Don’t Just Be Thankful Today

ethical-ocean-thankfulSeveral years ago I was at a Sunday morning church service on either Veterans or Memorial Day weekend. I can’t remember which it was, but the focus that Sunday was to honor our military. One way they did so was by bringing in a veteran to speak. He told war stories and spoke of how God had worked in an incredible way in his life while fighting in Vietnam. The one thing I will never forget from his message is what he challenged everyone with. He said, “Whenever you meet someone who has served in our military, say ‘thank you.’” From that day forward I decided I would if I got the chance.

Not long after hearing that challenge I was in the gym at UNC-Charlotte. I happened to meet a guy who was now a student and formerly had served in the military. Once we had exchanged names and I learned his story, I casually but genuinely said, “Thank you for serving our country.” What happened next will never leave me. He accepted my thankfulness with a “you’re welcome” and went on with his workout. Several minutes later he came back to where I was working out. He had tears in his eyes and said, “No one has ever thanked me before today. Thank you.”

Here’s what I learned that day: “being” thankful is great. But saying it is better.

Why? Well obviously, nobody knows you are thankful for them if you don’t say it. But more than that, something special happens for both the one giving and receiving thanks when it’s said.

When someone receives a “thank you,” it gives them a sense of self-worth and affirmation. It encourages them in who they are and what they are doing.
When you give a “thank you,” it reminds you that it’s not all about you. You acknowledge your dependence on someone else and realize others’ contribution to you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Again, not just be thankful, but give thanks. Say it.

Whatever circumstance you find yourself in today you have a LOT to give thanks for. And most importantly, you have a LOT of people to give thanks for.

Parents. Grandparents. Mentors. Co-workers. Coaches. Teachers. Friends. Relatives. Police. Firefighters. Teammates. Waiters and waitresses. Bank Tellers. Starbucks Baristas. Business people. Receptionists. Employers. Etc.

Daily, someone invests in you.

Do they know you are thankful? Are you?

Instead of just being thankful or listing all the things you are thankful for on Facebook, find someone to say “thank you” to today. Make a phone call. Send a text message. Shoot an email. Write a note. Or be bold and tell someone in person how thankful you are for them. It will change them and you in the process. And oh yeah, it’s God’s will for your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pic Credit HERE

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Have a Quiet Time

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Last week I wrote a post titled “The Reason You May Be Struggling to Believe in God.” While there are lots of reasons people struggle, the reason I talked through was this: most people haven’t tried a relationship with him. I went on to show how a relationship with God can come before belief and can actually be what helps many to believe in him. And then I clarified that’s it’s not just a “whenever I feel like it” relationship, but a personal, daily one. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post you can check it out HERE.

At the end of the last post I asked the obvious question: “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” I’ve heard from many people who said last week’s post was encouraging and challenging and were looking forward to today’s post. So let’s jump in.

You can have a personal, daily relationship with God by following Jesus’ example in Mark 1:35. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Now I just lost many of you with the “very early in the morning” part. But stay with me. Before Jesus started his day he personally connected with God, his heavenly father. It wasn’t something done with a large group of people. It wasn’t something he did in public for everyone to see. It was just a designated time for him and God to relationally connect through prayer. You could say he had a “quiet time.”

Several years ago I was taught to have a quiet time each day. I was told that more than anything else in my life a quiet time would grow my faith the most. I was told it would be a tool to having a personal, daily relationship with God. And it has been.

So how can you have one? It’s not complicated. It’s quite simple actually. And there are many different ways to have one. But what I wanted to do is give you a way so that you could begin having a quiet time if you don’t already.

What You Need

Place. Find a place where you can be uninterrupted for a period of time. It should be familiar to you and somewhere where you can stay awake and engage with God. Laying down in your bed is probably a bad idea. For me, it’s my study at my house.

Time. For Jesus, that was first thing in the morning. That’s what I do and prefer. By doing it first thing, it shapes my perspective on the day and allows me to pray for what is ahead of me. It also ensures that I do it. I know for me, it would be easy to forget or be distracted from having a quiet time daily if it wasn’t first thing in the morning. You may have another time of day that works better. Maybe you are more alert in the afternoon and have a break where you could work it in. Try that. The time of day isn’t as important as having some time during the day. Also, the length of time will vary. For some people they spend 15 minutes and for others they spend an hour. Again, the length isn’t as important as devoting some period of time each day.

Readable Bible in print. You shouldn’t have trouble understanding what’s being said. If you are, try a different version. That might mean moving away from the KJV. Versions that I use are the NLT, NIV and ESV. It should also probably be a physical Bible in print. I have a Bible App on my iPhone and iPad and love it. But when I do my quiet time, I use a physical copy of the Bible so I don’t get distracted by notifications popping up, texts, phone calls, etc.

– Notebook and Pen.

What You Do: One Example of a Quiet Time to Try

Pray: Say a short prayer asking God to speak to you through his Word. I regularly pray through Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That reminds me of my daily need to connect with God and hear from him.

Read: Pick a passage of Scripture to read through. It can be 5 verses, a paragraph, a chapter, or more. If you’re just starting out, try reading where the chapters are divided with headers in each chapter. In the past I’ve gone through one chapter of Proverbs each day that corresponds to the day of the month. I recently read through Jeremiah and now I’m going through Matthew one chapter at a time. Whatever passage you choose read through it slowly, at least once, trying to digest what is being said.

Write: Now, try and boil down 1 main idea from the passage you just read and write it down. If it’s a longer passage there may be more than 1 thing you write. Then, I try and answer a couple more questions:
-What does this passage show me about myself?
-What does this passage show me about God?
-What does this passage tell me to do? / How can I apply what I’ve learned?

Pray: Now you are ready to pray. In the book, “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” a very helpful prayer guide is given for your quiet time. It models Jesus’ teaching on how to pray in Matthew 6:5-14. Here it is:

-Praise. Start by thanking God for who he is and what he has done for you in your life. Take time to specifically acknowledge how he has provided for you. Tell him why and what you are most thankful for. Express your love for him.

-Repent. To “repent” means to agree with God that what you have done that he says is sinful is so, to be remorseful for it, and to ask him for help turning away from it. Take time to repent for specific sins that God brings to your mind.

-Ask. Ask God to answer personal prayer requests you have. They can be for you, friends, family, others you don’t know, situations you believe God should step into, etc. Writing these down helps you to remember who you’ve prayed for and helps you look back and see the prayers God has answered.

Yield. Acknowledge that God is God and you are not. That you want his will to be done on this earth. Commit to trusting in him for the prayers you have offered, the sins you need to avoid, and for providing for you. Ask that he will help you to obey what it is he has revealed to you today through your quiet time. Finish with thanking him again.

So how can you have a personal, daily relationship with God? Have a quiet time. It will be a game-changer for your faith. And you will begin to connect with the God of the universe, your heavenly father, like never before.

I’m not perfect. I miss days having a quiet time. And on those days, I miss out on what God wants for my life. So what do you say? Give it a try. What do you have to lose? And what might you gain?

Pic Credit HERE

The Reason You May Be Struggling To Believe in God

young man pulling funny face on white backgroundOver the past year I’ve had multiple conversations with people who do not currently believe in God. (I say currently, because even after walking away from a less-than-stellar conversation I pray expectantly that they one day will.) Some of these non-believers I’ve met only once and others are long-time friends. Some have never believed in God and others confess that they used to.

When I talk with these people I do my best to speak the truth in love and present the “clues of a creator God” that are all around us. I try to clarify their misconceptions and present the facts of Jesus. And I let them know that they can doubt and ask questions to God directly. I’ve written about that HERE.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve not been helping people take another step…especially those who used to believe. And not taking that step may be the exact reason people struggle believing. What’s that step?

Try being in a relationship with God.

Now before you say, “You can’t be in a relationship with God before you believe in him!” Chill out. I’m not saying that you can be made right with God and be in a saving relationship without belief.

But what if “relating” to God and pursuing him might be what brings someone to belief.

I mean get this: I didn’t love my wife before I got to know her. I met her. We started dating. Then I loved her. The relationship came before my love for her. It’s the same way with any close relationship you have, especially a relationship with God.

Even Jesus called people to follow him (be in a relationship with him) before they believed the right things about him. Belief wasn’t a prerequisite for a relationship. But through the relationship many of the people who followed him believed.

The truth is, belief in God is strengthened by a relationship with God.

The more you get to know God through relationship the deeper your belief in him will become. Telling people to “just believe” is unhelpful. And trying to believe more doesn’t make the relationship deeper. It doesn’t make it better. Belief only grows and is established when there is a relationship.

For several years I’ve counseled students that the number 1 way to grow in their faith is to have a personal, daily relationship with God. And I still stand by that.

It will be what keeps them anchored when the circumstances surrounding them go bad and they doubt God’s existence.

It will even keep them anchored when their circumstances are going great and they are tempted to see no need for God.

It will sustain their faith when the “mountain top highs” of camp dissipate after a few weeks.

It will sustain their faith when their friends cave to peer pressure at school.

But trying a personal, daily relationship with God can also potentially bring someone to belief. Not having one could be the reason they are struggling to believe.

Recently a student approached me and confessed that they were struggling to believe in God. God felt distant to them. I empathized with the student as they had been going through some difficult circumstances. Then I asked, “When is the last time you spent time with God?” This student couldn’t remember. It had been a long time. A daily, personal relationship had fallen off their radar. And then I asked, “Do you think you’re struggling to believe because it’s been so long since you’ve talked to God?” The student shrugged, feeling down and defeated. They were ready to give up on believing in God. So I tried a different angle.

I asked, “Do you remember having a best friend in kindergarten or early elementary school?” The student smiled and nodded. Then I said, “Are you still friends with them today?” The student responded, “No. We don’t live in the same city anymore.” Then I asked, “Do you believe they are still alive.” The student responded, “Of course.” And then I said, “And if you could talk to them, you’d believe even more, right?” Then the student saw where I was going. If they could believe a friend was still alive even though they hadn’t been in a relationship with the friend for over 10 years, maybe they could still believe in God. And if that belief would be made stronger if this student could talk to their friend, maybe their belief in God would grow if they began a relationship with him too.

Maybe you’re struggling to believe in God.
Maybe you believe, but your faith hasn’t been growing for some time. The answer for the skeptic and the believer is the same—try having a personal, daily relationship with God. It will be awkward at first. But don’t give up. Push through. And you just may find belief on the other side.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” We will look at that in the next blog post. Can’t wait!

PIC Credit HERE

Do They Know You Care? The Church and the Buccaneers

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Last night I had the honor of serving as the emcee for an event our church hosted called “Sports Talk: Going Deeper with the Bucs.” Four Tampa Bay Buccaneers players—Gerald McCoy, Josh McCown, Clinton McDonald and Alterraun Verner—spent time sharing how their faith impacts their life on and off the football field. And it was awesome!

Each player volunteered to be at this event and it was clear they wanted to be there. They were real and down-to-earth guys. They were honest about their team and personal struggles. They were genuine and humble. And they boldly shared about their faith in Jesus Christ. And I mean BOLDLY. I was challenged and encouraged in my faith throughout the night and I know everyone else there was too.

We could not have asked for a better group of guys to be with us. They represent the best the NFL has to offer and they served their community well.

Community.

That’s the area where you live. It’s sometimes defined as a small area and other times as a large one. Where I live, there is the greater Tampa Bay community and then smaller communities within that larger one. Last night the event was held in one of those smaller communities of Tampa Bay—Palm River.

See Bell Shoals is a multi-site church with 4 community-focused locations throughout the greater Tampa Bay community. This event could have been held at any of our campuses, but Palm River was strategically chosen.

Why?

Because Palm River needs hope. It’s one of the poorest areas in Tampa. It experiences quite a bit of crime. Many people continue in the same cycle of unwise decisions their parents made. Many lack education. Thousands need Jesus. And every person who lives here is precious and loved by the God who created them.

Palm River has often been forgotten or avoided by those who do not live there, but last night a statement was made: a church and a group of NFL players love them. And that’s huge. Because a community like Palm River often doubts whether the outside world even cares.

There was one young boy in particular who I know doubted last night. This boy was a Bucs fan who came with his dad, but once arriving at the event, wouldn’t get out of the car. One of our volunteers went over to the boy to encourage him to come out and see what was holding him back.

He said, “They wouldn’t come to my neighborhood.”

Those six words played over in my head all night. There had been tons of publicity in the community, but that didn’t convince him. He didn’t believe the Bucs were coming to Palm River. And he had every right to doubt based on what his experience told him. He may have never seen high-profile, successful, well-to-do people in his life come to his neighborhood. Thankfully he got out of the car and he saw that the Bucs really did come!

But how many people just like him think the same thing? Not just that the Bucs wouldn’t come, but that people of influence who can make a difference really wouldn’t come and ultimately don’t care?

There are thousands of communities all over the world that are forgotten or avoided by the church because they are unattractive or unsafe. But those communities, those neighborhoods, are exactly where the church needs to be.

It’s exactly where Jesus went when he was on this earth.

He ate with sinners.

He talked with prostitutes.

He touched lepers.

He healed the sick.

He helped the poor.

He went to messy, tough, unpopular people and places.

And if the church is going to shout the message of Jesus we must go to the people Jesus would be going to if he were here today.

And I think he would be at a community like Palm River.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve heard that said a lot in the past, but it was more true to me last night than ever before.

The church has to stop yelling at people the truth about Jesus without showing the love of Jesus. We must lovingly share the truth. We must show we care. In the process we will look a little more like Jesus than we ever have before.

I don’t know where the needs are in your community, but find where they are and go to them. Serve those people. Love on those people. And show them that you really do care. You never know. There might be a young boy who doubts whether anyone really cares. And you could be the difference that God uses to redirect his life.

What are some ways you could reach out to your community?