry idea.

His plans aren’t going to come crumbling down if you don’t do your thing.

God’s kingdom is not contingent on you. Or me. Or any of us.

Does he use our works? Absolutely.

Does God want us to partner with Him in bringing about His plans and purposes for this world and all the individual people in it? You better believe it.

Does Jesus need you to do your part? No way.

Everything we do for God in our ministry is something that God could’ve done with us. He doesn’t need us… We need him!

My wife allowing my son to help her, helped build his passion and make him a better young man, she didn’t need him, in fact he needed her.

Thankfully God allows us to help Him in his work. God has given us passions and gifts. Start using them for Him, not so we can do something, but so He can delight in us!

Great is thy Faithfulness

I remember attending church as a child, the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness was always a popular hymn on any given Sunday. I never gave it much thought though until the other night, I awoke in the middle of the night with that phrase running over and over in my head. I couldn’t fall back asleep and still for the next 4 hours as I lay there, that phrase ran continuously in my head.

I wasn’t sure what God was trying to tell me, other than the obvious…but I wasn’t sure why. Throughout the following day, even though very tired from little sleep, I felt a peace come over me and a weight lifted off my shoulders. I realized then, that the burden that was on my heart at the time, was consuming and in his faithfulness, he lifted it and took the burden onto himself. I needed to only trust him.

I took the time to learn a little more about the song and found that it was based on Lamentations 3:23.

Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. -Lamentations 3:23

The study Bible I was using referenced another verse, Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last though the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Very interesting since the night as I was awake I felt very much at unease, but then morning came and the peace came upon me. Reminds me of another song:

 


 

I love when God works in my life and I can look back and see how he moved, even though it wasn’t obvious at the time.

Roaring like a lion

10407257_897267393625805_2613389422715980229_nThis past week has been a lesson in the meaning of this Christmas season and a show of the love of Christ.  Near a small town 30 minutes from my home, there is a small village instead another.  One made of tents and inhabited by those that are living on the margins of society.  God led my brother-in-law to visit them a week ago and opened his heart and many others of us, his family and friends, to open their hearts to the needs of these people.  Within a week, they went from wondering how to survive a winter, to having firewood, propane, clothes, blankets and fresh water….enough to last the winter and beyond.  My wife and I were able to give something of ourselves, some of the blessings that God bestowed on us, we were able to share with these kind people.

This week culminated in a Christmas party thrown in honor of the people of tent-city and in celebration of the birth of our savior.  While not everyone from tent-city attended a few did and were a blessing to all of us in attendance.

Let me quote one of the tent-city residents who expressed thanks to my brother-in-law and his family:

that day before you appeared into my life i contemplated and kept asking myself what am i good for. i do not have my babies and i am slowly dying. but dam i am in tears when i type this . dean you made me feel like a person and not some worthless piece of trash that will neve be anything.     ……   i just hope one day i can be back with my children and happy but dam i do not know how you done it but you saved my life the day you came down and for that thank you. so again . . i am happy and confident once again like i was prior to this situation.

The lives of my sister, my brother-in-law and all of us involved have been changed for all time with a prompting from God answered by a single person.

While thinking about the lives changed, I was listening to the song God’s Not Dead by the Newsboys and these lyrics jumped out at me.

Let love explode and bring the dead to life
A love so bold to see a revolution somehow.

God let his love explode and miracles happened.  His love flowed out and the blind could see, the crippled could walk again, and the dead rose from the grave.  With a simple act of love Jesus did all these things.   And by using us sinners, Jesus let his love flow and help these kind people living in tents in the cold.  None of these things would be possible without the love of Christ.

I feel emboldened now by the meaning of this time of year.  These events have helped me understand where God was leading me when I decided to live my life with abandon.

Now I’m lost in your freedom
In this world I’ll overcome.

Now the love of Christ has freed me to become who he has wanted me to be.  Based on the events of this past week, it’s been proven we can all loudly proclaim the chorus to that song.

My God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion

lion-roar-roaring-teeth-mad-angry-

While we were sinners, Christ STILL died for us.

jesus-with-sinnersA favorite verse of mine is:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  – Romans 5:8

Notice what isn’t said in that verse.  It doesn’t mention that Christ died only for the clean or the healthy, it doesn’t mention that he died only for the good looking people.  It doesn’t mention that he died for just those that have a job and live in a nice house.  He DID die for those people AS WELL as all the others on the margin of society.  He died for everyone.  Why?  Because we are all sinners.  I am, you are, the person living in a mansion is, the person living under a bridge is.  We are all sinners.

Given that….why do we not translate that to our own lives?  Do we want to only associate with those that are well off?  Do we only want to be seen around those that are clean and come from a good home?  Are we only to be seen around those that are considered “wholesome”?

Let’s look at these verses from Mark 2.

That night Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. – Mark 2:15

Levi, a tax collector (tax collectors were not held in high esteem back then, maybe much like today) invites Jesus to a party that is also being attended by many others, including some pretty awful sinners.  There were probably thieves, murderers, prostitutes and other unsavory people there as well as just normal hardworking, honest people.  But then look at what the religious leaders say;

But when some of the teachers of religious law who were the Pharisees saw him eating with people like that , they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’  – Mark 2:16

See back then, the Pharisees and others who thought themselves “clean” didn’t want to be associated or seen with such people.  I think we often have much the same problem as today, not so much with the religious leaders, but with people in general.  I’ve seen a situation recently where some people invited some homeless people to a Christmas gathering, some of those people may even have had an unsavory past, but now they are just homeless, struggling to survive in freezing temperatures.  These people were invited, and then some friends and neighbors expressed concerns and stressed that those types weren’t welcome.  I have to think that sounds like something the Pharisees may have been thinking here in Mark 2.  “Why are those type of people hanging around Jesus?” or more likely, “Why did Jesus invite those type of people?”

But let’s see how Jesus responds,

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.  I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” – Mark 2:17

Well there ya go, Jesus for those that needed him.  Can we be more like Jesus and help those that need help?    Are we blessed so we can be a blessing to others?  God often uses those on the margins, the insignificant to do great things.  Do we walk by them without offering even a smile?

Christ died for us, even though we were sinners and didn’t deserve his love for us.  But he loved us anyway.  It’s the least we can do, love someone that no one else will.

 

Do Something Amazing in Your Day

The Lord replied, ‘Look at the nations and be amazed!  Watch and be astounded at what I will do!  For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.’  -Habakkuk 1:5

These words were spoken to the prophet Habakkuk when he cried out to God wondering where he was in his day and his world, which was filled with violence and corruption.  God responded with these words, “Watch and be astounded at what I will do!”  Isn’t that an amazing statement?  I can picture God sitting on his throne saying, “Just wait and see….this is gonna be cool!”

While I am striving to live with abandon, I am presented with so many opportunities to do amazing things.  I believe that God puts before us each day, situations where we have the opportunity to be a blessing to someone, to do something amazing in the name of Christ.  Something that will be glory to His name.  God is moving, he’s not waiting around seeing what we will do, but we are part of his plan.  I want to look for those opportunities that come before me each day.  Say a kind word to someone, help someone with something they are struggling with, pray for someone, work hard and cheerfully at something that is not fun.  I plan on doing something amazing in my day.

God is in charge and he has a plan.  Even when we in the midst of trouble and God seems silent and distant, he is moving.  His plan is in motion.  Just watch and you’ll be amazed at what God will do.  This is gonna be cool!

You Can’t Take Prayer Out of School

A hot topic around the country is the thought that they government are taking prayer out of the schools.  Let me make a bold statement right here at the top of this post…… No one can ever take prayer out of school.

What do I mean by that?  As long as there are students in school, there can be prayer.  As long as there are parents then send their kids to school, there can be prayer.   As long as there are Christian teachers and administrators, there can be prayer.  Prayer is nothing more than praising God and lifting our thoughts, if  not our voices, up to God in praise, thanksgiving and supplication.  Nothing, not the government, not the administration, not some leftist group, no nothing can stop you from doing that.

I can’t take credit for this thought.   No, I was up until last night one of those that thought it was awful what our schools have become in many ways.  Places devoid of God, but full of worship for self.   A place where tolerance and diversity is taught and encouraged, unless it involved Christianity.  But last night, I had my eyes opened at our church service.   Our former lead pastor, Greg Nettle (now president of Stadia), came back to speak to the congregation on what Stadia has been doing and the lives they (and we) are impacting around the world.  During the talk, he mentioned three very practical things we could do to help spread the good news of Jesus.

  1. Disciple our own children.
  2. Disciple the children of our church.
  3. Disciple the children of the world.

As part of the expansion on #1, disciplining our own children, he mentioned that prayer could never be taken out of the schools and I felt led right then to write this post.

So let me throw out some specific ways that we can be sure that prayer can never be taken out of the schools?

Pray for your children.   Pray for them when the leave to get on the bus, or when you drop them off at the school doors.  Pray that they learn what is taught, but not be influenced by the unwholesome lessons that come in and out of the classroom.  Pray while they are at school throughout the day that they are healthy, that they are happy, that they can be a positive influence on others.  That other children can look at your children and see Jesus.   Pray at sporting events, band concerts or whatever activities your children participate in for the safety and health of all the participants and fans.

Pray for the teachers and administration.  Pray that the teachers can share a positive influence on the children.  Teachers have a very powerful pulpit that they are on every day, let them realize the importance of their role and that they should take it seriously.  Prayer that the children can see Jesus in the teachers.

Pray for the bus drivers.  Many of us, every day, place the most precious gifts that God has ever given us on a big yellow vehicle and send them off without another thought.  Let’s pray for the bus drivers for their safety, health and attentiveness to their jobs.  Pray for the bus mechanics that keep the buses running and for those other drivers on the roads to take extra caution around the school bus and around the school itself.

Pray for ourselves as parents.  We as parents are the most influential teachers our children will ever have as I believe that most of the education that children receive, happens right at home.  That we are the primary teachers of our children and the schools help us with that education.  When we pray for ourselves to be the best parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles or whatever the situation may be, but pray for yourself, that you can be a positive influence on your children and they can see Jesus in you.

Teach our children to pray.  When we teach our children to pray, we are teaching them to be a blessing to others.  Teach them to pray for their teachers, for their friends, for that kid that sits behind them in science class that perhaps comes from a bad home, or is always getting in trouble.  Teach them to pray for their friends who are in a bad relationship or are experimenting with drugs.  Teach them to pray for others, so that others can see Jesus in them.

Prayer is a powerful tool that we have, whether it’s spoken out loud or just lifted up silently, we have the power of the Holy Spirit at our disposal and the ear of God himself.  With that, no one can ever take prayer out of the schools.