Category Archives: Blessing

More than you thought; better than you imagined.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

A poor farmer followed Jesus.  He went out into the wilderness with him.  He expected a miracle.  He expected a revolution.  He heard that Jesus was the long expected king.  The Messiah.

Time had been rough for the farmer.  In fact, times had been rough for all Israel.  The farmer, like all of his friends resented the dreaded Romans.  They had the nerve to claim rule over the Holy Land!  They had the audacity to overtax God’s holy people.  The farmer knew that there would arise a promised one who would drive the dreaded Romans out.  And, now…he’s here.  This Jesus.  He’s going to do it.

So, the farmer walked away from his daily work to follow this man.  He became a disciple.  He was going to learn from him.  And, now the teacher has sat down to teach and to explain his kingdom.  His reign.  The reign of God.

And, the first words out of his mouth hit the farmer like a ton of bricks.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You see, the farmer had come to hear about God’s reign.  About the reign of the heavens.  About this man Jesus’ inauguration of that reign.    And, the first words out of the King’s mouth are a blessing that hit the farmer right in his heart.

You see, the farmer, like all of his friends was poor.  They had been working subsistence jobs all their lives.  They had been waiting patiently for God’s Messiah,  And, his first words are…the kingdom is yours.  It belongs to you poor, humble, contrite people who have been beaten down and trodden down and worked to the ground.

It belongs to you humble followers.  It’s yours.

And, so it begins.  The farmer hangs on every word.  It was what his heart longed for.

Do You Choose to Follow Jesus?

I love the idea of Jesus dying for me, but I don’t want to suffer and die on a cross.  The pain.  The suffering.  The shame.  I mean he died a public death in front the whole world.  He was executed!  And, that’s about the last thing on the world I’d want to endure.

So, I have a dream.  And, in my dream I die of cardiac arrest, and I go to heaven.  God speaks to me and tells me that I can go back to earth on a special mission.  I’ll be his man.  I’ll be a preacher.   Many will turn to him and be saved!   I’m ready to say, “Here I am, send me”…then, I hear these words.  “If you go back, you will be rejected.  Your friends will turn on you.  You will be preaching in the Middle East.  In the end, they will crucify you and behead you.”  And, in my dream, I pause.  I’m not sure what to say, and then I wake up.

What was my choice going to be?

The Jesus gospel sounds so great until you’re put in the place of giving your all.

I want you to hear what Jesus said (Matthew 13:44-46):

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,  who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Imagine you find a tract of land in Baldwin County, Alabama, that has oil reserves to rival those of Saudi Arabia.  Billion of barrels beneath those mossy oaks.  So, you beg and you borrow.  You have nothing left but the Thrift Store clothes on your back, but you scrape up enough to do it.  You buy that field.    It was the only choice.  It cost you everything.  It cost you nothing.

And, that’s the way it is with following Jesus.  The stakes are high.  The reward is great.  It will cost you everything, and it will cost you nothing.

So, what’s your choice going to be?

He Strengthened Himself in the Lord (I Samuel 30)

David had it bad.  Months of avoiding the king’s deadly grip.  Then, his wives are taken.  His possessions are captured.  What was he to do?  His men rose up to stone him.  What did he do?

“He strengthened himself in the Lord.”

I imagine he’d done that before.

When the bear came, he strengthened himself in the Lord.

When the lion came, he strengthened himself in the Lord.

When Goliath, the mighty giant, came calling, he strengthened himself in the Lord.

When King Saul sought his life, he strengthened himself in the Lord.

Now, with his people gone, his stuff taken, and his men ready to mutiny, it’s no surprise what he does.

He strengthened himself in the Lord.

Not only does he strengthen himself in the Lord, but he asks the Lord a question.  He asks, “Shall I pursue them?”

God answers, “Pursue them, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.”

David had been on a long march.  He had just come in from battle.  He’s been crying so hard he couldn’t go.  Now, God says to go.  He says to face the challenge.

What does David do?  He goes.

He doesn’t just go a little.  He goes a lot.

When 200 of his mean are to tired too go on, he goes.

He goes until he finds what God promised him, even if it takes a miracle.  Even if it takes a divine act.  David goes knowing the God who promises will surely make good on his promises.

So, when you’re past going, and when you feel like giving up, pull out a Psalm, and sing a song.  And, like David, we can rise and take what God has given.  

He’s promised, but you have to go.

And what will he do?  Where will he be?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:4-5

Surely, he will guide.  He will provide.  No need to fear.

Just go.

Got Faith?

 I was seated alone on a row toward the front.  In walked a man I had seen before, but didn’t really know.  He said his name was Doug Prater.  We sang Farther Along.  I just sat there and listened to his clear and steady tenor.
Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested though in the wrong
When death has come and taken our loved ones
It leaves our home so lonely and drear
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year
Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all, by and by.
Shane Prater was young.  We prayed, and we thought he would survive, but he didn’t.  As cancer ravaged his body, his faith remained.  So did his father’s.
Who was the man who sat by me?  He is Shane’s father.  As he sat there alone singing Farther Alone, I almost got emotional.
To hear him singing that song…it meant something.
I happened to know a little about this man’s history…and to see him quietly and calmly sing those words…it was powerful.
The sermon’s question was, “Got Faith?”
Mr. Prater’s song was  a resounding, “Yes!”
That’s the faith that that is the victory, that’s the faith that overcomes the world.  That’s the faith that says, Lord I know you’re working out your purposes, and I’m glad to be a part of it, even when when it hurts.  It’s the faith that say,s I know that after my body has decayed, that I will see God, and one day he will resurrect our vile bodies and make them like his glorious body.  It’s the faith that keeps us going, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

This Person’s Story: God is Here

A person started trying to practice the presence of God this week.

This person looked around his house, and he saw chairs, and furniture, and fixtures he had missed before.  He saw the beauty in ordinary.  The extraordinary in the mundane.

This person walked to work and saw the majesty of the newly constructed buildings.  He had missed that before.  This person walked on the Quad of the University of Alabama and marveled at the beauty of creation just right where he was at the present.

This person came to church for a midweek service, and it was different this time.  This person found a deeper appreciation for the speakers, deeper connection with his friends and a deep sense of gratitude for getting to share a simple word of encouragement with a friend.

While this person didn’t intend it, he found greater productivity at work, better appreciation for his coworkers, and just a brighter look in his own eyes and face.

This person learned a very simple lesson.  It’s not about asking God for things.  It’s about experiencing the thing that is right in front of you all along.  It’s God in the moment.

It’s a simple realization.  It’s what you told your kids when they were young.  It’s the simplest ting of all.  Just realize, embrace, and live into this one thing:  God is here.

And, that changes everything.

Practice the Presence

Every day you can choose to live in your present reality or somewhere else.

You see it in the absent eyes of your friends.  Distracted.

You see it in the eyes of the suburban teenager who lives more in Snapchat than in their actual house.

You hear it in the voice of your coworker who is thinking about her future career moves, and isn’t really “with you.”

You feel it in the embrace of your loved ones who are consumed with the past such that they can’t really give you an authentic, warm, hug.

You know it in yourself.  It robs you of peace, joy, and life itself.

What is the solution?

Psalm 16:9-11 – “In his presence is fullness of joy.”

What do you really want?  I believe it’s joy.

How do you find it?

Practice the presence.  Get to know the story of what God is doing in this world.  It’s the best story.  It will change you life.  Then, live into that story.  How do you do that?  Practice the presence of God.

I Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray without ceasing.  I like that.   Here’s my personal application of that verse – Try to live in ceaseless communion with God.

What happens when you do that?

People will know something is different about you.  They will see it in the eyes that really see them.  They will hear it in the voice that speaks with calm assurance.  They will feel it in the realness of your embrace.

And, you will feel it, too.

So, give it a try this week.  Try to embrace a continual communion with God.   Let his presence and his Word fill your every moment.  Make that your goal this week.

Seek first the kingdom of God, and all the things you worry about will be added to you.  (Justin’s paraphrase of Matthew 6:33)


Get In On It

“I used to pray,  ‘God, please bless what I’m doing.’  At some point I changed.  I changed my prayer to, ‘God, just let me in on what you’re blessing.'”

Moss filled oaks hang over the streets of this this picturesque town on Mobile Bay.  Fairhope’s cobble stone streets are lined with quaint shops, where locals and a few tourists stop by to try the fudge, taste the paninis, and maybe even drop by the Page and Palette bookstore.  When I walked in there that day, I saw that William P. Young was speaking in just a few minutes.  He had recently self-published a breakout best seller called The Shack.

That’s where I heard the quote.  That’s where I started thinking about that one idea that I have kicked around in my head for years.

“God, just let me in on what you’re blessing.”

That reminds me of Jesus’ prayer: Lord, not my will by thine be done.

It also reminds me of the Model Prayer: Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It reminds me of Nicaragua and the great work I see happening there.

It reminds me of how I need to frame my life:  Seek the will of God…not to talk him into my will.  I need to just submit to his.

Isn’t that what life is all about?  In submission, we find power.  In submission, we find freedom.  In submission, we find hope.

That’s a hard word for an often prideful and self-centered person.  It’s a hard word for me.  But, just think…you’re submitting to someone or something.  Better make it the right one…After all, he’s the one that’s doing the blessing.

And, I want to get in on it!

Featured image courtesy of Flickr/Overseas Development Institute

Why I’m A Christian: Walking…but Not Alone

“In the end, all you have is yourself.”

That’s a great quote, except that it’s not true.

Sometimes I even feel like that.  In fact, I am tempted to wear it as a sort of badge of honor.  You know, all I need is me.

The problem is, it’s not true.

Last Saturday sort of proved it to me.  Over 180 people gathered together to do a Walk4Water event.   If you’d like to know more, you can read about it here.   It was spearheaded by Christ followers who just wanted to help some people in need.

We raised money, met our fundraising goal, and had a good time.

But, one image sticks with me.



When you’re walking with Christ followers, you’ll never walk alone.

It may seem like you walk alone.  It may be your experience for some time, but they are out there.  They’re pulling for you.  They’re right beside you.

1 John 3:16  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Colossians 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

John 17:23  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.


This Magic Moment: The Secret to Joy, Peace, and Purpose

Think of those moments that seemed to stand still.   The time your shared tears of joy with a friend.  Worship that filled your heart with joy.  What were they really about?  What made the moment special?

Why not figure that out, latch on to it, and never let go?

Want to know what it is?

Let me give you some hints:

“…in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,”  Psalm 16:1

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control,” Galatians 5:22-23

Get Real

Drop the cell phone.  Put down the laptop.   It’s about to get real.

Empty the moment of selfish expectation and fill it with the presence of God.   Seize the moment by finding God in it.

Then, you can truly see.  You can look deeply into your loved one’s eyes and experience the eternal in the fleeting.

Then, your life will be filled with timeless moments, for you will have filled them with the timeless presence.

Then, your seemingly meaningless moments will be filled with the meaning and purpose of the Ages.

You will experience an eternal kind of life(John 17:3).

It’s all here.  It’s right now.  In this moment.  

Featured Image courtesy of  Atlantic Records (Billboard, page 1, 12 December 1964) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


You Make a Difference: More Than You Think

  • When you shine your light, you make a difference (Matthew 5:16).
  • When you are different, you make a difference (I Peter 2:9).
  • When are steady and don’t give up, you make a difference (I Corinthians 15:58).
  • When you want more than anything to know Christ, you make a difference (Philippians 3).
  • When you work with passion and excellence, you make a difference (Colossians 3:23; Ecclesiastes 9:10).
  • When you forgive like Christ for gave you, you make a difference (Ephesians 4:32).
  • When you choose to be filled with the Spirit instead of spirits, you make a difference (Ephesians 5:18-19).
  • When you worship from the heart, you make a difference (Acts 16:16-40, Acts 2:42-44).
  • When kids grow up and want to be like Christ because of you, you make a difference (Ephesians 5).
  • When your legacy is eternal and is more valuable than the whole world, you make a difference (Matthew 16:26).

The Star-Fish Story

Loren Eisley tells this story:

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.       

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

Would you make a difference for one today?

It might seem that you’re not making any difference in the world, but remember this.  Man can count the numbers of apples on a tree.  Only God can count the number of trees in an apple.   And, it might not seem that your efforts are making a great impact, but who knows?  Maybe you are changing the world.  And, maybe you are changing the world of one.

Flavil Nichols tells are beautiful story about the power of one.


During the war between the states, a young woman learned the truth and obeyed the gospel. Her sweetheart, J. H. Halbrook, was a confederate soldier. He was captured by the union army and kept a prisoner in Michigan until the war was over. He was given a ticket to Nashville, Tennessee and $2.50. From there, he returned to Centerville and found what was left of his home and family. He found his girlfriend and they were married. His wife studied the Bible with him, and he soon became a Christian. He thought the truth was so good and so simple that he began to teach and baptize many of his friends and neighbors. He began to preach, but he recognized his need for more training, so he came to the original Mars Hill Bible School, taught by T. B. Larimore. Upon completing his studies there, instead of going back to Tennessee, they moved farther south, coming into Walker, Marion, Fayette, and Lamar counties in Alabama. One of his many converts was Charley Alexander Wheeler. His wife taught him to read from the Bible. Along with his wife, C. A. Wheeler obeyed the gospel and soon began preaching to others. He started more than 100 congregations and baptized more than 6,000 people.

But wait, the story is not ended! One of those 6,000 was my father, the late Gus Nichols! Twelve thousand were baptized under his preaching.

Among those baptized by Gus Nichols, no one knows, nor can know, how many began to preach “the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3,4); but I personally know several. I, Flavil Nichols, am ONE whom he baptized and whom he encouraged to preach the truth. And under my preaching, about three thousand have been baptized. A few among them preached the gospel, also!

Only eternity can reveal the total results of the conversion of that one girl nearly one hundred fifty years ago. The results are not yet all in! But this shows that TWENTY ONE THOUSAND people have become Christians through this single thread in the fabric of her influence.

“Go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). YOU are important, too! Dear reader, if you go to heaven, others probably will be saved by you! “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16). “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Each ONE is important.

So, dear reader, know that you can make a difference.   I think I’ll go do that!