Coincidences and Blessings

This originally appeared as my first feature as a guest post on Christian blogger Jennifer J. Kelly‘s excellent blog. Be sure to follow her. I guarantee you will be changed by her optimism and her honesty.

You can find the original post here: Coincidences and Blessings.

“If our circumstances find us in God, we shall find God in all our circumstances”
-D.L. Moody

God is so good.

I know that sounds like a Christian cliche, but hear me out.

Have you ever asked someone for something, only to find out they were already working on making that happen before you even requested it?

Coincidence or blessing?

The church I attend honors the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It is set at the center of our service and considered to be the most important part. Each week, church members who volunteer have the opportunity to present a short communion meditation. These devotions range from powerful orations to profound prayers, all intended to focus attention on Jesus, to honor his command to “do this in remembrance of me.”

For a few years now I have volunteered. About once every two months my name pops up in the rotation. This week, I am up again. My meditation is about deep faith, about how some people choose the pool over the ocean. My plan was to ask our worship team to sing “Oceans” by Hillsong United.

You know where this is going don’t you?

Our worship team had already scheduled that song.
Right before communion.

And this is not the first time this has happened.
Without exaggeration, every time I have thought of a good pre-meditation song, the worship team already had it planned as part of the schedule.

Every time.
That’s not coincidence. That’s God.

I feel so blessed that when life seems so unpredictable and chaotic, if I truly pay attention, I see that if I have plans that glorify God, it’s really not that chaotic at all. I see that God knows when I have plans that glorify Him and suddenly Romans 8:28 is manifested in ways that make me want to shout in praise.

The more I read the Bible, the more I see the plans of man failing – until those plans align with God’s and everything changes. Lives change.

Even better, those who align their plans with God often find His plans were what they had in mind to begin with…

Only better.

This has been on my mind:

“We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. Do your best to improve your faith by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful…
My friends, you must do all you can to show God has really chosen and selected you. If you keep on doing this, you won’t stumble and fall.” (‭2 Peter‬ ‭1‬:‭3-8, 10‬ CEV)

Did you see that?
We have EVERYTHING we need to live a life that pleases God. [Tweet that!]

And God has invited us to share in His goodness.

So that situation that worked out for you, that favor that came before you even asked for it, that thing you didn’t expect to work out but it did?
Coincidence or blessing from God?
Coincidence or has God provided what you need to please Him?

Just some things to think about as we start a new year.

May God open your eyes to His blessings as you seek to please Him in all you do.

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Just As You Are

I warn you, I am one of those liberal, open-minded Christians who thinks church is just as much for the sinner as for the saint. Maybe more.

I remember as a teenager, struggling with what I had been taught in church set against the backdrop of junior high life. When a friend confessed to being gay, I immediately wondered if I should end that friendship, remembering a verse I learned in Sunday School about not associating with sinners. When several other friends picked up a marijuana habit, I saw my social life falling apart all around me as I worried I would have to cut all ties with my former friends turned sinners.

When I read the gospels, I notice something.

If Jesus had cut ties with sinners, he would have been a very lonely man. Jesus thrived among sinners. Even better, they thrived and grew in His presence. The sinners who were drawn to Jesus found themselves changed and challenged by his loving and convicting (not judgmental) demeanor. They wanted to be better simply because they wanted to be with him.

A great example of this is Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had become “very rich” as a tax collector, cheating those he had collected from by lying about the amount and keeping the extra for himself. One chance to see Jesus and Zacchaeus, “too short to see over the crowd,” climbed a tree just to get a look at Jesus. As Jesus walked by the tree, he looked up and called Zacchaeus by name.

What would it be like to have Jesus call you by name?

I like to imagine that for a second, Zacchaeus’ heart stopped at the sound. He might have even done a double-take, using whatever free arm that wasn’t gripping a tree branch to point at his chest and whisper, “Me?”

“Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Wait… What?

So, a notorious tax collector/con man climbs a tree to see Jesus. It’s hard to miss the real-life symbolism of this kind of guy trying to get above everybody else to get the best view of Jesus. He’s not even really interested in meeting Jesus. He just wants to get a good look at him.

In a crowd of probably hundreds, Jesus stops, calls Zacchaeus out by name, and insists the he be a guest in his home that very same day.

According to Jewish tradition, eating a meal meant entering into friendship. It didn’t mean let’s grab a quick bite, chat for a bit, and if we hit it off then great. If not, oh well. No, to share a meal with someone meant you were expecting to begin a worthwhile and wholehearted friendship with someone, a friendship to last, not just some convenient passing acquaintance that ended as soon as you got what you needed. Jesus meant to start a friendship with this known swindler and he meant to start it now.

Right now, Jesus wants to start a friendship with you.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or how terrible of a person the rest of the world tanks you are.

Jesus is saying, right now, “Quick! Come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to pray a prayer first. He didn’t ask him to get right with God first. He didn’t tell him to pay back all the money he stole. He simply invited himself into Zacchaeus’ life with compassion and urgency. “Quick!” “I must…!”

There’s more to the story. Amid the grumbles of the people who were “displeased” that Jesus had befriended a “notorious sinner,” Zacchaeus took Jesus to his house with “great excitement and joy.” As Zacchaeus spent time with Jesus, something happened.

“Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!'”

It was only after spending time with Jesus, entering into friendship with Jesus, that Zacchaeus’ heart was changed.

“Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

The lost.

That’s me. That’s you. We’re all floundering about, looking for something more to life. Wondering what our purpose really is in this world. Acting out in ridiculous, selfish, and harmful ways just to get some sense of placement, just to be noticed. But when the dust from the rubble settles, we still feel…


Jesus wants to start a friendship with you. He doesn’t want to demand you change your ways. But he does want you to be changed. And that only happens after you spend some time with him. Jesus said, ” Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”

Like the old hymn, ” Just as I am” Jesus just wants you to show up, just as you are, full of sin and fury. Start with prayer. It might feel weird at first, but just talk to Jesus. Tell him why you haven’t believed all this time. Tell him why you’ve doubted or hated or questioned. Tell him why you’re hurting, who hurt you, and why you’re struggling to get over that hurt. Tell him whatever you want. Cry if you need to (although you probably will anyway.)

If you want to get to know Jesus better, a good place to start is the gospel of John. If Bible reading isn’t your thing, I recommend watching a very accurate portrayal of “The Gospel of John” available on Netflix.

As best you can, surround yourself with other believers. Try a local church or call a friend who goes to church and invite yourself. I guarantee they’ll be thrilled.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. Jesus will wreck your life by compelling you and convicting you to change your ways and walk instead in the ways of mercy and grace. You’ll start thinking more about others than yourself. You’ll realize that life isn’t about you, that you do not exist on this earth to bring success and glory to yourself. You will feel the battle waging inside between your old self and who God truly intended you to be. That is the real identity crisis and it is raging inside even the most devout believers.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t feel it right away. Just trust that Jesus will change your heart. You know the old expression that says you are who/what you spend time with? It is especially true of Jesus.

Just be quick. Jesus wants to be a guest in your house today.

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Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are always difficult for me. If I’m not careful, bitterness sets in like winter fog and I lose sight of what really matters. Each year, someone is sick, or arguing, or using the season to push an agenda.

This year, amid family struggles and an ill grandfather, I tired of the battle between some Christians and the rest of the world over who was “stealing” Christmas. Who can steal what God gave? Who can take away that Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected for each of us? Call the holiday whatever you want. Jesus was born, prophecy was fulfilled, salvation was won.

Meanwhile, life happened. My grandfather healed and was out of the hospital before Christmas. Family arguments were kept at bay. And it really was a Merry Christmas.

Now, as the new year begins, I’ve had some time to think about last year’s blessings and challenges, how I grew through each trial, and how lucky I am to still be healthy and happy.

The only resolution I have made is to fix my heart and mind on whatever God has in store for me, to walk as closely to Jesus as I can, and to not beat myself up so much when I fail.

Oh, and of course I plan to write more often.

Hope everyone had a great holiday. Happy New Year.

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Mandela’s Education View

Fellow educator Walter McKenzie referenced me in his blog after a conversation about what plagues our education system.


Jason Lilly (@WolfDreamer1112): “Some of us like to storm the castle from the inside… know what I mean?”

Walter: “Yes Jason! We need that too! We all need to be working for change from our own vantage point.”

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Mental Health and Damn Idealism…REALLY???

“For some time I have questioned the way we ‘do life’ here in North America and other parts of the Western World.”
Excellet post from my friend Kenneth Justice, The Culture Monk.

boston 3

By Kenneth Justice

“I think you’re just stubborn and don’t want to accept the world as it is” he said

~ I was sitting at coffee recently when an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me. He was one of those ‘let’s discuss politics and if you don’t agree with me I’m going to yell you” kind of people. I tend to take moderate positions in political discussion, partly because I’m at a point in life where political debates have begun to feel a bit tedious to me, and partly because I actually am a rather moderate person in my political philosophy.

However, somewhere between the older man telling me the only solution for peace in the Middle East was to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran and murder every single Middle Easterner and that white people are inherently better human beings than “people of…

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How Much More… Trusting God and Seeking First

I recently read a few pages of a book published by Reader’s Digest, Exploring the Secrets of Nature. As much as I know about the natural world, I always feel like there is more to learn. I have always been fascinated by animal behavior, especially how and why animals do what they do.

The book is written like a collection of “articles,” organized by themes. The first four articles I read were about animals risking everything to spawn or lay eggs. Of course, many members of these species don’t survive the journey and a lot of their young also die. But somehow, enough of them survive to keep the species going year after year.

God’s fingerprints are there, even in the common and the mundane. [Tweet that!]

The way the system works is incredible. Hungry animals hover along beaches or next to streams, waiting for this species of turtle or fish or whatever it may be to work its way upstream onto shore, lay its eggs, and provide the hungry predator with a necessary meal.

I experienced this a few years ago while kayaking the Poca River near my home. It was early fall and I found myself rowing on top of a massive school of minnows, possibly hundreds of thousands of them, swimming quickly downstream toward the much larger (and warmer) Kanawha River. As they swam, a group of kingfishers swept down one by one and expertly scooped tiny minnows into their mouth. I had never seen so many kingfishers near the river before, so I marveled that they must be gathering to fill their bellies with minnows.

I wondered what if the minnows weren’t there? Would the birds find somewhere else to feed? Or would they starve? And what of the minnows? How many of them would be picked off before reaching the Kanawha? Enough to threaten their species? Do the kingfishers ever worry about starving? Do the minnows ever worry about the elimination of their entire species?

This all recalls a metaphor Jesus used in Matthew 6 in which he addresses the concerns many of his followers have about money and giving to the needy. Jesus says:

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?

 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

Why do you have so little faith?”

That final question bites hard enough that I feel it in my heart. And I’m certain Jesus’s audience that day also felt it. I’ve written before about enjoying the comforts of Christianity without sacrificing much of anything. Comfort is one of those things with me and it usually comes from a fear that I might lose everything.

It is easy to justify this fear. I have more than myself to think about. I can’t just walk around, not thinking about whether my children are okay. I worry that I might say or do something foolish to upset my wife. I’m concerned that my performance at work isn’t enough to keep me employed for much longer. I think… I worry… I’m concerned.

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

Jesus challenges my faith everyday. The deeper I get into scripture, the more aware of life I become. Stories abound of threats to the environment, climate change, pollution. And yet I still see God providing for even the tiniest creature on this earth. A tiny bud sprouting after a forest fire. A fawn finding a new family after its mother was struck by a car. A group of kingfishers feasting on minnows from a threatened river.

Life sustains and life remains. That is the fingerprint of God. [Tweet that!]

So what do we have to worry about? Each day comes with its challenges, of course. Jesus isn’t saying that life will be without threats or hardships. What he is saying is much more profound.

We need to trust God with our lives.

We need to let go of worry, concern, and doubt. Instead, Jesus says:

33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Why do you have so little faith? Seek the Kingdom of God above all else…

And he will give you everything you need.

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Bad News

I knew something wasn’t right this morning.

Most mornings, we have the TV on in my house turned to the local news. Like a lot of Americans we watch it mostly for the weather and traffic reports. There’s just so much bad news anymore that I tend to unwillingly tune out the majority of it.

This morning, though, I didn’t turn the TV on. I don’t know if part of me wanted peace or if I just forgot. Either way, no news for us this morning.

On the way to work, the horizon was getting pinker and I was feeling good. Seconds later, though, I felt a strong urge to cry. I fought it and was able to swallow it back. I’m characteristically sensitive, so this sudden compulsion to weep wasn’t really that out of the ordinary. I assumed it was the beautiful skyline mixed with some uplifting music and some encouraging thoughts in my head about how the day was going to go.

It didn’t take long once I arrived at the school to figure out that something wasn’t right. It was quiet, quieter than usual, and I could feel some weird kind of tension like something serious had just happened and I had missed it. One of my colleagues stopped me in the hall and her question shook me.

“Did you know that boy who was shot last night?” 

My first reaction was Wait… someone was shot last night? She tried to remember his name and stammered some sounds until I cut her off with a proper pronunciation of the name of a student I had last year.

“He’s dead,” she said, eyes wide with shock and concern. I gasped, covered my mouth, felt tears close again and just shook my head.

This was a rough kid. In and out of trouble, he spent more time out on the streets than he did at home or in school. He was the kind of kid that a lot of teachers and administrators counted as a loss. He was also the kind of kid whom some said could drop off the face of the earth and no one would even notice.

Now that kid is dead. I passed many of his peers, their eyes wet and faces red with grief. They noticed. And a few of my colleagues, shocked with grief, they noticed. And I noticed.

I don’t know what else to say, really. A kid is dead. Regardless of his circumstances, regardless of what others may believe or think about his lifestyle, he’s dead and that hurts me. It hurts me that people are still talking about it like it was no surprise, simply because of the lifestyle he was living that put his life at risk.

It’s wrong and it sucks and I can’t help but feel like I failed as his teacher because I couldn’t talk him out of some of the choices he had made. No matter how many people say to me, “You can’t save them all,” I still feel my heart breaking because I wonder if there was something I missed, something I could have done that might have saved this one.

Right now, all I can do is pray. For his family and friends, for students who looked up to him and wanted to be like him. For the wisdom that it takes to see the purpose and reason in something like this. For the courage it takes to ask God the difficult questions, the most challenging being Why?

All I ask is that you do the same.

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