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.”

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.

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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”

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!”

Happy Father’s Day

Earlier this month was the anniversary of my dad’s death. Nineteen years since I’ve been able to talk to him. And I’m not writing this in an attempt to say “woe is me” because I don’t have a dad. I’m very grateful for the fifteen years that I was able to have with him before he died. He was a great dad, though not perfect, because none of us are.

Dad

So as I sit here and think about Father’s Day, I want to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. I miss him every day, but again, I am thankful for the time that I had with him and the lessons he taught me. He instilled a love and importance in me for my relationship with Jesus. He showed me what it meant to be a husband and a father.

But I was just fifteen when he died. I still had a lot of lessons to learn (and still do for that matter). As an only child, I didn’t have an older brother to help along the way. But I did have some other men that stepped into my life and made sure I had that father figure in my life. They never pretended or intended to take the place of my dad, but they made sure I wasn’t on my own either. So, as I say Happy Father’s Day today to all you dads out there, I want to take a minute to acknowledge some men that stepped in and helped fill a hole in my life. If it wasn’t for these men, I don’t think I would be the man or minister I am today.

Thank you Tom Berry, Tom Tucker, Barry Tolley, Curtis Booher, Clint Andrews, and my father-in-law Kevin Whitsett.

You all took an interest in me at different times and made sure that I had positive male role models to look to when needed. While I hope my dad is proud of me and who I’ve become, I hope the same from each of you. I wouldn’t be the Crosseyed Jesus Freak without you all!

If you read this and you know any of these men I mentioned, please share this with them. Most of them are not on social media.

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A Reminder: Why We Do What We Do

God did it again. I really shouldn’t be surprised, but He never ceases to amaze me. This past week was a little rough. It came at a time that I had purposefully taken some time away to reconnect and refresh my relationship with God. When I came back from that time, it just seemed like there was just some things working against me to get me down.

I was feeling a little discouraged in my ministry. Nothing big. But a few small things were popping up here and there and I let that distract me from all of the good things that were happening. Then, on top of all of that, NW Oklahoma caught on fire. It hasn’t really hit the Canton area, at least not yet. But there is devastation to the west of us. People losing homes, fields, farms, entire herds, and even a couple of lives, with no real end in sight unless we get some rain.

All of this just led to even more discouragement. That’s what I felt when I woke up this morning (Sunday). I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I just felt down. So I spent a lot of time asking God to help my attitude and to be able to preach with conviction. I didn’t want to let a little discouragement to cause me to just go through the motions, which I tend to do every now and then.

As our service ended this morning, and people were leaving, I finally understood why I had been feeling the way I was feeling. The enemy didn’t want me on my game today. He wanted me to just go through the motions or to phone it in. I had noticed while I was preaching that a couple of teens were in the back and seemed pretty emotional. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, but I quickly found out.

They were both feeling the call to give their lives to Jesus and surrender to Him in baptism. After the service was over, I was able to talk with them about why they wanted to be baptized and to get things ready for tonight. They didn’t even want to wait until next Sunday. So as I write this, our baptistry is getting filled, and during our adult evening service tonight, we will have two new sisters in Christ and they surrender their lives to Christ through the act of baptism. (This won’t be published until Monday morning, so celebrate with us after the fact!)

That’s God’s perfect time again. That’s God reminding me that this is why I have given my life to serving Him. Watching these two girls come to an understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done for them makes all of the down times worth it. There is nothing better this side of heaven than getting to be a part of someone giving their life to Jesus. All the struggle, all the discouragement, all the restless nights are made worth it when we get to be a part of someone finally understanding that Jesus is the only thing that is worth anything in this life.

As I was talking with these two this morning, I congratulated them and then reminded them that this was the best decision that they were ever going to make in their entire lives. And that is all the encouragement I need to carry on in this calling of ministry that I have in my life. Even a Crosseyed Jesus Freak needs that reminder occasionally, so if you’re reading this and feeling discouraged in your walk with Jesus or in your ministry, take heart. There is a reason we do what we do. We have a Savior that loves us and died on the cross for us. That is the only chance that anyone has, so share Him with any and all who will listen! It’s all worth it in the end!

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We Live in a Broken World

My heart aches. In fact, it is breaking for our brothers and sisters in a little town in Texas right now. I’m sure most of you have heard by now of the most recent senseless shooting to take place in our country. This time, a church was targeted, and the casualties are staggering. At the time I am writing this, there are 26 confirmed dead, and around the same number injured. The age range of those killed seems to be from 5 years old and up (Now reports are saying the youngest death was 18-months). And why? 

I don’t know exactly why this particular person decided to open fire at this particular church. But I do know the answer to ‘why’. We live in a broken world. We live in a world that is consumed by our sinful nature. We live in a world where we try to handle things on our own, leaving God out of the equation. The evidence of this is all around. Most recently in Las Vegas, New York City, and now, a small community in Texas just outside of San Antonio.

This tragedy has another answer to it as well. It’s not just because we live in a broken world. It’s because, as Christ followers, we will be persecuted. Things like this, while tragic, should not surprise us. I’m not condoning this type of action. Not by any means. But Jesus told us that the world would hate us because of Him. John 15:18 states,

‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’

So how should we respond? We have to put our trust in Jesus. We need to invite God back into the equation. And we should treat those that hate us because we follow Christ with the love of Christ. Easier said than done. I get that. But that is the way we need to respond. Jesus said in the next chapter of John 16:33,

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Texas, and all those that have been hurt, whether physically or emotionally, by this senseless tragedy. Pray for the shooter’s family. Pray that Jesus may return soon. But also pray for ways that we can be a light in this dark and broken world. This side of eternity, there will be problems. There will be troubles. But we have Jesus’ promise and reminder that He has overcome the world!

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Thankfulness in All Circumstances

It’s that time of year again. If you’re on any social media you know exactly what I’m talking about. November 1 rolls around every year and suddenly it seems that you can’t go ten minutes without someone you know posting what they are thankful for. Most that do this post one thing a day for the 30 days of November. Before I go any further, if you participate in this exercise I want to make this very clear; I am not saying that there is anything wrong with it. I actually enjoy reading what people post.

And I get why this is always done in November. We have a holiday called “Thanksgiving” during this month. We set this month aside to try and remember what we are thankful for, and that is a very much needed reminder in this world. There is so much wrong in the world today that we sometimes forget what we do have to be thankful for.

What I want to encourage you with, however, is we need to focus on what we have to be thankful for a lot more often than just the month of November. Especially as Christ followers. There is so much for us to remember. There is so much to be thankful for. Even when things are not going exactly the way we want them to or the way we think they should.

Paul, when writing to the Thessalonian church, put it this way;

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

In all circumstances. That seems really tough doesn’t it? Does that mean when a loved one is sick we should give thanks? What about when it’s a holiday and you’re not able to be with family? Or you’ve lost your job and you don’t know how you’re going to keep paying your bills? Or you just keep seeing more and more evidence that we live in a broken world? The answer is “YES!” In all circumstances. How do we do that?

The answer is right in front of us in the rest of what Paul has written here. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks…for this is God’s will for you. We are able to be thankful in all circumstance when we are able to focus on Jesus. By looking to Him in every situation, being in constant communication with Him (prayer), and realizing that if nothing else, we have Jesus Himself to be thankful for. Living as a Christ follower was never promised to be easy. Don’t ever make that mistake. But Christ did promise to always be with us. And He promised it would all be worth it in the end.

There is so much pain in this world. We live in a broken world because as human beings we have tried to do things on our own instead of looking to God. So here’s my challenge to you; Look for things to be thankful for all year long. There is nothing wrong with focusing on thankfulness during November, just don’t forget that we all have so much to be thankful for all year long. Even the trials and hard times that we face are things to be thankful for. I’ll leave you with this thought from James 1:

“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

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He Must Become Greater

“He must become greater; I must become less.”

This quote is found in John 3:30, and is actually said by John the Baptist, referring to the person of Jesus Christ. I read this in my quiet time just recently, and it stood out. I was familiar with it before this, but for some reason it struck a chord with me in a great way this time.

John was the person that was sent ahead of Jesus to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. That is a very important job. It would be easy to think really highly of oneself when you are the one sent to proclaim that the Messiah is here. And people thought that John was either the Messiah or a great prophet of old. It would not have been hard for John to take some of that praise and the accolades that some were willing to give, and say, “I deserve this”.

But that is not what John did. In fact, he very straightforwardly stated that he was not the Messiah. In fact that happened in the same conversation where we see him saying “He must become greater; I must become less.”

It seems to be really easy these days to think more highly of yourself than you should. I know that’s a struggle of mine anyway. Preaching and teaching is something that I really enjoy, and God seems to have given me these things as strengths. And believe me, it would be really easy to start getting a little conceited about that.

What things are you really good at? Surely something comes to your mind when you read that question. But do you put those things in the proper place. That is where this conversation that the disciple John records about John the Baptist is so important for us. John the Baptist knew he had an important job, but the most important thing to him was showing Jesus for who He really was.

In other words, John the Baptist knew that the only thing that really mattered was Christ being exalted, even if that meant he was not as important as is human nature told him he was. And the same thing should be true for us. We should desire nothing above glorifying Christ. Use your gifts. Use them well. By all means. But do so not to exalt yourself, but to lift up Jesus Christ to others.

“HE MUST BECOME GREATER; I MUST BECOME LESS.”

May we all make that our goal in life.

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