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

Who’s Your Alvin?

Yesterday I met Alvin. Alvin is a medical assistant. I was in his office for an exam.

At the start, he had that moment where he was trying to create conversation, somewhat to see if his patient would talk. Did I need to talk or not, you know, that awkward avoidance of silence that we try to fill. He wouldn’t know that I wasn’t looking for conversation. It was 8AM. But I honored his efforts.

One way I did that was to ask about the very faint music I heard. His replied, “Oh, it’s Christian music. I have to have it playing.”

That’s all it took. When I said I thought I recognized the music, he felt released to go down the church conversation. I let him guide the conversation, inquire whatever he wanted, express his thoughts, etc.

How would I have known that he’d land on the topic of how challenging the job of being a pastor is? He described his observations about people having no idea the things pastors have to deal with, how scrutinized they are, the stress they deal with, and that they rarely seem to be able to relax.

Then he said this: “My pastor and I have a pretty close relationship that I’m grateful for. And our family makes a point to make our home a safe place for him and his family. I’ll call him up and invite them over just to give them a place to be themselves and hopefully release some stress. We don’t talk about church stuff. Our family wants to make sure we do what we can to support the pastor and his family.”

I’m just smiling on the inside and saying to myself, “He has no idea who he’s talking to.” Then he asked what I thought about it. I decided to answer that I’m a preacher’s kid. He busted out laughing. “Well, I don’t have to tell you. You’ve seen it all, from the inside.” I left it at that.

I was Alvin’s first patient. I left thinking he’d had a good start to the day. I know I had. Why? I witnessed a man not only seeking to live a holy life given a chance to express his faith but also to model what many people need in their lives. Many people, particularly anyone in a leadership position, need safe people. The safe people they need have no agenda other than to honor them, respect them, accept them as human beings, and support them in ways they may not even know or acknowledge they need.

But let’s be real. Everyone needs safe people. Everyone needs an Alvin. And we all have the chance to be an Alvin.

Who’s your Alvin?

Whose Alvin are you?

Photo by Tyler Nix 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

A Hygge Life is a Peaceful Life

Last year I was introduced to a new word, hygge (HYOO-guh). The friend who shared it with me passed along a book that I believe she’d say has greatly influenced her way of living. That book was Holy Hygge by Jamie Erickson. (Follow the link to get an idea about the book.)

As a single guy who doesn’t entertain many visitors, I’m not Erickson’s audience. So I was tempted to not start the book, let alone finish it. But I decided to approach it like visiting a new church. If you look hard enough with an expectation to receive at least one reason you were there, you’ll leave satisfied.

I actually highlighted several things in the book, so I got more than one reason to have finished it. But these three highlights seem to weave the overall theme I received:

  • “Everyone you meet is a rough draft of the final story God is writing for their life.”
  • “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” -Lloyd Shearer
  • “Don’t feel pressured to carry something that is not yours to carry.”

Erickson uses dozens of words to describe a hygge home, even a hygge life. When I read these three highlights, the woven theme is peace.

Peace is available to me and everyone I meet when life is viewed as a work in progress, a story being written by the Author of life.

Peace is available to me and everyone I meet when I offer tenderness, compassion, sympathy, and tolerance since I need them also.

Peace is available to me and everyone I meet when I respect the value of carrying what is mine and mine alone.

2022 Library

For a fifth year I have followed a self-developed reading strategy with the objective to read broader. The goal: read books falling under six headings. This strategy is still working for me.

For the curious, here is the library of 20 books including avenue of reading:

  • Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss (kindle)
  • Awe by Paul David Tripp (kindle)…an annual read
  • The Crimean Nexus by Constantine Pleshakov (hard copy)
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone (kindle)…the most thought-provoking book on the list
  • Doorway to the World by Hugh Steven (hard copy)
  • The Doubting Disease by Joseph W. Ciarrocchi (kindle)
  • Fathered by God by John Eldredge (hoopla)…the most surprising book on the list
  • The Fight by John White (hoopla)
  • God’s Resting Place by Ron Marquardt (hard copy)
  • The Hollywood Commandments by Devon Franklin (hoopla)
  • The Journey: Finish Strong by Lee Ann Martin (hard copy)
  • Sermons for All Seasons by Bruce Porter (hard copy)
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (kindle)
  • Shame by Josh Roggie (hoopla)
  • Shame, Guilt, and Surviving Martin Bryant by Karen Collyer (hoopla)
  • Shame Nation by Sue Scheff (hoopla)
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo (hard copy)
  • Solo by Stephen Smith & Peter Ivey (kindle)…the most practical book on the list
  • The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson (hoopla)…my favorite book on the list
  • Try Softer by Aundi Kolber (hoopla)…the most helpful book on the list

NOTE: If you’re not familiar with hoopla, check it out: https://www.hoopladigital.com/

The Hollywood Commandments (book review)

While on vacation I caught an interview of a hollywood executive. His infusion of his faith into his work intrigued me. His name was new to me, but I quickly learned that he’s worked on many projects that I’ve watched. His name is Devon Franklin. The interview was old, surrounding the release of a book. When I looked it up on hoopla, it wasn’t available, but another book more recently published was. So I borrowed it to read the rest of my time away.

Franklin has a few agendas in this book. One major one is to dispel the myth that Christians can’t be called to work in the entertainment industry. He respectfully gives illustrations of how he overcame this myth after being taught it and discouraged in his pursuit of his passion to produce life-changing projects.

Success comes from being the distinctive person that God created us to be…The moment you begin to exchange what makes you different for what makes you ordinary because you want to fit in, you give away that which God wants to use to elevate you and take you somewhere extraordinary.

Chapter 8, Your Difference is Your Destiny

A second agenda is to lay out his ten commandments to not only succeed in the entertainment business but in life in general. He’s clear that success isn’t possible without the guidance and daily presence of God in your life. He illustrates from his own journey the importance of prayer, service, understanding God’s view of your talent, and distinguishing between your intuition and God’s.

We don’t get enough experience through the church in trusting our intuition, which is strange because intuition and instinct are really the Holy Spirit at work in us…Originality terrifies people…Prayer helps you determine who is speaking through your intuition, God or you.

Chapter 5, Your Gut is Hiding God

Is this book for everyone? No. But if you’re needing some clarity, even some encouragement on pursuing success in your career with a spiritual mindset, give Franklin a look.

Stop worrying so much about immediate results and start appreciating the process…If you’re going to survive in any field, you just can’t take yourself too seriously. Having a short memory goes a long way.

Chapter 9, Your Amnesia is an Asset

Intentions and Invitations

When people ask when I started running, I make a distinction in my answer. The distinction occurred in 2007 at age 39.

The fifteen years prior I ran, but there was no structure to it. I wasn’t following a plan, didn’t set any goals, had no purpose outside random decisions to go for a run. At best, I ran three times a week for less than 10 miles; I didn’t track it and wasn’t concerned about it. The thought of registering for a race never crossed my mind.

Around 2004 I began running more frequently. Still not tracking or challenging myself to add miles or distance. Just random jogs around the neighborhood. I don’t recall how I started getting considered a runner, but apparently folks around me got that impression. At that point, I wouldn’t have told people, “I’m a runner.”

Two things happened in 2007 that shifted everything. The first one was that I finished my masters degree, which I had started in 2003. While working fulltime, I had kept an average of 11 hours of classes each semester for four years. I had been going at a pretty intense pace. I distinctly remember sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans the week I was completing my last class and saying to myself, “I’m about to have a void in my life. I need to find something to fill it.” When I got home, I created intention to my running. No more randomness.

The second thing really propelled my running forward. And I didn’t see it coming. Two of my work colleagues entered triathlons. They decided they wanted to do a relay and invited me to be the runner. I remember pretty vividly the emotions of waiting at the stage exchange for the swim and bike legs to finish before I took off on the 5k. At that time, a 3.1 mile race seemed long. I had no idea about pacing, even if I could run that far without stopping. And God knows, I wasn’t going to be one of those walk/runners. I had so much to learn.

When I crossed the finish line of that 5k, I had become an intentional runner. My instincts to grow and challenge myself took over, and the rest is a history still unfolding. Another fifteen years have passed. I’ve ran dozens of races, raced in 26 states on the goal to run them all, and have averaged over 1,000 miles per year. These results reveal the power of intentions and invitations.

On this first day of 2023, what intentions would move your life forward? In your career, your family, your relationships, your finances, your spirit, your hobbies, your passions. What invitations you accept or extend would give those intentions a pathway taking you and others toward new heights and depths? A year from today, how would you like to reflect on your 2023 intentions and invitations?