“Just one letter, because i’m one of a kind.”

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I had to drive someplace I didn’t want to go today, to do something I didn’t want to do. It really wasn’t a big deal – but it was an interruption…an inconvenience. But I needed to cross it off my to-do list for today, so I did it. And i’m thankful God ‘interrupts’ our schedules to teach us and give us gentle reminders of who he is and what we’re here for.

I exited the interstate & a red light stopped me in an area of town that would normally remind me to check the locks on my doors. (seriously, thats what I do…don’t pretend you don’t.) In the median was a man standing up straight & sporting a giant, bright white smile on a face that showed obvious signs of living through difficult years. I had a couple dollars with me for a change, so instead of locking my doors I rolled down the window. He was selling Epoch, the newspaper homeless people are allowed to sell on corners so they aren’t considered “panhandlers” with the current laws in Tampa. I didn’t want a newspaper, but he insisted. He couldn’t take my money if I didn’t take a paper. I shook his hand and asked his name.. “J” he said. “Just one letter because i’m one of a kind” – and there was that giant smile again. Like seriously, bright – white – huge smile. Joy radiated from his face.

J: J…just one letter because i’m one of a kind.
Me: I’m sure you are. How’s your day going today, J?
J: I woke up this morning, so i’m blessed. I can stand and walk and talk and the Lord is good. Some people can’t see the good in life. They give up, they think things will never get better, and then for sure it won’t. Gotta keep going, gotta keep waking up. Look around, it’s so beautiful. That’s from Jesus. He’s right here with us. You’re beautiful, the Lord is with you, keep waking up and knowing that.

Light turns green.

Oh, how I wish J could talk to every person at that red light! I’ve never wanted a red light to be longer. I could have missed that conversation. I could have missed it because I didn’t want to be interrupted by someone who needed a dollar, because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced by stopping at a red light, because I didn’t want to be uncomfortable by rolling down my window instead of playing with my phone or the radio. But – so much I would have missed.

My $2 most likely isn’t going to do anything to change J’s life. But God used him today to change mine – again. To remind me of our call, our purpose, our love, our focus as followers of Jesus. None of us can save the world. Problems like the poor, homeless, orphans, etc are so huge that its easy for us to feel overwhelmed and just not do anything. But for followers of Jesus, He gave us the example to follow.

During this drive, I was also avoiding a phone call I needed to make, so I turned on the radio instead. I caught the very end of a sermon about Jesus’ encounter with the bleeding woman who touched his robe, and the story of Jairus’ daughter. Jesus was a busy guy, right? He was on his way to heal a girl that was sick…but a woman touched his robe and he stopped. He could have been distracted by thinking about what’s next and where he had to be and kept on walking. But He didn’t. He stopped. He found her, the one who needed healing. He spoke to her, healed her, restored her, gave her new life. She was a priority, not an interruption.  He focused on one person. Because one person matters. Every person matters. There were crowds of people following Jesus, but in that moment – he stopped everything for her.
Of course in the meantime, the little girl he was on his way to heal…died. But we all know the story, right? Jesus arrives on the scene, and by the power of God alone, she is brought back to life. A bigger miracle than anyone expected.

So today i’m challenged again to pay attention to the people that God brings in my path. To not get so busy with where i’m headed or what’s on my to-do list that I don’t see the one God wants me to stop for. Our lives are all about people. They are intertwined in ways we could never even imagine.

Today, i’m thankful for J. And i’m thankful that Jesus brought people into my life over the years who stopped for me, who loved me, helped me as a priority and not an interruption, and who took the time to take care of me – in the midst of their busy lives, families and ministries.

Who is the ONE that God wants you to stop for today?
Who has he brought across your path and what are you doing about it?
He stopped. He cared. So should we.

I heart road trips.

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Knowing this weekend was coming for months, I packed my bags at the last minute as usual. That one pair of jeans still in the dryer…that confirmation that needed printing…not forgetting the dog at home alone…packing up the road trip snacks…a stop for gas and coffee…googling the hotel from a phone for  the address…this is just how road trips are.

I went to a conference in Orlando with a few friends this week. Pretty close to home and we’ve all been to Orlando countless times, but never to this hotel. My friend put the address into our trusty GPS and we had all the confidence in the world it would take us to our destination. And it did, thank you Verizon navigation.

Am I the only person that gets annoyed that although we know the GPS will take us where we need to go – it only reveals one step at a time? I get anxious when the GPS tells me to travel on I75N and then doesn’t talk again for miles. I know if I keep going, it will alert me when necessary – but that doesn’t stop my from checking frequently to make sure it hasn’t turned off. On this trip, I told my friend how much it makes me nervous when I’m in a new place and gps tells me to get off on Exit 83 but doesn’t tell me the next step. Right lane, left lane, how quick do I have to turn, what street name am I looking for… but that doesn’t come right away. I have to take Exit 38 and THEN she will tell me my next move. Always clear and always in time.

God used that short road trip this week to teach me again a simple truth of a familiar verse that we all know and probably have memorized:  

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Psalm 119:105

A lamp illuminates where our feet are placed right now.
A light for our path gives us direction as we take steps forward.

Most often, a light only shows a few steps ahead of us. It gives us just enough visibility to firmly plant our feet on solid ground, so we don’t trip, don’t step on anything that can bite, and don’t stray from the path and get lost in the woods.  Paths twist and turn, they go up hills and down valleys…there’s no way a light can show us all the way to the end in one glance. But it will give us confidence to keep on walking.

God’s Word gives us purpose and comfort and instruction for where we are.
God’s Word gives us direction and hope and preparation for where we are going.

I want to see the big picture. I want to see the next few miles, but God want us to trust Him…and take one step at a time as He leads. He ALWAYS gives us enough light to take the steps He’s already told us to take. And after we take that one, there will be another, then another, then another. Trusting is walking forward, when we still aren’t sure of the destination, but have an unfailing confidence in the Light.

Oh yes, sometimes there are missed exits – we got distracted, didn’t hear clearly, or had to make a pitstop. Uturns. Rest stops. Back roads. But with some “recalculating” we will still get there. Always in time.  And the journey will be worth it. 

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love your neighbor [feliz ano nuevo!]

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 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”  The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”   – Luke 1:25-28

Love your neighbor.

Today, love looked like sidewalk chalk, a football and the biggest bottle of bubbles I could find.

And today, my neighbor happened to be a quick drive down I-75…just past the gated communities lined with Christmas lit palm trees and perfectly manicured lawns…one street beyond where wealthy snowbirds spend their winters poolside & on the golf course…down a rocky road to a small migrant community called La Estancia.

Two years ago, I was invited to a Christmas event here where the children could pick out brand new or slightly used toy while their parents “shopped” through piles of donated used clothing & shoes and were given a grocery bag with rice, beans & masa flour. Families were lined up for at least an hour, and some 2-3 hours. When I left that day, God stirred in me a desire to go back and see how that community could be served and loved. We started coming up with ideas, but time passed and I allowed life to get in the way and it was pushed to the back burner. Two weeks ago, I again attended the same Christmas event. I was again amazed that a tiny piece of candy, or a discarded happy meal toy could bring such a huge smile to a child’s face.  I was again disturbed that while some of us have piles and piles of wrapped gifts under a tree on Christmas morning, others would stand in a line outside in the sun all morning for the chance of picking out ONE toy and receiving ONE bag of rice, beans & flour. This isn’t in a foreign country on the other side of the world, this is right here – our neighbors.

I talked with the director of La Estancia and she explained that other than the annual Christmas party, nobody from the outside ever comes into this community. They used to have a church that came for one week in the summer and did a Vacation Bible School with the kids, but that has not happened in several years. She said the need was great and was excited about the idea of having people who cared about this little community. The kids have at least one parent, they have a roof over their heads and clothes to wear. But, with so many hardworking parents and so many siblings in some of the families, it is easy to see that there is a huge need for love and attention. Every child deserves to feel special and needs to know they matter and that they are loved. Well, that happens to be our specialty. So this morning we packed up the car and went to visit our neighbors –  spending a couple free hours beginning a relationship that will hopefully continue and grow in the future.

It was fun to hear “wow” as we approached the playground blowing bubbles.
It was fun to hear a mom who doesn’t speak english read out loud  “Jesus loves me” from a picture on the sidewalk.
It was fun to hear the giggles & squeals from a piggyback ride.
It was fun to hear Reyna, a 5 year old in kindergarten tell me in her own broken english “I have 5 years”.

Love your neighbor means love your neighbor…no strings attached, no agendas, no expectations.

I heard someone speak this week that said:  “I’m commanded by Jesus to love my neighbor as myself, and I know myself doesn’t want to be starving – so I choose to feed the hungry, myself doesn’t want to be homeless, lost or alone – so I choose to take care of the people God brings into my life.”

Love your neighbor.
Be salt.
Be light.
Go.
Give.
Serve.
Help.
Care.

the devil made me do it! (um, not really…you made your own choice)

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I started reading through Matthew last week and I’ve been excited each day how God continues to use His living & active word in new ways – even as I read pages i’ve read over & over again.

Temptation is a crazy thing.
We all have different areas of our lives where we’re tempted…different struggles, different habits, different weaknesses.

BUT, whatever it is that you struggle with in the millions of possibilities  – we are ALL tempted by the same thing.
The same thing Jesus was tempted by.
Do you believe God, or not?

-Matthew 4:3-4 Jesus was tempted to question who he was, where he came from ,what his purpose was.
(tempted to not believe God)
– Matthew 4:6-7 Jesus was tempted to doubt the Word. Twisted the truth.
(tempted to not believe God)
– Matthew 4:8-10 Jesus was tempted to follow Satan, or anything else above God.
(tempted to not believe God)

Before Jesus began his ministry, the Spirit led him to the wilderness to be tempted. Overcoming these temptations caused him to :
– KNOW who He is. (believing God)
– TRUST the truth of the Word. (believing God)
– WORSHIP God alone, not letting anything interfere.  (believing God)

The result? Matthew 4:11 “The devil left him…”
Reminds me of the words of James “resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
That’s a promise we need to remember.

I can be victorious, you can be victorious, God will lead us to victory when we choose to believe him.
The devil didn’t make you do it, thats just a stupid excuse.
Choose to believe God, in every temptation and every situation.

teenage prayers

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I spent some time this morning praying and reading through a list of prayers written by teenagers at last night’s prayer night – heartfelt prayers for their schools, their teachers, their friends, classmates, parents, family members, the world, themselves….

As usual, I was blown away by some of their words and watching what God is doing in their lives.

I’m reminded over and over again of the limitless potential that lies in teenagers – and the unstoppable force they become when their wills are in sync with God’s will for their lives. I’m surrounded everyday by teenagers who have family issues, friend drama, self-image struggles, questions, fears, worldly temptations, uncertainties….just like every other teenager on the planet. But the incredible other side of this equation is the fact that along with all the pressures, struggles, ups & downs of being a teenager – they have a growing faith that God is in control, that Jesus is enough, that the Holy Spirit will lead, guide, comfort and teach them, that they were created in the image of God  to become like Christ, that they have a purpose in this life that is bigger than themselves, and that they are valuable, worthy, forgiven sons & daughters of God.

That isn’t easy in the world that we live in.

Teenagers get a bad rap.
Yes, they have attitudes.
Yes, they love to text, eat pizza, play video games, and drink too much dr pepper.
Yes, they sometimes talk during sermons, laugh during worship, spill coffee on the floor,  dance in the parking lot, make mistakes, forget their responsibilities…
But, when was the last time you sat down and had a real conversation with a teenager…maybe even YOUR teenager?
Asked them what was going on in their life…what are their goals & dreams for the future…what has God been teaching them…what are they struggling with…how can you help them be all they were created to be?

Try it sometime.
I promise, they aren’t as scary as they appear.

Titus 2 (the super paraphrased version)
Live in a way that honors God…train the younger women… encourage young men to live wisely. You must be an example to them & teach them.