With Thanksgiving 

 
Thanksgiving has always been an incredible holiday experience in my family. Food, family, and fun have always been the norm resulting in a lifetime of memories that have helped shape my values and direct my life. This has given me a thankfulness for my past that is rooted deep in my soul.

I realize that my experience is not the same as everyone else’s. I know how blessed I am. I know that those like me who find the holidays to be refreshing and full of joy have something truly amazing to be thankful for. I try very hard on a daily basis to live in a way that does not take it for granted. This stage of life is showing me on a daily basis what I have to be thankful for right now, today, every day.

Last year Thanksgiving changed. We were at my parents’ farm where I group up. It was early in the morning. We were getting to ready to have breakfast when we got the news. My father in law had passed away early in the morning hours before dawn.We were close. He would frequently supervise me as I tackled projects way beyond my skill set—offering up his expert advice and informed opinions—all smothered in generous helpings of his winsome sarcasm. 

Over the years I had come to love and appreciate our conversations. They were packed with questions. He would quiz me on different passages of scripture and I would share my opinions. We disagreed almost as much as not and I ALWAYS came away learning something even though I was the one being asked the questions. 

His passing hit me hard. He had become a second father to me. Of course I was sad, as most people are when losing someone they care for, but I was reassured by one simple passage of scripture that I have probably heard hundreds, maybe thousands of times.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭100:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A year ago that’s exactly what he did. It was a reminder of the joy that awaits us. In an era of cultural uncertainty it has renewed in me a sense of thankfulness for the future.

Love: More or Less

 
The cashier looks at us and says the words everyone hopes to hear standing in the checkout line. “I’ll take the next in line over here” as she opens a new lane.

A man and his wife cut in front of our family at the grocery store. I’m holding my six month old son, he’s crying, having exhausted all patience for this place. My oldest son is bouncing from rack to rack begging for candy. My wife has had a LONG week. Sick kids, crazy work stress, the pressures of ministry. How do we react?

Love. But it doesn’t feel very lovely. In fact I have a rare talent for opening my mouth at all of the wrong times. And this is one of those times when I absolutely want to. But I don’t. Truthfully it won’t hurt us to wait a couple of more minutes—and I don’t know what is going on with this young couple that they feel the need to rush in front of a dozen or so other people. 

Now, don’t confuse love in this situation with quiet, or passiveness. In fact, never confuse love with quiet or passiveness. Sometimes loving someone means making A LOT of noise and getting right in their face to tell them the hard thing they need to hear. 

I work with people. Most of us do. I see people, talk to people, and help people daily. If I don’t love them how can I fulfill what I believe to be my life’s purpose? Really that’s what this idea boils down to for me. 

Every day, in every situation, we have a choice to make regarding each person we interact with. We can choose to love them more, or love them less. 

Loving them more could mean extending grace, holding back judgement, and offering goodwill, but it could also mean correction or confrontation. We have to decide that. You know, like that famous Disney cricket from the 20th century said, “Let your conscience be your guide.”

What does it mean to love people less? Well, don’t we see the fruits of this on a regular basis? War and violence, disrespect and discord. 

In the absence of love there will be the presence of something. Some emotion. Some thoughts or feelings. I choose to fill my heart and thoughts with love toward others. I don’t always get it right. But I’m aiming to love more, not less.

What about you? It’s not a one time sweeping decision. It’s an every day—every interaction—kind of decision. Choose. Because you can. Choose to love more, not less.

Thanks for reading,

Nate

Not Even A Little Bit

 
How much does God want to see you suffer? Not even a little bit.

He is for, beside, around, inside you. A lot. It’s his peace that carries you past the point of understanding the incomprehensible. His joy that flexes in the face of the frailty of our fear.

How much does God want to see you fail? Not even a little bit.

His Word is the way that lights up our every possible step. It shines into our every season. His Spirit is the still the small voice that pierces uncertainty and calms the raging of tumultuous emotion. 

How much does God want to see you quit? Not even a little bit.

His hope is our help. His Son is our sure thing. His favor our final word. His Church is our cheerleader. His mission is our motivation.

God wants every bit of who you are to love and lean into him. How much is he willing to leave to you for yourself? Not even a little bit.

Zacapa 2015: Loving People On a Not-So-Lonely Mountain

 I hear crickets. Dogs call to each other across the ridges. A turkey gobbles off in the distance. The huge leaves of the banana tree my hammock is perched in on the side of this mountain rustle with the never ending breeze. After a scorching week in the sun the coolness of the continuous flow of wind borders on miraculous.

It has been a week of weeks. Our team has been outstanding. They work and play with an energetic tenacity on par with their vivacious faith. Grace drips from these people like the sweat they have shed for seven days.

We have been to school after school playing with kids, performing skits, praying, speaking, loving. We have visited small churches, in the remote places of the Guatemalan Mountains where our people have preached the love of Jesus. We have given away food. We have built a wall. We have built a road. We’ve been busy. It’s been good.

Busy and good are not always words I like to put together—but accomplishing the work, sharing the good news, and serving my friend Greg’s ministry are both. Because busy can be good when it is purpose driven.

As I lay in my hammock staring out across the expanse of darkness at the closest ridge I can see the humble twinkle of distant village homes. The places that house the beautiful people of Guatemala.

I can rest full of faith in the one who sent us. I can sleep soundly satisfied in our pursuit of purpose. I never enjoy leaving my family behind—and under different circumstances would probably bring them—but even in my homesickness I can rest in the peace of God.

In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus declares his followers to be as a shining city on a far dark night. That’s our job. To take hope with us. We partner with powerful people of God in needed places. We are Gondor in the midst of Mordor. We are beacons among burdens—and bonfires among chilling darkness.

I have burned in my heart the desire to go to far places and far people because, as A.W. Tozer penned, “if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.”

100 Days of Awesome: Day 2 – Guilt

 
One of my favorite things that I get to do from time to time is to speak to groups of students. Today, my friend Aaron and I made a trip north to the tiny town of Marshall, AR to speak at a church. It was, in a word, awesome. 

I spoke about guilt. Why? Because it’s something we all struggle with.

But if I have learned anything at all on my journey with God; its this…

Guilt is banished by love and truth; Fear-of-God deflects evil. (Proverbs 16:6 MSG)

God’s love is amazing. We all have done things we are guilty of. We carry that guilt around. Many of us have had things done to us we had no control over, and often we carry guilt around for those as well.

Guilt is dangerous. It’s like a slow fire that burns and burns until one day there is nothing left. Guilt is disastrous. However, guilt can be banished.

If guilt is a fire that burns. Love is an action that walks into the flames. Jesus is that love. He comes into the middle of our guilt and stands in the gap.

Jesus is also our truth. He said it himself…

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except by me. (John 14:6 NIV)

If guilt is a fire that burns, and love runs into the flames, truth overcomes the fire itself.

The facts are in. Guilt comes via sin. Commission and omission. Sometimes given, sometimes received. The wages of sin really are death. But the truth of Jesus Christ is bigger than the fact of death.

Guilt is a fire. It burns. It can ruin you. And if you don’t fill your life with the love and truth of Christ—it will. Give it all to him. He can handle it. He’s awesome like that.

You can’t stand in the fire and be angry at the flames. 

Get rid of guilt. Get it gone. Pronto. Step in and step up to the good life God’s got for you. It’s bigger and better than your bad day.

Stay awesome.

Deep Roots

 

Today’s my parents anniversary! God knew he’d have to put two amazing people together to come up with someone as epic as me… 

Joking aside, I’m so thankful for their values, authenticity, and faith—driven by a love and selflessness that has always modeled God’s love better than anything else. Faith has always came easy to me. I have had a lot of people ask me why that is over the years. I never knew quite how to answer that question until today. 
It’s easy for faith to grow strong in your life when your roots run deep.

Say a prayer for them today when you read this. My momma is taking care of my brother who is still recovering from surgery and my dad is no doubt in a watermelon patch. 
Thanks for reading. Go make a difference in someone’s life today.

The Apologetic Muslim

  

Something both wonderful and sad took place earlier this week. I was hanging out with a large crowd of students in the minutes before a midweek worship gathering at our church when I began a conversation with a wonderful young man that I will call Tahm.

We engaged in several minutes of very interesting conversation about travelling and our common interest in helping others. As the conversation continued and the service drew near this delightful guy shifted gears. It was then, with apologetic tones, he felt the need to inform me that he was a practicing Muslim—and the look he gave me that followed was one I will never forget. It said, “how will you treat me now?”

In September 2001 I was wrapping up my first collegiate tour of duty, finishing up a degree in communications, journalism, & public relations. I was surrounded on a daily basis by international students at a time in my life when, overnight, our nation turned hostile toward almost anyone of middle eastern ancestry. I remember how ugly it was. How afraid everyone was. I remember my Pakistani friend Zishon was whisked away to a safe place off campus in a storm of confusion. Zishon was a Muslim too. He didn’t identify with the hateful acts of violence perpetrated by those who claimed to share his faith.

That’s what I remembered this week when Tahm shared his faith with me. He was afraid of my response. It broke my heart. He wanted to know if he was in a safe place. 

Do I have strong opinions about Islam? Absolutely. Should I allow that to influence my treatment of Muslims? Absolutely not.

Many, many, many, times in life I completely blow it. I let Jesus down. I fail to respond as he may have in a given situation. But I think I got it right with Tahm. I invited him to lunch. I expressed my genuine desire to get to know him. And then I walked him to the sanctuary myself as the service started.

Jesus said that he came to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) That my friends includes anyone and everyone. But how often, I wonder, do our responses to people’s lives get in the way? How we respond to the vulnerability of those who walk into our lives says more about us than any sermon we can preach, book we can write, or song we can sing.

Thanks for reading. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.