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Sunday July 22nd 2018

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The Things We Leave Behind

The beauty of God’s eternal plan remains untouched by my worldly cares.

That’s the thought that caressed through my brain as I sat on our mountain porch this morning. I looked out and as usual, the hills stretched lazily in their Sabbath repose. The clouds strolled by as playful as ever. The light and color of the morning sky clothed the firmament with garments of praise. God’s creation moved on in supreme procession while I stood aside with my worrisome thoughts, worshiping the papier-mâché god of my petty anxiety.

Inside the house, we’ve been negotiating what to take with us to Honduras and what to leave behind. There is no right or wrong here necessarily. For us, it seems wiser to leave most of what we own behind and start fresh after we arrive. But, letting go isn’t easy. My wife in particular is no more materialistic than me, but our home is her craft work, it’s her artistic expression of love, family, and hospitality. To let go of these things isn’t easy. And yet, God pesters with this reminder…

Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.

Sure, that’s good to know. But for me, while my anxiety is certainly based in the loss of physical things, my stress lies more in their management. Selling cars, houses, and other items of value has left me with little energy and optimism for what lies ahead. Why do we own all this stuff? Will we have enough money for what we need? Will our house remain on the market for years? What about all the unknowns ahead?

I look up again from my thoughts and notice a beautiful cardinal dancing on a branch near my porch. He pays me no mind. He hops. He flips upside down. He looks left with a jerk. Then right. He has no idea what a mortgage is and wouldn’t know what to do with it if he had one. God speaks again…

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Yes, of course. God cares for everything he’s created. But if I’m being honest, an even greater anxiety with this move to Honduras isn’t the loss of material things or even the security of future provision. For me, to pastor my first church, I’m leaving behind the right not to be criticized, judged, or rejected (if you think pastors don’t experience these things, ask around).

In the last few years I’ve been safe within these Smoky Mountains. Safe from judgment. Safe from deadlines and demands. But also safe from making any real difference in the lives of others. Jesus clears his throat (“ahem!”) and shares this pesky little truth…

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I look out at the view again. It’s interesting. I wonder how safe the Smokies really are. I remember that storms still invade—in the summer, on an almost daily basis. The soft wind turns violent, damaging trees and other living things. The rain floods the earth also deluging much in its path. The thunder bellows doom. Lightning can start fires. The Smoky Mountains do indeed endure a great, recurring tribulation.

But then the winds die, the waters recede, and the world returns to its slumber. It moves on then to heal, to restore, to return to a place of wholeness. Who am I to understand these cycles of upheaval and restoration? God whispers…

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does—in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. It’s he who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightning for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

So…what am I really leaving behind in this move to Honduras? Perhaps ultimately, it’s my illusion of ownership and control. I don’t imagine for one second that I own the mountains I see before me. Or the clouds. Or the morning light. These are owned by God. Why do I imagine I truly own this house? Or this furniture? Or this car?

Why do I think for one second that I, as one of God’s created works, own my very life? Isn’t it possible that all my fear and anxiety, my stress over the past, present, and future, are rooted in some childish illusion that I have control over anything?

And isn’t it also possible that I can live in true peace and joy if I leave behind my own plans and offer everything I am up to God’s plan? Won’t God guide me and feed me, won’t he sustain me through any storms of loss and rejection? Won’t God heal and restore me? An old pastor with some experience in these matters is bursting to chime in…

Not that I have already obtained it or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

I’m not perfect. That’s a certainty! I’m one holy mess who God in his unfathomable wisdom has called to nurture and care for his people. But I can still press on into God’s plan, knowing I don’t have control over my life. Because as a created being, I’m no different than that contented cardinal, these resting hills, the playful clouds, this glorious morning light. They are his and I am his. The only thing I truly need to own or grasp in my life is this—that I am his.

So, I take a deep breath and mimic the hills in their Sabbath repose, resolved for all that awaits. My eyes return to the view before me and I form a response to God’s admonitions, echoing a prayer from a past theologian:

God, I thank you for this universe, our great home; for its vastness and its riches, and for the manifold life which teems upon it and of which we are part.

I praise you for the arching sky and the blessed winds, for the driving clouds and the constellations on high.

I praise you for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills, for the trees, and for the grass under our feet.

I thank you for our senses by which we can see the splendor of the morning, and hear the jubilant songs of love, and smell the breath of springtime.

I pray that you’d give us a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty and save our souls from being so steeped in care or so darkened by passion that we pass heedless and unseeing when even the thorn bush by the way is aflame with the glory of God. *

What he said.

Amen.

* Walter Rauschenbusch
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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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The Longest Day of the Year

Today in the U.S. we celebrate the beginning of Summer and the “longest day of the year.” Of course, the day is no longer or shorter than any other day. But today in our town, there will be about 14 and a half hours of sunlight. Where we’re moving, Honduras, I read that the duration of daylight, being closer to the equator, generally remains the same year-round.

Most people I know in the U.S. bemoan the winter time and the long darkness. It’s interesting that it’s really been only since the invention of electricity that people spend much of their waking hours beyond the setting sun. Now we stay up until all hours. This can be good or bad, I suppose. I know I’m at my best when I get to bed early and rise with the dawn.

But I do think there is something instinctive about being “awake” while it’s light. Jesus said that it’s important to focus on our work “while it is still day…night is coming when no one can work.” I have 14 and a half hours of daylight today. How will I use that time?

Also, there’s a lot of darkness in the world even during our daylight hours: violence, conflict, prejudice, apathy, loneliness, sadness, and so on. Jesus is the light of the world and calls us lights as well. How will I shine as a light, reflecting this light of Jesus, on those who suffer in darkness?

And despite the darkness we see in the world, despite the darkness in us, or even the fact that from today on, our days in the U.S. will darken more and more with the coming of winter—we can still live in the light of hope that one day, there will be no more darkness.

At the end of time, the world will have no darkness at all—God’s light will shine forever among us and there will be no more night, no more curse, no more tears, death, or suffering. The “longest day of the year” can’t hold a candle to this light that will last forever.

So, enjoy today’s sunlight. Step out, take advantage of these hours, put your trust in the light of Christ, overcome darkness where you see it, and live in hope for the endless light of eternity.

It’s time for you to rise and shine.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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A Stranger in a Land of Promise

I was in the mountains.

I’d always wanted to be here. To look out over the great expanse before me and find myself such a small, integrated piece of God’s glorious creation. In the mountains I felt a part rather than just apart. I was an active participant in allowing God to remind me of my place in his stunning, mysterious world. I had a deep sense of awe but was not afraid. I was at peace, but not ready to retire. My heart was full of anticipation, but the unknowns were now to me a gift.

I was in the mountains. But on this particular day, it wasn’t the mountains of North Carolina my wife and I had moved to a few years ago. On this particular day, I was standing at 5,000 feet looking out over the mountainous terrain of Central America in the country of Honduras. I was looking out over the place God was next calling me and my wife to serve.

To quote the musician, David Byrne, “How did I get here?”

That’s a story worth telling.

Just three or so months ago, I sent an email to a church committee in search of a new pastor. Union Christian Church in the capital city of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, had been without a pastor for about a year and were eager for God to reveal who that person was. Union is an English-speaking congregation filled mostly with expatriates, North American citizens who’ve come to live in the country as missionaries, school teachers, embassy employees, and so on. They were essentially a church of ministers in search of an under-shepherd to provide spiritual guidance and care.

For my part, while I did have a “one day” dream to finally pastor a church, I had no inkling of pastoring any time soon and certainly not in Honduras. My wife and I had no plans to move anywhere at all, having found our dream mountain home in the Smokies. Frankly, I had no real knowledge of Honduras other than that it was somewhere south of the border. Yet one Sunday morning, I remembered the church’s online advertisement and felt a strong burden, no matter how far-fetched, to start a conversation.

The opening lines of my first communication said, “I’m not sure I should even be sending you this email…”

Why? Because we’d found our dream home. Because I’d moved to the Smoky Mountains with the idea of starting or joining a retreat ministry. Because I’d applied for pastor positions before, but most churches wanted you to have previously served as a pastor in other churches before leading theirs. Because I wasn’t a traditional “CEO,” “Type A” leader. Because I didn’t fit in with the culture of many American churches. Because I was a sinner. Because I was sometimes too sensitive to the judgment and rejection that comes with pastoring. Because, because, because…

But, I still felt the burden and sent the email, saying to myself, if God’s calling me there, he’ll open the doors to make it happen. This started a long application process where, to my stunned surprise, I kept advancing through each stage of elimination. And as I advanced, I got more serious about my own discernment process: reading Scripture, reading books on pastoral calling, praying, seeking advice from others. Despite my abundant excuses, I still believed in the calling of God. If God made his calling clear, no amount of excuses could justify my disobedience.

Of course, there were many reasons in favor of applying. I’ve long known my calling as a teacher, a preacher, and writer of God’s good news. But in our time in North Carolina, the doors for exercising this gift regularly were not opening for me in the way I’d hoped. Despite my introverted leanings, I’ve also longed to connect my heart for communication with life-changing personal encounters with real human beings. Just writing books alone was never going to do that for me. Finally, I knew that my life has been most blessed when part of a healthy, growing Christian community—and not just a part, but out front, leading the charge to live out the Gospel and show the world the healing and rest available within God’s Kingdom. But, such doors in North Carolina had been closed for me there, too. I just couldn’t find a compatible church community that fit that bill.

In God’s ways, closed doors often mean he’s opening doors in another part of his Kingdom. But, Central America??

The biblical character, Abraham, is famous for being called from a place that was familiar to an unknown place where God wanted him to go. In the new and foreign land of Canaan, he was called “a stranger in the land of promise.” And as my application process proceeded, it became more and more apparent that God was repeating similar marching orders to me as well. One Sunday morning I received the message that I was the church’s final candidate for the position. My wife and I were soon flown down to spend a week seeing Honduras first-hand, to meet members in the church, to preach on Sunday, and to receive a final vote of approval from the congregation.

And so, beyond my wildest dreams, it happened. A church has called me to pastor. And not just a church, but a church full of ministers. And not just an American church, but a church in a foreign land. A land with mountains similar to the Appalachians. A land marked by immense poverty, but also by an unbending creativity for survival. A land full of both dangers and gentle hospitality. A land of deeply-rooted culture, organic foods, and organic living. A land full of political unrest, brokenness, loneliness, spiritual, emotional, and physical bondage, but ultimately, a land full of promise. A place where I might be a stranger, but where the power of God’s redemptive hand is no stranger at all.

In his memoirs, Eugene Peterson describes his calling as both “writer and pastor.” He says that God was forming him for both of these vocations many years before he realized it. God has long been forming me as a writer, teacher, and communicator. But even now, despite my misgivings, it’s clear he’s also been forming me as a church pastor. In so many ways, pastoring a church feels beyond me, but in these months of discernment, I’ve seen through one confirmation after another that while beyond me, it’s full of God. While this vocation is pregnant with serious responsibility which I in no way take lightly, I’m also relieved to find that I’ll be most useful by not taking charge, but instead surrendering myself to God as his vessel to be used for his purposes—according to his will and his ways.

In the last couple of years, many of my readers have enjoyed my encounters with the mountains. That kind of writing will continue. But now the mountains will shift a bit in geography into this new, unknown, miraculous place of promise. And going forward, the writing will be infused with my long-in-the-making call as “pastor”—I’ll be writing about how the Gospel is living through me and through those I encounter in the next leg of this great adventure.

So, whether north or south, God still has me in the mountains. I look out over his heavenly expanse and am in awe for what awaits. In awe, but no longer afraid.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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Hope Tempered With Tears

Back when I was being trained for pastoral counseling, the spirit of this verse was often emphasized:

“Like vinegar poured on a wound, so is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25:20)

In counseling, you’re taught a lot about listening, about empathy, but as much as anything, you’re taught not to tell a person in the pit of suffering: “The sun will come out tomorrow!” Most of the time, that’s not what they need to hear. They mostly need you to join them in their sorrow. To feel that someone is there and that they are loved.

This comes to mind when I think of the term used for today, “Good Friday”—the day we commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. I doubt anyone was trying to cheer up Jesus’ mother or the other mourners at the foot of the cross. I doubt that in the moments she watched her son suffer and die, his mother thought anything about it was good.

But we Christians are sometimes carried away by our own hindsight. It was good, we say, because Jesus’ death resulted in something good. We sing, “He rose from the dead only a few days later! His victory over death assures us that we too can join God and our loved ones forever in heaven!” And yes, of course, those are all good things. Great things.

But if we’re too overzealous with such encouragement when comforting others, it can be like vinegar poured on a wound. Understandably, we struggle with this tension. Knowing that the joy of Easter awaits, knowing that heaven is promised through the cross of Christ, how can we lovingly comfort those who suffer with both genuine sympathy and genuine hope?

I think one clue is to understand that love is so often about tone and timing. When someone is in mourning or suffering a loss, we shouldn’t rush them through it. We should join them and love them through it.

Will a new day dawn? Yes. We must offer this hope. But our hope should be tempered as it was with Jesus. Shortly before his own death, Jesus offered the comfort of a future resurrection by raising Lazarus—but not before joining others in mourning the death of his dear friend.

Yes, Easter Sunday is coming, but it hasn’t come yet. Yes resurrection from the dead, complete victory over sin, and the end of suffering are all coming. But, they haven’t come yet. When they do finally come, we can all rejoice in full celebration. But until then, our hope should be tempered with tears—for this world that longs to be made new.

Of the many things Good Friday symbolizes, the one perhaps closest to my heart is that, when I enter into my own seasons of mourning and suffering, I can know that Jesus is with me and that I am loved. Jesus is qualified to join me in my suffering because he suffered himself for the sake of love. He’s qualified to offer me hope amidst the tears because his comfort comes from the other side of death and suffering.

When we’re sure we have nothing left and life seems meaningless, we’re often able to go on simply because we feel that someone is there. And because Easter Sunday did indeed follow Good Friday 2,000 years ago, we can feel that Jesus is there.

He’s here with us now. And he will be with us always. Until there’s no more need to mourn.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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Speaking Truth To Power

Who was this man?

Pontius Pilate stared at him. Dressed in the attire of the common poor, he was brought to him bound, disheveled, freshly bruised from some recent beating. He wasn’t much to look at, to be sure. And yet, he’d been accused of insurrection against Rome. And so, as Rome’s authority in the region, it was up to Pilate to question him.

“Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews.”

“So, you are a king?”

He answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”*

For Pilate, in the seat of Rome’s supreme power, there would be no answer. In perhaps the peak of all of history’s dramatic irony, there was no need to answer—because truth was staring him right in the face. But he couldn’t see it. And so goes the story of truth’s relationship to power.

Most modern journalists define their mission as “speaking truth to power.” That is to say, they’re charged with holding those in power accountable by bringing the truth about all their dealings into the light of day. This mission has also been championed by many minorities and those fighting for civil rights. The objective of speaking the truth is to keep power in check. To stop or at least minimize the potential for tyranny over others.

But the desire for power holds sway over far more than just our politicians or corporate monopolies. It really affects all of us and permeates every pore of society and the human consciousness.

Consider just a few headlines of the day. The current debate concerning school violence and gun control, for example. Isn’t this a debate about power? The power to keep society at-large safe versus the power to retain personal freedoms and self-protection. The “#MeToo” movement—this is about standing up against the abuse of power through sexual harassment and assault. Within most of today’s headlines, you’ll discover at the center this constant struggle for power.

The blockbuster movies of recent years all seem to focus on comic book superheroes who fight evil with their super powers. Much of the obsession with popular sports from football to basketball to the UFC celebrate the pursuit of overpowering of an opponent. We cling daily to news of the stock market and the economy—will we remained empowered to live the quality of life we deserve?

And, of course, back to politics. We’re obsessed with who’s in power—most often, at the national level. And too many of us have become either sycophants or mockers, depending on who’s in power at any given time. Party has become more important than platform, and the truths we say we care so deeply about are too often compromised in the name of holding onto, or regaining, power.

Our desire for power is so pervasive that many in our culture side with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in saying that, throughout history, there’s never been any universal truth at all, but only creeds designed to overpower, fabricated by those in places of power. Sadly, this has too often been the case when it comes to many human claims of truth. But does that mean there’s no truth to be found in the divine?

“What is truth?”

Asking that question may have been Pilate’s most truthful moment. As someone in a place of power, his chief objective wasn’t truth, it was not losing the power he currently had. Here he was, face to face with perhaps the most powerless-looking man he’d ever known, who would soon experience the height of powerlessness through a brutal torture and death. But again, within this powerless man, divine truth was there for anyone with eyes to see.

The recently departed Billy Graham was once traveling in a golf cart through a football stadium with a newly-elected mayor. There were tens of thousands of fans cheering for Mr. Graham, and this new politician did what all politicians do in smiling and waving back to the crowds. The mayor made a comment to the evangelist about this wonderful reception, but Graham responded: “I’m embarrassed. This is not about me.”

Billy Graham understood the truth when he saw it. He was often quoted as saying, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” He had no taste for the power of his world-renowned reputation. He gave all credit to the Son of Man, who didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

What is the truth? We love to hold others to account, but can we speak truth to our own power? The instinct is understandable. We deeply crave control over our lives. We want to be happy, to keep ourselves safe, we want the freedom to live as we wish. And certainly, we want to stand up to those who would overpower us for their own gain.

But, what is the truth? The truth is that, in our desire to pursue, to retain, to defend our own power, we’re chasing a mirage that always promises, but never delivers. Power is indeed the key to living a life of fulfillment, but it is not the power within we need, but power from on high. And as the life and death of Jesus so evidently demonstrates, power from on high is only received through the embrace of powerlessness—through the person who surrenders control of their life to God.

You should never stop speaking truth to the powers-that-be when they become corrupt. And you should never stop standing up to those who would abuse you, especially if you’ve been affected by injustice, racial prejudice, sexual assault, or even death.

But while you seek to overcome such tyrannies, make sure you speak your truths at the foot of the cross, where weakness discovers strength, where the humble are exalted, where the poor in spirit rest in heaven’s kingdom. Lose your life within the empowered powerlessness of Christ, lay down your life for those still held captive by their own power, and you’ll find a life beyond imagining.

Where, like Jesus standing resolutely before Pilate, even the power of death can hold no sway over your heart and mind.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired…He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might he increases power. Youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.**

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.***

* A modest paraphrase of John 18:33-38
** Isaiah 40:28-31
*** Matthew 6:13
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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

Share

8 Questions: Why Spiritual Self-Examination Matters (sermon audio)

Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Jesus once said that his disciples would know the truth, and that the truth would set them free. This sermon asserts that the truth we’re encouraged to know isn’t just the truth about God, but also the truth about ourselves.

With as much honesty as we can muster, we must ask:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Why am I here?
  3. What do I want?
  4. Is there a difference between what I say I want and how I’m living my life?
  5. What does God want?
  6. If I want what God wants, what am I willing to do to get it?
  7. Who am I becoming?
  8. Who am I with?

Without spiritual self-examination, we can never genuinely transform into Christ’s image and find the freedom his disciples are meant to enjoy. Consider which of these questions you’ve honestly asked yourself before, and consider how God can help you answer each one in turn.

Click HERE to listen to or download the sermon audio.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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The Bloom of Winter

There’s still another reason I moved to the mountains.

Snow.

I love snow. Obsessing over the next snow forecast is one of my chief hobbies during the winter. But snow in the southern Appalachians isn’t too burdensome. To me anyway. You typically get a few inches at a time, it melts, and you await the next go around.

Last night, it snowed. The forecasted one to three inches became nearly five, and flurries were still falling after the sunrise. I roused my wife, we put on our winter hiking gear, and headed out…out and up.

One of the benefits of living above 4,000 feet is that, just after each new snowfall, we usually get to hike to the higher elevations by ourselves—no one without an all-terrain vehicle and some gumption would climb the steep, icy roads to where we already are.

So, this morning it was just the two of us immersed in an untouched winter scene. But then my wife wasn’t feeling too well and turned back early. So soon it was just me, climbing higher and higher, amusing myself with that old Robert Frost poem:

Whose woods these are, I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

But by myself now, these felt like my woods. I alone was privileged to trudge up these deep white drifts, to drink in this cold, solitary bliss.

However ironically, I decided to pull out my smart phone as I so often do on hikes, and started snapping photos of the contoured winter path, the covered trees, a mountain stream, and then…

My phone died.

It made no sense. It had been charging all night so the battery should have been at one-hundred percent. But, for all my attempts to power it back up. Nothing worked.

A coincidence? Possibly. But, the deep regret I felt not being able to share my photos with the masses on social media brought to mind the “revolutionary” thought that perhaps electronic imagery isn’t the only way to validate my experience with others. And maybe my need to validate myself to others has too strong a hold on me.

I’ve been returning to a study of the spiritual disciplines: deliberate physical activities that help us remove the lesser things in life that control us, cling to what’s more real and true, and thereby draw ourselves closer to God. There are disciplines of abstinence: fasting from food or technology, for instance. Disciplines of solitude. Silence. There are also disciplines of engagement: devotional reading or awareness, serving others, worship, celebration.

This involuntary “fast” from my smart phone reminded me that I didn’t need technology to enjoy what was around me. In fact, without the distraction of visually documenting my surroundings, I started to see things I probably would have never discovered through any man-made lens.

I noticed different tracks in the snow that must have come from a deer—a deer who was probably on the path not long before me. At one point, tracks of two in the snow became tracks of one. Perhaps the deer started to run at the sound of my clumsy approach. So…I wasn’t as alone as I imagined.

During one fleeting moment, I noticed the morning sunlight creating an effect amid the snow-adorned trees that I’d probably never see again—it looked almost like the gates of heaven. My eyes pressed downward as I slogged ever upward, I noticed the light creating a vast starfield of sparkles on the whiteness below—as if the heavens were suddenly upside down.

I noticed something about the dormant wildflowers. They were not just grudgingly passive, awaiting the spring. Instead, the cradles that in the warmer months boasted petals of purple, yellow, and red were today filled with white, creating a bloom of winter. It was like standing in a field of virgin cotton.

Going up, I stopped often to catch my breath. And in stopping, I listened. Of course, silence isn’t usually silent. It simply makes you aware of the sounds you were missing. Likewise, snow can muffle sound, but it can also accent certain sounds, making them more holy. The baritone song of the wind. The crackle of branches. The flow of melting ice. What if I’d never stopped and listened?

There’s a gift in each season. But most, like me, tend to appreciate winter’s gift least of all. The world around us is dead. There’s more darkness than light. We mourn the chill. Everything seems like it’s put on hold. We’re stuck. Waiting.

But here was my reminder that, even when life is subdued or minimized, life is still life. The abundance is certainly less. We’re forced to fast from speeding through our days with abandon. We must stop. Listen. Wait. But God still hovers above the void and feeds us with this frozen manna from heaven. He adorns the trees and flowers with his winter bloom, showing us there is a transcendent beauty to be embraced even when the world’s prism seems so empty of spectral color.

So often, I stumble upon revelations of God’s world in spite of myself. I love to hike alone. But this morning I remembered that the biggest reason I love solitude is that it reminds me that I’m never truly alone. And that these aren’t my woods at all.

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in no village though;
He surely sees me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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In Defense of Feel-Good Movies, Cheesy Melodramas, and Happy Endings

I recently completed another viewing of the television show, Downton Abbey. Lasting six seasons, it’s a melodrama about British high-society and servant life set in the early 1900s. I’ve watched it a few times and am always pleasantly flummoxed by how the show ends. It’s not just a happy ending, but one of the happiest of endings. Every couple in the story is either married off or at least forecast to be married. Virtually every loose end is tied and every conflict resolved. What surprises me isn’t that the show ends this way, but how truly satisfied I feel because of it.

The enlightened artists of our day have moved away from the black-and-white, Golden age era of happy endings. For a movie, TV show, or book to be considered a critical success, it must pry open the ribs of our sentimental veneer to reveal the messy blood-and-guts of true humanity. Life isn’t that simple, they say. We’re all a horrible mess capable of the vilest evil, and we might as well admit it and get on with our lives. And certainly, it’s no more than a naïve joke to assume that any loose end will be tied or that we’ll ever live happily ever after.

Like with many cultural protests, there is some truth in these observations. Humanity has indeed invited a great deal of trouble in trying to maintain masks of perfection, pretending like we have it all together. It is true that we’re all weak, we all have the potential for evil, and that most events throughout our lives aren’t tied up with a tidy bow. So, is it just lazy, wishful thinking for me to resonate so deeply when I watch a show that ends well?

Perhaps. I certainly agree that there is plenty of simplistic art out there that doesn’t reflect true life and the trials of true humanity. But, perhaps one reason I rejoiced at the end of Downton Abbey is that, prior to its miraculous ending, the show was full of trials and tribulations that I did find believable. Downton wasn’t a feel-good show because it was all flowers and daffodils. It felt good to me because I identified both with its trials and with its resolution.

Maybe it is only the naïve masses who cheer for the feel-good movie and the happy ending. But, I think that within all of us, despite how much we may recognize our potential for evil and that complex nuance only appropriate for mature audiences, we also cling to the hope that that isn’t all there is. Perhaps within our love of sentimentality and cheesy melodramas there lies a more authentic instinct—that one day, the fairy tale will end as it should.

God’s story mirrors this odd cohabitation of hopelessness and hope. Simply glance at Old Testament history and the existential angst of the prophets and you’ll find loads of human depravity and open-ended darkness. But, then this Jesus drops into the picture as a bridge between all our suffering and the hope for resolution. He’s real about our weaknesses while inviting us to join him in the far-fetched optimism that all will be made well. Jesus took on the full force of our blood-and-guts depravity so we might be present at the story’s end—an eternal marriage between God and man where everything is tied with a bow that unfathomably rings true.

So, perhaps I’ve just outed myself as one of the lazy, unenlightened gluttons of feel-good entertainment. But, my instincts tell me otherwise. Such endings may seem sentimental and simple, to be sure. But they also fill the plot holes in our own stories that hopelessness can’t supply.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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This Is My Father’s World

It seemed to me at the time that I had stumbled upon the Last Homely House. And once I’d arrived there, I never wanted to leave.

That is…until I got a look inside.

As much as the natural world outside the house seemed like Elrond’s Rivendell, the inside felt more like Gollum’s hellish cave.

The current resident kept it very dark. Blankets over windows, few lights, low ceilings. The house reeked with the smell of cigarettes and dog urine. The walls were murky, the tile and carpet were decades old with some rooms only floored with a concrete slab. The original aluminum window frames were filthy and porous. The ceilings were stained with nicotine and other contaminants. The bathroom floor was about to fall into the crawl space. It was oppressive just to step inside.

But, the opportunity to live amid this astounding mountainous beauty was something we just couldn’t pass up. So, with the help of several subcontractors and friends, we decided to make the leap to restore the house to livable condition. And since moving in, my wife continues to work her magic to make it even more livable. Despite the darkness of those first impressions, the beauty of creation outside compelled us to make the inside more beautiful, too.

This brings to mind the final stanzas of that glorious hymn:

This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.*

While many recognize the dangers of wasting our lives preoccupied by pleasure or superficiality, we can miss the danger of paying too much attention to the world’s darkness. Of course, I recognize that there’s a lot wrong with the world and that wrongs need to be addressed. But my best motivation to address what’s wrong is by first immersing my life in what’s good and beautiful.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Will I watch the news and despair because all “the wrong seems oft so strong”? No. I will step outside and celebrate the beauty in these mountains, the encouragements in neighborly kindness, the hope found in houses of worship and charity.

This world is filled with ugliness, but this is my Father’s world. And it is the beauty of his world that compels me to join him in addressing the parts that need restoration.

Despite the work we’ve already done on this 50-year-old house, it’s hardly perfect. Even after the remodeling, few of the floors are level. It can be damp and drafty. Doors still need replacing. The need for paint seems never-ending. The electricity and plumbing still seem to have a mind of their own.

But I can live with these imperfections. Of course, because of the beauty that lies just outside. But, mostly because I live in hope: that this homely house—and my homely heart, and all the world’s wrongs—can with each passing day bear more and more resemblance to the beauty of heaven.

And there’s even the promise that, one day, I won’t even be able to tell the difference.

This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.*

* Maltbie D. Babcock, This Is My Father’s World, 1901.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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The Last Homely House

It seemed to me at the time that I had stumbled upon the Last Homely House.

That rainy, misty day, I wandered in my car like Tolkien’s Bilbo on his way to Rivendell. Upward through the North Carolina mountains, around one bend and still another, finally making a slow decent, I found this small stone-wood-built, 50-year-old house above 4,000 feet.

The property that day was deep within a rain cloud. Surrounded by close-knit Smoky Mountain peaks, it seemed to float upon a lofty, mystic sea. Like Bilbo, once I’d arrived there, I never wanted to leave. We purchased the home shortly after.

Today, I write you from a back porch where I can see and hear so many things.

I see tiny mountain homes embedded into the landscape across airy divides. I see the bulbous, green contour of hills rolling before me with some other-worldly symmetry. I see the hills change—under traveling light and shadow, beneath rolling mists and the horizontal passage of rain clouds. I’m actually immersed in the weather here compared to the distant sea-level spectator. The sky is more focused up here as well—the richer colors, the effect of light, the personality of each visiting cloud. It’s no exaggeration to say the heavens here are closer.

The wildlife is abundant as you might expect. I’ve seen a few black bears up just a bit higher. Around the house, there are several large, white-tailed rabbits that make me want to pick up the book, Watership Down to discover where they’re headed. I’ve counted at least ten species of birds who are not shy around humans when gorging on our feeders. There are chipmunks and butterflies and black snakes, honey bees, bumble bees, and benign wasps. I hear the rumor of rodents too, but they must keep to themselves.

The sounds are constant, but are in no way annoying like in the city. The wind sighs and saunters here and there, roosters crow well beyond the waking hours, hound dogs bellow, humming birds buzz, the other birds chirp and caw and chatter. There are the sounds of men, but they’re usually distant and often hard to place, whether above or below or from any certain direction: disembodied voices, lawn mowers, weed eaters, the slow roll of cars over gravel. It all seems a part rather than an invasive clamor.

As I’ve written previously, I moved to the mountains to pursue Thoreau’s deliberate, essential living, to discover what more direct contact with God’s creation had to teach me. Whether into the mountains or into God’s presence, I’m always longing to go higher and deeper. And now God has granted me a higher place to dwell, to stop and rest, to listen and know—about as high and deep a place as I’ve ever been able to call home.

Each step brings me closer—from the city to small town Main Street, from Main Street to this little piece of Rivendell up in the Smokies. Like Abraham, I have some sense of where I should journey next, but am never sure of the more distant destinations.

Discovering such a sense of place isn’t the end, of course. We also need a people and a purpose. Now that I’m here, I wonder what new people and purpose await me. Mostly though, I wonder whether this homely, heavenly place will have any lasting effect on my homely, wandering heart.

I’m patient to await such answers. For now, I’ll sit on this porch and rest in the certainty of gratitude—that I’d be so privileged to bear witness to this unfiltered glory.

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
His hand the wonders wrought.*

* Maltbie D. Babcock, This Is My Father’s World, 1901.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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Kindness Is Leadership

It occurred to me this morning: many of us don’t feel like we’re called to be leaders and feel a bit insecure when being asked to step up as a leader.

However, one area where we’re all called to leadership is kindness. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think kindness can be performed without leadership.

You can’t be passive and be kind. You can’t just react to things. You can’t just wait for things to happen to you. You certainly can’t be kind if you’re waiting around for others to be kind to you.

Kindness requires leadership. You need to step out and be pro-active in order to show others genuine kindness. It requires focus, attention, often mental and emotional preparation and forethought. It requires standing out in the crowd when the world stays passive in their indifference and reactionary criticism.

Kindness involves guiding people with grace when they’re stuck and need to be pulled out of whatever mess the world has them in. It requires leadership to notice strangers. To speak warm words of greeting to people you’d normally ignore.

It certainly requires leadership to love your enemy or those you’re at odds with. It requires leadership to forgive, to humble yourself and make the first move toward reconciliation.

Now, being a leader usually means you have followers. But, leadership begins with invitation. And what has more potential to invite others to be kind than kindness?

So if you’re like me and feel out of your depth at times when asked to step up as a leader, remember that every time you exercise kindness toward others, you’re leading others into the light of God’s grace.

Finally, the best leaders are also followers, which gives me hope in this area, since I so often fail at being kind. I actually have a chance at living a life of kindness when I follow heaven’s supreme leader of love and sacrifice.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

Share

My Head Is Bowed

My head is bowed.

Not because I’m praying, but because I don’t want to trip over an unseen rock or protruding root. However, I don’t want to miss the larger view either. I want to look up as much as down. Which, is a good thing.

I like this trail. It has natural variation in its straight paths and uphill grades. It moves from the deep embrace of forest to expansive views of the lake. It has a variety of flowers, plants, and trees. It’s long enough to challenge me and short enough to finish in a few hours.

The trail allows me to breathe. Or at least remember that I’m breathing. To breathe deeper. Slower. Faster. It feels like I’m the car and someone is filling my tank with the breath of life.

The trail reminds me of my body and the way I move. My left foot throbs with a soft pain, alerting me that I must favor one foot over the other. I feel my extra pounds more succinctly, because I’m actually carrying them somewhere. But, I don’t feel as condemned about my weight as when I’m still. Some people can’t walk this trail at all. Lord, thank you for my ability to walk.

The trail does challenge me. Especially when I start out. I regret the walk in the beginning. My initial aches and shortness of breath overcome the beauty that’s around me. But, I’m going somewhere. I’m doing something. My convictions mute my complaints. Eventually, my physical limitations are diminished by joy.

I feel God. He is not the rock. The tree. The blade of grass or the bird. But he is here. Oh, he is here! His touch is everywhere and infuses me with his peace, his love, and his tender care in a way I could never find in a church building. My eyes well up in gratitude.

I worship God by the very act of walking.

My head is bowed.

For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. – Psalm 116:8-9   

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

Share

Engage

mainst_2

It’s 28 degrees, but I’m not feeling it.

Ok, I’m bundled up with my winter coat and knit cap, but I’m sitting when I should be moving and am still unaffected by the cold.

My dog is at my feet, content to watch meandering cars go by. We’re stationary this morning on a sidewalk of brick, surrounded by quilting and chocolate shops, stores selling crafts and scrumptious food and drink. The light poles are wrapped with Christmas pine, ribbons, lights, and ornaments. Just beyond the man-made structures lie the fading autumn colors of the Smoky Mountains. The town breathes the pace of contentment and freedom.

My wife and I just made a big life-change in a series of similar changes. We moved to a small, mountain town on the border of uncounted natural wonders. We’re renting a reasonably-priced, rustic apartment above historic Main Street—one that’s about half the square footage of our previous home.

We’ve come here to engage. To further simplify, declutter, to train our focus more on what’s real and meaningful. We’ve come to, both figuratively and literally, get a bit closer to God, to experience his presence on his high-altitude trails, his mountain streams, amidst his wildlife and plant life.

We’re now in a location where we can walk or bike most anywhere. We’ve left the safe confines of our suburban isolation and moved to a place where we can more easily look people in the eye, learn first names, better serve, minister, and leave the mark of love with those we encounter.

We’re here to frequent farmer’s markets, join card games, and learn how to clog. To support local businesses and get to know our neighbor. To build better relationships with the homeless and those who live on the margins. To relate to other human beings without the filters of technology, long-commutes, and busyness that distract so many of us from what matters.

Sure, we’ve enjoyed some privileges that allow us to do such a thing. We both work from home and could take our jobs with us. We sold our house at a profit and plan to use the surplus, not to get a bigger home, but to eventually buy a simpler home with a tiny mortgage. We don’t have kids, so we’re freer to go where we like.

But having said this, I think most anyone can accomplish what we’ve set out to do. You also don’t have to move to the mountains. You can accomplish much of what we’re attempting from wherever you are. This has just been the choice we’ve made.

I’ve taken other steps that aren’t dependent on location. I’ve given up our two televisions. I still watch some content online, but am weaning myself off, at least from within our home itself. I suspended my Facebook account for a while or perhaps forever. I’ve “upgraded” from a smart phone to a flip phone. More radical changes will likely follow.

I don’t pretend that I know what I’m doing. I’m a self-focused, technology-dependent, introverted, slothful glutton. I can be as news or social media-focused, as obsessed with technology, entertainment, and consumerism as the next person. Changing where I live or what I own won’t necessarily change my heart. But, it can ease the path and open the door of my heart to focus more and more on what matters.

So, I invite you, if you wish, to join me on this journey. My plan is to write regular updates on my insights, epiphanies, successes, and failures in living this next chapter. Take my words as you will in your own journey. Read or don’t. Comment or don’t. Take your own steps and, if you like, share them with me and others. Or just read and consider—wherever you are—the ways God may be calling you to declutter and un-filter, to simplify, to engage.

In less…there is more. And I have the feeling, starting anew, that there’s so much more than I ever imagined.

“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.” – Isaiah 55:1-2

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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Stop in the Name of Love!

15. Motown Stop

We so often look for God’s will on where we should go with our lives. But what about the times we need to stop? My sermon examines Acts 16:6-12 when God told Paul to stop. It reflects on how this account might apply to our own approach to sharing the Gospel with others and to our lives in general.

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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The Ring Of Truth

Caged_Lion

In slumber, I sleep
In a stupor, I stoop
In the sacred, I soar

I recently applied for a part-time administrative job at the local zoo. I love animals. Some tell me I love animals more than people. That probably depends on the animal. Or the person.

Because I love animals, I debated whether working at a zoo wouldn’t trouble my conscience. The jury’s still out on this for me, but the argument that these creatures are being raised outside their natural habitat does trouble me.

Our most common vision is of the large cat, be it lion or leopard, who paces back and forth within his confines. Many zoos have larger, more organic environments than just cages, of course. But you’re still left to wonder—is this where they are meant to be?

I too often find myself pacing like the lion. I push forward against the boundaries of my life. Wishing I were somewhere else. Learning to adapt inside my cage. I satiate myself with processed food or binging on a favorite television show. I try to discipline myself to do the right thing. I sometimes act when I shouldn’t or don’t act when I should. I too often sigh with resignation more than I roar with life.

But then in my stupor, I have the vaguest recollection that cages are often of our own making. And then I do something small, seemingly insignificant, and it all comes back to me.

Months ago, I woke up deep within my cage. I rose to go to work, buried underneath a landfill of wasteful anxiety—how was I going to solve the innumerable tasks the day held for me? I began to strategize, to push back against the fear, to breathe in and out and take one step forward.

It was early in the morning. Next thing on my long to-do list was to wipe the condensation from my car…when I looked up into the pre-dawn sky. There, against a canvas of the darkest blue were just the fewest stars and the sliver of a moon. And my heart said, “Oh…”

Are we like the caged animal? Are the bars of our own making? Do we, like John Donne once said, “neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door”? Where is our natural habitat? Is this where we’re meant to be?

Maybe, by a simple change of focus, or by a shift in location or activity, we’ll move ourselves beyond the cage of our slumber or stupor into the realm of the sacred. The truth will finally ring true in our ears, and our heart will say, “Oh…”

Unlike the poor lion, most of our cage doors are already open. It’s a daily choice whether we’ll step outside.

“One of the great sorrows which came to human beings when Adam and Eve left the garden was the loss of memory, memory of all that God’s children are meant to be.” —Madeleine L’Engle

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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Embrace What Matters – The Book Is Here!

IMG_20151205_072341

About The Book

It’s said that as human beings, we spend about a third of our lives asleep. But, too many of us spend the rest of our lives in a type of waking sleep, held captive by the bonds of distraction. The shiny trinkets of entertainment and materialism, the prisons of anxiety and brokenness: these hypnotize our souls into a resigned stupor, where we assume we’re living day-to-day, but are never truly alive.

The book 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is less a Bible study than it is a conversation you might have with a friend over coffee. It speaks to you and invites you to devote a few moments each day to learning, or remembering, how to live your life to the full.

In easy-to-understand, practical terms, it speaks to both the earnest spiritual pilgrim who needs a return to base camp, and to the person who has never given much thought to spiritual matters, but would like to explore that journey.

It’s never too late to live the wide-awake, passionate life you once envisioned. Embrace what matters most, and start living a life rich with purpose, delight, and eternal meaning.

Reader Reviews

“A book to embrace! Life is about relationships, and John Michalak brings that home to your heart…I read from this book every day and will purchase more to give to people I care about.”

“I think the book can speak to those who don’t necessarily know God. It can be a platform for those who wonder and are curious about what else there is in this life and how to look eternally.”

“This is a wonderful read…The author writes in a manner that allows the reader a sense of hope while pursuing a deeper understanding of why they are here and what their purpose is. If you have a shelf, this book should be on it!”

Where To Get It

It’s being sold in bookstores nationwide including Lifeway, and Barnes & Noble. It’s also being sold everywhere online, including Amazon.

MAIN SECTIONS & WEEKLY THEMES

PART 1: Who You Are, Why You’re Here, and What You Should Do About It

Your Identity Matters
Your Purpose Matters
Your Growth Matters
Your Learning Matters
Your Wisdom Matters
Your Productivity Matters
Your Adventures Matter

PART 2: How You See the World

Your Perspective Matters
Your Focus Matters
Your Sense Of Reality Matters
Your Sense Of Wonder Matters
Your Awareness Of Creation Matters
Your Awareness Of Art Matters
Your Awareness Of Industry Matters
Your Awareness Of Time Matters

PART 3: How to Free Yourself from the Rat Race

Rest Matters
Peace Matters
Simplicity Matters
Provision Matters
Stability Matters
Personal Matters
Uncool Matters
Joy Matters
Living Matters

PART 4: The Importance of Your Relationships

Relationship Matters
Love Matters
Romance Matters
Family Matters
Parenting Matters
Friends Matter
Community Matters
Strangers Matter
God Matters

PART 5: What’s Wrong and How to Make It Right

What’s Wrong Matters
Weakness Matters
Healing Matters
Forgiveness Matters
Openness Matters
Communication Matters
Presence Matters
Hope Matters

PART 6: How to Become a Better Human Being

Your Character Matters
Your Choices Matter
Your Discipline Matters
Your Consumption Matters
Your Movement Matters
Your Attitude Matters
Your Humility Matters
Your Manners Matter
Your Giving Matters
Your Faithfulness Matters

Conclusion

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Between Keith And The Nuns

There is a mystery to belonging.

I’m usually reminded of this early on Sunday mornings. I bought one of those clock alarms with a CD player so you can wake up to the music of your choice rather than some annoying radio station or a loud buzzer.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Recreational Vehicles

Previously, I wrote about our pursuit of the American Dream, its pros and cons, and how most view it as improving yourself economically, owning your own home, building a retirement nest-egg, etc. But, perhaps the most compelling symbol for those who’ve achieved the American Dream is embodied in just two letters: RV. Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s Your Working Relationship?

The precious possession of a man is diligence. — Proverbs 12:27

Do you like what you do? According to recent surveys, most Americans don’t. Most of us are unhappy and wishing we were somewhere else. Some of us are lazy. Others are unchallenged. Some can’t get along with our co-workers. Others have a mean boss or feel under-appreciated for all they do.

In truth, understanding our relationship to work is a fundamental life-question, and if we’re not happy with what we do, this might be a red-flag for some self-examination. Why? Because work, or what we do, encapsulates much more than what we do for a paycheck and therefore speaks more about who we are as human beings than just who we are as employees.

Sure, most of us go to work to earn a living. But, It’s also work to get out of bed, it’s work to exercise, to eat right and keep ourselves fit. It’s work to keep a house clean, to care for infants and teenagers, to love our husband or wife, it’s work to come up with fresh ideas, to keep up with our studies, to go to church, to pray, to volunteer in our community, and so on.

Understanding our relationship to work runs as deep as understanding our relationship to God, to our spouse, our children, or others who matter to us. Because, just like marriage, childbirth, etc., work is seated deep within our psyche and our history. The concept of work is sewn within the fabric of life’s purpose and meaning.

In the Bible, the first thing we read about God doing is work. When he speaks, he does so with a view towards productivity. Through his creative energy, he produces for us light, the earth, the sea, plants, animals, humans–all with a similar reproductive or utilitarian end. They’re meant to work for something. The first commission he gives to man is to work, to cultivate and maintain Eden, his home. Everything has its purpose, and our purpose is typically exercised through work.

The Bible has a lot to say about our relationship to work:

Are you one of those who feels unappreciated at your job (outside or inside the home), like no one understands your value or properly rewards you for what you do? There are lots of passages where God defends equal work for equal pay. And, God does care about justice in the workplace. But, he also cares about your attitude and your sense of duty. God says that it’s better to be a nobody with a job than to be unemployed with no one around to challenge your superiority (1). And, he says that, ultimately, he’s the one you should be working for; he’s the one you should seek your rewards and recognition from (2).

Work produces. Idleness, believe it or not, destroys (3). Idleness is rampant in our culture of electronic self-worship and passivity. When we have nothing to do for an extended period, our love turns inward and our judgment turns outward (4). When we aren’t producing anything, we’re more apt to tear down and, worse-case scenario, to even lose the life and gifts God meant for us to put to good use in the first place (5).

You’ve heard all the stories of people who win the lottery only to end up in bankruptcy, broken relationships, and even death? God says that “the precious possession of a man is his diligence” (6). There needs to be an appreciation between what we have and how much work was done to produce it. Otherwise, we disintegrate into selfishness, and what we do have has no meaning; we incessantly crave and desire and are left with nothing (7).

Now some of you Bible scholars are shouting at your screen, trying to remind me that God gives us our most precious possession, our eternal relationship with Him, through his grace and not our own work. This is indeed true. But, God’s grace, while given freely, is the result of the finished work of his son, and we’ll have no true job satisfaction in life without–in appreciation of the cost that was paid for this free gift–following the same work-ethic Jesus did while on earth.

Essentially, when we accept the rewards of Christ’s work, we do so by signing a new job application. God becomes our new boss. He has already paid us the highest of salaries, and promises to energize us to do so many things we could never do on our own (8). But, ultimately, he expects us, through his power and guidance, to be productive–to help him reproduce in others what he has produced in us.

If you’re feeling disgruntled with your job, with the effort you produce, with your place in life, ask yourself this question: What are you working for? Is it to produce a living, a regular paycheck, food on the table, shoes for the kids? This is right to do. But, you shouldn’t work just to produce a living, but to produce a life–not just for yourself or your own sense of purpose, but for the lives of those around you. That’s really what you were created for.

God says that by working hard, we should remember those in need, whether, physical, or spiritual (9). He says that a person should “labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (10).

Our relationship to work, then, has everything to do with how we work on our relationships. What if we applied the following as a work ethic, both on the job, and in life itself?

“Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody” (11).

Tell me that the work described above wouldn’t produce a reward that is miles beyond your measly expectations of a fair paycheck and proper recognition in your career or vocation. It would both exhaust you and help you sleep more soundly at night. It would produce in you and others a life of purpose and meaning.

Whether you’ve noticed it or not, God’s sign has been placed in the window of your life all this time:

“Help Wanted.”

What are you ready to do for him?

(1).   Proverbs 12:9
(2).   Ephesians 6:5-8; Hebrews 6:10-12
(3).   Proverbs 18:9
(4).   I Timothy 5:13-18; Proverbs 26:16
(5).   Luke 19:20-26
(6).   Proverbs 12:27
(7).   Proverbs 13:4; 21:25-26
(8).   Philippians 2:12-13
(9).   Acts 20:35
(10). Ephesians 4:28
(11). Romans 12:9-18

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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Growing Up Again

When I was very young and bursting with faith.

“There exists in most men a poet who died young, while the man survived.”
— Sainte-Beuve

It is one of the gifts of life to me that, no matter how old we are, we’re never far from the glory and imagery of childhood.

We, of course, spend perhaps a quarter of our life as children. Then, sometime soon after becoming adults (and sometimes before) many of us have children of our own and raise them into our middle years (and sometimes beyond). Our children then have children, and if we’re granted years beyond the average span, our greatness is measured by how many of their children surround us.

For people like me and my wife, we have the gift of nieces and nephews, the children of friends and extended family. So, unless we’re monks or highly reclusive, children and childhood are always around us.

Many of the reasons for this gift are obvious. Some are beyond our comprehension. Children infuse our decaying psyches with the pulse of renewal, of innocence and purity. Children give us hope. They shock us out of the mundane drone of anxious reality into living in the rapturous present–the unrestrained belly laugh; the melodious giggle; the faraway gaze; the bursting enthusiasm; the playful absorption. They remind us of guileless friendship and interdimensional joy. Their life’s purpose is seated in love and connection. Imagination isn’t a word they use. It’s the lens through which they see everything.

Scripture speaks often of the lessons of childhood. It speaks of what it means to be a child and what it means to grow up. But, I think, when we become adults, we often misinterpret these lessons. We exempt ourselves from the lessons of childhood because, as adults, we think we don’t need them any more. But, as spiritual children, no matter our age, we’re really never beyond needing them.

Certainly, most reading this have reached adulthood—we have jobs, we pay our taxes, we take out the trash. In the context of the physical world, we have reached maturity. We have left our father and mother and have a sense of sovereignty and autonomy over the physical universe.

But, what about the spiritual world? Are we likewise spiritual “grown-ups,” not needing a transcendent Father to protect us and help us make sense of things? Spiritually, no matter the assessment of our own maturity, shouldn’t we always remain the little child who can look with an unknowing awe and unrestrained dependence toward their daddy?

Perhaps we have grown spiritually in some areas, but unknowingly, are still children in others. Or, having grown some, perhaps we learned an important lesson as spiritual children, but in our seasoned maturity, we have forgotten what it was. God often calls us backward in order to move us forward.

As adults of this world, we live lives of responsibility and restraint. But, spiritually, we could stand to remember the uninhibited passion of childhood. And not just the passion to enjoy what’s good in life, but a passionate transparency to cry out to anyone who would listen when things are not so good.

Scripture does say that we shouldn’t remain children. That we should grow spiritually. But again, most of us never really have the chance to grow up because we won’t first regress into spiritual infancy. We think our goal in life should be to seek greatness. Control. Accomplishment. But, Christ said we should instead humble ourselves and seek him with all the dependence and frailty of a little child.

Growing up can be hard and there are some memories of youth we wouldn’t want to repeat. But we serve a God who makes all things new, and the Kingdom of Heaven is found, not in the security of adulthood, but in the precarious wonder of starting over with a remembered innocence.

So, whatever our age, any hope we might have for our future lies not just in being born again, but in growing up again. And, as we grow up again in him, we are called the “children of promise.”

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God. And we are!…And, it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is…everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” — 1 John 3:1-3

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About John Michalak

niQSkYTh

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

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