Last night I watched a long distance mentor of mine, Israel Houghton, singing and sharing his testimony on TBN from Dallas. Full disclosure, whenever I am asked what my dream is or “What do you want to do with your life?” my response is: “I want to do what Israel is doing.” Needless to say, this was not the first time I stopped channel surfing when I saw Israel on the television screen, so when he began to say: “You don’t always have to cross the planet to change the world. Sometimes you just have to cross the street.”, I started to roll my eyes. I can be critical of pre-packaged comments or sermons.  My fault not Israel’s, God is not finished with me yet. However, I perceived sincerity in Israel’s comments even though I had heard them before. I was convicted as I thought about the moments in my life when I didn’t cross the street to help someone in need.

One day I was going to lunch with my wife, mom, and baby Gene (Gabrielle Ryan Leak) my youngest daughter at Mary Macs in Atlanta. As I was coming up the sidewalk from the parking lot, a man shouted from across the street. “Do you have any change?” the man shouted. I went through my normal internal struggle, going back and forth in my mind about whether or not he was legitimately in need of food or just another hit. I sided with the “he’s just a drug addict or a drunk” logic, said no, and went in to lunch with my people. I came back outside with left overs and the thought occurred to me that I should give the food to the gentlemen that asked me for money before entering, but by then it was too late. The man was gone.

The Bible talks about moments when we helping the needy could be “entertaining angels”. I wondered if I missed my moment. I’ve since asked myself two questions about that moment. If I saw Israel Houghton, Andy Stanley, Creflo Dollar, Justin Beiber, or Kobe Bryant across the street in legitimate need or otherwise, would I help? Is the Christ in me only limited to helping the hungry, but not the drug or substance abused? I’m sure I will have another chance to help someone in need. We all are given impromptu opportunities more than we care to admit to help people in need. Whether it’s the “will work for food” guy or the man that offers to clean off your car windshield, there are always moments that we can, if willing change the world for someone else.

As a worship leader, I’ve often dream of leading people in songs on big stages, in big moments, next to big names, but the moments I “lead worship” most significantly are when I follow the small voice inside of me that encourages me to cross the street to feed, pray with, give to, or encourage someone in need. Last night Israel said the life of worship is a life of obedience. I agree. Worship is not about music. It never has been. It is now and always has been about being willing to do something uncomfortable for the sake of some else. Cross the street!

10. What else do you have to do?

9. Gives you an excuse to wear those new shoes you got for Christmas

8. The first 100 through the doors get free stuff!!! (kind of)

7. The carpet at the Tabernacle is REALLY COOL!

6. Corey and the band will keep singing and playing even if they injure a knee (no offense Jay Cutler)

5. Free wifi

4. You can still be cool at Awaken even if you can’t dance, Corey can’t and he’s still kind of cool,  sort of

3. Your grandma would want you to come

2. No animals were harmed in the making of Awaken

Lastly, drum roll please…………………………

1. Seriously, it’s a great place to connect with God and other people in the community of faith! We hope to see you there Feb26 doors open at 6:30p. Bring a picture of a friend or a loved one that you are praying for, we want to do something cool together that night. See you there!  For more details visit http://coreyevan.com

They say that second place is just the first loser. People soon forget who came in second in any competition. I couldn’t tell you very many runner ups in championship games throughout history, but we certainly keep good record of first place as people.

Before two years ago when I was laid off, I worked  four years in management for a company just south of Atlanta. I learned a ton from that experience, but the lesson that sticks out the most is what I call “tell your story first”. Often a workplace becomes a political rat race with everyone jockeying for position and favorable perceptions from the boss and the bosses bosses boss. Whenever there was an incident however small or large, the person who first told the story seemed to have an advantage over those who came later to tell the same story, and if there were different versions of the same story, the first story was usually the one that was accepted as the official version. So, I began to make it my business to tell the story first. Anything I believed would make it to my bosses office I made my priority to bring him first.

This morning, as my three kids and I were reading a story from the Bible together, I was reminded of this idea of telling the story first. I realized that though they are only 9, 7, and 5 there could be and likely have been things about life that they have heard and seen at school, church, the babysitter’s, on the bus, or  the soccer field….. that my wife and I may not have had a chance to talk to them about yet. Today, more than any time in our history, children are exposed to information and images that previous generations weren’t exposed to til much later in their lives. Parents, at least this one, often feel like their kids are too young to talk about things like: sex, drugs, religion, death, and the list goes on, but today I was awakened (speaking of Awaken…. 2/26/2011, in case you were wondering) to the notion that I have to tell  the story first as much as I can with my children. They will remember where they first heard about subjects like those I’ve mentioned. When they do, I want the voice they remember telling the story to be mine.

Whenever I hear the words “memory lane” I have images of a bright sunny day in a dreamy American neighborhood with white picket fences and lemonade stands on every corner. Memory Lane just sounds like a quaint little road that offers no danger or fright down it’s blissfully smooth and straight pavement.

Sadly, however, for many people memory lane is equivalent to any dark alley you can imaging. For some, given the option to stroll down memory lane or to literally walk down a dark alley in Iraq draped in an American flag, would gladly choose the flag and Iraq. Memory lane boasts of far more dangerous peril with it’s razor sharp regrets around every corner and the boom of shots fired from memories of past failures. Yes, for some Memory Lane keeps them from venturing anywhere at all because they believe that they may have to encounter the dangerous road to get to their dreams.

If I could be allowed to be cheesy (er) for a moment, I would say that life’s GPS doesn’t give the direction: “In 1.5 miles turn..left down Memory Lane” when asked to navigate the route to success, happiness, significance, peace or any other destination worth journeying toward. Memory Lane can be a fun trip or it can be a real drag. Either way, it’s not the road that leads to a full life. Never let Memory Lane become bigger than Dreamers Ave. (so cheesy LOL)

If you follow me on twitter you probably saw that I posted my daughters conversation about not being mean to God. It is conversations like that I find myself thankful for today, the day after Thanksgiving. Julie and I had a conversation about this last night on the way home from Granny’s house. I told Julie that I thought it could be difficult for our kids to grasp the concept of Thanksgiving being special because we try to teach them to live thankful lives. Obviously, Thanksgiving is a day that people are encouraged to count their blessings, but I wonder how much happier folks would be if they chose to count them everyday. Happy Holidays folks!

Have you ever seen something truly amazing? Ever been standing  on a beach with sand between your toes, a light breeze blowing against your skin,   and looked across the ocean to see the sun rise or set? Maybe you’ve seen some grievously horrible images in your life like the extreme, inhuman, violence of militants in foreign nations against women and children. When we are entranced  by anything authentically remarkable, the remarks that follow are typically one of these: “Can you believe that?” , “Did you see that?” , or “Are you watching this?”

It’s “shark week” on the discovery channel. I wondered what all the fuss was about, so I watched some of it last night. When I saw seemingly, sane men diving calmly into water that looked like a shark buffet, I text my brother and said: “Are you watching this?”. Something about extraordinary images arouses a desire within us for someone else to see what we see, and if those images are particularly horrifying, someone to help.

History tells us that people have always reacted this way to astounding images. David, the writer of most of the Psalms in the Bible, asks: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off?”. David asked this question as he was watching vile men take advantage of the weak and helpless. David was troubled by bad men becoming wealthy doing bad things without shame, and he asked God: “Are You watching this”. God, are You really going to sit by idle while innocent people are oppressed? How can You, being “all powerful” stand still and watch this happen? Sound familiar?

Have you ever wondered if God was even watching your life? Have you ever thought: “If God truly cares and is watching, why do I feel so alone in this world?”?  Have you ever wondered why such horrible tragedies happen seemingly every day if there is a loving God on duty? I have. David did. People all over the world do. You are not alone, and yes, God is watching. Our understanding of life, as wise and informed as we may be, is limited. God is always just, loving, caring, and involved. Whether you’re wondering why bad things happen to good people, or wondering why God hasn’t “answered” your prayers, know that He is watching and He is listening. We all put our trust in something.  We can either trust our doubts and fears or trust that God knows what He’s doing. I suggest the latter.

When I was sixteen years old I drove a 1989 or 90 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. I named her Lucy. She was my first car, and I loved her. She was a two door,  tan with tan, cloth interior, had a cassette player and am/fm radio. I was riding in style in ’96, but I had no clue how to take care of a car. I just knew how to drive it, but not how to maintain it. I’ll never forget the day Lucy caught on fire on my way to school. I had my younger brother with me, and smoke started emanating from under the hood through the vents of the dashboard and  into our faces. I turned to my brother and calmly said: “Get out of the car”. Perhaps it was my calm demeanor, or just innocent naivety from an eight year old, but my brother looked back at me as smoke was now cascading into the vehicle and said: “why?”. Needless to say we both got out of the car and shortly there after Lucy erupted into flames. It was a sad, sad day.

Thank God my brother ultimately listened to me and exited the car. Can you imagine how tragic it would have been if we had spent even a moment more in the car debating the seriousness of the danger that we faced? I knew he didn’t understand the danger we faced, but I’m grateful to God he trusted me and got out.

Today you might find yourself being compelled to get out of something. Maybe a relationship, or a dead-end job. Maybe it’s a lifestyle. Whatever it is, God knows the situation you’re in better than you do, and if He is encouraging you to get out, it’s for your own good. You may not see the danger, but if He says it’s time to move on, He sees it. Don’t waste time questioning how much danger you’re “really” in. Just trust that God loves you and is passionate about keeping you safe from harm, even if you don’t understand the harm. My brother trusted his older brother and moved on, maybe today you need to trust your heavenly Father and do the same.

There is not a sport I can think of that doesn’t have a border that establishes the boundaries the game is played in. Over the years there have been spectacular feats of athletic skill performed outside the boundaries of the “field of play” that were tremendously impressive, but amounted to nothing more than a side-show circus act in relationship to winning and losing. Lebron James can make all the underhanded half-court shots he wants from beyond the out of bounds line, but it will never get him one of the FOUR championships Kobe Bryant has. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!

With the understanding that we all have about boundary lines, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand what the word boundless means. If I were to tell you I was going to get some boneless chicken wings your expectation would be all the chicken none of  the bones. In like manner the word boundless should express that there are no boundaries. The subject being described when I use the term boundless refers to something that is without an out of bounds line. Everything is in play. Everything counts.

The Bible describes God’s power and mercy as boundless to us in scriptures like: 1Peter chapter 1, Ephesians chapter 3, and several other passages within scripture. God’s love for us is boundless. His grace is boundless. His compassion is boundless and on and on the list goes. None of this is new to anyone who’s been to a Bible teaching church even one time. We understand in theory that there is no boundary to God’s desire for us to draw close to Himself, but when it comes time to play the game of life, we have a hard time not feeling “out-of-bounds” sometimes. We can believe that God’s mercy will apply to the small issues of life. For instance, if I drive 57 in a 35, I can believe that God isn’t mad at me for that. I mean, come on, who doesn’t drive faster than the speed limit. It may be “wrong”, but it’s still “inbounds”. What happens, however, when I have sex out-of-wedlock? What if I drink more than I should and get drunk? What if I explore homosexuality? What if I don’t tithe? Still “inbounds”? Is “all” sin really equal in God’s eyes? If so, why is it so hard to believe that God still loves me and has a plan for my life when I’ve committed any of these things? Why do these things  make me feel so………… out-of-bounds?

Jesus came to us to free us from the law and all of it’s restrictions. I’m not saying He came to eliminate the practice of doing the “right thing”. He didn’t come to get rid of the rules. He came to expand the playing field. Before Jesus people played on a court that was too small to stay in bounds. People couldn’t move to the right or to the left and still be in the field of play. Jesus came to offer the “boundless riches of His mercy” to all of us, so that we could play the game and win even in areas that were previously out-of-bounds. Man looks at the outside, but God sees the heart. God knows the intent of the heart and He is happy with the effort we make to live righteously knowing that our effort is not what saves us anyway. God isn’t shocked by our failure and He’s not mad about them either. He is not a referee waiting for the opportunity to blow the whistle and declare us out-of-bounds. His mercy, love, and power are boundless, and the only way we are disqualified  is if we quit playing. Jesus expanded the playing field. You’re still winning no matter where you find yourself in the field of play because God is for you. Keep you’re head up. No matter what you may be facing today or what you may have done, you’re not out-of-bounds!

Have you ever counted on one hand the amount of people that you can really trust? The people in that one hand you’ve come to know as your girls. Your crew. Your posse. Your homies. Perhaps some of you have bestowed upon this group the name, “family.”

In that small community of individuals you’ve become accustomed to trusting with the deepest idiosyncrasies that paint the portrait of who you are… have even they ever broken your trust?

Man, I must say, I’ve been there. Perhaps too often.

I mean isn’t a reality for at least a minute portion of us that the roller coaster called life and its circumstances have led us to a place where we’ve categorized everybody into two departments.

People I can trust.

People I can’t trust.

Reasonably, the word trust can carry a different element for you. When I implement the word, “Trust”, in reference to relating with a small community of individuals, I’m implying that you are VULNERABLE. When life seems inadequate, When YOU feel inadequate, When you simply just want to get away from all the noise that demands your attention, When you scroll through your contact list and you find someone who you can the bona fide truth to. That’s the place when you’re vulnerable.

There’s a difference between the bona fide truth and the politically correct truth. The politically correct truth is the truth you show everybody without being dishonest. The bona fide truth is the truth without restraint. You know you’re telling the bona fide truth when you’re not wearing any hats.

For example, people who wear the Pastor hat HAVE to assert particular spiritual parameters because THEY’RE A PASTOR. If a pastor was ticked at his wife the morning he had to speak to you, he wouldn’t tell the congregation that information. For perhaps some are under the belief that this type of behavior would be… politically… incorrect.

People who wear the Doctor hat HAVE to speak of certain medical commodities because THEY”RE A DOCTOR. Positions of many kinds have been handed a demand for them to maintain this “status” of keeping the hat they’ve spent a major portion of their life attaining.

I’d be delighted to tell that the next thing we all should do is: Take off our hats. This is usually the point when the enlightened and astute characters in our lives would tell us to simply let go. Forgive. Don’t let your past hold you back from your future. You’re still holding on while the person who hurt you isn’t even thinking about you. If you don’t get to a point where you are vulnerable with other people again in your life, you simply will never grow into the person you were designed to be. No matter how you want to write your own story, there is no favorable ending where you don’t need people.

The above is legit. And we all should take heed.

But this whole trust issue altogether has left me with this question:

Does my life create an environment that makes people want to tell me their bona fide truth?

The argumentation conducted by our brains as to why we aren’t so vulnerable with people is because we are afraid of how people will react to OUR truth. In essence, we’ve decided for other people by default that: “YOU CAN’T HANDLE MY TRUTH.” Thus we keep most at a distance until proven innocent. It’s like people are constantly coming through the courtroom of your brain. And I’d be the first to say… maybe they should. After all, it is your life right?

Since our culture has assembled a smorgasbord of churches, religions, and denominations for you to choose from, essentially, you can pick and choose what you want to do and how you want to do while we all read the same Bible and interpret it in opposite directions. Although it would be fun, I’m not here to argue any of them. I just know I’ve been on both sides of the coin on this trust issue. I’ve been in the boat where people trust me. I’ve been in the boat where I don’t trust anybody. I’ve even broken a friends trust a time or two in my life.

I’m realizing this trust issue isn’t all about what people have done or what have you. It all really stems from my relationship with God. Sometimes, even though I know He sees the bona fide truth, I don’t want to TALK about the bona fide truth because I’m scared of what He’ll say. From there, I begin being afraid to tell anyone anything.

For me, for my relationship with Jesus, I’ve just decided that I don’t want to wear a hat. I’ve just decided to create an environment where people, if they so choose to, can simply… trust me. Perhaps me initiating the environment will allow me to step into relationships with no walls. At some point my mind gets tired of calculating other people’s responses to what I MAY tell them. That’s no way to live.

For Jesus, for my family, friends, and all those in between. In the words of a song my brother Corey wrote, “I’m not afraid anymore.” You can handle the truth.

I was holding Gabby the other day. It was actually Christmas Day. For those of you who don’t know, Gabby is my four year old daughter. She’s our baby. I was carrying her to the van and I said: “Merry Christmas Gabby” to which she replied: “Merry Christmas daddy”. She melted my heart with that simple response to me, and I realized in that moment how big the smallest things truly are.

We often refer to moments like that one as the “little” things in life. Tell that to any parent who’s lost a child and would give anything to be able to hear their child say “Merry Christmas”. I am learning how “big” moments with the people we love truly are. I don’t want to take for granted the opportunities I have to be with the people I love.

The Christmas season is coming to a close and undoubtedly you’re out of eggnog and your tree is dying. You’re probably starting to dread taking down all the lights and garland you put up around the house, but before you close the chapter on this season, look someone dear to you in the eyes and tell them what’s really in your heart for them. Then, as we approach a new decade, make it a point to cherish the life that God has blessed you to live and the people God has blessed you to have in your life. Our lives are but vapors, flickers of light in comparison to eternity. We are here one moment and gone the next. Don’t wait until the “little” things in life become the “big” things before you genuinely value them. Happy New Year everyone!! See you next year.