Didn’t See It Coming

You hear the phrase all the time. You’ve probably even said it yourself. “I didn’t see that coming”. It’s usually said around a time when you are caught off guard by something, whether it be a plot twist in a television show or movie, an unexpected health diagnosis, a huge change at work (possibly getting laid off or fired unexpectedly), or whatever else catches us off guard.

The problem is that there are things that catch all of us off guard, that we don’t see coming, that maybe we really should. There are warning signs, but for whatever reason, we just don’t see it coming. Last year, I had the opportunity to be on the advanced reading team for a book that was released to the public on September 4, 2018. That means I had an advanced copy during the summer of 2018 so that I could read it before it was published, and then help promote the book on social media once it was released. The book? Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges that No One Expects and Everyone Experiences by Carey Nieuwhof.

If you don’t know who Carey is, he is a leading voice in leadership and communication in the North American Church. He is a former lawyer and founding Pastor of Connexus Church in Canada. You can check out his website at www.careynieuwhof.com. The book was one of the most insightful and impactful books that I’ve read recently. Carey is very relatable, writing from personal experiences covering seven challenges that we will all more than likely face at some point. They include; Cynicism, Compromise, Disconnection, Irrelevance, Pride, Burnout, and finally Emptiness.

Starting towards the end of August (maybe September) we are going to be going through a sermon series looking at each one of these challenges that Carey covers. While the book will be a small part of the series, we will be looking at these challenges in scripture. I’m sharing this with you now because some of you may want the opportunity to read along with the book during this series. Didn’t See It Coming will be supplementary to the series, and will not be necessary to keep up with us. The series itself will not just be straight our of the book either.

If you are interested in the book, Amazon has it for the Kindle for $11.99 or Hardcover for $14.69. The following is an excerpt from a review that I posted on Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak blog at crosseyedjesusfreak.com last year: 

“Carey writes with a style that is so easy to read, yet he deals with topics that are not always the easiest to diagnose. His mix of stories from his own life that relate to the topics along with practical steps to get ahead of the issues hits so much on a personal level, that many of the pages felt like I was reading my own story. He is relatable and it is very easy to understand that Carey is writing from a genuine desire to help others through some of the hardest issues that he has personally faced in his life and in his leadership.

All leaders in the Church NEED to read this book. All leaders in any kind of organization need to read this book. Honestly, and I am not trying to exaggerate, everyone needs to read this book. Carey exposes some of the greatest threats to living a life of purpose, and shows how to overcome them. He suggests a relationship with Jesus is the best way to live, yet he writes in such a way that those that do not know Jesus will be able to benefit from this book. Don’t get me wrong, he presents the gospel, but he is not overbearing in his presentation.”

Freedom!

Freedom!

The Fourth of July is just around the corner. It’s actually been my favorite holiday to celebrate for as long as I can remember. There is just something special about it. In fact, when Kelley and I first got engaged, we had planned to get married on July 4, 2009, but due to some employment issues for both of us at the time, we had to postpone that date. 

I don’t know if it’s the fireworks, the food, the fact that it’s summer, or a combination of it all that makes it my favorite to celebrate. One of the biggest factors, however, is obvious. It’s celebrating this nation’s birth. Our freedom. This country was founded on the idea of freedom. And while some of that freedom seems to be under attack today, we still stand proudly as a free nation.

We have the freedom to have the jobs that we want, to live where we want, to own whatever type of vehicle that we can afford, to travel around the country, and most importantly to me, to practice religion openly and freely. That’s what the colonists came here from Europe for. Religious freedom.

But it’s not this nation that gives us true freedom. As much as I love this country, and celebrate the freedom we have, our true freedom comes from a relationship with Jesus. Jesus, with His willing sacrifice on the cross, and God bringing Him back to life, set us free from the constraints of sin. We now only have to accept this freedom. And that should be what we celebrate more on the Fourth of July, and every other day of the year, for that matter.

Freedom found in Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that we are free to do absolutely anything that we want, but neither does the freedom that we have as Americans. We are free to choose, but there are consequences for our actions. Jesus set us free from being slaves to sin, but that means we have to walk away from sin. We are still going to mess up and sin, but it means that we are not controlled and constrained by sin anymore. 

I remember when this first clicked for me. It was such a freeing and exhilarating experience. Sin still tries to reign us in and control us, but as Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:13-14; “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are free, but we should not use this freedom to continue to sin. That is Paul’s thrust in Romans 6 when he writes about not continuing to sin so that God’s grace would increase. We are free from sin, and should use that freedom to become more and more like Christ, not continue in our sin. 

If you’ve never realized the freedom that we have found in Christ, I encourage you to dig in and study this idea. It is such a freeing experience. Jesus has not only paid the price for our sins, He has broken the chains that sin has had on our lives. While I remember when I realized this freedom for the first time, it is something I long to help others experience. I’ve had the privilege of helping others make that realization in the past, and I don’t know that there is anything better other than a first time confession of Christ. 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate the Fourth of July and the freedom that we have in this country. I’ll still be celebrating that this year. There is nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of great things about this country. But what I am arguing is that we should be celebrating the freedom that we have found in our identity as a Christ follower above and beyond celebrating this country. We are free in this country. But even if those freedoms get stripped away, if you are a Christ follower, then you are still truly free.

Jesus stated in John 8:34-38; “34 Jesus responded, ‘Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. 37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill me because my word has no place among you. 38 I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father; so then, you do what you have heard from your father.’”

Summer at the Lake

I don’t do this often, but I want to bring your attention to an upcoming sermon series that I am really excited about. We have just a few more weeks of our “I AM: Jesus” series, and starting May 26, we’re going to be spending some time at the lake. No, I’m not talking about physically doing our services at the lake here in Canton. 

Canton Lake is almost the life blood of this town. It draws in tourist during the summer, bringing in money for the town, and the businesses in town. If you drive around the lake just about any time during the summer, you’ll find it full of boats, people fishing, camping, and teens hanging out around Sandy Cove. The camping area, especially on holiday weekends, are almost completely full. 

I have been told multiple times about the time when OKC had to pull water from the lake because of a drought and how it really damaged the town. I love driving out around the lake and just taking in its beauty. What I’m getting at is that Canton Lake is a very important area in and around the lives of us who live here in Canton. 

During Jesus’ three plus years of ministry, He and his disciples spent a lot of time around the Sea of Galilee. Many of Jesus’ interactions, miracles, and teachings that we read about in the four gospels are found around the lake. We see miraculous catches of fish, healings, the power of who Jesus is, and even a restoration after a betrayal, all set around the lake. The lake that Jesus spent a lot of time around was very important in the lives of the disciples and those that lived around the Sea of Galilee as well.

And it’s important for us as well. We can learn a whole lot from Jesus’ interactions around the lake. Some of my favorite and most meaningful stories to read in the gospels are those around the lake. One in particular is the restoration that I mentioned above, though I will wait to go into detail about that until we are going through this series. 

I don’t know what it is about a lake. Maybe it’s the beauty and peacefulness that just allows us to relax and take things in. Maybe it’s the fact that we are out in God’s creation, and therefore we are more open to listening to what God has to say to us. There is just something special about spending time at the lake. So, join us this summer as we spend the “Summer at the Lake”.

There is Still Good in This World

If you look at the media or even social media sites today, you could literally think the world is falling apart. There is so much negativity, arguing, blaming, and just flat out nastiness being thrown around. And it gets really heavy at times if you let it.

Depending on where you look, the two sides in American politics are blaming each other and claiming that the other side is trying to destroy America. Either “they” are going to come take all the guns, or “they” just want this country to turn into the wild west where we just go around shooting anyone we disagree with. Either “they” want to turn this country into a socialist nation, or “they” only care about the rich getting richer. I could go on, but getting too much into politics just drives me crazy.

But it’s not just in politics that you see all of the negativity. It even boils over into sports, something that should be a fun past time. Arguments over which team is the best, or even worse, arguments from fans of the same team because they don’t think the organization made the right decisions. I love my TN Volunteers, but I cannot stand to read comments on fan groups on Facebook most of the time. They are either calling for a particular coach to be fired, complaining about how a certain team is playing, or finding something else to complain about. They forget that the men’s basketball team made it into the “Sweet 16” for the first time in a long time. They just had one of the best seasons in school history, yet there is always something to complain about.

And if you’re anything like me, all this negativity that fills our society today weighs really heavy at times. I don’t know exactly why, but part of my personality sees all the little negative things taking place and forgets that there are still great things going on in this world. I have to purposefully look for the good. So, that’s my challenge for you this month. What are some good things that are taking place in your life, in your town, state, this country, or around the world? Find them. Focus on them. Yes, we have to deal with negatives sometimes, but we need to focus on the positives.

In fact, I truly believe this world is in a better place than what the media would have us believe. They focus only on the negative, very rarely giving us any good or positive news. There is a quote attributed to comedian Rob Schneider that I believe has a lot of truth in it. He says, “If you turn off the news and just talk to your neighbors you’ll find that our great country is far more harmonious than you’re being told.” I’m not saying there are not problems. There are. But what are good things that are going on?

So here is my answer to the challenge I laid out for you. There are a lot of positives taking place, especially here in Canton. One of our own led the SWOSU Lady Bulldogs to second place in the nation in NCAA Division II Basketball. While they didn’t win the final game, they turned in a magical season, and had this whole area united in pulling for them. 

There are groups of students preparing to clean areas of our town. And speaking of our town, I can honestly say that I have never lived in a more generous community. If anyone is in need of anything, it seems that the need is taken care of immediately. Now let me get to some specifics.

We had a “love” offering for our summer intern, Kody Haas, to help with some car needs he has. This church body stepped up and gave around $2,000 to help him out. Kelley was trying to sell turtle backpacks to donate to kids battling cancer at Children’s in OKC. In just over a week, this town stepped in and bought ten backpacks that we were able to personally deliver (unfortunately, we did not get to give them directly to the kids).

But most of all, I want to highlight the most positive, good news of all. In the last few weeks, we have seen two young people give their life to Christ! That’s what this is all about. That is why our church exists; to make other disciples. And it should be celebrated every time it happens. In view of that, I want to take a minute and say congratulations to Maddy Acre and Nate Lang on making the best decision of your lives.  This church body celebrates with you, and we commit to helping you in your walk with Jesus. But I also want to thank you. Thank you for reminding us that there are good, positive things happening in our world, and especially here in our community!

Let’s Have Some Joy!

A few weeks ago, Kelley and I had an opportunity to attend a concert that we had always wanted to see, but never had been able to. And it wasn’t your normal concert either. We’ve seen a lot of Christian musicians over the years, and while there was some music involved, that was not the focus of the evening. Who did we see? A man by the name of Tim Hawkins.

If you aren’t familiar with that name, Tim is one of the most well known Christian comedians around. We’ve watched his videos for years, so when we found out he was going to be at a church in OKC in January, we just could not pass it up. It was a great date night, with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and then on to the show.

We went in expecting a good night, and lots of laughs. The night, however, exceeded our expectations. Tim Hawkins put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. My ribs were almost hurting from laughing harder and longer than I had in a long time. If you ever get a chance to see him live, I would highly recommend taking advantage of it.

You might be wondering why I’ve taken so much space in the newsletter talking about a date night that Kelley and I had over a month ago. I have a point, so stick with me for just a minute. First, dating doesn’t stop when you’re married. Marriage is a lot of work, and taking the time to intentionally spend time with one another is so important in strengthening that relationship.

My main reason for writing about our experience with Tim Hawkins is something else though. I want to encourage all of us to find joy and laughter as much as we can. I’m not talking about overlooking difficult times and pretending that nothing ever goes wrong. That would be lying to ourselves and others. But as Christ followers, we should be enjoying life, as long as we are keeping God in His proper place and not finding enjoyment in things that go against His word.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in how hard being a Christ follower is. And there are difficulties in following Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that we should only focus on the hard. Yes, there is work to do in sharing Jesus with others that don’t know Him yet. But there is freedom and joy that should be found in our relationship with Jesus. In fact, I would argue that Christ followers should be the most joyful, cheerful, positive people in this world.

Taking time to laugh at good, clean humor is therapeutic. I am convinced that God has a sense of humor, and that is why we enjoy laughter so much. And as we were recently reminded at the end of Sunday school by Joyce Robison; “We all need to walk around with a smile on our face.”

What My Dog Taught Me About Trusting God

*This article will appear in Canton Christian Church’s Newsletter for December 2018*

Kelley and I adopted a puppy in May. Neyland is now just over a year old, and he’s a mix of retriever, shepherd, and probably some pit. This little guy has brought a lot of happiness in our house, and we absolutely love having him.

Neyland
Neyland and Kraig in TN at Thanksgiving

We just got back to Oklahoma after a few days in Tennessee to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family (and Kelley’s parents and brother came in too). Neyland made the trip with us, and he handled the drive like a champ. I was really impressed. In fact, most of the time, we didn’t even know he was in the car because he was just hanging out in the backseat either asleep or chewing on one of his toys.

While he handled the trip well, and even got along with everyone he met, the night before we left Tennessee to come back home, he got really nervous. He wouldn’t leave my side, especially when he saw me start packing the car with all of our luggage. And then it dawned on me. He was afraid that Kelley and I were going to leave him at my mom’s house.

The morning that we were going to leave, we left him with my mom for about an hour while we went and had breakfast with Kelley’s parents and brother. When we got back to my mom’s to pick him up, she told us that he had stood at the top of the stairs and whimpered the whole time we were gone. I had told him over and over that he was going to come home with us, that we would not leave him there permanently. But when we left, with everything in the car except him, he became a nervous, anxious, wreck. It didn’t matter how much we had done to take care of him, or how much we love him. For some reason he could not trust that we were going to bring him home.

And then I realized something. Don’t we do the same thing with God? Continue reading “What My Dog Taught Me About Trusting God”

Hate Thought it Won

Hate thought it won 17 years ago today. That’s what drove people to fly planes into buildings. And they thought they would destroy what they hated. Buildings came down. People lost their lives. For a few moments, it seemed that hate had won. As a senior in high school, I watched all the coverage, and I was numb.

It was a beautiful, crisp, fall like day in east TN when I got the news about what had taken place. The blue sky outside didn’t seem to fit what was happening in the world. And again, it seemed that hate would win. But then the unimaginable happened. People started to rally around one another. But it was bigger than that. They started to rally around each other, but at churches. This nation turned to God.

And hate doesn’t win when we come to God. People in crisis came to God all across this country, trying to make sense of what happened in NYC, Washington D.C., and a field in PA. And hate was defeated. At least momentarily. As lives got back to normal, people decided they didn’t need to rally to God any longer (human nature took over). Until the end comes, hate will always try to win.

Hate thought it had ultimately won some 2,000 years ago, on a hillside outside of Jerusalem, when Jesus Christ was crucified. Hate celebrated that day. The Son of God was killed by humans, and hate thought it had won the victory. And, from the outside looking in, it appeared that was the case. The sky grew dark. Jesus was dead. His followers were devastated. All hope seemed to be gone.

BUT! Three days later, Jesus walked out of that tomb, raised back to life through the power of God. He defeated death. He defeated sin. He defeated hate. And the best news we could ever have is that those defeats are permanent. Yes, death, sin, and hate will continue to think they can win and will try to bring us down. But Jesus defeated them through His death and resurrection. Those that place their hope and trust in Him, no matter how hard life gets, know that the victory is already won. And it’s not through their power, but through the power of the ONE who created everything.

Hate may think it can win. It may have thought it won on 9-11-01. It definitely thought it won when Christ was crucified. But it was ultimately defeated through the same act that it tried to conquer. Because of that, it can never truly win. Trust in Jesus. No matter how bad life gets, as Christ followers we have hope. The victory is set. The war is won. Stay faithful in the battle. HATE DOESN’T WIN!

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New Sermon

One thought has been dominating my mind recently. Where is our urgency? There’s different ways of expressing it, but we have to start acting like the news that we proclaim for our lives needs to be shared with others. Below is the link to our 9-2-18 sermon. In it, I pose a few tough questions that hit me just as hard as they hit anyone else.

Where is our urgency? What have you done today to advance the Kingdom? How much do you have to hate someone to believe in heaven and hell and not share your faith with them?

Whoa! Where’s the Fire

Advance the Kingdom!

I’m a Crosseyed Jesus Freak. That’s the title of my website, and I always sign off on anything written here as Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak. There is good reason for this. Briefly, let me tell you why, before I jump into my thoughts for today (if you want to read the full post of where Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak came from, you can do that here). I’m crosseyed. No, not in a physical sense. It’s just that I simply try to live my life with my eyes fixed on Jesus and what He did for all of us on the cross (Heb. 12:2). When I can keep that perspective, everything else seems to just fall into place. Life isn’t easy, by any means, but there is purpose and something bigger than me. Jesus Freak is simply a reference to, in my opinion, the greatest Christian rock song of all time…Jesus Freak by dc Talk (read the lyrics here).

That’s the filter I try to live my life through. But I don’t always live up to it. I mess up. I sin. We all do. That doesn’t excuse it, but that’s just the reality of our imperfect human nature. That’s why we needed Jesus to pay our price for us on the cross in the first place. Continue reading “Advance the Kingdom!”