You've probably seen the scene. Someone is running away from something and they come to a dead end. What will they do now? Sometimes the outcome is good, other times, not so good.

In life, you've probably felt that way. You feel like you've come to the end of your path and there is nowhere else to go. Up, down, left, right...nowhere! What are you to do?

This past weekend, I was given the opportunity to speak at a youth event. Due to Hurricane Irene, the scheduled speaker could not arrive on time. I was called at 6:00 PM on Friday to speak on Saturday at 4:00 PM. Not much time to prepare, but through prayer and planning, God's strength came through victorious amidst my weakness. The other glitch was, after arriving at the event site, I was told the first speaker was not going to be able to make it, so I was now the first speaker, moving up my speaking time to 2:00 PM - TWO HOURS SOONER! Again, it all worked out!

The theme for the event was "Unshackled." I found a cool song on YouTube (here), by Decyper Down, that pertained to the theme and projected my thoughts forward as I was preparing for the talk. It was a hard rock Christian song which I had never heard of, nor the heard of the band.

I went with the idea of the Israelites being on the beach, before they crossed the Red Sea. They had the Egyptian army behind them and a Sea in front of them...nowhere else to turn! Who gave them their way out...God! Who is the same answer when life is closing in on us? GOD!

Here are some applications from the lesson you might be able to use in your life...
  • Identify the Shackle ~ What is hindering you from becoming what you need to become? Friends, relationships, yourself, circumstances??? Are you becoming something you do not like to make sure your friends are liking you? This can be for adults or teens. We are being shackled because of these people we're around. Relationships that we are involved in are causing us to be uncomfortable. Doing things we're not comfortable doing. Saying things or going places we're not comfortable with. You are making decisions that are putting yourself in a shackle. Not finishing responsibilities, procrastination, choices...keeping us in shackles. What are your "shackles" in life? Do you feel like you have nowhere to turn?
  • Shatter the Shackle ~ Life can hand us situations that will encase us, much like a candle in a glass jar. We cannot become anything else, other than what the jar allows us to this case cylindrical. how can you break free from that? Just shatter the jar. It is like taking the old self and getting rid of it, revealing a new self underneath. This new self can become anything it wants to be. No longer confined to the jar. Shatter the shackle giving yourself room to become something new...
  • Create the New You ~ Once you shatter the shackle now you are free to discover the next chapter in your life. In some cases it may be a "new you." The new part could not have been created as long as the shackle was impeding you. Now that you're free from that, you can become something new. What will you create in yourself? What will the future hold for the "new" you?

  • Life, which is full of definitions, can shackle us. Depression, peer pressure, parental pressure, pressure from a superior, sexual temptations, affairs, thoughts of suicide, alcoholism, drugs, financial struggles, fear, cancer/health issues, work woes, and the list can go on. All will define life for various people. All of which can cause us to feel like we are that candle encased by the glass. We must find a way to shatter the shackle and break free from it! Let's hear the shackles falling off as we look to the future with a new found freedom!

"Serves" Up!  

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"Cowabunga, Dude!" "Gnarly!" "Hang ten." "Surf's up!" These among hundreds others (see here) are terms from the surfing community. I am totally out of my element when it comes to the surfer scene! This 'community' of people have an understanding that those on the outside would probably just think they are crazy. One thing is for sure, they are adamant about their lifestyle and becoming good at surfing. They come from all walks of life. One of the main parts of being successful is their ability to go back out and conquer the waves that come their way.

Maybe not everyone can surf - I don't know that I could. However, turn the word around to "serve"...that brings us to this week's quote...
Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Serving is one of those areas in life some people resist to dive into, but once they're in, they enjoy. Like that pool that seems a bit too cool to the touch of the toe. You don't want to get in, but you jump in and once you're in, it's exhilarating! Though it is a bad illustration, based on the context, I have to think of the funny scene of the movie "Vacation" where "Clark" jumps in to the hotel pool (If you've seen it you are probably laughing).

If you've had opportunities to serve, you know how "gnarly" it can be. When you're finished, and you're asked how it went, you may respond with "It, like, totally rocked, dude!" And you're looking for the next time you get to ride the waves!

Look out into the ocean of life and see what waves you can ride...keep in mind, "'serves' up!"

You Cannot Win If You Don't Enter  

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"Winner, winner, chicken dinner" is a line from the movie "21" that came out a few years ago. I don't think it is original with that movie, but it was the first time I heard the line. It is a catchy line and stays in your head as you repeat the line over a few times. It was said when a person won at roulette; such a risky game, but usually a big payoff.
You will not experience the great payoff if you do not put your money down. Guaranteed not to win. You can win pretty big if you do play. The more confident in your guess of the number, the more you will put down.
As we examine that text from Sunday's sermon, here are some applications to choose from to use this week...
  • Enter ~ Only those who enter will have any chance at winning. Are you wanting to know an answer, looking for something, or anticipating an open door? Enter in to the process of going to God. Ask what you want from God. He can definitely provide what you need. Ask for whatever, but keep in mind, the answer you receive must have been what was needed for you at this point in time. Seek for the grandest and you will enjoy what you find. Knock with the understanding the answer will be just what you need. If you don't you will receive nothing.
  • Take a Chance ~ There are times when I utilize a process of asking people for something with an understanding they may say "no" but if I do not ask, I will never know. Do you think it is totally out of the question that you are given what you want, whatever the "want" is? Maybe it is in your future and you just need to ask God. Take a chance and see what you might receive. If you don't you will never know.
  • Be Confident ~ "Go big or go home!" One saying says "Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star" by W. Clement Stone. When you are wanting an answer, seeking something, or knocking on a door, do it with confidence and go big. What may come about may not be what you aimed for, but it could be something worthwhile, nonetheless. However, if you aim for something less than the "moon" you will get even less. I don't want to limit God, but ask for something big and leave it up to Him where to send my "arrow."
You could be the next "winner" but you have to open up to do so. Go to God in confidence and humility as you ask, seek and knock. You may be amazed at what you receive, find and what is on the other side of the "door."

A Reason I Love Coming Home  

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"Daddy!" exclaimed by my 3-year old son as I drive up in the driveway or after walking in the door. It has been a short time since I started hearing that when I arrive, but it never, and I mean never, gets old. Just the other day my one-year old daughter showed her excitement when I came in the door and it was awesome! She cannot talk yet, but I look forward to the time when she can make that exclamation as I arrive.

Whether it is the exclamation of "Daddy" or an ear-to-ear smile when I come into view, there is just something special that every parent feels when their child shows excitement to see them.

We thought we were not going to be able to have children at one point in our life, so when my wife became pregnant the joy was overflowing. I couldn't wait to be a daddy. I couldn't wait to hold my expectant son in my arms and dream of what we'd do as father and son as he grew up.

I cannot say it enough how much I love being a father...this brings us to this week's quote...
A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. ~ Unknown
I may not ever have a lot of money, but I will have two kids for the rest of my life. Even if something drastic happens to them before I pass on, I will always have the memories that each day provides.

My kids are one (make that two) of the reasons I love coming home! I look forward to the next time I hear "DADDY!"

Appreciate the Gift  

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Judgment...can be a difficult thing to do correctly. Maybe it is an official trying to determine the correct call on a play, a judge determining whose correct in a courtroom, or deciding which item will be the best for your needs on a particular job. It can have its difficulties.

Usually the times in which judgment is easy are when we do not gain the necessary information to make the correct "ruling."

Jesus discusses judgment in the first part of Matthew 7, specifically, verses 1-5. Then, in verse 6 he uses the idea of judging and makes a profound and deep statement, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." This was our text for Sunday. Here are some applications to choose from to use this week...
  • Who? ~ Dogs tear things apart, similar to their kin, the wolf. Pigs do not have a "conscience" in the sense that they will eat practically anything and trample on whatever is under their feet. People who are willing to do this are who Jesus is mentioning. Do you know someone who likes to tear lives apart and just run over whatever is in its path? This is probably someone Jesus is discussing. This person should not be offered the greatness of salvation, at this point, because they are not at a point of being able to receive it. The preciousness of salvation will just be ripped up and/or trampled on.
  • Determination? ~ Be careful who you put into this category. Jesus had just mentioned about not judging. If you put someone in this category just because they are obscene, profane, or evil, they still may be needing to hear the good news that comes from knowing about Jesus. You may be taking away someone's opportunity to hear what they need to hear. This is a tough call...probably worth praying about and asking God for clarity.
  • Err on Side of Caution? ~ As I sometimes will buy my son a toy that may be a bit too "old" for him, I am giving him a chance at playing with something fun. Occasionally, that will result in him tearing things up. As we think about casting out what is sacred, or connected to God, to people - trying to decide if they are dogs/pigs - maybe there are times we should cast it out regardless, and see if the heart is fertile. Maybe we'll know if it is not fertile based on their reaction, then we can determine that for the next time.
  • See Yourself ~ Have you been tearing the "good news" to pieces and not appreciating its benefits? Have you been trampling the pearls underfoot? Think about who you are being when you are trying to determine who you are not going to "cast" to.
  • Until really studying and researching this verse, did I realize how tough and deep it goes. It is similar to a vein of gold that may run deeper than seeing it on the surface.

    We are not to judge, but we are to determine who are pigs and swine...tough thing to do! Good luck fulfilling the verse!

Climbing Ladders  

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School is about to begin. Sports practices have already begun in some places. Retail stores are busy with school shopping. Teachers have already started to begin planning and organizing their classrooms. the summer is winding down! When the school year winds down we think about graduation, that brings us to this week's quote...

All that stands between the graduate and the top of the ladder is the ladder. ~ Author Unknown
As you are entering in to another school year, graduation is one of the goals. Whether it is formal graduation or simply graduation to the next grade - inching closer to the formal graduation. This quote was a way of reminding those that have graduated - 3 months ago or 70 years ago - to keep going up the ladder, one rung at a time. May you make it to the top of where you want to go...then find another ladder that will take you even higher in some other area of life! Keep climbing ladders! Share/Bookmark

Take a Hard Look In the Mirror  

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Pointing fingers...figuratively or in reality, we all have a tendency to do it in our lives. There may be times it is innocent in nature; other times it is to direct attention to a person. I have had my fair share of times that I have looked (down) at someone and formed a judgment about them (not simply an opinion). It is sad to say, but I have. Though it is getting less and less frequent the more I try to think like Jesus would, I am not free of it completely. It is probably one of those areas that I will always be working on. In the Matthew passage that we looked at Sunday (7:1-5), one of the bigger "hit me on the head" areas of the text was "in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." WOW! My grading scale toward someone else is what will be used to grade do I measure up when I'm evaluated? Scary thought. Continuing with that thought, here are some applications to choose from to use this week...

  • Gauge Perfection ~ Think about all the things in which you excel. Specifically, those areas you do not make mistakes in. Now, see how long that list is. One, Three, Ten, or more items? As you look to a person that you see as a bit lower than you, they can have a list, too. I am guessing that each will be fairly short, if there is any existence to them at all. As you think about the brevity (or existence) of your list, may this keep you humble to not look at someone else with a harsh judgmental attitude.
  • Where are you - Tree or Roadside? ~ When Jesus came into Jericho in Luke 19, there was a great crowd alongside the road. One man was shorter than most and had a great desire to see Jesus, so he climbed up in a tree to get a better look. Jesus talked to him, invited himself over, and upon that, people started to form judgments upon Zacchaeus. When someone of "lower" (perceived) stature comes around, where are you - in the tree trying to see Jesus or looking around forming judgments about certain people? May that question just cause you to think a bit about where you "are" in those situations.
  • "Embrace" People ~ Casting Crowns has a phenomenal song titled "If We are the Body" that talks about the things we can be implementing to go out and "be" the Body of Christ to people so that they will see Him in us. By doing so they will see Christ in us rather than a "judge" in us.
Jesus is not condemning the idea of forming an opinion, but rather having a harsh and brash forming of a judgment. We must watch the line between the two. This week, show Jesus by embracing them where they are at in their life! Share/Bookmark

Producing the Pearl  

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When I was dating my wife, pearl rings were given as a traditional "promise ring." My wife was three states away from where I was living at the time. I had no clue on the "tradition" where she was living. Thinking diamonds were more "valuable" than a pearl, I went with a diamond ring that had two interlocked hearts. It basically was diamond "pieces" in one heart and gold making up the other heart. I liked it; come to find out, she didn't. I should have listened to a she-friend that said, "not all girls like hearts."

The value of the pearl was off the radar for me. I thought it looked too much like costume jewelry. Diamonds were where you find the value. However, it is diamonds in a certain setting that is good. The pearl has a lot of value and it is quite pretty when looked at with the proper perspective. That brings us to this week's quote...

A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl. ~ Stephan Hoeller

When a person lifts weights or participates in some other strenuous activity, the muscle fibers actually tear. This tearing will come in with additional muscle and will eventually become "bigger." Tearing has its advantages. Tearing in the oyster produces a beautiful pearl. A stone that many have several of in their jewelry collections. However, that beautiful stone comes as a result of a tear.

Life tears at different points and in different ways and to different degrees. But I think for all of us, we have tears in life. We use a phrase "tears my heart" or "tore my heart out" to indicate that we are hurt over a situation. Tearing has it's benefits. My question for you is, how has it benefited you?

I think I have grown by many tears in life. The "muscle fiber" that has come in and made me stronger was painful but that didn't mean I want it to happen anytime soon!

God First  

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What is the most important thing in your life?

You might say your family (a particular member, depending on your situation), your faith, your job, your house, or other material item. Regardless of what your answer is, you have a "most important thing in your life." It will come out sooner or later, and could possibly be evident to others. It may also change, due to life's circumstances.

The most important thing in your life is also something you put a lot of stock into. You also may or may not realize that you place some sort of security into it, too. As Jesus continues His teaching in Matthew 6:25-34 He points out that when we become anxious, to the point of consuming our thoughts, we are squeezing out God in our life. We start to place more emphasis in our abilities to try to handle our anxieties and less emphasis in Him. We stop giving our anxieties to Him, which we are told to do so (Philippians 4:6-7), in these situations.

The following are some applications to choose from to use this week in relation to being anxious (or worrying)...

  • Compare and Contrast ~ This may be difficult for some, depending on your spiritual beliefs. Challenge yourself to compare the effects of putting your trust in something earthly or something heavenly. Earthly things fade away and are perishable. Heavenly things are forever and imperishable. The hard part is to trust something intangible - but the rewards are worth it!
  • Look Around ~ Seeing things that appear better usually stops with the word "appear." They really are not better, they just "appear" better. Take a long look at the things you are putting your faith in or what your "most important" thing is, and see if it is something that gives you the assurance you are looking for.
  • Let the Past Be Just That ~ The more of the past you can leave in the past, the less mind-baggage you are bringing into the future. See what you need to let go (even if it is only by God's help you can leave it in the past.)

Our challenge is to not place a lot of trust in the things of life, but rather in to the one who takes care of the birds and lilies. That challenge is an ongoing one for about you?