A Different Kind of Rich

Last night I finished reading Rich In Heaven by Chris Mackey.

This morning I got an example of what Mackey wrote about told to me by a stranger. There’s something about snowbirds (a northerner who moves to a warmer southern state in the winter) and conversation. They don’t shy from it.

I’m on vacation in Orange Beach, Alabama. If I turn my head just so, I see the Gulf of Mexico right now. This morning I decided to walk the beach first thing. After being stopped by one snowbird to view passing porpoises about 100 yards out in the water, I was stopped by another couple to chat. I really don’t know what started the conversation. But 10 minutes later, the husband had told me all I needed to know about his family.

I didn’t ask his name. Since he’s from Gardendale (which probably doesn’t really classify him as a snowbird…it’s in the same state), I’ll call him Dale.

Dale is retiring April 1st from Alabama Power where he’s worked for 46 years. One of his younger brothers retired today. His wife said Dale’s a little miffed by that. His other younger brother took over the family farm. His wife said he’ll figure out that wasn’t a good move.

Dale doesn’t care for the beach; he’d rather be on a bushwhacker. That reminds him of growing up on the farm with his parents. They’re both gone, but he’s very proud of who they were. When his dad passed, people told Dale stories of how he’d done something personally impactful for them that they’d never forget. That’s who he was.

From Dale’s own experience, he remembers when his Dad would announce in church that the next weekend his corn crop would be ready for people to come get whatever they wanted. They stood in lines for that free corn. And the same with the family chickens. They always had 2,000-3,000 chickens (Dale said that wasn’t a lot. I’ve never had one, so that sounded ginormous to me.). Dale’s dad would announce a Sunday prior that fryers would be available the next weekend. That meant Dale and his brothers would have to skin them to be ready to give away.

Dale said he never got a satisfactory answer from his dad why he didn’t ask folks to pay for that corn or those fryers. His dad only said, “One day you’ll understand.” When Dale said they were never rich or anything, I replied, “Your dad was a different kind of rich.” He replied, “And I understand now.”

Chatting with my vacationing neighbors reminded me of a few things Mackey wrote:

We ought to think about “us and ours” instead of “me and mines.”

The way to more blessing is giving what you have away.

God is displeased, not by what we choose to give Him, but by what we refuse to give Him.

The two types of people in this world are not the haves and the have nots but the “use wells” and the “do nothings.”

The rich in heaven are those who are not okay with God working out His plan apart from them.

Nothing promotes inaction more than comfort.

It is the place where you refuse to grant God access that marks the extent of heaven’s reign in your life.

I met some rich folks this morning. I’m richer.

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5 Steps to Customize Your Own Year-Long Bible Reading Plan on YouVersion

A year’s commitment to anything can sound daunting. I imagine that’s the feeling most people have when they consider committing to a 365-day Bible reading plan.

Besides that, most of those plans are designed to take you through the entire Bible. A worthy goal for sure-I believe one that should be set and achieved at least once in life. Yet, the challenge to get that done in a year can be tempting to ditch, say, around Numbers 22 (just a random guess…nothing scientific…or biased against whatever happens in that chapter and book).

I completed one of those plans once on YouVersion…in about 3 years. See my point.

It took me that long because I choose to take my time. And I like to veer off track. If I want to campout in Jonah longer, I do. If I’m intrigued by a theme in Romans, I’ll take a break from the plan and complete other plans covering that theme…as many as I want as long as I want. I color outside the lines.

But the idea of reading a portion of the Bible every day does not mean you have to read the entire Bible in any set amount of time. All it means is placing a priority, developing a rhythm in your day that includes reading the Bible. Whenever you do it, how long you do it, where you do it, that’s entirely up to you. And, for those other rule breakers, what you read is also entirely up to you.

For quite a while, I’ve been using YouVersion reading plans. And for the first time this year, I’ve decided to use them to customize a year-long reading plan. It’s already added richness to my reading. Want to give it a try? Here’s how I’m doing it.

  1. Determine to Make a Daily Commitment. Pretty obvious, but if you aren’t resolved to it, you won’t make it to December 31st. Sure, you might miss a day here or there. Understandable. I have already. Give yourself some grace and think about the fact that odds are you’ve got 5 minutes to give to this commitment and missing it a couple of times doesn’t make you a loser. If you are in, move on to step 2.
  2. Decide on a Theme. There’s a popular trend that’s replacing making New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of setting goals and aspirations, you choose a word that you’d like to guide you for the year. Not sure about that, check out this podcast episode to learn more. I started this in 2020. Each year I’ve utilized it differently, more broadly. This year, that word is what I’m using to customize my Bible reading. My word for 2023 is rich (maybe more on that later). Know your theme? Move on to step 3.
  3. Search Plans. On the YouVersion app (download it now if you haven’t already), you can search for reading plans simply by typing in a word. When I typed in rich, dozens of reading plans were available. You’re ready for step 4.
  4. Save for Later. On each plan description, you have two choices: sample and save for later. Sample allows you to check out any day of the plan. I do that to get an impression if I think I’ll complete it. If I think so, then I save it for later. You don’t have to start the plan when you find it. I’m not worrying about saving enough plans that equal 365 days, by the way. I just saved the ones that looked interesting to me for now. At the moment, I’ve saved enough plans to get me through April (total up the days for each plan to see how many days you’ve already covered). Saved at least one plan? Final step is next.
  5. Follow the Thread. As you read each plan, some verse/story/character will stand out, grab your attention. Take note. Follow that lead to search for other plans to save for later. For instance, since I did my initial plan saving, the book of Luke and the chapter of 1 Chronicles 29 have gotten my attention. Adding reading plans for those has increased my initial plan list by five plans adding 53 days. Feels very fluid and interactive.

That’s it. I’m convinced this approach is going to continue to prove worthwhile and meaningful. By the end of the year, I anticipate remembering more, appreciating more, and embracing more of the Bible. I’ll be more rich.

By the way, I just looked up Numbers 22. That’s where a donkey talks. You might want to check it out. Not sure what thread that starts, but have fun.

Post It Note Prayers

Yesterday, I had a first. My pastor’s wife sent me a handwritten letter; never gotten one from any pastor’s wife. It was a gracious note of thanks. I want to share a little of it and then reveal an observation.

Dear John,

…Six years ago we spent money on a keyboard. We had no one that played keys, but we went ahead and purchased the keyboard for the church. There were so many weeks, months, and even years the keyboard went untouched, and the post it note of a prayer request sat on the wall of the office. It read, “A keyboard player.” We all prayed and we waited; we believed God would bring someone who would want to serve in worship and use their giftings on that keyboard. This past Sunday I was reminded that GOD IS FAITHFUL-not always in the timing we want but always in His perfect timing! Thank you…

Cool story, right? What she didn’t know, and no one at church knew until now, was that God and I had a completely different conversation that same Sunday about my playing keys at church. I mean completely different.

Not to go into too much detail, but very few people really know the work I’ve done over the years to not be too hard on myself when it comes to music, particularly playing the piano/keys. I’ll never live up to my perfectionistic expectations, and sometimes it gets the best of me. That Sunday it did.

After the worship set, I was pretty much in a wrestling match with God, couldn’t concentrate on what the pastor was saying due to all the guilt and overreacting stuff that comes with perceived failure. If I’d written a post it note in that moment, I’d probably had to have immediately brought it forward for confession, if you know what I mean. There wouldn’t have been anything holy about it.

If I’ve learned nothing else in these moments in my adult life, I’ve learned that 99.9% of the people that were in the same room have no idea what I’m thinking about that “failure” and would say if they did, “What are you talking about?” The honest ones would say, “Get over it, John.” And my real friends would say, “Get over yourself, John!”

God and I talked about this for the next 10 hours. That conversation is between me and him. But the end result was my acknowledging I knew the solution and had been holding out on it. A figurative post it note I’d had for a few months was more a “want” than a “need.” And in this case, God showed me that the want wasn’t necessary, and the need was actually more important. I got over myself.

There are numerous observations from these two stories about a Sunday service and a keyboard. But the one I most appreciate is this: God has zero problems having multiple conversations with his children at the same time about the same thing going in completely different directions.

That’s my God.

That’s worth another post it note.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Meaningful Life Light

“Everyone you meet is a rough draft of the final story God is writing for their life.”

Jamie Erickson, Holy Hygge

This quote is still with me. Not because we haven’t already heard the analogy about life being a story, having a story to tell, our stories being unique, or next chapters. This particular quote highlights three thoughts casting a meaningful light.

“Everyone you meet…” God is writing everyone’s story. Not just the people close to you. Not just your coworkers. Everyone.

  • The Indiana Snowbird
  • The Hotel Desk Clerk
  • The Ice Cream Shop Scooper
  • The FedEx delivery guy
  • The AC repair guy

There isn’t anyone alive, all eight billion, whose story God isn’t writing.

“…is a rough draft of the final story…” It’s not done. The plot is unfolding. The future isn’t fixed.

  • The divorcee’s story isn’t final
  • The addict’s story isn’t final
  • The college dropout’s story isn’t final
  • The early retiree’s story isn’t final
  • The great grandmother’s story isn’t final

Today is the next page in everyone’s final story.

“…God is writing…” The story’s author determines its outcome. Big question: what happens when I steal the pen from God…

  • …in my financial story?
  • …in my family story?
  • …in my faith story?
  • …in my vocational story?
  • …in my golden year’s story?

There’s freedom in trusting God to write the story.

Photo by MJ S on Unsplash

Some Texts Are Better Than Others

A couple of months ago I got this text from my pastor:

How can I be praying for you today? You’re always asking me…

11/1/22

I responded with a 15-minute phone call-too much to explain in a text. I told him I knew what I wanted to do regarding a decision, but I wanted to take the time to see if it aligned with what God would have me do. The final thing he said was something like, “Be open. You might be surprised with the answer.”

I thought about our conversation when I read these thoughts this morning in my devotional plan:

When we ask God for wisdom, we must be willing to accept that wisdom and follow it, no matter what. Going to God is not like going to another person for advice. People are flawed. When they share their opinions, we have the right to disagree and disregard their advice. Not so with God. He is perfect, and His wisdom is flawless.

God will always guide us into what is best for us. His wisdom may not always be what we want to hear, but it is always true, always right. If we want to retain our rights to do whatever we please, we might as well not go to God in the first place. Until we are ready to lay down our rights, they will always be tugging at our souls. When we choose, however, to disregard our own desires and to follow God’s truth, we will receive the wisdom and guidance that will always lead us into His perfect plan for our lives.

YouVersion plan “Morning Coffee With James”

That November conversation came to mind pretty easily because what I wanted to do was not how God answered me. However, within days of “disregarding my own desire,” God clearly honored that decision in a way that only he could.

Here are three takeaways from this layered interchange:

  1. Offer to pray for someone. It could be direction-changing.
  2. Be open to God’s answers. They can be surprisingly good.
  3. You have options when seeking wisdom. Leaving God out isn’t a good one.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Testing Google

From my front door to the office is 18 miles. Depending on the time of day you drive it, it can take anywhere from 33 minutes to over an hour. I’ve experienced the shortest, the longest, and all the in-betweens.

I typed 33 minutes because at this moment that’s the estimated drive time according to Google maps. I use it quite often in order to find the best route, particularly when my drive is at peak traffic times. That usually means driving home in the afternoon. Here’s a screen shot from my drive this past Tuesday.

I may be the only person (pretty sure I’m not) who looks at that ETA time (5:53) and says to myself, “I better at least get there by that time, or even better, beat it. Game On!” A little motivation and self-competition isn’t bad, right?

What I’ve found is they’re not bad until I create an emotional expectation. And that emotion can turn into thoughts like, “What the heck with these lights? Come ‘on, Manatee County! Fix these lights!” or “People, drive with purpose. Why are we driving 33MPH in a 45MPH zone? Get off my road! I’m on the clock, here!”

On my less emotionally competitive drives, I decide to pay attention and see what I can learn or enjoy. On Tuesday I decided to test Google rather than rant at the lights or other drivers. Often on the drive at any given time Google gives me options. Each option designates the difference of my remaining drive time by reading something like “2 minutes slower” or “Similar ETA.” But unless I look at the map, I have no idea all the options that I have mid-drive. On this 18-mile drive, there are dozens of options. I can ignore them and just follow the original route demanding that it live up to its promise to get me there the fastest, or I can consider other options may not be the fastest but could bring some other unexpected benefit worth the alternate route.

The test basically became how many minutes are lost if I ignore Google and go whatever route I want. Google’s directions aren’t the law; they are suggestions. And on this drive, I ignored them several times, probably three, just choosing whatever option I felt like. The end result-I arrived at the same time Google predicted, 5:53.

There are several possible takeaways from this scene. Go with whatever comes first. But mine is, I have options. Any man-made or man-given map uses the best data available. That doesn’t demand it be followed mindlessly. On the flipside, God’s map doesn’t always make sense or align with the best data nor sit well with my expectations. And that’s where I’ve learned the value of surrendering to options.

Google isn’t God. No other map reigns over his; they don’t have his data. His route will have me arriving at whatever time is best but only in the mind and spirit possible by choosing his option. It’s worth the test.

1 in 117,000,000,000

While praying today, a question came to my mind. How many people have ever lived? Googled it and found some researched answers. Here’s a link to one of them: How Many Humans Have Ever Lived? (visualcapitalist.com)

In the couple of articles I read, it’s agreed the number is over 100 Billion, fluctuating between 105 and 117. I could go in lots of various directions from here, but I’ll land only on this additional stat: that means roughly 7% of all of human history is alive right now.

This question came to me during a personal communion prayer as I thought about the scriptural teaching that Jesus died for all of humanity, past/present/future. One and done. The teaching states beyond his blanket sacrifice he knows each and every one of those he died for. It’s mind-blowing to think about knowing 7 billion people personally enough to count the hairs on their head, at the same moment in time. Add to it the remaining 93% of those who have lived…not to mention those yet to live.

I fear at times Christians get so caught up in their relationship with God that they forget they aren’t the only ones. We cross the line, if we aren’t careful, into genie world. “He loved me enough to die for me and promised to give me what I ask for. How Great is That!”

This question and its answer humbled my heart, filled me with awe, and deepened my love. There are no bounds to God’s love. Yes, he loves me. He also loves the other 117,000,000,000.

Barking at the Fence

Earlier this year, my friend Mark invited me to regularly cohost his podcast, The Next Man Up. We’re roughly 20 episodes in, and he hasn’t fired me.

In the middle of recording an episode about Angry White Males, I remembered a reel I’d seen recently that seemed relevant to our conversation. The video showed the behavior of two dogs on opposite sides of a fence. Check it out:

The episode topic surfaced because of a college course based on it. Our conversation led us down several roads. All the roads circled around this truth: everyone deals with anger. It’s not just men, and it’s not just white folks. All God’s children have moments of anger…which can turn into seasons…which can turn into years. The question we wrestled with is “How do we deal with it so that it doesn’t become a college course title?”

Plenty of answers exist for that question. I’m going to do something that might anger you and answer it with two other questions: 1) What fuels your anger and 2) What are you going to do with it.

I’ve been asking myself that first question for two years. And yes, it’s taking me that long to get to the real answer. Why? At first I was doing what most of us do-looking at what I wanted it to be rather than digging deep in my soul to discover what it actually was. It’s a lot easier to bark at the fence. Removing the fences we erect to keep us safe and comfortable forces us to see more of what God sees-the sacredness of his creation, including those on the other side.

What led me to start asking question one was when I was asked question two. I was barking about folks on the other side of the fence when a trusted voice asked, “What are you going to do with your anger, John?” They had stopped listening for what had happened to me and who did it. They removed that fence and asked me to see what they saw, a man caressing his anger. My erected fence was gone with one question.

Stop and consider what anger does to you. How does it impact your gut? What does it do to your emotional health? How does anger manifest in your body?

Ready to stop barking?

Start tearing down the fence. Ask God to open your eyes to what he sees.

Feel the blessing of finding your answers to the fuel. Embrace the healing when your anger is replaced by beauty.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

Coughing Up Your Underwear

This past week has been full of stories. They range from brokenness and sorrow to joy and hope. That’s exactly what was in the room one morning this past week when I heard this story.

The storyteller was mostly wanting to express appreciation for those who served her before Hurricane Ian arrived. But her story ended up vividly painting how others had been served by her generosity which started by an invitation.

She evacuated. When she returned, many of her neighbors were without electricity and water and had been for a week. In her efforts to serve them, it crossed her mind that humans feel better when they feel fresh. Practically, that means we feel fresh when we have showered and when we can put on clean clothes. Carrying that thought, she decided to invite her neighbors to use her shower and hand over their laundry.

She didn’t mean to be funny, but the way she described her neighbors response made me chuckle. Taking up the offer to shower is one thing, but handing over your laundry creates angst. Knowing your neighbor is going to see your underwear crinkles the brow. Her words were, “They had to cough up their underwear.”

That imagery still puts a smile on my face. Many tangents to consider with that portrait, but I’ll follow the hint she gave. Her neighbors were in a needy position; her invitation came with a choice. And the one thing that could keep them from feeling fresh was pride. Which would they choose?

We experience tremendous freedom when we hand over our pride. Being seen just as we are requires vulnerability. Fear leads us to think that absolutely no one will still love me after they learn what I’ve been hiding, what I did or what happened to me, what I think, or what I feel. Fear has programmed us to expect shame or rejection when the truth is we most likely will receive understanding and comfort.

These thoughts led me to a song I came across recently by Land of Color. It’s also an invitation. The imaginary isn’t about laundry or underwear but the familiar scene of what’s possible when we allow the Jordan to wash over us. I believe both are freeing.

Come on down and know it’s okay to cough up what’s keeping you from knowing peace and freedom.

P.S. Whistling is also freeing. Give it a try.

Photo by Peter Aschoff on Unsplash