May I Have a Do-over?

As I approach yet another birthday in my seventh decade, I reflect back on my life with gratitude for all the lessons learned through life experiences. But at the same time I can’t help but to recall times and decisions I wish I could do over. It’s funny to me how much you can love something that you totally suck at. I love golf. If my body and finances would let me, I’d play every day. But I would want do-overs on just about every hole. I know the stance, the swing mechanics and the proper club selection, but rarely does it all come together for a par.

Life can be the same. It’s easy to get caught up in “what ifs”. What if I’d chosen a different career? What if I’d finished college or chosen a different major? What if I’d pursued that dream a little earlier in life? What if I’d chosen a different relationship?What if I’d recognized my God-given purpose and walked in it sooner? As I look back I can easily identify so many situations that I’d do over. Is it the same with you?

Im grateful that my God is a God of do-overs. When you study some of the main characters in scripture you’ll find most were given a do-over. Jonah disobeyed God and ended up in a fish but was given a do-over. David had a man killed so he could take his wife, but was given a do-over. Peter denied knowing his master Jesus not once but three times, but Jesus gave him a do-over. And perhaps the greatest do-over in history, the Apostle Paul, who persecuted and killed those who followed Christ, was transformed and given a humongous do-over that resulted in over half of our New Testament. Gods grace and patience in our lives results in a myriad of second chances. At nearly sixty-one years old I’m finding that to be true more each day.

There is something else equally important. While I’m still a man of many imperfections, I feel I’m finally walking in my purpose. It took me a long time to get to this point. But I realize that every event and every season of my life, including those I may at first wish to do over, were used to get me to where I am now. It really is true, according to Romans, that all things, good or bad, work together for the good of those who love God and are in pursuit of his purpose. Even things sent our way intended for evil purposes, are turned around for our good. Although I might do things differently if given the chance, I can be at peace knowing that God eventually guided my path so that I may be where I am now, even if that path resembles the Israelite journey through the wilderness, a two week trip that took forty, or sixty-one years in my case, to complete.

The rest of your life begins today. Don’t get caught up in things you can’t do over, but rather embrace the fact that in Christ and with his daily measure of mercy, each day can be a do over. Don’t determine your path forward by looking backwards. The past is a history that can’t be changed, but God is already in your future. God bless you.

What is Your Thorn in the Flesh?

A thorn in the flesh is a phrase used to describe some annoyance or some challenge in one’s life, and is attributed to the Apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians. Paul had a thorn in the flesh that he asked God to remove more than once. According to Christianity Today his thorn may have been a disease, an eye condition, lust, his singleness or a speech impediment. Whatever it was he asked God to remove it on three different occasions but God refused, citing his Grace was more than enough to compensate for his thorn.

We all have something in our life that could be viewed as our thorn in the flesh. God uses these to help us develop total reliance on his grace. For me it is a twenty year battle with kidney disease. As with any thorn it’s not something we asked for or would have chosen. I deal with constant pain and occasional fatigue. And God knows it hasn’t been conducive to a quality social or dating life. What it has done is develop a total trust and reliance on God’s grace like I’ve never had before. As my body weakens, my spirit is renewed and grows stronger each day. The thorn is inconvenient but I’d have it no other way. The peace that come with the assurance that God’s radical grace will get me through anything is a gift of priceless value.

Whatever it may be that keeps you reliant upon God for a daily ration of grace, as hard as it may be, rejoice in it, knowing his grace is working out something much more wonderful and eternal than the temporary setbacks.

The Lord bless you and keep you, may his face shine upon you and be GRACIOUS to you.

One Step at a Time

An old philosopher once said the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. That is such a profound truth and so applicable in my life. For the past two years I’ve been on a spiritual journey. I’ve learned many lessons and re-learned a few I’d forgotten. Perhaps the most important lesson has been to not be afraid to take the next step.

I remember going through haunted houses when I was younger. There would always be that one section that was pitch black with zero visibility. Even though you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, the only way to get through the section was to keep stepping. Life for us may not always be that mysterious but there will be those times when the future is unknown to you and all you can see is the next step.

I love how scripture tells us that each of us are born with a God-instilled purpose and mission established before our birth. It’s rare that a five-year old might know their purpose and mission. Im sixty and I’m still uncertain of my destination. But I’m more certain than ever before that I’m on the path God chose for me. If I stay true in my commitment to Christ and submit every aspect of my life to him, I’m assured that my steps will be guided by him even if I don’t know where they lead. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119 that God’s word is a lamp for our feet, a light for our path. God provides just enough illumination for us to determine the next step in our journey.

From learning a new dance to beginning a twelve step program, life is a series of taking one step at a time. I believe God doesn’t always reveal to us the complete picture of our life because we would be overwhelmed. Instead he gently guides us one step at a time. Don’t be afraid of stepping out and don’t be in a rush to skip steps in the process. Enjoy the journey and contentment of simply taking the next step.

Goodbye for Now

My dad has been the inspiration for several of my posts over the years. It should come as no surprise that even in death he inspires me. One week ago today we had the privilege of saying goodby for now as we celebrated his life in a send-off fitting a saint. He ran the race well and finished it strong and is now in a place he called home. Dad was truly homesick for Heaven.

In the whole process a couple things came to mind. There was a great outpouring of sympathy for the family with nearly everyone in the final viewing line telling us how sorry they were. While I understand the sentiment, I wondered if they had heard the same eulogy I heard. Dad’s entire life was based around the Christian faith and hope that death was merely our transition to the promise of eternal life with Christ. Anyone who knew dad knew how long he had suffered. We could not comprehend the pain he endured daily with little complaint. Only hourly doses of morphine gave him comfort in the end. Dad dreamt of the land described in Revelation 21 where every tear would be wiped away, and there would be no more death or mourning, no crying and no pain. Now he is there, one more saint watching out for us from a heavenly vantage point. There is nothing to be sorry for. Yes we’ll miss him until we arrive but we rejoice that he no longer suffers in the arms of his Savior.

Another thought I had regards the usual cliches often expressed at funerals. They are the feel good cliches, we’ll see him again, in a better place, God needed angel, etc.. Dad would be the first to tell us death is not a free pass to Heaven. You don’t get there simply by living a good life or by knowing a Christian. Salvation and redemption does not come by proxy. You have to have a personal relationship with Christ based on your confession that he is Lord. We can’t pray someone into heaven who lived a life of denial of Christ. Dad was the real deal. He taught us Christ, showed us Christ and lived out Christ everyday of our lives. We will see him again because he left us a legacy of faith and a clearly marked path to follow. Its with confidence that we hold to the promise that to be absent in this earthly body is to be present with our Lord.

Up until the day before dad passed he was highlighting scripture in his Bible. The Word was his key to heaven and he was anxious to open the door. The empty place he leaves behind on earth is only a reminder that he finished the course and has graduated with honors. He was ready, we’re ready. Are you?

Everyone’s Story Matters

The year was 2009. Our band had been invited to do a worship concert at the Mens Prison in Kingman, AZ. As soon as the guards opened the doors to the hall the room flooded with men in their prison orange. It had been decided that at the end of our worship we would each introduce ourselves and give a quick testimony. I would go last and then introduce the chaplain. One by one our band members gave attention grabbing testimonies of how God had delivered them from abuse, addictions, habits, etc. , some ”me too” stories the inmates related to. Then came my turn. How could my story compete with theirs? I lived a relatively boring and sheltered life in comparison. As an athlete I had never dabbled much in drugs or alcohol. I didn’t have a story of some miraculous spiritual conversion being pulled into the light from the dark. I had been raised in a Christian home by two Godly parents. I was in church whenever there was a service. We were insulated from from drugs, sexy, alcohol, pornography and any other temptation common to teens. I was never allowed to go down that path. Boring. Or was it.

It dawned on me, that was my story. I was spared the pain of hangovers, withdrawals, unwanted children. I was raised in the knowledge of Christ-it is all I’ve ever known. That was my testimony, the grace of God over my life due to parents who prayed over me from my infancy, so that’s the story I told. It must have been good because when I tried to turn it over to the chaplain, he told me to keep going and I delivered an impromptu sermon on salvation and hope that resonated with the inmates. Many of them responded to the invitation to accept Christ. My story mattered.

Don’t ever feel that God can’t use your history, colorful or boring, to change the life of someone who can relate. God chose 12 men to be his apostles. Some were hated, some had reputations and others no one knew. This group of different stories turned the world upside down as they shared with anyone who would listen. I believe God puts people in our path with similar backgrounds that want to hear what we have to say about Christ and his mercy which covers all of us.

What’s your story? Would it make a great movie or a funny gif file? Praise God for stories of redemption and restoration, for marvelous life-changing transformations and for parents who protected their children from the pain and consequences of bad choices. Your story matters; tell it as He urges.

A Mother’s Love

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The bond is formed the instant she realizes something strangely wonderful is happening. Her hopes are confirmed with the news that she has conceived. She is about to experience the miraculous cycle of life-a new life created in love is developing inside her womb and the countdown begins to the day when she will first see his eyes. Already she is protective-already, there is no son like the one she’s about to bear. The blessed day of his introduction to the world arrives and he is placed upon her stomach for the first time. His appearance, his perfection, his cries instantly remove all residual pain that accompanied his entrance-she is in love with this wonder from God.

Through the early months the bond grows as this miracle receives from her breasts. Every day brings something new.  As she holds him she can see how he fixes his eyes on hers, how he studies her expressions and listens to her sounds of love, until that one special day, when all the cute baby gibberish yields to that first recognizable word-Mama! Her name formed in his tiny mouth brings with it a level of euphoria that only a mother can fully appreciate. He recognizes and accepts this unconditional love he is receiving from this lady and has given it a title-Mama. She feels a blessing words can’t adequately express.

Soon the dependence from limited mobility gives way to the first steps. She feels pride and yet another strange feeling-the birth of worry. Now she has to watch over him with more diligence and remove any obstacle that might bring him harm, a task that from that day forward will never end. She is now his protector-a guardian against anyone and anything that might cause her son harm, a task she undertakes ferociously.

He is now a young free spirit, active, fearless, experimenting.  The day comes when the father removes the training wheels from his first bike, expecting a fall or two, a possible abrasion and maybe even a little blood-a learning curve that must be met. She is not ready for this day and wants to follow closely to catch him when he falls and save him from the pain, but the father holds her back-it must be done if he is to learn. He falls, looks immediately to his mom but gets back on the bike and takes off. The bond grows some more.

They spend the days dancing in the kitchen, working in the garden, shopping for groceries, playing in the park. He is her constant companion and joy and fills her days with laughter. She hardly notices his unkempt clothing, the dirt he drags onto the floor, the mess he leaves at the kitchen table-she sees an angel at play and finds great reward in being a witness to his every move, grateful for this time that just the two of them will share, and not fully appreciating how quickly it will pass. The bond grows.

As much as she wants to turn back time, she can’t and the first day of school arrives, way too early. With all the hesitation of a mother bird pushing her chicks out of the nest, she releases him to the world for the first time and plans nothing for the first few days so she can be waiting and relieved when he exits the school building, another aspect of her experience that will never entirely go away. She watches as he becomes a social being, making new connections but still heavily dependent on his mother’s bond, something he too will never fully outgrow.

She is there to witness the effects of his growth, with full knowledge of what’s to come, but like the removal of the training wheels, forced to watch it happen and be there for the scrapes. She prays for him and awaits the inevitable-the first fight, the first colorful words he learns, the first time he notices a girl, the first kiss, the first boyhood crush and the first heartbreak. Each time she is there with healing and comfort and protection-the bond grows.

The years seem like months as he receives his high school diploma and prepares for college life, most likely far away from home and from his mom for the first time. Nothing has prepared her for this day-the motherhood manual didn’t address this scenario and her faithful prayers are put to the test beyond what she was anticipating. She has dealt with colds and baby teeth, cuts and bruises, dates and broken hearts-she has never faced separation! He has always been the little boy placed on her stomach at birth, close, safe, dependent. She doesn’t like this feeling-it’s uncomfortable, but again a necessary part of the cycle of life. For perhaps the first time she feels unneeded. The best of marriage doesn’t fill her need to mother. She prays for his safety and her comfort.

Finally, he is home again, and with news-he has found love. She experiences another strange sensation. Joyful for his return but faced with the reality that she will have to share her son with another who will fill all the needs that until this time she has met. Again, she has to release him. At the wedding she is the honored guest of the groom. She has learned to accept her new daughter into her life-she hopes as a mom she has taken advantage of every opportunity to prepare her son for adulthood. She takes a quick mental survey to see if she left anything out. With the words “I do” she feels a sense of pride and accomplishment.

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She is not ready for the overwhelming flood of emotions as she gets another chance to dance with her son, now a man. He has become the embodiment of everything good she has instilled in him from the first day their eyes met. He holds her with a sense of love, appreciation and gratitude that only a son can fully express to his mom. The bond has outlasted every strain that was put on it-it is strong and tangible. The song can’t last long enough-she doesn’t want this moment in time to end-it is her reward and she is relishing in it with every note and every step. This is a mother’s love for her son in full manifestation. The bond is secure.

Love completes its cycle as news come that she is soon going to be a grandmother. The day comes when her grandson is placed in her lap for the very first time. The bond is formed.

Church Live or Online?

The numbers are in after our Easter celebration. My church in Henderson, NV was humbled to minister to over 38,000 in our five services! We have not seen numbers like his since before the pandemic shut our doors. For many it may have simply been a chance to check off their church box for the year while for others, it was their first time back since Covid.

Our church was offering services online via live stream as were many other churches across the nation. Our online viewership has increased ten times since the pandemic. Our live attendance is down about 30% but coming back slowly. If your health or work schedule prevents you from attending live, online is a great option. However, I’m a strong advocate for attending live whenever possible. These are just a few reasons why.

When you are engaged in live worship with hundreds or even thousands of like-minded believers there’s a sense of God’s presence that is hard to duplicate in your home online. I compare it to watching your favorite sports team on television or being live in the stadium with fellow screaming fans-there is no comparison.

Another thing that happens only in live services is the edifying of the church. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us that we each receive certain spiritual gifts that should be honed in the church for the edifying of the Body of Christ, or the church. You need to minister to others using the gifts God has given you. Your story may help others. This doesn’t normally happen in your living room drinking coffee in your pajamas.

Another benefit of live attendance is networking with friends and forming strong bonds of support you can rely on in times of crisis. My circle of strong men who I count as friends have been my lifesaver these past few years. Time shared together is more precious than well meaning texts.

One out of three have stopped attending church in America since the pandemic and those who attend church have dropped below 50% for the first time in decades. Don’t be a part of a trend but jump in and get wet. Immerse yourself with all the benefits of a live worship experience whenever possible. Don’t settle for anything less than the live experience.

More Than Jewelry or a Tattoo

I have a tattoo of a cross on my back and one on my shoulder. I also have both a silver and a gold cross on chains. The cross is one of the most used symbols in all the world. It is interchanged as symbols of both life and death, horror and beauty. Perhaps nothing in the world has been more misunderstood than the cross, specifically the cross Christ died on.

For most people around the world, this is the beginning of Holy Week when we pause, reflect on and remember the events that are central to our beliefs and salvation. But in a world of seeker friendly churches and feel good messages, many go right to the empty grave and ignore the important significance of the cross. Our church fathers had it right singing hymns such as The Old Rugged Cross, The Cross Made a Difference, At Calvary, Near the Cross and many more. But the message of the cross is not popular in many churches-it doesn’t preach well, it does’t make you feel good.

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, but Jesus didn’t come to inspire beautiful glittery cards and holiday music. Instead he came to be sacrificed on the cruel cross to cover once and for all the sins of mankind from Genesis to his eventual return for us. It’s a beautiful mystery too grand to fully comprehend. Another beautiful hymn, How Can it Be That He Would Die for Me, remains a prevailing question today. But consider this nugget of gospel truth-God is all knowing. He didn’t send Jesus to die for us IN SPITE of knowing how badly we sinned against him, rather BECAUSE he was fully aware of our sins! ”While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. He died for the government officials who gave into the demands of the people. He died for the Pharisees who convicted him through a false trial. He died for the Roman guards who flogged him nearly to death, plucked out his beard and hammered the nails into his hands and feet and raised the cross. There is no one and no deed that is so horrific or too great that the cross does not cover! As those who have been forgiven from our sins we should embrace and cling to the beautiful horror of the cross.

Because of the cross we have healing; because of the cross our sins are forever removed from us and remembered no more. Because of the cross we now have direct access to God who desires above all else that we develop an intimate relationship with him. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians ” I want nothing more than for you to accept Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It’s great and right that we celebrate this Sunday the empty tomb. There is no grave we can visit because he is risen. But don’t be too quick to disregard the significance the cross plays in the resurrection. Rather reflect on the fact that Jesus took on the punishment of sin, which is death, so that we may be called children of God! It’s a mystery too great to for the human mind to comprehend. We don’t need to, we simply accept it with a grateful heart of humility and pass the light on to the next person. Be blessed this Easter.

God is Already in Your Tomorrow

Bodily aches and discomfort, insomnia, tiredness, high blood pressure, digestive issues, sexual issues-all symptoms of a person who worries too much! You can also throw in anxiety and depression. We are a world of worriers and it shows in our overall physical and mental health.

A recent poll showed that more people, about 54%, were pessimistic about 2022. There is much to be concerned about around the globe; the lingering Covid virus, high inflation, rising fuel prices, unemployment or under employment, housing costs, health issues and on and on. All of us have been impacted by at least one or two of these issues directly or within the immediate family. The issue is at what stage does concern and awareness give over to worry and stress? And how can we navigate life’s challenges without yielding to worry?

Worry is nothing new. Jesus addressed it Himself along with others in Biblical times:

Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything praying over everything-petition God and He will give you perfect peace , Phil. 4:6-7

Look at the birds of the air. The don’t sow or Collect their food into barns. Yet your Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they? And who by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan? Matt. 6:25

Cast all your worries on Him because He cares for you, 1 Peter 5:7

These are but a small sampling of Scriptures dealing with worry or anxiety. A simple Google will lead you to more verses like these.

I was a worrier all of my life. I like to be in control in certain situations. It has taken most of my 60 years to learn how to completely trust God in everything. But for those who follow Christ, the scriptures hold true that He gives us a supernatural peace that can’t be adequately described outside of our faith. During a year when I had no income coming in God met every need. On paper it didn’t make sense but in reality my needs were always met and I had an overwhelming peace that they would be.

We sing a song in church titled I Don’t Know What Tomorrow Holds but I Know Who Holds Tomorrow. I’ve learned especially in the past couple years that God is already in my tomorrow. He knows what I’ll be facing so He equips me with the tools I need today so that I’ll be prepared when I arrive. If God always operates in that realm, what do I have to worry about? Worry may be natural. God’s peace is supernatural. In a world of chaos, I choose peace over worry. You can too!

Finding Peace in a World of Turmoil

Through advances in technology we now have access to World news instantly. Through a click on the remote or a keystroke on a computer device we are instantly plugged in to news around the globe, most of it being bad news. There are ongoing feuds between notions, new start up wars or aggression between others, natural disasters happening globally, and the next mutation of a germ wreaking havoc around the world. It seems you can’t hide from the daily dose of bad news short of unplugging yourself from the outside world.

When you add to this those personal issues like divorce, sickness, unemployment, etc. it’s easy to see why it’s so hard to find peace, at least within yourself. The more aware you are of things happening around the world the more your peace gives in to worry. I am by nature a worrier. I would surrender my peace over my income, my health, who’s in the Whitehouse and even how far my team would go in the NFL playoffs. As a follower of Christ, this is not how we are called to live.

We can attempt things to find peace, such as yoga, exercise, getaways, even a warm bath with soft music. However these are merely escapes that are at best temporary. Within hours you’ll discover that all the stressors are still there. It is only through a personal relationship with Christ that one can find a lasting, unnatural peace that doesn’t diminish over time or circumstance .

If we belong to Christ we have these promises to help us find and retain peace in the most difficult of times. Here are just a few of those:

Peace I give you, my peace, not the peace of this world. Don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

I have told you these things that in me you will find peace. In the world you will have trouble but take heart, I have already overcome the world. John 16:33

Be anxious about nothing, rather pray about everything. And the peace of God which surpasses human understanding will guard tour hearts and minds in Christ Jesus . Phil. 4:6, 7

You keep him in perfect peace because his mind concentrates on you and he trusts you. Isaiah 26:3

The mind of the flesh is death but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

Since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:1

This is just a glimpse into the promises of attaining peace, but they are conditional on having a relationship with Christ. I can tell you how wonderful it is to face life’s twists and turns having an inward peace that cant be properly expressed to those outside of the faith. And yet it is so easy to receive. God’s gift of salvation is free to all. In an easy and humble prayer, express your belief in Christ. Acknowledge that he died for you and rose after 3 days so you could live forever. Ask him to forgive you of all your past sins and to help you navigate life with his peace. Agree to live your life for him and walk in obedience of his plan for you. If you’ve done this you can have God’s perfect peace wherever you are and whatever you are facing. God bless you.

Is Hell for Real?

I recently viewed a commercial for the Freedom From Religion Foundation featuring Ron Reagan, son of the late President Ronald Reagan. This foundation is comprised of atheists, agnostics and non-theists, with a mission to educate the public about non-theism. His closing statement was ”I’m Ron Reagan and I’m not afraid to burn in Hell”. That statement caught me off guard. I’m grateful to live in a country where religious freedoms are protected and whose citizens are free to worship as they choose, or not. Yet that statement by Ron Reagan got me thinking, just what do we know about hell and why are so many not concerned?

I accepted Christ as a young boy after seeing an illustrated sermon about hell. I remember seeing fake flames and hearing screams from people who had died not believing in Christ. As a young impressionable boy, it scared the Hell out of me. When the altar call was given I remember almost running to the front because I didn’t want to end up in Hell like these people. Salvation Insurance Policy, not the best way to come to believe but I eventually grew into my salvation for the right reasons. It’s just as difficult for me to believe the arrogance of those who adamantly deny the existence of Hell as it is for them to believe my absolute convictions that Hell is real.

So what exactly do we know about this place Hell? As believers who accept the Bible as God’s word we can reference the scriptures to get a clear image of Hell. We know that Hell was not created for us but for Satan and his followers. It’s not God’s desire that anyone spend eternity in such a horrible place. The following are some scriptural descriptions about Hell:

A lake that burns with fire and sulfur, Rev. 21:8

Eternal punishment, Matt. 25:46

Torment day and night, Rev. 20:10

Smoke of their torment rises day and night forever, Rev. 14:11

Eternal separation from God, 2 Thes. 1:9

Weeping and grinding of teeth, Matt. 13:50

Gloomy darkness, 2 Peter 2:4

Eternal fire, Jude 1:7

Unquenchable fire, Mark 9:43

Unquenchable thirst, Luke 16:34

However you wish to interpret these passages, Hell is a place that offers eternal torment with no hope of escape or second chances. Just as there have been stories of those who had near death experiences and describe what they thought was Heaven, so has there been similar stories describing Hell experiences with descriptions eerily similar to how the Bible describes it, falling down a shaft or into a dark pit, screams of agony, unbearable heat, total darkness, undeniable stench of burning sulfur, etc.. Why anyone would say that they aren’t afraid of Hell is difficult to comprehend. Why risk the existence of such a horrific place only to be eternally wrong?

Hell doesn’t preach well in churches. It goes against the Feel Good Goosebumps God people prefer to hear about, but one simply can not profess the reality of Christ without accepting the existence of Hell. The price Christ paid on the cross was specifically to save us from this awful punishment for our sins. You can be wrong about many things with opportunities to correct your views. But if you die not knowing Christ, you will spend eternity replaying all the times in your life when you were given the invitation to believe but didn’t, the ultimate Hell.

I Like Big Buts…

Yes, a sure fire way to get me on the dance floor is to play Brick House. And yes I admit to knowing all the words to Baby Got Back and have proven it a time or two at karaoke venues. While my vices haven’t changed much in my mature years I’m not referring here to the female anatomy but rather the conjunction.

“But” has many uses in the English language as a preposition, an adverb or a noun. It is sometimes followed by bad news. ”We’re sorry but we have to let you go”, or “I love you but I need a break”. But my favorite is when used as a conjunction introducing a phrase or a clause that contrasts with what was previously mentioned in a positive way, e.g. he stumbled but he did not fall. When used in scripture ”but” often implies wait, there’s good news, a way out, still hope, something far better.

There are so many buts to choose from in scripture, and as with anatomy everyone has their preference, here are a few of my favorite buts:

The wages of sin is death BUT the gift if God is eternal life.

My flesh may fail BUT God is my strength and my portion forever.

There is no fear in live BUT perfect love drives away fear

You intended to harm me BUT God intended it for good.

For God sent his Son not to condemn the world BUT to save it.

It is no longer I who lives BUT Christ who lives in me.

Be anxious over nothing BUT in everything by prayer and petition make your requests known to God.

Youths grow tired and young men stumble BUT those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and soar like eagles.

In this world you will have trouble BUT take heart, I’ve overcome the world.

God did not give us a spirit if fear BUT a spirit of power.

Now you understand why I like big buts. Throughout scripture God has a way of laying out for us the current condition of sinful man BUT always shows us the way out. There is nothing more comforting when you are going through rough times than that little three letter word. As long as I have eyes to see I will appreciate God’s unique creation of the female form, BUT even they don’t compare to the promise of hope in scripture. So, yes, I like big buts and I can not lie.

Forgetting What’s Behind or Auld Lang Syne?

That time is upon us once again, the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. It’s a time when we look back at the year and resolve to do things better in the year to come. We resolve to improve our health, our diet, to be more productive, to make more money-to be a better version of ourselves. Wise investors buy into gym stocks in January and sell off in February for an easy and predictable return knowing how quickly we give up on resolutions. We ring out the old year with a rendition of an old Scottish drinking song, Auld Lang Syne. Us Scots know a thing or two about drinking songs. In the original version of this song there are five stanzas, each ending with a toast or draught. By the time the song ends a Scot will be feeling pretty good.

Auld Lang Syne means ”of better times” or ”of days gone by”. We are to look back with fondness on good times shared with family and friends whenever ”brought to mind”. However Paul says in Philippians to forget what’s behind and press forward anticipating what’s to come. Is this a contradiction to days gone by? I want to suggest both are possible and healthy. Let me explain.

We are all unique individuals with lives based upon our own history, experiences and memories, mostly good but a few bad. We are also equipped with the ability to filter which memories to cherish and ponder and which ones to erase or delete from our mind. Pleasant memories can be motivational. Before the pandemic you might have had a great job so you know you have the qualifications to have one again. Your relationship may have ended but you remember how magical the years were when they were good and you know you want that again. You remember how good you felt at 175 lbs. and you know you can get there again with discipline and a change of eating habits.

But there are those memories that can be haunting, the failures, the mistakes, the expectations not met, the low times when motivation was nonexistent, not the kind of memories you raise a glass to. Perhaps the Apostle is referring to these types of memories when he urges us to forget what’s behind and press forward. The disconnect for some is their filters are not activated and these haunts rush in hidden among the pleasant memories. These haunts are dream killers and road blocks to self-improvement or any resolution.

In order to prevent making resolutions with a shelf life of three weeks it’s imperative that we go into our settings and turn on our spam filters to block any incoming negativity so that only pleasant motivational memories remain. God no longer remembers our past slip-ups, why should we beat ourselves up over things God has already thrown into the trash bin? It’s time to empty our trash bin and clear all cache going into the new year. In Christ we have a purpose and a plan that can’t be defeated if we learn how to keep our minds fixed on good things.

God says look, I’m doing a new thing; God says I make everything new; God says in Christ are are a new creation. As we enter the new year I pray God blesses you with good health, spiritual prosperity and the resolve be all He intended you to be so that Auld Lang Syne might include days to come. Have a blessed and peaceful New Year!

Still Holding on at Christmas?

The phrase ”holding on” is mostly used to describe a positive action, e.g. holding on to a dream or holding on through tough situations. Many songs are written about holding on, images posted on social media to just hold on and even commercials tell us to hold on a little longer. It should be a good thing, right? So is there a time when holding on is not a positive action?

Depending on what you are holding on to, the answer is yes. Many walk about holding on to hurts, pains, old history and baggage that weighs you down. I lost my job so I’m angry at my old boss even though I have a much better job now; my friend said something behind my back even though they sincerely apologized for it; he or she betrayed me and broke our trust even though you’ve recovered and are in a healthier and more fulfilling situation now. The list is as long as Santa’s. It’s somewhat similar to old Marley dragging behind the chain he forged in the Christmas Carol, a burdensome load. However unlike Marley we aren’t doomed to carry it forever.

As believers in Christ we are encouraged to give these burdens to Christ. Scripture tells us to cast all our cares and worries on Him. Christ asks us to trade our heavy loads for His, a much easier and lighter load. The Apostle Paul encourages us to cast off every weight or burden that weighs us down so we can run the race with more ease.

Some walk around with their arms full of all the things they are holding onto. But if your arms are so full of things you won’t let go of, there is no room left for the blessings God is saving for you but can’t give because you can’t carry anything else.

Each Christmas our trees are usually protecting pretty boxes we can’t wait to open. Maybe this year there should be another box, a different one if you will. Some of us may need a really big box. In this box place all your hurts from the past, painful memories, grudges, past failures-anything weighing you down. Close the box and present it as a gift to Christ. I know from personal experience it’s a gift He will be thrilled with this Christmas. Only then will you have room in your arms and heart to receive the good things from Christ that you can gladly hold on to. Merry Christmas!

Are You the Nine or the One?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, traditionally a day we set aside to give thanks for all we’ve received throughout the year although it has morphed into the first official day of Christmas with little thought given to gratitude or God. Reflection has given way to football and strategic planning on which stores to hit first on Black Friday.

In the Gospel of Luke there’s a story about ten lepers who came to Jesus hoping to be healed. They shouted to him from a distance because according to Jewish law they were unclean. In testing their faith Jesus instructed them to present themselves to the priest, the only person who could declare them clean. While on the way to the priest they were all miraculously healed and their skin restored. Only one of the ten, a foreigner, came back to thank Jesus for his miraculous healing, bowing at His feet. Jesus asked him ” didn’t I heal ten, and yet only you have returned to thank me.”

We live in an entitlement society, that is automatically feeling we are entitled to certain things. This may be true of those of us in the Church as well. False teaching leads us to believe God is up there just handing out free stuff like a hired department store Santa Claus. We sit on His lap, tell Him what we want and find it under the tree on Christmas, just like we’re supposed to. There is a difference in receiving by faith and expecting by entitlement.

Every good gift comes from the Father but anything given us by God is not given based on our own merit. In fact we don’t deserve any good thing from God. It is only through His grace and mercy that He delights in gifting us. In a spirit of arrogance I feel we’ve forgotten how to pray fervently to God for what we are seeking. We have forgotten how to see the miracles in the small things. We have skipped Thanksgiving in anticipation of what will be waiting for us under the tree.

It took a really rough year for me to finally learn how to grateful for the simple things like the beauty of an overcast day or getting out of bed to start each new day or treasured friendships. I’m grateful for the free time my health condition has afforded me to serve more in church. I’m thankful that I can detect God’s involvement in directing my steps. Im grateful for a church where for once I feel like I belong.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, Message Translation, reads ”Be cheerful, no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Jesus to live.

God, may we consider your goodness and faithfulness daily and extend to You our gratitude in every situation and not just one day per year.

Starting Over at Age 60

I used to watch a soap opera with my grandmother, The Days of Our Lives. I remember the opening vividly as an hourglass was shown as the narrator said “like sands in the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” This makes sense if you’ve ever watched an hourglass. I’m sure it’s an illusion but it seems like when all the sand is on the top half and the hour is just beginning, the sand seems to be passing slowly. But as more sand enters the bottom and the hour is almost up the sand appears to be passing much more quickly.

I had the blessed and surreal privilege of turning 60 years old this week. I can state without a doubt that the sands of time pass more quickly the older you are. As I look back I still remember the ”firsts” of my youth, the first crush, first kiss, first job, my first car. But my more recent ”firsts” are my first grandchild, my first health scare and my first AARP card. Its easy to look back and wonder where the years went.

The blessed and wise discover early in life what God’s calling is and they embrace it and pursue it. The not-so-wise either run from their calling or take way too many precious years to discover it. Being honest, I fall into the second category. Life is full of distractions and God knows I’ve had my share through the years, as have most of us. In those times our perception of God gets skewed. Instead of being predestined we feel like we’re being persecuted; instead of being ordained we feel oppressed; instead of being justified we feel judged. We minimize our achievements and successes and exaggerate our failures. We tend to disqualify ourselves from the purpose God has already approved because we look back with our tainted human vision instead of looking forward with our Spiritually corrected vision. Except for God, no one knows us better than our nemesis, Satan. He is a master at using our unfiltered negative thoughts to our disadvantage so that we disqualify ourselves.

It took me longer than others but I can now look back and see that the lessons I learned were for a greater good as I begin this next and perhaps final chapter of my life. I must confess my life at 60 is not as I envisioned it. I’m single which was the farthest thing from my mind at this age, I saw myself participating in the Senior Olympics but instead Im grateful to walk a few miles. I thought I’d be retired and living peacefully near some water but instead I live in a condo on the Las Vegas Strip. And yet I love my life because I can finally see God’s hand and direction in it. So at age sixty I’m starting over again. In enrolled in a two year ministry leadership academy. I’m actively engaged in combatting the unforeseen health challenges. I’m writing my third book. And yes, in God’s timing I anticipate and welcome the opportunity to find love one final and life lasting time.

When I was young I viewed sixty as being old. Although my body betrays me at times, I feel like I’m just getting started. I could lament the wasted years by looking back at a trail of destruction or I can look forward with eager anticipation of how God will use me in His service. As a writer I know how my story ends. But as a follower of Christ God finished my story before I was even born sixty years ago. I will be as surprised as everybody else to read the last chapter.

For Christians Everyday is Halloween

361535-slasher-films-halloween-resurrection-screenshot  It’s here again already-Halloween. It’s a time for scary costumes, trick-or-treaters, classic movies and ghost tales.  Oh, and the whole church debate thingy which takes scary to a whole new level. Say what you will-I have fond memories of my days as a kid in Indy gathering as much candy as I could-I still struggle with sweets! And I recall taking the boys out when they were old enough to enjoy the experience. It’s funny to me how this particular holiday causes many to seek out the thrill of being scared senseless.  Even as church youth we went to the scariest settings we could find for that ultimate chase for the annual feeding of our dark side.

One of my favorite movies and all time classic scream traditions is the Halloween series with one of my favorite actresses Jamie Lee Curtis, the reigning scream queen. In her movies there seemed to be nothing she could do to escape, outrun or kill the demon Michael Meyers as he kept coming back to life episode after episode, sequel after sequel. She was haunted by him from her early teenage babysitter years through the time when he had a teen of her own. The character Michael Meyers was ruthless, persistent and seemingly impermeable to death or destruction.  I still don’t know if he’s dead.  I fear as long as Jamie is alive, Michael will pursue her.

This movie series is the classic metaphor for the Christian experience.  We are told in scripture that our battles on earth are not against flesh and blood but rulers of the earth, demonic forces unseen but very real. No matter how much we may pray, attend church or read scripture, there are battles going on within us and around us by the Michael Meyers of the unseen world.  I’m convinced that the more devoted one is to their faith and practice, the more vulnerable to attack by our haunting enemies.  It’s a classic battle strategy to take out the strongest first.

Spiritual warfare doesn’t have to manifest itself in our lives ala Linda Blair and the Exorcist. More times than not the attack is subtle in nature-that quick glance, the one drink too many, that innocent flirtation with someone other than your spouse.  You tear down defenses one brick at a time until there is a large enough hole for a full on attack. The Apostle Paul was engaged in these battles as he recorded for us that the things he knew he should do, he didn’t, and the things he knew not to do he did anyway.  If you walk through life as a believer but are not tempted, not tested or challenged in any way, you are disengaged in your faith, and the battle, for the enemy has evaluated you and deemed you not to be a real threat.

The good news is that we also have unseen Heavenly protectors who will battle for us.  In 2 Kings 6 Elisha prays the God will open the eyes of his young assistant and when He does, the young man sees a host of Heavens armies in chariots of fire encamped around the hillside ready for battle. We are told that the war is already won, but the battles until then can be fierce.  Halloween may be a man made and fake holiday with no real substance, one we know to be artificial, thus the constant pursuit of the ultimate scare. But for believers, the scares can be real if we don’t properly prepare for war.  So be careful and keep your defenses up at all time against incoming attacks, even when they look like Jamie Lee Cutis.

You Are Enough

The year was 1977. I was a Freshman and through the season’s results I had qualified for the City Track Meet featuring the top performers in their event. My event was the 440 yard Dash, now known as the 400 Meter. The starter gave the command, runners took their marks and the gun sounded. We were off. I quickly made up the stagger and took the early lead, as I had done in most races before. I maintained the lead down the backstretch and out of turns 3 & 4. I could hear my schools fellow athletes cheering me on as I raced for the finish line. I crossed the line having run my personal best time and setting a new Freshman record for my school in the event.

I finished in fifth place!

My best was not good enough. It was a tough lesson.

Fast forward into my adult years as I navigated dating, marriage, parenthood, careers, business ownership, and even ministry-I found myself in many situations where I did not feel good enough. I tend to grade myself not so much on accomplishments as on failures or on things left undone. I would suspect many of us have been there at some point.

As believers in Christ we have an adversary who lives solely to trip us up by reminding us of our shortcomings so that we lose sight of our gifts and strengths. He knows which buttons to push to create self doubt which can lead to us questioning our worth, our purpose and even our standing with God. This is a process I’m all too familiar with. These are the times I’ve written about in the past where we have to filter out or take captive those negative thoughts and feelings and rely on the Word which never changes even when we do. Here are just a few of those verses to keep handy.

“You formed me in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made”, Psalm 139

“Consider the ravens…yet God feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than birds.” Luke 12.

“For we are his work, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God planned beforehand”. Ephesians 2.

“ You were ransomed from futile ways …with the precious blood of Christ”. 1 Peter 1.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be considered the Children of God”. 1 John 3.

We live in an age where we are bombarded with what the world calls good enough. Young girls are made to feel like they must be a certain weight and body type to be accepted. Men are led to believe only a six figure income and a certain car make is considered successful. Parents are only as good as their children turn out to be and on it goes. The trap is in falling for the world’s critique as opposed to our status in Christ. We know that in Christ nothing can separate us from His love or goodness or diminish our place in His purpose for us. We aren’t perfect and will never be. Our church motto is It’s Okay to Not be Okay. God doesn’t use perfect people. He uses obedient people and then makes them perfect for the task.

I am enough!

You are enough!

Your two fish and my five loaves are more than enough when surrendered for His purpose. More than that, God is enough and always will be.

What Level Are You On

I’ve never been much of a gamer. I’ve saved a ton of money by not being addicted to the latest video game craze. That said, when Covid hit and I found myself secluded to my Las Vegas condo for days at a time I downloaded a game on my iPad to help pass the time. As my body weakens with age I rely on more cerebral exercises. I assumed I would go through the levels of this game and then delete the app and find another game to keep me busy. I easily breezed through the first few levels with little real challenge. Before long I was at level 100. Surely there must be an end to this soon. Suddenly I’m at level 200, then 300. Does it ever stop, I wondered. As of last evening I’ve now cleared level 1040 and there appears to be no end in sight with this game. With each level I clear, there is a new and more difficult level waiting for me. Will I ever master this game? Is there a final level of achievement?

It dawned on me recently that my spiritual journey is very much the same as this game, and while I’ve been on this game for over a year, my spiritual journey has been ongoing for over 50 years, with no end in sight. As I ponder the two I see several correlations between my game and my faith walk. The first is that if you are serious about growing your faith, there is always another level waiting for you. Even the Apostle Paul realized this when he says in Philippians 3:12 “not that I have already attained all this”, or not that I have cleared all the levels. I just recently started school again and being reintroduced to passing tests. Scripture tells us to consider it a joy when we are tested. It’s a process with no apex of completion.

Another similarity between the two is that each level is more challenging. The first few levels of my game I completed with just one attempt. Soon it was taking two or three. These past few levels have taken me many attempts or even days to clear. You don’t grow if you aren’t tested beyond your current capabilities. How boring would my game be if each level was different but with the same easy degree of difficulty. I’d soon grow weary of it and stop playing. God continually tests and refines us to be suitable for the purpose for which He formed us. You can’t get there by skipping levels. I also saw that with each level I needed the skills or wisdom I learned from the previous levels. When a barricade pops up and you recognize it from a previous level, you recall what it took to clear the obstacle. Our tests aren’t trivial, they are by design. I can’t become a doctor without going to Med school or a lawyer without going to Law school. I can’t pass a generic curriculum and then decide to be an architect. I have to study the applied sciences specific to my calling. So it is with your faith walk. God will equip you with all the skills necessary for the task He has for you by putting you through tests that will teach them to you. He does nothing haphazardly.

Another correlation I see is this; when I clear a level, I receive a new tool or weapon I will need in the next level. I may not realize this at the time because I haven’t been in the next level yet, but God has. God is already in all my tomorrows and He knows full well what I will need when I get there, so he tests me and equips me today on this level. It may be a surprise to me but He has already laid out my next 1040 levels and should I live that long, with the clearing of each test I become better equipped for what’s ahead. God said He formed us while we were yet embryos. He knew before we were born what His will and purpose was for our life and put us on a course of specifically designed levels to get us where we need to be. Life would have been much less difficult if I had learned this in my 20s and not my late 50s.

What level are you on? Do you embrace the challenge for what it is or are you like I was years ago dreading each new day and giving up numerous times before advancing to the next test? We are never left alone during these tests. God says many times in scripture that He is with us THROUGH each level. He doesn’t lead us around the barriers but shows us how to clear them to gain wisdom for the next. Growth is painful but true strength comes from endurance and being stretched beyond our comfort zone. See God’s testing for what it is and embrace it with joy. God bless you on your journey.

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

Back in the late 70s I was in a Christian band called Resurrection, not to be confused with the more popular REZ band. We played venues that included churches, schools, parks and special events. One of our more requested songs was one titled Jehoshaphat. According to the story recorded in the Bible, Jehoshaphat was King of Judah during a time when all the people were faithful and obedient to God. Word came to the King that a mighty army was coming from the East with the intention of raiding the city and looting it of its gold and treasures. This troubled the people greatly as they were outnumbered. So the King and all the people did what they needed to do, pray to God and seek his direction. God answered them in no uncertain terms. He spoke through a man in the crowd named Jahaziel as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:15;

“Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem. This is what the Lord says. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of their vast army. This battle is not yours, it’s Mine”

I’ll be turning 60 years old soon, and I look back on my life at all the times I chose to fight battles that weren’t mine to fight and I realize how foolish I’ve been. I have a losing record while God stands undefeated. Why are we such a stubborn people when it comes to taking up our own battles when the Lord of Heaven’s armies is waiting on us to give Him the go-ahead? I believe this is especially true of men. We have this hunter-gatherer-conqueror mentality that gives us a false sense of confidence to wage war against enemies God never intended us to battle. It is not natural for us to admit weakness or vulnerability when faced with life altering situations, and so we take on our various enemies time and time again while we put God on the bench. How foolish can we be.

God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is only when we are desperately out of options and totally dependent upon Him that we too can stand back and watch what God will do and how convincingly He will destroy any enemy that comes up against us. As it reads in Romans, if God is standing for us, who could ever come against us. I’m reminded of Elisha’s servant as he expressed his fear at the surrounding army. Elisha asked God to open his spiritual eyes to reveal the flaming chariots of Heaven which far outmatched the opposition. I’m embarrassed as a long-time believer that it took me so long to learn this lesson or how many times I had to retake the test. I still have a lot to learn, I’m far from where I expect to end up.

It’s easy to get caught up in our surrounding circumstances and forget what we know to be true, that God is always faithful. This is the simple truth that I must rely on. God is sovereign over all. God is not limited to time and space. I don’t know what tomorrow holds but God is already there and He knows what I will need when I get there, so equips me today. the processes are often painful and confusing, and to be honest, sometimes unwanted, because we only see through our natural eyes. tomorrow is a piece of a puzzle that God has already completed. It all makes sense when the process is completed and the battles are won.

Let me close with this simple analogy. We are playing for the NBA Championship. We are down by a single point with 5 seconds to go. The ball is in my hand and the pressure is on, when all of a sudden my teammate, Michael Jordan has an open lane. Do I take the shot or give it up to the Greatest of All Time for the guaranteed win? Why take up battles with a losing record when God stands wide open and has NEVER missed?

Out of the Darkness

I have always loved amusement parks. My advancing age has not diminished my love for thrill rides of any kind, especially rollercoasters. Growing up in Indiana, I had a favorite amusement park called Indiana Beach. We would visit it several times during a summer and would sometimes stay in a cottage across from the park for several days at a time, allowing for multiple visits to the park. One of my favorite rides was one called Mystery Mansion, a ride that took you on a slow moving car though two stories of total darkness. The mystery remains what was actually in the mansion as it was too dark to see even your hand in front of your face. As you might imagine it was a very popular ride with young teenage couples, or so I was told.

The ride took you through a series of twists and turns, uphill and downhill until you had no real sense of direction until you suddenly popped out of the darkness on the second story just for a few seconds before disappearing again into the darkness behind the double doors. Navigating once again through more darkness you eventually see the glare of a small light. As you approached it you could see that the light was that of a locomotive coming at you. By the time you recognized it a very loud train blast pierces the silence and your car suddenly veers out of its path just in time to avoid disaster as you burst back into the daylight. After being in the dark for so long the daylight is blinding but welcomed. Everyone exits safely to search for the next adventure, except the young couples who got back in line for another mystery trip, or so I was told.

Our faith journey at times can be like a ride through the darkness but without the thrills or the assurance that we will eventually see the light. Through situations that we will all find ourselves in we go through periods of darkness when the path before us can’t be detected. Psalm 23 speaks of walking through a valley of shadows. We are coming off of a year that found people in the darkness of illness, the darkness of unemployment, the darkness of uncertainty, wondering if and when they would ever re-emerge into the safety and familiarity of the light. And for some, when they could see a light piercing the darkness they wondered if it was the end of the tunnel or like the mystery ride, the light of a train heading towards them. It is in the midst of total blackouts that we must remember that we are children of the Light, Jesus Christ.

There are numerous scriptures that refer to Christ being the light that are precious to hold on to when we feel swallowed up by temporary darkness:

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light”, Matthew 4:16

“Though I live in darkness the Lord will be my light”, Micah 7:8

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can not overcome it”, John 1:5

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness”, John 8:12

“Even darkness is not dark to you for you make the dark to shine like day, for darkness is as light to you”, Psalm 139:12

“The Lord id my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear”, Psalm 27:1

David, a man described as being after God’s own heart, spent many days in the darkness of caves where he hid from those trying to kill him. But even in moments of his greatest darkness he remembered where his light and help would come from. David would recall how many times in his past that the Light had rescued him from overwhelming darkness. It is in these dark places we find ourselves in from time to time that we too must remember that Christ is our light and that He has already overcome the darkness of painful situations and will never leave us alone in these times of trials and testing.

All of us have our personal darkness stories, but when we can completely trust in Christ and follow in His light, just like the Mystery Mansion ride a time will come when we will burst from the darkness into the welcomed warmth of the Light, just as we always have before! Your journey may not be as fun as a thrill ride right now, but the light at the end is not an oncoming train but rather Christ waiting to welcome you out of your darkness. Peace.

Finding Christmas in 2020

Hello readers. It’s been nearly five months since I published my last blog as I needed to take some time off to address some personal and health issues.  I trust you are all well.  As I write this we are but two weeks away from Christmas 2020. Like no year prior, it seems to have snuck up on us somehow.  I recall seeing the first televised Christmas special as it dawned on me that it was already December.  This year Christmas will be strangely different to so many people on so many levels.  It is the year of the pandemic, the Corona virus.  Few if any have escaped its impact as it continues to grip our nation and the entire planet with sickness and death at alarming rates still on the rise.  The lives of most people have been shaken into an unrecognizable form we didn’t see coming.  Just barely a year ago we celebrated and ushered in the year 2020 not knowing the year would bring dramatic and painful change to many and completely disrupt the way we have always done life. It became the year of the mask, the year of social distancing, the year of quarantines, and for some the year of tragic loss.  This year many Christmas dinners will be solemn as all acknowledge the now empty chair once occupied by a treasured loved one lost to Covid-19. Trees that once guarded many presents will now be watching over a limited few as jobs thought secured were taken away unexpectedly or wages for others reduced to minimal levels.   Some will have dinners only because it was supplied by the generosity of their neighbors. Some are missing that special someone who made their life worth living due to circumstances unexpected and face an already challenging season feeling alone and isolated.  Suicides are on the rise claiming victims as young a nine years old while anti-depressant drugs have reached sales of historical levels. There is very little this year that “feels” like our traditional Christmas.

We have transformed what was intended as a holy day of remembrance into a commercialized consumer spectacle that begins two to three weeks before Thanksgiving as retailers are quick to stock their shelves with pre-holiday sales, counting on the seasonal profits representing for some up to 30-40% of their annual budget. The commercials tell us loud and clear it’s Christmas.  Lights on the houses and decorations in the malls look like Christmas.  A chill in the air or snow on the ground remind us that it’s the time for Christmas, but still something is lacking, the joy, the magic, the “feelings” of Christmas.  And as in many cases, that which we can not feel somehow becomes less meaningful or real.  It doesn’t feel a certain way so it must not be a certain way, and once again our feelings or lack thereof overshadow or even betray the truth.  We forget that historical fact or previous experience can’t be denied or altered by the presence or the absence of internal feelings.

When a couple has been together for some time and have a history together they will experience days when they don’t “feel” like a couple.  It would be great if every day was like the first day they fell in love, music, butterflies and warm “feelings”. But the truth is there are those days which are challenging, the days when one or the other is irritable or having a bad day, the days when the love they both share and know to be real isn’t necessarily “felt.”  But the mature couple will know that that which isn’t felt or expressed at the time is no less a reality because of the knowledge, the history and the past expressions that serve as evidence to it’s existence.  As I ponder this in my own life experience this year I can’t help but to apply the same to Christmas 2020.  The fact that I’m struggling to find the spirit, to capture the grandeur, to experience the magic of my favorite holiday doesn’t change the reason for remembering the holiday and all that it represents in the lives of believers.  Nothing we are experiencing in our world today can alter the events recorded for us on that very special and holy first Christmas night over two thousand years ago in a small town named Bethlehem. Christ, the almighty creator of man and universe, stepped away from His glory to become one of us in the lowliest of circumstances.  John 3:16 is so overused and watered down that it has become a cliché in today’s world. But the wonder of Christmas is captured within its context.  God had such an unconditional and unmeasurable love for us, all of us, that he gave up His only Son to come into a corrupt world full of hate and evil so that by his life and sacrifice we might be redeemed and reconciled to the Father and eventually live and reign with Him forever. This promise and reality are sealed by His word, which can’t be minimalized due to our current climate or feelings.

I’m with you, trust me! This has been the most difficult of my 59 years on earth.  I have suffered great loss in every area of my life.  It has been a Job-like year as I’ve been stripped of everything I held dear, the security of a job, the blessing of good health, and the loss of a love I though would last forever.  We all have our individual stories of how 2020 has removed us from our comfort zones and thrust us into a dimension of unknowns that can only be successfully navigated through a strong compass of faith.  And yet, strangely enough, it is those very reasons, those lack of traditional “feelings” we are so used to that Christmas 2020 should be welcomed in with even more anticipation than anytime previous, and now more than ever before, it should drive home the meaning of this holy day. Christ, the Son of God, Emmanuel came to the lowly, the outcast of society, the hurting, the lonely, the unemployed, the broken hearted.  In His brief time on Earth Jesus healed those who were sick with disease.  He comforted those who felt lonely and unworthy.  He became a friend the the friendless.  He forgave the sins of those who felt ashamed to be in His presence.  Jesus met people in their direst moments when they could go no lower and He raised them up with new hope, a new future, a new reason to live.  It was His divine plan from the beginning that we should be called Sons and Daughters of the Most High.  There is nothing we could ever endure in this lifetime that can or ever will change that!  Hold on to that in this season with all the strength you have left!  I know you may be unemployed or facing financial challenges unprecedented in your life, but still a Child was born.  You may have lost a parent, spouse, son or daughter to this disease and feel empty inside, but still a Child was born.  You may be reading this and facing another holiday feeling alone and unloved due to a broken relationship that left you crushed, but still a Child was born.  You may simply be overwhelmed at the way your world and everything in it has changed this year, but still a Child was born.

Oh how I wish I could dry the tears of all of us who have suffered so much this year. How I wish I could personally hug each of you and tell you it will be okay.  But there is one who can.  He is the Christ Child Jesus.  He is close to the broken hearted and he heals their wounds. He remains the reason we celebrate Christmas.  He is Emmanuel, God with us, our comforter, our healer, our blessed hope. There’s not a tear the fell that He hasn’t seen or a cry He hasn’t heard.  There’s not an illness he can’t heal or a job He can’t replace. There’s not a heart so broken He can’t put back together and make stronger then before. No the corona virus has not cancelled Christmas.  Covid hasn’t changed the events of that first holy night and our depth of feelings can’t erase the historical fact that Jesus was born of the Virgin mary to begin a ministry and journey that would lead Him to the cross to save all who would accept and follow Him.  Don’t allow this pandemic to distract your focus away from the awesome gift of Christmas, the Christ Child!

If I may I’d like to offer up a prayer for those who have been so severely impacted this year.

“Kind and gracious Father, we humbly come before you today to thank you for the blessing of Christmas.  We acknowledge that You gave up your Son on our behalf.  Father You know all things so you are aware that this has been a difficult year for so many and we struggle to find joy during this season.  We ask you this day in the name of our Savior, the Christ Child Jesus, to send your spirit to comfort those who are mourning the loss of life this Christmas. We ask you to heal every individual who is currently inflicted with this or any other disease.  God we ask you to consider those whose hearts have been broken this year and to restore to them love and companionship in such a way they know it’s from you alone.  And finally Father we ask that you restore hope to those who are desperate or close to giving up.  Let the spirit of that first Christmas envelope them in a tangible way with warmth and love.  May we not fall prey to the betrayal of feelings that we forget the reason and the person we remember each year at this sacred time, the holy Child Jesus Christ.  It is in His name and honor we ask this, Amen”

God bless and keep and protect each of you this Christmas.  Love to you all!

Please Forgive Me-I’m a Fraud

For over seven years now I’ve been blogging about overcoming everyday situations and trials by sharing real-life stories and offering hope through applicable faith in Christ, asserting that through Him we can overcome anything life throws at us.  While I whole-heartedly still believe this to be true, I must confess that I’m a fraud.  At age fifty-eight I am finally coming to grips with the reality that I’ve been battling demons of depression for most of my adult life.  It is something I’ve denied to myself-I have it altogether too much to be depressed-I’m too cool and laid back to suffer mental issues-I’m too spiritual to be defeated by depression.  The fact is it has cost me two marriages and a beautiful relationship and I can’t hide behind the façade any longer. I know scripture and tell others how to apply it in their lives-I’ve written two books to help others while I myself have been completely incapable of applying it in my own life.

The sad part is that I can’t honestly determine why I feel this way.  I had an amazing childhood, Godly supportive parents, a great family life.  I had no serious traumatic events that would trigger such emotions in other cases.  I just can’t seem to find joy in everyday life.  I am notorious for snatching sorrow from the jaws of happiness.  I can find joy in situational events but I can’t find peace everyday as a way of life.  Even when I am in the best of personal situations, I tend to screw it up by allowing these demons to overpower my thinking.  As the Apostle Paul stated, what a wretched man I am.

It is said that those who struggle with chronic illnesses like mine often suffer from depression, but my illness has only exaggerated what has been there all along.  I find little joy in just living life and my smile has seemed to disappear as quickly as it came. The frustrating part is not being able to pinpoint exactly why I feel down most days.  Perhaps it’s genetic, maybe just demonic, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that it has cost me way too many things in my life and I have to fix it or end up a person no one wants to be around.  I don’t do solitude well.

Some might suggest that true believers could never suffer from depression. Really?  Tell that to David as he hid in the wilderness when he asks similar questions. “why is my soul so downcast?”. Tell that to Elijah as he was hiding from Jezebel asking God to just end his life.  Tell that to Job after his great losses as he is recorded as asking why he just didn’t die at birth.  To make a believer who battles depression feel like they just need a little more faith is a disservice to them-it’s not a faith issue.

Some might say that we choose to be depressed and we just need to choose not to be-to snap out of it if you will. Trust me, I don’t choose to feel this way.  I didn’t choose two failed marriages.  I didn’t choose to fail as a parent.  I didn’t choose to fail in business.  Depression is not a choice, a mere on-off switch that I control.  If only it were that easy.

Some might say look around you, there are people far worse off than you are.  Be grateful you aren’t like them.  That doesn’t help either.  The truth is I am fully aware that so many more people suffer much worse than I do.  That acknowledgement only adds to my shame and guilt.  I see the plight of others who are going through much more difficult seasons and I feel for them, but my depression remains and I feel even worse in comparison.

The depression I suffer from isn’t one of hopelessness or despair.  It is not as if I feel Life isn’t worth living.  What I experience many times is just an overwhelming sense of numbness, non-emotion, flat-lining. No highs or lows, just existence.  At times it’s a heaviness, sometimes a fog.  I can function on a daily basis but with no outward signs of joy or peace.  And yet on bad days I can cry over a TV commercial.  It is embarrassing and unexplainable. I have a problem that has haunted me since my early twenties and I have to face it once and for all in order to find healing and peace.

So what now?  First, I’m going to take some time off from blogging for awhile and work on getting myself better.  I have a long journey ahead of me both physically and mentally.  I’m going to seek out sources of help and surround myself with positive brothers who don’t mind getting their hands a little dirty while I exorcise these demons of depression, inadequacy and insecurity.  It will be a long uphill road. I will look for ways to remind myself daily that I’m not alone in my struggles and that many good men have traveled this path before me and have navigated their way to good mental health and stability.  I will fight the feeling of guilt over past broken relationships and work on doing whatever I can do now to mend them and find some confidence that I won’t endanger future relationships should I ever decide to go down that path again.  I won’t expose anyone else to these demons because I refused to face them myself.

I wish there was an easy fix.  I wish this was something I didn’t have to do on my own, but isolation at some level has to be part of the process so that I can find peace with who I am and who God created me to be.  I ashamedly offer this confession only because I suspect there are others like me who may be experiencing the same feelings of guilt and embarrassment over the stigma of depression or mental health issues.  None of us are perfect-none of us are beyond help.  If you are reading this and you are like me, hiding behind something so painful to confess, I encourage you to drop your guard and seek relief.  I don’t know how many years I have in this life but I want-I need those years to be a much better quality of life then I’ve experienced to date by doing whatever is necessary to be whole physically, mentally and spiritually.  I wish you peace, joy and fulfillment until the time comes when I am comfortable blogging again.  God bless you.

Calm or Calamity-Where’s Your Focus?

Since the onset of the recent pandemic we decided to take advantage of discounted AIRBNB homes and spent our weekends traveling.  Instead of sitting home with little to do, we hiked through Sedona, rented a cabin in Zion, toured Bryce Canyon and lounged around a pool in Lake Havasu.  On a recent flight I experienced a phenomenon that was a first for me.  It appears our flight path was right on the leading edge of a storm front.  Looking out one side of the plane, all I could see were dark storm clouds.  However if I looked out the opposite side of the plane, I saw clear blue sunny skies, not a cloud anywhere.  Of course my immediate thought was new blog material.  But seriously, a lesson on focus and perspective was being played out right before my eyes.  It was either a beautiful sunny day, or a dismal stormy day, solely dependent on which way I chose to look. Life is comprised of this very same focus each day.

So far the year 2020 has been one for the books, and it’s only half over.  The coronavirus pandemic has impacted so many lives and many have tragically lost their battle against this disease.  Many small businesses may never open again, family budgets have been stretched beyond the level of income lost due to unemployment.  And while loss of life is an undeniable tragedy, there is good to focus on.  We have become a much more sanitary society capable of fighting off future waves or mutations of this virus.  We have been forced to do things as families.  We have used our resources to feed those who couldn’t feed themselves.  We have witnessed our neighbors stepping up to care for each other.  We will be better prepared with hospital staffing and necessary medical equipment to battle any future outbreaks.  We have learned to do church outside the walls of any traditional building.

More recently, we have witnessed first hand the inequality once again of certain policing agencies resulting in trial by cop on the streets of Minnesota.  We have watched in awe and anger as peaceful protests were hijacked by anti-establishment factions bent on causing division by looting, burning down businesses, attacks against innocent bystanders and even fatalities in response to these heinous acts being filmed now with more frequency.  And as with the pandemic, any loss of life is tragic, however there is good to be found depending on your focus.  Blacks and whites in many communities are coming together in prayer and support and solidarity to create change.  Legislation is being discussed at high official levels in an effort to curtail rogue policing and overhaul outdated law enforcement procedures which lead to the inequality of application we see on our streets. Foundations are being formed to encourage voter enrollment to bring change through balloting.  The tragic death of a black man over $20 has lead to a worldwide acknowledgement that existing racial biases need to be admitted to and addressed once and for all.

In every dire situation there is a choice to be made.  Do we look out the window where only storm clouds exist, or do we focus on the window with blue skies and a sunny outlook?  The suggestion here is not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the world around us, but rather to find the positive in any situation, no matter how grave it may appear to others.  Do we see a pandemic that cost many lives or do we see aa cleaner, healthier way of living for our children in the future?  Do we see another black man lose his life at the hands of rogue cops or do we see for once a real opportunity to engage in dialogue that evens the playing field going forward so that all people feel equal in the sight of law enforcement?  Do we look at lost income and mounting bills due to being out of work or do we focus on the time we got to spend with family that may never happen with our usual daily work schedules?  Do we look at the decrease in our stock portfolios or do we see the opportunity to buy high-end stocks at discount prices and ride the surge when they come back up to previous levels?  Do we bemoan the doctor reports that tell us our lives and health are about to change or do we appreciate the fact that we will still be able to live out our lives and see our children and grandchildren?

It is a lesson I continually have to learn.  Perspective is everything!  It really is true what is said, that life is 5% of those things that happen to you and 95% of how you respond to them.  We are living in an ever-changing world.  We all have a choice of seeing clear skies or storm clouds.  It’s all a matter of your focus.  If you are one who can’t see sunny skies, then at least try to find a way to appreciate the shade storm clouds provide!

Who Pushed the Pause Button?

Life as we know it along with our daily routines have been placed on hold indefinitely due to an unseen enemy known infamously as the coronavirus. Virtually every aspect of our lives have been impacted.  Schools around the globe are closed as students complete classes online.  Proms and graduations cancelled. Weddings and even funerals cancelled. Non-essential businesses have closed up shop as millions apply for unemployment.  State Parks, beaches and recreational facilities are closed until further notice. Places of worship sit empty and quiet as dust settles on seats and pews normally filled with parishioners gathering to worship.  Most of us in this generation have never experienced anything like this before and for some, the anxiety level is off the charts.

As of this post there are nearly 1.3 million cases of coronavirus worldwide, resulting so far in over 70,000 deaths, and the Surgeon General of the US released a statement that this will be the deadliest week yet in number of fatalities to the virus. With daily updates dominating all the major news networks, it is difficult to escape the magnitude short of unplugging from all outside media sources. It’s like trying to flee the incoming and overwhelming fog in the classic movie.  There’s nowhere to hide.

In addition to the severity of the disease, there are the numerous voices or opinions over how to deal with this pandemic.  Some saying to shelter in place and others saying to be about but keep your distance; some saying to cover your face while others say masks are of no value to catching or spreading the disease. Some voices blaming eastern countries while others using the tragedy as an election year smoke screen.  Some voices exhorting us to obey government regulations as others are defiant claiming their rights are being violated and restrictions are unconstitutional. Several online personalities using the situation to politicize their own agendas and yes, even ministers blaming an indiscriminate virus on the current Whitehouse administration.  The reaction is as bad as the disease.  With all these voices coming at us from all sides, who do we listen to-who can we trust?  Which voice speaks truth?

In Biblical days it was common for shepherds to bring their flocks to a city during certain holidays or feasts and corral them in common pens along with numerous other flocks as there was no way to accommodate each flock individually.  And when the feasts were over each shepherd would call out their own flock.  Shepherds developed unique calls that only his flock of sheep would recognize and respond to.  At their call his flock and only those sheep in his flock would come out to him from the other sheep to return home.  In the same manner each shepherd would call out his flock with his own call until each flock was back under the safety and protection of their shepherd.

In John 10:27 Jesus says the following: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.”  Numerous time throughout scripture Christ is referred to as the Good Shepherd.  The duties of the shepherd included leading the flock to water and pasture, or provision, keeping the flock together without losing any, preservation, and sleeping at the gate to protect the flock from predators or harm, protection.  As believers and followers of Christ we can count on provision, preservation and protection during times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. With all the voices surrounding us daily, the one voice we should respond to is that of our Good Shepherd.  It is the one true voice that doesn’t change even when our situations do.

We are assuredly in this together, it’s not just a cliché.  If we have been fortunate enough to escape this virus, we probably know those who didn’t.  If we haven’t lost our jobs, our income or hours have certainly been decreased.  Parents have a much deeper appreciation now for teachers and couples are finding out how much they really like each other.  And everyone’s faith is being tested by fire as impurities are painfully burned away.  None know for sure when we will get back to living but most agree it won’t ever be the same normal we knew before the outbreak.  And all this happening now as we enter Holy Week for most.  Easter pageants have been cancelled and choir rehearsals done away with.  Church picnics, festivities for the children, Easter outfit shopping, all a distant memory until we can convene again.  We will actually be serving each other communion in our homes on Good Friday and not together as a church congregation.  It will be a much different celebration, but a celebration nonetheless.  The Easter message is not cancelled.  The accomplished mission  is not infected.  The purpose of the death and resurrection and the resulting reconciliation is not on hold until further notice and there is no social distancing between us and our Father who continues to make his residence within his children, who know his voice.

Our heartfelt prayers go up to the Father for all those who have perished from Coronavirus and the families who mourn their loss, as with all those who are still fighting for their lives in hopes of an eventual recovery.  Our prayers go up for all on the front lines, the doctors, nurses, medical staff, first responders and all who willingly expose themselves daily to the virus in performing their duties.  Our prayers go up for families around the world who have lost their means of support who find themselves in food pantry lines hoping for enough food to feed their families for a couple more days, and for all the rest of us who are just dealing with the uncertainty of how our lives will be impacted by he time this runs its course.  But let us all consider the message of Easter, the new life after death, hope after utter despair, joy after tremendous times of sorrow and companionship after perceived abandonment. If indeed, as some have suggested, God is allowing this to remove those things that have distracted us from him, then let us focus on him during these times and consider that this is merely a prelude as to what could happen once he sets into motion those events that will usher in the end of this age, a time that should be glorious for those who know his voice, and equally horrible for those who have chosen false shepherds.  God will surely lead us through the valley, guarding his flock, leaving the ninety-nine for the one lost until we reach the promised green pastures of eternity with him. God bless you this Easter.

Fear, Faith and Foreboding; a Pandemic

Where does one begin in light of the current worldwide pandemic of this little virus COVID-19?  I, like many of you, am holed up in our condo, partly out of caution of the unknown and partly because there are few places left to go.  As I write this, all schools in my city are closed indefinitely; Major casinos are closing their doors tonight at midnight.  Gyms, bars, many restaurants are dark and gatherings of more than 50 are discouraged.  We are in a time unprecedented for most of us.  Store shelves are empty and fights are shown on video over a package of everyday toilet paper. Last night my grocery store had armed police force at the entrance. Many workers have been laid off suddenly and without notice.  Every industry sector shows signs of an uncertain future and stocks are plummeting after the Feds dropped the prime interest rate to zero!  We are living in a strange time and fear has gripped a nation with a strangle hold reminiscent of an old sleeper hold by a brutal professional wrestler.  The panic is more pandemic than the virus.

I am no expert in this or any other topic on which I write.  Many of my readers don’t always agree with my words, which is ok.  These are just my observations and contributions, as I face the same uncertainty we all do.  Fear and overreactions are nothing new, even if the causes of those fears are.  And fear strikes the hearts of even the most faithful people.  I am reminded of an old song our band performed back in the 70’s by both Dolly Parton and Don Francisco, called He’s Alive. The very first verse paints a picture of sheer terror:

The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down                                        I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound                                                           Half in hopeless sorrow, half in fear the day                                                                                    Would find the soldiers breaking through to drag us all away

This is a description of the fear experienced by, of all people, the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus.  Some of them had just witnessed the horrible death by crucifixion of Christ and reported back to the brothers who had gathered in hiding.  Fear left them feeling orphaned.  Think about it for a moment.  These eleven men had ministered with Jesus for three years.  They did life together, sitting under his direct and intimate teachings, witnessing first-hand his miracles, from water to wine to life from death.  Moreover, they had performed similar miracles themselves by the authority Christ had imparted to them in their ministry missions.  We read in awe the words of Christ when he says “I am the Life”, “I and my Father are one”, “if you have seen me you have seen the father”.  But these men had heard with their own ears these words coming from the lips of the Messiah.  No one on earth knew Jesus more intimately than his own disciples.  And yet when the shepherd was struck, the flock panicked. And even when Peter and John ran into the empty tomb, they had forgotten the words of the Master when he said he would rise again from the dead and they returned to their hideout and to their fears.  It was only after Jesus appeared to them in the flesh that they remembered His words and believed once again.  If the disciples of the Savior upon whom the foundations of the early church were laid struggled with fear and doubt, it is no small wonder that fear and panic are so rampant today, even within the body of Christ.

I get it, this is new and unfamiliar territory.  Pensions and retirement funds are losing value daily; parents forced to decide whether to work or stay home with their children because of school closures; the faithful torn between attending local churches or being responsible and bowing instead to science and health experts.  And what makes these situations even worse is the divisions caused when one group condemns another over their chosen response to this new outbreak.  And yet from a merely scientific and medically proven research, the stress and anxiety caused by fear has more of an impact and deadly potential on the body through elevated blood pressure and coronary stress than the bug itself, and could potentially kill more when said and done than any virus.

It is vital in times of uncertainty when we are tempted to react emotionally that we rather respond with what we know to be true.  God’s Word has never let me down even in the darkest of times. The words “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” are listed 365 times throughout scripture, a true sign God wanted us to be reminded daily of his faithfulness.

John 14, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled and don’t be afraid”

Joshua 1, “Be strong and courageous, and not afraid”

Matthew 6, “Don’t worry about tomorrow”

Psalm 23, “I will fear no evil for you are with me”

Psalm 34, “I sought the Lord and he delivered me from my fears”

1 Peter 5, “Lay your fears on Him because He cares for you”

2 Timothy 1, “We are not given a spirit of fear but of power”

Isaiah 41, “Don’t fear, I am with you, don’t be dismayed for I am (still) your God.  I will strengthen you and hold you up with my strong, mighty and righteous right hand”

Romans 8, “If our God is for us, who can possibly come against us”

God imparts to all who ask, a measure of wisdom and discretion to be used in such matters.  We don’t test God or go against sound and conventional wisdom.  We don’t smoke because we know it can lead to respiratory illness or death; we don’t eat fried foods everyday because science has shown us what fats do to our heart and arteries; we adhere to the medical advice given by experts.  But in these cases our decisions and responses must be dictated by sound advice and precautions, not fear.  Fear is often a liar.  Fear says you can’t accomplish something, faith says I can do all things through Christ; fear says the medical prognosis is bad, faith says I am the Lord who can heal you; fear says the situation is hopeless but faith says all things are possible through Christ; fear says isolate and hide out but faith says let your light shine to a darkened world who needs to see your hope in Christ.

With my current health condition I would be considered at risk if I were to contract COVID-19, so I will be taking the necessary precautions to avoid exposure whenever possible.  And to be honest, like the disciples, I am concerned with what may be next, how much worse things could get, what impact this will have on my family and friends.  But I will not be driven by fear or guided by panic.  If this is an extended visit to the valley, I will enjoy the shade and quiet time.  But fear will not be welcomed here.  Love, faith and fear are strange bed fellows; love casts out all fear.  Over the next few weeks I would highly encourage you to turn off FOX, CNN, and all other news outlets who profit highly off sensationalism driven by fear, and pick up a good book or take a hike instead.  Use this time to reconnect with friends and family and look for ways where you can be a positive influence on a world who doesn’t need us hiding in fear right now.  God bless you and your families now and as we pass through this fire, remembering that there’s another in the fire with us and we will not be burned!  Peace.

 

 

 

Where is This Jesus I Keep Hearing About?

It is now 2020.  I’m 58 years old.  I was raised in the church and have heard all my life that Jesus is coming back soon.  When is “soon”?  Prophets, preachers, televangelists have been proclaiming a glorious day of the return of Christ for well over two thousand years now, but nothing has changed, everyday the same.  The world spins, the days pass, life as we know it continues on as it has from the beginning of time.  What gives?

This line of questioning is nothing new.  Naysayers even in the days of the early church offered up the same sentiments as many today.  Peter addressed this in his second letter, Chapter 3.  It reads:

“In the last days, mockers are going to have a heyday.  Reducing everything to the level of their puny feelings, they’ll mock “So what’s happened to the promise of his coming?  Our ancestors are dead and buried, and everything’s going on just as it has from the very first day of creation.  Nothing’s changed” (Message)

Two thousand plus years later and we are still asking pretty much the same question.  Where is He?  Has He forgotten about us?  Is it real? From the book of Daniel to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 to John’s visions in Revelation, we are told to watch for certain signs of the end of days.  Many of these signs have taken place or are taking place.  Earthquakes in diverse locations, never-ending wars, famines, false teachers, false doctrines, families turning on each other, a complete decay of our moral compass, the elimination of all things God oriented-it’s all around us every day and has been for decades.  As believers, it can become an easy trap to ask the same questions, even if you don’t dare verbalize them, is Jesus really coming back and if so, how close are we?

I want to be very careful in how I state this so as not to be confused; as followers of Christ our blessed hope is eternal life with Him upon his eventual return to take us to that place being prepared for us.  However, our daily lives should not be lived entirely for the sake of that return, as in living to survive.  We are promised a life of abundance while we are waiting.  There is much benefit in awakening every day just to enjoy what we have been blessed with and to be ready and willing to be an encouragement and extension of our hope to others, while we are here on this big planet.  We are given His peace, His joy, His strength, so that our lives can be lived to the fullest while we await a day that may or may not come in our earthly lifetime.  And while it is sometimes easy to look at all the strife in the world or even in our own lives and hope that Jesus returns soon to take us all away, it is not the way we are compelled to live.

Peter continues on in his letter with words of encouragement:

“With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day.  God isn’t late with His promise as some measure lateness.  He is restraining Himself on account of you, holding back the end because He doesn’t want anyone to be lost.  He’s giving everyone space and time to change”.

In his final words in the letter Peter exhorts us to be found “living at your best in purity and peace”. Scoffers will continue to scoff, the intellects will continue to ridicule the faithful for believing in fairy tales.  That’s ok, we were told it would be this way.  Scripture tells us that in the end, all will be forced to acknowledge the reality of Christ.  In Matthew 24 we are told that when the Son of man appears in the skies, and the whole world will see him at once, unbelievers will mourn and lament at the realization that it wasn’t a hoax after all.  His coming will usher in an acute knowledge of His deity, even to those who had not previously believed.  It will be the first hell. I can’t imagine the horror of suddenly knowing I was wrong and it’s too late.

We may have another hundred blood moons or whatever other various signs some look to as true indications of the timing before this eminent return takes place.  But whether we are here to witness it from earth’s perspective, or are with Christ when He comes back because we left this life earlier, we will see that day as it happens.  It’s real, it’s promised and it will be glorious when it finally occurs.  Be watchful but live today.

New Year-the Old, the New and the Unchanged

It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has past as we prepare to say goodbye to 2019 and usher in 2020.  It may or may not be the last day of the decade but it is certainly the last day of the 2010’s.  We can enjoy many things that did not exist in 2010.  GPS is now a common app on most phones with a female voice telling you how to get from point A to point B.  And if you don’t care to drive, we now have pick-up services by Uber and Lyft.  Social media has grown up to include a feature where callers can see each other on Facetime.  Tesla developed a driverless car while major auto manufacturers introduced auto-self parking for those who are parallel parking challenged.  There is now a doorbell that allows you to see on your phone who is ringing your bell even if you aren’t at home. And how about that refrigerator that allows you to see what’s inside without opening the door!  Going on a trip but want some privacy that you can’t get in a hotel, rent a house with Airbnb. There are so many more advances in the world of medicine, science and technology to begin to list.

However, not all changes since 2010 have been positive.  Today more than any time I can recall America has become a more divided country.  It seems we’ve taken a step backward in race relations and tolerance.  We’ve fallen for the ploys of Washington to become hotly divided politically with no room for middle ground thinking.  Social media has brought many old friends together after years of separation but ended just as many long-time friendships of those who hold different ideals-The simple push of an Unfriend button eradicates years of friendship.  The recent vaping trends are already proving to be anything but a healthy alternative to smoking while the legalization of recreational marijuana, perhaps long overdue, along with CBD oils which I myself take, has no less left the country with a green haze that is becoming inescapable.

In any era there will always be good and bad, even at personal levels.  You may have lost that good paying job but ended up with one more enjoyable and less stressful.  Some may have been diagnosed with diseases that if not caught, might have been fatal.  Many may have suffered the pain of long-term relationships ending only to discover new love and second chances.  Each period of time brings with it contrasting emotions.  As recorded in Ecclesiastes, there is a “time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”.

So for good or bad, change is inevitable.  But, for those who believe in Christ, there is a hope and a faith in things unseen that we are told will never change!  We have the assurance that God remains in charge of the Universe and is directly involved with the every day affairs of our lives! Yes, it’s a matter of faith and choosing to believe in something unexplainable and yet it is an anchor that holds true whatever years it is.  Consider the following passages from the Bible that serve to remind us of this truth;

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”, Hebrews 13:8

“The grass may wither and the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever”, Isaiah 40:8

“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, to all generations”, Psalm 33:11

“Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful-he can’t deny himself”, 2 Timothy 15:29

“I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end:”, Revelation 22:13

As we enter into anew year and season, there is a profound comfort in knowing the more some things may change, there is an eternal consistency and familiarity in knowing and relying on God and his numerous promises to help us navigate the unknown future, because “from everlasting to everlasting” He is God and He is eternally good!

Thank you for reading Papswords these past many years.  I wish you all a safe, fulfilled and blessed 2020!

The Lost Tradition of Caroling

When it comes to Christmas I am very much a traditionalist; I love everything and anything that takes me back to precious memories of simpler times before the Yule tide season became a commercialized profit center for which annual retail budgets are formulated.  Don’t take me wrong, I appreciate many of today’s attempts to recreate something reminiscent of Christmases past, but for me, you can keep your modern TV specials and recycled Hallmark movies and give me Rudolph, Frosty and Andy Williams Holiday specials.  Perhaps my middle age is showing.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is that of Christmas caroling.  I recall in my younger years going out with the youth group and caroling for others, or going to events just to watch and listen to other carolers.  I have fond memories of Christmas Eve services that were less professional production and simple children in homemade costumes recreating the nativity followed by a heartfelt carol sing of all the timeless songs going back hundreds of years.  I even performed once in a Madrigal dinner and may or may not have been seen caroling in medieval tights!  Sadly, the tradition of caroling at Christmas seems to be fading away, and in certain places, banned altogether.  It is for me, a tradition that can’t be replaced by more current popular trends.

There is no clear origins as to the history of caroling, although there are several theories. Some will say Christians hijacked the tradition from Pagans and their Winter Solstice celebration.  Some date songs about the birth of Christ back to the 4th century while others credit Saint Francis of Assisi of incorporating them into his liturgies.  Some link carols to the holiday practice of wassailing, when poorer people sang for food and were given hot wassail, a thick spiced drink to keep them warm.  whatever the case, carols have traditionally been songs of joyful worship sung in churches and public places  reflecting on a very Holy Night that started it all.

Carols were penned during a time most of us could never understand.  There was a certain purity and a level of depth from which all spiritual songs flowed that has never been replicated. These Christian standards were relished every bit as our National Anthem, perhaps more so.  The very first carol dates back to 129 A.D although little else is known about it or how it sounded.  But the ones most of us are more familiar with came from the 1700s and 1800s.  O Holy Night was written in 1847 and was the very first song ever played over radio waves. Silent Night was written in German in 1818. The carol we know as O Come All Ye Faithful was composed in 1861. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem was written in 1871. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear goes back to 1874.Away in a manger, 1837. One of the older classics, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen goes way back to 1760! So you can see that when we sing these songs, we are singing the same joyful worship songs that were sung by our great-great grandparents, a timeless tradition that is becoming extinct.

There is a time and a season for everything.  However, the intensity of Heaven coming down to Earth some two thousand years ago being portrayed through timeless lyrics and melodies still moves me in 2019.  I live and write from Las Vegas, NV, the capitol of high energy entertainment and top rank productions.  But when it comes to Christmas, give me a gathering of faithful believers holding lit candles and singing off key to a piano-that’s a tradition that will live forever in my past and my fondest recollections. Merry Christmas.

In Everything (not for everything) Give Thanks

Many people are already in Christmas mode anticipating another joyous celebration with friends and family and checking their grocery and shopping lists twice.  It seems each year with the nature of competitive retail marketing, Christmas seems to start earlier than the previous year.  In the hustle to be first, a very timeless and traditional holiday gets overshadowed, the day of Thanksgiving.  A week before Thanksgiving actually arrives, what few items you can find to decorate the family gathering are already marked down to 50% or more as they take up precious shelf space from more profitable Christmas items.  In a world driven by profit, tradition is often sacrificed.

Nonetheless, Thanksgiving is upon us, and it truly remains a time to pause and reflect on those things for which we should be ever grateful that we may overlook throughout the year.  I know personally, I have much to be thankful for this year.  I’m thankful for victory over cancer, I’m grateful for new love in the form of a heaven-sent angel, I’m thankful for the many adventures we’ve taken in a few short months.  I’ve seen more of the country this year than in 57 previous years!  I’m thankful for healthy kids and grandchildren.  I’m thankful for Unfollow options!  I could go on and on.

As is the case each year many will approach this season with anything but a spirit of thanksgiving.  It’s hard to have a grateful heart if you are a single parent raising your children and working two jobs just to get by.  It’s hard to be thankful in a job where your patience may be tested on a daily basis.  It’s hard to give thanks for that medical report that came back and caught you off guard.  It’s difficult to be grateful for a relationship that is not what you were expecting.  It will be hard to give thanks this year for those who will find empty chairs at the table once filled by their now departed loved ones.  We live in a world full of challenging situations where it is so easy to focus on the situations at hand and completely lose perspective on the balance of an otherwise beautiful life.  I know because I was once guilty as well.

As believers in Christ we are encouraged to embrace life with an attitude of thanksgiving. But many have been made to feel guilty because of poor teaching or a misunderstanding of those verses calling us to be grateful.  A popular passage found in 1 Thessalonians 5 reads:

“Rejoice always, and pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. “

That tiny overlooked preposition, “in”, makes all the difference when considering this verse.  Some may have inserted “for” here, which is inaccurate and not the intended meaning.  Consider these examples.  There was no way I was thankful “for” cancer.  But I was thankful “in” that I knew God was in control and I would be learning to rely on his strength, not mine.  You may not be grateful “for” losing that job, but you can be thankful “in” the process of knowing God will provide you anew one.  You may not be thankful “for” a failed relationship, but you can rest “in” the knowledge that God sees your brokenness and is already lining up something new for you.  Paul and Silas were most likely not thankful “for” being chained in the lower prison with wet floors and desert creatures, but “in” their situation, they praised God.  Job, poor guy, was not thankful “for” his great losses and suffering, but “in” the midst of the absolute worst loss and pain imaginable, he is quoted as saying, “even if God takes my life, I will praise him”.  That is the essence of this and similar passages encouraging us to be grateful in less than ideal circumstances, knowing that God is doing a greater work in us than we may realize if we focus only on the pain.

That being said, there are still an infinite number of things in life to be thankful “for”. Be grateful to wake up in a warm home with a stocked kitchen pantry and a choice of clothing.  Be thankful to just wake up to a new day!  Be grateful for that demanding job that pays your living expenses.  Be thankful for aches and pains of a body that still has mobility.  Be thankful for that less than perfect church where you can still worship freely each week.  Let your grateful heart show through in your social circles.  Stay away from social media bandwagons overflowing with chronic complainers about all that is wrong in our country or churches.  They will cause you to lose focus on things more certain and meaningful than current trends or affairs.  There really is something to be said of those whose positivity outshines their current situations because they are deliberate in focusing on the good, not the bad or the ugly.  Have a blessed and grateful Thanksgiving!

 

 

My Weakness; His Strength

My sincere apologies to my followers for the length of time from my last post in August.  I needed to take some time off to deal with a little curve ball called cancer thrown my way unexpectedly.  I am grateful to report that through modern medical technology, more love from friends and family than I deserve, and a host of prayers sent on my behalf, I am cancer free and on the mend.  It has been quite the journey.

I learned, or was at least reminded of some things through the process that proved invaluable to me, and I wanted to share them with you.  First I learned that disease does not discriminate. You can be doing everything right and get that dreaded medical report or you can be doing everything harmful and live forever.  We have no vote on who suffers certain diseases or who escapes them.  God alone knows in advance who will become sick, and I’m convinced He always has a purpose for who he allows to go through these dark journeys, and He equips them well beforehand.

I learned that when you are going through illness, there is nothing on earth as important as your circle of support.  They are there to hold your hand, to lift you up, to help keep your spirit positive, to simply be that source of strength when you may be at your weakest.  God knew I was about to encounter this journey and He loaned me one of His angels to be at my side before, through and after the walk through the valley of shadows.  She spent the night with me in the hospital, kept me strong and positive, would not allow me to entertain the negative what-ifs that are commonly associated with illness.  She and my son were at my side from beginning through recovery. She was also the prize that awaited me that kept me moving forward and I could not have gone down this path with the success I had without her and my family.

I was reminded that I serve and follow a Bigger-than God!  He proved himself to be bigger than cancer, bigger than the initial diagnosis and so far, bigger than the anticipated recovery time for the radical procedure I had.  What was said to take up to one year to achieve I have achieved in a matter of weeks!  My God is bigger than cancer!  There is nothing impossible with God.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament, His strength in made perfect in my weakness.  God and faith are just my crutch, you’re damn straight!  He tells us numerous times that he wants us to lean on Him, to put our full weight on Him and to trust Him for anything, to test Him if you will and see just how great He can show off for us!

I learned already that He uses our success over trials to help others who may be about to embark on the same or similar journeys.  Just this week I was called on by an old school friend who was just diagnosed with the same cancer, and I was able to briefly share my experience with his wife so that they would know this isn’t a death sentence, just a hurdle.  I have some unsightly scars remaining from my ordeal, but those scars testify to my survival and are a sign of hope to anyone on the same journey, and an opening to share of God’s grace and goodness.

I am so humbled and grateful for this journey.  No, I would never have chosen it on my own, and I would never wish it on anyone else.  But God works all things out for our good and for His purpose.  If I’m to be an instrument by example of going through the fire and coming out unharmed, then I am among all men blessed!  There are always positives in any situation if you look for them.  Here’s an example; while some will be scrambling for that perfect Halloween costume in a couple weeks, I will simply take off my shirt!  No fake scars or glued-on wounds for this boy; no, mine are real!

God bless you all.

Is the 1 as Important as the 99?

There is a popular worship song sung in many churches today about the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God, that he would leave the ninety-nine to search for the one, based on an example Jesus uses in Matthew 18.  From that story, is very easy to draw a correlation to grieving the loss of the one.  According to another passage in 2nd. Peter, it’s not God’s plan that any person should perish, mortally or eternally.

This has been yet another violent week of senseless homicides.  Three more mass shootings, bringing the year-to-date total of such shootings to nearly 250, depending on your definition of “mass”.  And as is usually the case after senseless and unexplainable tragedies like this, social media begins to buzz about all the culprits, bad guns, bad video games, bad drugs, bad parenting, etc., etc..  Gun control advocates bang the drum for tighter gun laws while gun owners defend their rights to possess anti-aircraft weaponry.  Left-wing vs. right wing, race against race, all claiming a stake at the expense of the yet-to-be-buried victims.  It is an unfortunate scene that plays out continually with no solution, just a lot of divisional blame.

These mass shooting victims are given much publicity, perhaps rightly so.  Seems like in each case we are given the names of all involved, their photos so we can put a face with a name, and even their background stories.  I know this to be true as I reside in Las Vegas and I visited the numerous memorials after the mass shooting here on 1 October that claimed 58 lives at a music festival. Anytime multiple deaths occur in a violent or tragic act,  media is quick to cover the story and sensationalize it for ratings or for certain social or political agendas.  But what about the everyday homicides that go largely unreported nationally whose names and images are never shown?  Are they any less important because they died alone and not with many?

In 2018 there were in the U.S. approximate 40,000 deaths due to guns.  Nearly two thirds were victims of suicide while about 15,000 were victims of homicide.  A drug deal gone bad, a home invasion, a road rage incident.  The same year about 350 people were victims of mass shootings, defined as three or  more victims of one incident.   For that year mass murder victims represented only a little over 2% of all murder victims by gunfire.  The more recent shootings are being described as Hate crimes.  But in essence, aren’t all murders considered hate crimes?  Why else would a person be so compelled to snuff out the life of another for any reason other than hate?  I’m quite certain that my assessment will be misinterpreted unfairly, but each and every victim of violence is a mother or a father, a spouse, a child, a relative who leaves behind a grieving family whose hearts have been ripped out by senseless cowardice, hate and evil.  It matters little whether they lost their loved ones in a lone act or a mass shooting.  The pain is the same, the loss is immeasurable and the tears, though not seen on a national platform are just as real.

Jesus gave us a glimpse into his humanity as he stood at the grave of his good friend Lazarus.  In the shortest recorded verse in the Bible, we are told Jesus Wept.  He knew that through his Father he had the power of life and death in his hands and at his command, and he delayed his visit just so he could put that power on display when he raised Lazarus from days of death.  And yet he wept.  It is recorded that many were there at the grave mourning, including his friends Mary and Martha.  Jesus saw their tears and was deeply moved with sorrow and compassion for them.  In my days working for a mortuary in Indiana I can tell you that when you are with people who are grieving, it is very easy to feel moved yourself, even though you never knew their loved one, simply because you can feel their pain.  Jesus, in his humanity, must have felt the same.  If then, we believe that he never changes, surely he is just as moved at the death of a sole teen in Chicago as he is with the 23 in in a Walmart.  In our bickering, our blame throwing and our side-taking after such events, we must not lose sight of that fact.  Surely God mourns the one as much as he does the ninety-nine.

We live in a world where hate exists.  It can’t be denied or ignored.  Whether that hate is motivated by race or theology or ideology or social status, innocent bystanders on all sides are going to be lumped into subgroups, being deemed guilty by association, having their individual uniqueness totally disregarded.  There is a heavy spirit of unrest in our country as factions always present before, become more agitated and aggressive.  It is in these times that we in the faith must be careful not to get caught up in this era of hate, but instead put into practice love, peace, and inclusiveness.  If the body of Christ becomes divided or splintered over differences to the point that individual character is no longer considered or defended, then the great falling away described in scripture will be a much easier tack for the dark spiritual forces playing us like grand puppeteers.  We must cut the strings of hate that control us and allow God’s love, hope and peace to be forefront in our lives, our communities and yes, even our churches.  Don’t get so caught up arguing over 2% and totally disregard the 98% unmentioned but who bring the same tears to our Heavenly Father.  It’s not his will that even one should die.

Getting Rid of the Clutter

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  To those who missed it, I apologize.  I’ve been in the process of selling a home I owned and lived in for nearly twenty years and it was a bit of a chore.  It’s amazing to me just how much stuff one person can accumulate over the course of many years.  I don’t enjoy the task of moving.  I am one who will do anything to make it easier.  Since I was moving to a smaller place, I found it necessary to get rid of things as I went through them, mainly because I would not have anywhere in my new place to store them, and paying to store something you don’t need or use makes little sense to me.  I think what I found most curious was the number of items I possessed that I had completely forgotten about, things I hadn’t seen, needed or used in many years.  And while I acquired them at some point for some purpose or desire, they had outlived their usefulness, or I had outgrown my need of them.  So as you might imagine, it was very easy for me to donate these things either to a worthy charity, or to the closest hungry dumpster I could find.  Getting rid of all the useless clutter made my moving forward so mush easier and even enjoyable.

Lesson learned.  Clutter is often defined as a disorderly array of unwanted or useless items that just take up space.  When it comes to life applications, clutter that most of us have may be defined by many intangible things.  Your clutter may be lingering guilt over bad decisions you made years ago that you should be long past by now. Your clutter may be feelings of inadequacies due to certain failures in business ventures or your career choices.  Your clutter may be anger or bitterness over being betrayed in a relationship or marriage.   Granted, not all clutter is necessarily bad or painful, but clutter in a life takes up precious space that could be designated for things more enjoyable and meaningful.  When a computer begins to slow down in its processing speed it is often necessary to go into the Settings and eliminate the cache, or digital clutter if you will, that is taking up memory and storage, so that the computer can perform more efficiently and that precious memory space can be cleared up to download more relevant and current items.

A life is not much different.  A popular television show was one called Hoarders, about real life people who had homes so filled with clutter that they could not easily move from one room to the next.  In many of the situations the city would have to step in and take temporary possession of the home to clean it out as the conditions resulting from the mass of clutter was deemed a health hazard to its occupant, even though the homeowner didn’t recognize it as a problem.  It just isn’t healthy to be surrounded with so much stuff that your existence  and mobility are so severely impeded, whether your clutter is like mine, a house full of items no longer useful, or a mind full of memories, guilt, resentment, disappointment, bitterness or anything else taking up valuable space that could be used for things more enjoyable.

There are some key scriptures that deal directly with putting away things of the past, or getting rid of the clutter:

“Forgetting what is behind me, I strain for what is before me”…Philippians 3:13

“Forget the things of the past”…Isaiah 43:18

“Anyone who is in Christ has been made new; the old you is gone and the new you is here”…2Corinthinas 5:17

“A time to keep things, and a time to throw things away”…Ecclesiastes 3:6

“Throw off everything that hinders and entangles you”…Hebrews 12:1

“Get rid of (the clutter) of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and all malice”…Ephesians 4:31

When I was able to move everything I needed into such a small area at the age of 57, I can’t describe the freedom I had of knowing I had everything I wanted and needed and nothing more.  I now have plenty of room to add things I am more into now and would be more likely to enjoy because I rid myself of things I may have bought twenty years ago that were just taking up space in a closet, unseen, unneeded and unused.  There is much more room for peace and joy in a life that has been decluttered to make room for them.  I also learned in the process to not wait so long to get rid of the clutter next time.  It will make my life much easier, more joyful and full of peace and contentment, things for which one can never have enough of!

 

 

Words for the Class of 2019

Last night I had the privilege of watching my grandson graduate from High School with High Honors.  I felt a tremendous sense of pride, although I had little to do with his efforts, but I also was overwhelmed at how quickly time passes by, or, in the words of an old Steve Miller song, how “Time Keeps on Slippin’ into the future”!  I could write volumes just on how quickly times flies and never returns. But instead I want to offer some words of encouragement to the Seniors who have graduated from High School and College this year who are about to embark upon the big, sometimes unfriendly world of adulthood. Fear serves a purpose in life when it is used as a tool to slice through the dense woods of the unknown. But fear can also be crippling when misunderstood or left unchallenged. Fear can rob you of life’s greatest pleasures if you allow it to control you instead of you becoming its master. So I want to list ten areas of common fear that this year’s class can identify, recognize and utilize to their advantage in a proactive manner in their first steps after High School.

Don’t be afraid of dying-rather, be afraid of not living! Young people tend to approach life with reckless abandon, feeling immortal, but for some, the opposite is true. They are so worried about what might happen that they deny themselves of life’s greatest thrills. Tackle that monster roller coaster-plunge off the high dive-take precautions but go for it-no regrets.

Don’t be afraid to fail-be afraid of not trying. Some of the greatest achievements in science, in technology and so forth came only on the heels of many failures. Failure at anything only serves to eliminate an incorrect methodology! If there are ten possibilities, failure will narrow down the options until you discover the correct one. In the same manner, you will never discover success without the aid of failure. Michael Jordan was cut from his grade school basketball team-I’m just saying!!

Don’t be afraid to dance! I’m a 6’4″ white boy who dances like one. I would never be caught on a dance floor when I was younger except for the slow couples types dances. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun but I was too cool to be fool, more worried about what I looked like to others than how much fun I could be having. To quote a song, you can’t dance “with your back up on the wall”! Dancing doesn’t have to be suggestive-it can just be an expression of freedom and joy-go for it!

Don’t be afraid of disappointment. Sure, none of us want to experience disappointing situations or events, but understanding how we respond to disappointment gives us a more clear perspective on how others feel at those times when perhaps we are the source of their disappointment. Feel it, understand it, accept it and try with all your might not to cause it.

Don’t fear trying new things! I put peanut butter on my waffles. People who see it are grossed out at first, UNTIL they try it! So perhaps peanut butter is a little underwhelming as an adventure but the moral is the same-again, going back to my old days and quoting a TV commercial, Try it-You might like it!

Don’t fear the opinions of others. The world is full of haters. They may be jealous, they may be self-righteous, they may be judgmental. Rise above the status quo of mediocrity. Much of the world’s criticism is designed to keep us meek and inconspicuous so that we don’t steal any of their spotlight. Learn to discern the constructive criticism of close friends and family vs. the negative binds of naysayers who only want to keep you down. Be your own person-be individual-dress however makes you feel good-vote your conscious-have that wine, live your life regardless of the opinions of others!

Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are the cleansing solution for the heart and the conditioning substance for the soul. The flow of tears displayed at the sound of an old sentimental song, the ending of that romantic tearjerker movie or the tragic loss of someone close is only evidence that the natural God-given emotions are in good health and working order. Tears are not a sign of weakness but rather the ultimate sign of strength and compassion. Whether tears of happiness or of sorrow they only serve as evidence that you are alive and engaged! Let them out-big boys do cry!

Don’t be afraid to stand alone. Some of life’s greatest challenges will involve solitude in the midst of popularity. Standing firm on principles, on ideals, on beliefs takes courage. The 12 men who birthed the New Testament church after the death and resurrection of Christ stood, and died alone against the popular religion of their day. Those who abstain from addictive substances at social gatherings often stand out in the crowd. Those who dare to wear purity rings are definitely alone among their peers. Don’t be afraid to stand alone when you are right. Be more afraid of blending in with the crowd when your spirit tells you they are wrong!

Just two more but they are biggies. Please, don’t fear love. Don’t be afraid to receive it or to dish it our freely. Those who know you best will do things for you just because they love you-don’t look for attached strings-many times there are none. Don’t let the tainted or misguided love you see in others cause you to withdraw from expressing love to those in your world. Love is always pure and fresh and not always defined by what you witness in the lives of others. And when it is time for you to enter into God’s perfect eros love with someone else, don’t allow failed relationships, divorce trends or horror stories from others create fear in your relationship as it will only fester and become a cancerous tumor you can’t remove or see around. Love recklessly without abandon, with passion, with forgiveness and with your eyes closed! True love is a beautiful thing. Perfect loves casts out all fear, and wounds of the heart caused by love are only healed by love!

And lastly, Fear God, but don’t be afraid of Him. Know God. Have a relationship with Jesus. Desire to be counted among the friends of God and the Bride of Christ. Christianity is not a Sunday thing, not a parental thing, not a trendy or fashionable thing-it is a commitment and a lifestyle. We in our sinfulness deserve nothing less than death, but God in His love has offered instead forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation to Him through His Son Jesus who has already taken our sentence in the ultimate display of unselfish love. Every challenge, every obstacle, every disappointment, every tear, every new adventure, every failure-every broken heart-they will all be more easily endured as you hold onto the Hand of the One who loves you more than anyone on this earth ever could. A healthy fear of God’s majesty and sovereignty will serve you well through life’s most joyous moments and it’s darkest nights. He will be your light, your guide, your strength and your calm.
Congratulations to this years Class of 2019. May God richly bless and keep you as you enter the world of the unknown without fear.

“Fan Into a Flame the Gift Within You”

I love to write.  It is something I have enjoyed going back well into my High School years and my creative writing classes.  The verdict is still out as to whether I am any good at it, at least as far as commercial success might indicate, but I continue to write and have been blogging now well over five years.  I also have two published books to my credit that receive high marks from those who have read them.  If I could be anything I wanted to be when I grow up, it would be to have a lucrative and successful career as an author and blogger.

I’m convinced that each of us are gifted with unique talents that can be determined very early in life if we pay close attention.  The most happy and successful of us are those who recognize their gifts, practice and perfect them and pursue them as a career or vocation.  Not all gifts are associated with the Arts.  You may be an excellent communicator or orator; your gift may be in leadership or organization.  Perhaps you excel in your knowledge of travel and destinations, or you are most comfortable behind the stove in a kitchen.  Most of us miss the boat in that we consider these things we love to do as mere hobbies and not potential vocations.  So we work behind a desk all day in jobs less than fulfilling but can’t wait to practice our grilling techniques on the weekend.  The luckiest people in the world are the ones who get to do what they love to do every day, and get paid for doing it!

There is a verse in scripture that reads to “fan into a flame the gift God has placed within you”.  When you fan a flame, you are feeding it with oxygen and causing that flame through your deliberate actions to increase and grow into a raging fire.  That gift doesn’t have to be central or limited to ministry as the context may indicate.  But sometimes we need to take a leap of faith in order to realize the potential of our gift.  And if we linger too long before taking the plunge, and if God has ordained this gift within us, he may help us along with a little push off the edge.  No one likes to experience unemployment, but many are the stories of those who found their dream jobs only after being laid off a job they weren’t really supposed to be doing.

Some dreams may be a bit more challenging to realize than others.  Not everyone who can sing will be a successful recording artist, not everyone who can paint will have their art work hanging in galleries.  As a want-to-be writer, I am but one of millions of bloggers and millions of self-publishers, and if my home city of Las Vegas were to place odds on me succeeding, they would be astronomically against it, perhaps 50,000 to 1 or higher. And to be honest, there are many times when I thought of just quitting and doing something else as I don’t receive many accolades or reviews on material I put out for public consumption.  And yet whenever I begin to feel like giving it up, God seems to give me a new source of material to write about.  Granted this material is often times a new set of challenges in life that I would not choose or prefer, the writing becomes my way of getting through difficult situations, such as the one I’m in  now, and in a way that encourages others who may be experiencing similar challenges.  It is apparently the gift God has given me, and if you will, the vocation, albeit low paying, that he has chosen for me.

What is your gift?  Can you write, sing, coach, teach, build, analyze, decipher, speak numerous languages, motivate, etc.?  What is your passion?  What drives you? The older I get the more I become aware of just how quickly time passes.  When your grandchildren are beginning to graduate from High School and attend college, you are smacked in the face with the speed of time and the inability to recapture precious moments lost or wasted.  Don’t wait for “some day” to pursue your life’s dreams.  Fan into a roaring flame that gift that is hidden within you while there is yet time to realize it.  God bless you on your journey.

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Me

It’s 1976.  I’m competing in the Jr. High School District Track Meet at Northwest High school in Indianapolis.  The event is the 660 yard dash, my strength.  I’m crossing the finish line in First place as second place is just coming off the last turn.  It’s just what I did.

It’s now 1977 and I’m on the Varsity Track and Field team, as a Freshman, setting school records for Freshman in both running events and field events.  The distance I was throwing the discus that year would have won the City Championship, had my coach not lost my entry.  I went on to get the first of several Varsity Letters as just a Freshman.  It’s just what I did.

I have always been the Athletic one, the healthy one.  I never smoked cigarettes, I never drank alcohol until well into my adult years, I ate right and with sons in athletics, always had an excuse to get out on the basketball court and remain active and fit.  I was going to live to be 100!  When I found out I had inherited kidney disease and would require a transplant, I accepted the changes I would need to make and the drug therapy required for the balance of my life, a temporary set back, no biggie, just inconvenient.

Then came last Friday, one week ago today.  I knew as I grew older, my prostate was enlarged-normal for men in their 50s. When the physical exam revealed hardness and the subsequent PSA test came back twice acceptable levels, requiring a biopsy, I suspected that may be a biggie.  Still I prayed that everything would come back negative and that I would go on with my healthy life-It’s just what I did.   That was not to be the case.

I’ve spent the week processing the fact that I have cancer, words that don’t sound right in my mouth, words I never ever expected to hear or own-it wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Suddenly I have a keen awareness of the horror of those who have battled this disease, some victoriously on earth and others victorious through death and promotion.  It’s a reality that few desire, one that even fewer anticipate.  I think even as a believer in Christ, a person of faith, these are words that simply knock you off your game until such time as you can regain your balance and head straight into the battle.  As I left the Urologist’s office last Friday, still somewhat in shock, I could almost hear God’s voice asking me, “Okay Son, let’s see if you have learned anything in your 50 plus years of following me”. As I sat in the parking lot, contemplating my next moves, there seemed to be a slight calming assurance as I uttered the words, “Okay God, we got this”.

I’ve been a blogger now for several years with hundreds of blogs being read in dozens of countries, and the theme for most of them, so many that my first book is a compilation of them, is that life knocks us down, sometimes knocking the wind out of us, but that in the end, God always rescues us just in time.  It’s a lesson David knew well as he penned many of the Psalms.  David was honest in venting his frustrations and doubts to God.  As you read through them you will hear him asking, “where are you God” or “why have you abandoned me” or “why don’t you answer when I call or rescue me from my enemies”.  I believe David was like many of us today, having full knowledge and confidence in God’s ability to do the impossible, but not seeing it happen in his darkest hours.  Even our Savior experienced this as he hung on the cross but could not sense the presence of his own Father, who could not be with him as he carried so much sin in his sacrifice.  For many, it seems like God is the farthest from us when we need him the most and cry out the loudest.  But I have heard it said and found it to be true, that the teacher is always silent during a test.

What I love and have tried to learn from David is that in his honest expressions to God, he always came back to what he knew to be true, even if he didn’t feel them or see the evidence right away.  Life’s toughest challenges often result in a disconnect between our heart or emotions, and our mind or intellect.  When we don’t see something or feel something, we tend to believe it no longer exists. We pray urgently for answers but “feel” God has abandoned us.  Since we feel some sort of way, we completely disregard every promise recorded in scripture for our benefit, because our emotions pervert the reality of the truth.  It’s a normal human response.  Consider the Apostles who did life with Jesus, who sat under intimate instruction from the Master, who witnessed miracle after miracle and were even sent out with His authority to perpetrate miracles in His name, and even witnessed just a few days before, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  But when life got difficult and they watched Jesus die, they all hid in sorrow and fear, forgetting what they knew,  because they couldn’t get past what they saw.  We are much the same.

God graciously and generously equips us with all we need to fight these battles.  Sometimes it’s just a word from a good friend, some sign or scriptural passage, the right song at the right time.  For me, He provided an amazing and beautiful angel, who feels somehow I rescued her when all along she was sent to rescue me.  God sees the road we don’t, knows our weaknesses and compensates ahead of time if we only trust him.  As I endure these life altering challenges, I’m reminded of the passage from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, which reads:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in ALL our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”.

I often gest that when things come my way, that it’s just more blogging material. But the truth is that experiencing and surviving the pain of disasters like fire or the hopelessness of unemployment or the ruin of financial security or the sting of divorce, and now the horror of cancer, gives me a very empathetic view of others who have or will suffer the same.  It’s is through a David-like transparency that I write about these things, partially as it’s therapeutic. but more so because I want to offer others hope, to help them refocus on the truth, to repair the disconnect between what they may be feeling at the time and what they still know to be true, that God loves us, that he’s on our side, not against us, that he has our back  in times of distress and that he sees what we don’t, so that we are left with nothing but total trust and reliance on him to face the storms.  I hope to give out comfort as I receive it so that in all things Christ receives glory and we receive life in abundance.  No, I don’t want to be the one chosen as the poster child for survival, but if that’s the plan, let me do it well!

So through much personal prayer, the prayers of countless others around the country and the love and support of my family and a just-in-time heaven-sent angel whose love is more precious than a writer can describe, I have resolved to make cancer my biatch in a very public way so others can go on this journey with me and rejoice with me when I kick its ass!  It may not be contextually accurate, but I really can do all things through Christ, just watch me!  I’m already amending my life’s resume to add “cancer survivor” to it and to pay forward the comfort I receive in the process.  He’s a good, good Father!

And a very Happy and blessed Mother’s Day to all moms.  What priceless gems you are!

 

An Interview With Christ-The Passion

Forgive me Lord if I seem nervous. I don’t even know for sure how to address you sir.

Relax child, it’s ok. I have over 200 names, including some you’ve never heard. Lord will be just fine.

Ok Lord, thank you. I’m not sure where to begin. I really want to know about that week leading up to your death, what we refer to as your Passion. I have so many questions. When you rode into Jerusalem that last week you had to know what was going to happen to you because as God, you know all things. What was going through your mind? How could you so willingly enter the city where you knew you were going to die?

It was a dark moment for sure, having the knowledge that these same people who were hailing me as a king, shouting “Hosanna” would soon turn on me and be crying “Crucify him”, calling for my death. Being fully man I felt the tinge of betrayal-it stung. And yet it was for these very people that I needed to complete my mission. These were the sick ones, and the only way they could be healed spiritually was through my sacrifice. There was no other option from the beginning. While they were advocating for my death, I was loving them. I loved them too much to turn back.

So Lord, you must have known that when you called Judas to follow you, he too would turn on you. And yet your word says he was sent out as one of the twelve to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons along with the other eleven. How could he operate with that authority if he wasn’t really one of yours and would eventually hand you over to be put to death?

Child, this is where many people confuse sovereign knowledge with predestiny. Just because I knew what Judas would eventually do and how his actions would play into prophecy concerning those last days does not mean he never had control over his thoughts or actions. Judas was sent out with the twelve because there was work to be done in spreading the good news. As an appointee of my spirit he indeed could perform the necessary miracles as my agent. Even today many good things happen in my name through servants whose hearts and ways are not pure. Those who are truly seeking truth should not be deprived just because the messenger is untrue. This was the case with Judas. He alone allowed Satan to enter into his heart, and cause him to turn on me. There are many in your world even now who are guilty of no less. It’s just that when Judas betrayed me it had a history changing impact. Knowing those who will accept and follow me and those who will reject my message does not mean they were unfairly selected against their will. All men have the option of receiving me. Judas eventually opted not to.

Here’s something that confuses me; we read that at times you were fully God, in that you could suddenly slip through a crowd unseen, walk on water, raise the dead, but at other times, like when you were tempted in the wilderness or when you were in the garden praying, you showed you were human and fearful of what was to come. How could you be both? In Gesthemane you prayed for your very life and was tormented to the point of sweating blood droplets. I don’t get it.

I never stopped being the Son of God, and yet the only way my sacrifice could be acceptable for its purpose, was for me to be fully human. I had to become a human high priest so I could enter into the Holy of Holies and offer one final sacrifice, for humans, as a human. I can see how this is confusing to you. If I were to truly be able to relate to my creation, it was necessary that I experience all the emotions associated with mankind. I needed to feel fear, I needed to face mortality, I needed to know the abandonment and the silence of a Father. It is only because I allowed myself to feel these human emotions that I am fully aware and equipped to provide the strength and comfort needed for my children when they face their own doubts and fears. So yes, I never left behind my Godship, and in fact I used it to give me the strength needed to fully experience your “humanship”.

Lord, if it were only necessary that you shed blood and experience death in order to complete your plan, why did you choose to endure such tremendous and tortuous pain instead of a quick easy death? The Romans nearly killed you when they flogged you before you ever got to the cross. I’ve read about how gruesome a punishment this was, and the damage done to the flesh, the muscles and nerves. Why Was this necessary?

The simple answer to that can be found in my book of Isaiah, where it reads that I was to be wounded and bruised for the transgressions or sins of all people before my time on earth and after. I bore the punishment for every lie, every theft, every murder, every heinous act committed by anybody in history. That’s quite a lot of iniquity, I must say. I took those lashes for every Jew killed in Germany, every Christian martyred in history, every child put to death before being born, every lie spoken under oath, every lynching, every act of hatred, every thought of malice, every single act that goes against the holy life I request. When you take on the sins of the whole world for all history, the punishment must fit the crime. With each lash, I forgave, with each drop of blood, I cleansed sin, with each open wound, I provided healing, even to those holding the whips. I received lashes so all could be healed from diseases like cancer, so deaf could hear and so blind could see. I understand that this may be beyond your ability to comprehend, which is all right-you simply need to accept it. It is only through bloodshed that sacrifices are received. I gave mankind every last drop I had once and for all-it was never intended to be an easy process.

Lord you tell us that we should be willing to take up our own crosses and follow you. I read somewhere that the cross beam weighed between 80-100 lbs. and that you were expected to carry it over 600 yards uphill while it tore into your open wounds with each step. The pain must have been unbearable! Why would you want us to do the same thing? Do you really expect us to suffer in the same way and to the extent you did?

It’s true that carrying your own cross is a tough assignment, but some have misconstrued what I am asking. In Roman times, when I was sentenced to death, the cross was always seen and understood to be their symbol of death. When I suggest you take up your cross, I am not asking you to bear the weight of suffering as I did, but rather to be willing to die to yourself so that you may become alive to me. Remember my words, “whoever wants to save their life must lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”. In every way my followers must be willing to die to themselves, and in many cases, die a physical death, but the eternal rewards are priceless compared to the temporary joys of living to themselves. Following me means putting to death all ways and desires that go against my teachings. It is only when you die to yourselves that you can live through me.

Can I ask about the cross? We have all seen images or paintings of you hanging on the cross. Sometimes you are made to look very peaceful as if you weren’t feeling anything or were in some type of altered state, while others and even movies show you were in great torment and agony. What was it really like? Could we aver fully understand what you were going through?

Child, there was nothing peaceful about my death on the cross. It was the most gruesome form of capital punishment known and perfected by Romans for ultimate suffering and cruelty. I knew how horrific it was going to be when I am quoted in the Psalms, “I am poured out like water and my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax within me and has melted away. My strength is dried up and gone and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, evil men circle me; they pierced my hands and feet. I can see and count all my bones. People stare and mock me. They gamble for my garments”. And in Isaiah it is said that I am so severely tortured I no longer resemble a human form. There is nothing peaceful or divine in the way I suffered on the cross for you. I could not breathe due to the way I was suspended by the nails with all my weight hanging there, and when I tried to push myself up using my feet, just so I could catch a breath, the pain and pressure on the numerous nerves in my feet that were destroyed by the nails was excruciating. And yet even with all the pain that was almost rendering me unconscious, the most painful part were the hours that my Father and I were separated because of the filth of the sin I bore-I had never been abandoned by Him before that and it tore at my heart to not feel His love and companionship. I truly experienced Hell during those hours of our separation. It hurt me and caused a much deeper pain than the wounds from my flogging and nails mercilessly driven into my hands and feet.

My Lord, you’re right, I can’t begin to imagine what that was like for you. I’m so sorry. My heart breaks even now, but I still have questions, if it’s ok. Your last words on the cross were “it is accomplished”. What did you mean? What did your torture and death accomplish?

You may want to sit down for this one-it will take some explaining. Of all the verses I left for you, those three words changed everything forever. When I said “It is accomplished”, it carried much weight and meant so much in both Earthly and Heavenly realms. First, it sealed and completed the perfect plan, the will of my Father set from the beginning of time. He sent me for one purpose only, to suffer and be crucified, the perfect sacrificial lamb for the remission of all sin. I accomplished my Father’s will. Secondly, the word used for this was often used in those days to indicate a debt had been satisfied or paid in full. If the wages of sin are indeed death, someone had to die to pay the punishment or penalty for those sins. With my death, I paid the full price for the rest of history so that all peoples could accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life without themselves having to die to pay that price. I accomplished and paid that debt. Third, that same word is sometimes used to indicate the end of a period and the beginning of another one. My death and sacrifice ended the age once and for all when blood sacrifices were required to atone for sins, and it began the age when my grace which I purchased for you with my own sacrificial blood would now be the only way and only requirement to be restored to my Father. I and I alone fulfilled and completed the Old covenant so that the New covenant of my blood would once and for all time cover your sins. I accomplished the will of my Father, I accomplished paying the debt in full for sin and I accomplished fulfilling the law and instituting grace. So you see child, when I cried out “it is accomplished” I changed the world forever!

I see now what you mean. Those were indeed three very weighted words. And after you said them, all kinds of strange events occurred. The one I wonder about is the dead people already in their tombs coming back to life and walking the earth. Why did that happen?

I guess in my own way I wanted to remind them just who I was and what I was capable of. You see, many of those who had shouted for my death were present when I raised my good friend Lazarus from the dead. How quickly you people forget things even when you see them with your own eyes. I knew that I would conquer death and come back to life in three days so that many would see and believe, but I wanted to display to them first, that they did not take away my life as they suspected and celebrated, but that in fact I willingly laid it down for them knowing I could take it back up at any time. But I also wanted them to know that I alone had the power over death and resurrection so I showed them this by bringing back those who were known to be dead, some buried and entombed by the very people watching me die on the cross. Only after I breathed my last breath did many of those present understand who I truly was. The dead lived again, the decayed were restored. This is the best meaning of your Easter-new life found only through me.

Lord, there is a lot of confusion on where you went when you were in the tomb. Some say you went to hell to stole away the keys of death from Satan and some say you went elsewhere. Where were you while your body was in the tomb?

I left several clues and indications for you in my words. To the repentant thief who died with me that day, I said he would be with me in Paradise, not hell. Paradise in my Word means Heaven. And when I died you recorded my words, “Father, into your hands do I commit my spirit”. Do you suppose my Father was in hell? Of course not. At that moment I and my Father were once again united. My Father can not dwell in the presence of sin. So Heaven is implied here as well. And my servant Paul also recorded the words that to be absent in the body, for believers, is to be present with the Lord. You will find no passage in my Word that indicates my enemy was ever given the keys of death. I alone posses those. And ministering to those fallen angels and those who were dead as in the times of Noah, I see that you are puzzled by this. It is only confusing to you in that you have placed a very short time on this passage and have neglected that I was alive in the days of Noah and was preaching to them through him. I have always preached to the dead in the spiritual eternal realm of existence. It is not limited to a three day period of being in the tomb. I was spared from decay. I did not descend into hell as punishment. I did not wrestle away something I already possessed and displayed when the dead came back to life when I died on the cross. I hope this clears it up a bit for you.

Lord when you did come back to life and appear to people, some, even your own disciples, refused to believe even though they could see you. Why did even your own followers not believe you would rise again from the grave?

Yes this troubled me greatly. I once rebuked them for not believing I would rise again. Man tends to have short memories. They had just witnessed my ability to restore life after death and decay, but they didn’t remember. Some of them thought that as the Messiah I would be a mighty conquering type of a Jewish King who would deliver them, but after they witnessed how I endured such severe punishment and torture with no defense, I believe they simply lost their faith in me, as if my power and authority had somehow been removed, rendering me helpless. They never understood that I allowed every bit of it to happen. I even reminded them one last time in the garden when the Jewish leaders and their guard came to arrest me. At my words, they all fell backwards. I gave them many hints and special insight as my followers that I was the Son of God, but when tragedy struck, they were overcome by fear. Fear sometimes leads to doubt and memory loss. I did exactly what I had told them I would do, but they did not remember my words when faced with their own fear and mortality. Even my enemies who put me to death remembered I had declared I would rise again after three days, and they requested my tomb be guarded.  The enemy knows my words even when my followers sometimes forget. My servant Thomas is sometimes called the Doubter, but the truth is at first they all doubted. It was only after they could see me and touch me that their faith returned. I blessed them for it, but suggested that those who would follow me later even though they would never physically see me, would be even more blessed than they. To their credit, when their faith was restored, with my help they changed the world.

My Lord, thank you for all you did for us. We will never be able to measure the depth of love you must have for us to endure things that we can’t even imagine. I never want your Passion to become just a story to me. I still want to know so much more, but I’d like to give you the final words for this interview. Please feel free to share your heart for us as we enter into our Easter reflections.

Bless you child. You pretty much already have all my heart recorded in my Word. Remember, I am the author. You are right when you say you will never understand the immeasurable love I have for you. Much has changed since my sacrifice, but much remains the same. There are still many today who profess to be my followers but have cold hearts. You could never know they were my disciples by their actions or their words. I warned people that at some point men would become lovers of themselves and their own words, and that they would lead many others away from the truth with false misrepresentations of my words and character. I still weep over cities when I see the evil that takes place on their streets. I still feel the tinge of betrayal when one of my own sheep leaves the pen and refuses to return. I am saddened when I hear one brother cut down another over insignificant differences or ideas. And I am angered when my people pervert my words to make them into a more non-offensive version that looks nothing like my original intent and meaning. And yet my arms remain open to receive all who admit their need of me. It is my desire that all people would come to the reality of my truth, my sacrifice, the high price paid for their redemption and the eternal joy and reward of following me and living a full and abundant life according to my ways. I would that everyone who remembers me when you recall my sacrifice would be in awe of who I am and who they have now become through my blood, my death and my resurrection. You are in a world full of darkness. It is important now more than ever before that each of you be a light in your dark corners so that I may be glorified through your lives and that they may be drawn to me through my spirit alive in you. Don’t quickly forget my words as you live out your faith. Your fruit will bear witness to my love and reality. As it is written, I loved the world so much that I gave my own life so that anyone who believes in me can be saved and restored to an everlasting life with me in my Father’s house. Don’t lose heart, I really am coming back for those who are mine. I love you with a never-ending infinite love. I have since the beginning of time.

Can Salt Really Lose Its Effectiveness?

Last week I wrote about being lights in the world.  In the same passage from Matthew, Christ refers to us as being the salt of the earth.  He goes on to ask how salt can be made salty again if it loses its flavor.  Many will read this passage and move on without much thought, but inquisitive minds want to know-why salt?  Of all the spices used in ancient times, why not use cinnamon or sage or any one of a host of other commonly used aromatic and flavorful spices- why plain old salt?  So, I did some research.

Salt played an immensely important role in Biblical times. It was highly valued, highly guarded and even ferociously fought over.  In Rome there were roads built and designated for the sole purpose of transporting salt from the mines or beds to the city under heavy Roman guard.  These were called Salt roads.  In a time before electricity or refrigeration was available, salt was used as a primary food preservative.  While it definitely changed the taste of foods, it allowed them to be stored for days without spoiling.  Salt was also used as a cleansing agent, or disinfectant, if you will.  In Biblical times when sacrifices were offered, no sacrifice could be made that did not include salt.  It was forbidden to not include salt and the sacrifice would not be honored or accepted without it.  It was that important!  Salt was also traded as a commodity and even used as currency, which is why Rome kept it under such heavy guard.  It played a crucial role in everyday ancient times.  Of all the spices used, Christ knew that salt carried more value, just as long as it always remained salty, or possessed it’s preserving benefits.

So then back to the question and the statement Jesus made-can salt become less salty or lose its flavor?  The chemical compound for salt is sodium chloride.  As such, it is highly stable.  In other words, salt doesn’t chemically break down or become something else unless something is introduced which would change its chemical makeup.  However, salt does have one nemesis-Moisture, humidity, water.  In highly arid climates with lower humidity levels, salt can last for thousands of years.  But once introduced to moisture, salt can be dissolved, or in essence, lose its effectiveness.  It may still exist in a solid or crystal state, but lose much of its preservative qualities.

How does this apply in the lesson Christ was teaching us?  If you are in tuned to current social trends, especially within many of our churches, you will see exactly what Jesus was referring to.  In an effort to become more tasteful to the unchurched, or seeker friendly, the whole of the Gospel has evolved into a feel-good approach of inspirational clichés, non-judgmental mission statements and a come-as-you-are-anything-goes approach to worship.  In other words, we have Watered Down the salt of Biblical truth, making it less salty and good for little more than a temporary good feeling, with no discipline, no accountability and virtually no challenge.  While most of us will admit that old school fire and brimstone preachers are not our cup of tea, the fact remains that too many have attempted to alter the Gospel to make it more friendly, more pleasing and much more tolerant lest it become offensive to some or exclusionary in nature.  We attempt to make scripture relative to today’s society and times as if the Bible is to be a living and evolving document subject to 21st century interpretation and application, much in the same way our Constitution can be amended.  This is unacceptable and goes against the very warnings we were given in the last few verses of the Bible.

The words of Jesus himself recorded in Revelation 22:18-19 are a stark warning against the practice of altering scripture:

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: if anyone adds anything (even a single word) to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the Holy City that are described in this book”.  Italics mine.

This is not about worship styles, cultural approaches or proper church behavior.  I am all for both traditional and progressive services, and am of the opinion that God designed us all uniquely with different responses to Him.  Some dance, some kneel, some dress up, some come in shorts, some like hymns and some want to rock His house-some drink, some abstain-some observe holy days, some see every day as holy-ALL GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE!  No, this is about taking something intended as absolute and unchangeable, The Word, and watering it down to a point that it becomes unrecognizable and ineffective. This is about salt losing its saltiness.  Just as Jesus stated that a light under a basket offers no benefits in the darkness, so does salt become useless when it no longer has the ability to protect, to preserve, to add flavor and credibility to Christianity.  It is then that it becomes good for nothing but lining a trail or path to be walked on.

More than ever before in history, I believe the world is watching us.  Some are looking to see if we are legit in our faith, some looking to see if we are walking what we’re talking, and others looking for real answers by witnessing what a God-life looks like.  Believers should never feel like they live in a vacuum.  God wants us “In the world”, a city on a hill, a small candle in an otherwise darkened room.  Don’t discount your effectiveness to add seasoning and illumination by the way you live out your life.  Act as true preservatives of all we know to be the Truth!

Are You a Light or a Snuffer?

 

You are the light of the world, like a city on a hill which can not be hidden”.

I’m sure most of us, whether we were raised in church or not, have either heard or sung that old song, This Little Light of Mine. As I recall, the song seemed to have an unlimited number of verses to it so that it could be sung continually for hours on end.  I’m quite certain that many of the verses were made up along the way-“let it shine ’til Jesus comes”…”light it when I first wake up.”…”wonder what’s for lunch today”…you get the picture.  One of the hundreds of verses was, “won’t let Satan blow it out“, substituting the word “blow” with an actual blowing sound for effect.  Sadly, some Christians have taken up that job themselves, snuffing out the lights of others.

Social media has invaded our lives.  It’s hard to imagine a time when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social platforms didn’t exist.  There are many positive aspects of being able to connect with old friends and keep in touch with distant relatives or even face-timing or video chatting with someone a thousand miles away.  But social media has also become a vehicle for bashing each other, tearing others down and sowing discord.  Being able to post uncensored thoughts in real time has given some a bold and brazen approach to being over critical and judgmental beyond our authority.  Instead of being lights in the world, some have made it their mission, or dare I suggest, their ministry, to snuff or blow out the lights of others.  We don’t need to worry about Satan blowing out lights when the snuffers are our own Christian siblings.

A person enjoys a nice glass of wine, a beer or even an occasional cocktail while out with friends.  A holy roller sees this and determines that true Christians should never be seen drinking, so they blow out their light.  The lady who has a shapely figure comes to church in a nice modest dress, but a church mother thinks it is too form fitting and a distraction-a Christian lady would never wear that to church, so puff, out goes her light.  A man exercises his right to vote in the election, but some pious saints know he voted for the “wrong” candidate.  How could any true believer call themselves a Christian but support that person and their platform.  There goes another light.  Satan is taking a long overdue vacation while we do his work for him.  Instead of exhorting each other on to greater things, as scripture compels us to do, we have become volunteer firefighters, looking for the next flame to extinguish.

A couple years ago I had the unique privilege of attending an Easter service in the Greek Orthodox tradition.  I can’t tell you what a reverent experience it was.  Unlike the traditional Easter Sunday service most of us are accustomed to, their service begins on the Saturday night before and extends into the morning hours of Easter Sunday.  One of the most beautiful aspect of this service happens at midnight.  At precisely 12:00 AM all of the lights of the church are turned off and all candles on the altar are extinguished.  This is done to signify the dark hours of Christ being in the tomb.  For a few minutes there is nothing but silence and total darkness.  And then, the priest lights one small candle, signifying Christ’s resurrection!  He then lights the candles of the assistant priests, who pass it on to the assistants, who then take it into the congregation where each parishioner is holding their own candle.  They light the candle of the first person in each row, who then light the person next to them, going row by row until everyone’s candle is burning.  It is quite an extraordinary event that is hard to put into words.

There were two observations that stood out to me while participating in this beautiful depiction of Christ’s resurrection.  First, was just the impact and significance of life bursting forth from the darkness and emptiness of a lifeless tomb.  It drove home the miracle of the resurrection.  But the second thing that impressed me was just how quickly a dark church cathedral could be lit up when each person’s little light was joined with others to drive out darkness and illuminate an entire structure!  One little candle can light up a small place, and many such candles can chase away any darkness.  It is no coincidence that the large floodlights illuminating effects are measured in candle-power.

Our faith has always been and will continue to be under attack by those forces who don’t understand, don’t agree with or find folly in our beliefs.  Jesus warned us that the world would hate us because it hated him.  It’s difficult enough to protect our lights from the secular forces wanting to snuff it out.  We shouldn’t also be concerned with other believers seeking ways to snuff us out.  If you proudly wave the banner of your faith, but your social media posts are always negative, condemning or divisive, perhaps you should spend some time trimming your own candle and take inventory of how you are being viewed, or more importantly, how your posts reflect the heart of Christianity.  I observe a particular Christian holiday, you see it as pagan-I eat and drink or dress or vote a certain way, you don’t.  Let it go, protect my flame as I protect yours.  Concentrate on being a light, not a snuffer.  Let true brotherly love be your illumination, not bitterness, envy, strife, jealousy or cultural/social difference.  We are told in scripture that the world would know we follow Christ when they witness the love we have for each other, not the discord or divisions.  Together we should be that city on a hill whose light can’t be hidden or put out.  One little light can make a difference in a dark world, especially when joined with so many others!

Side Chicks and Loyalty

I have always struggled with the concept of side chicks.  The Urban dictionary defines a side chick as someone who is not the wife or girlfriend, but in some sort of a relationship with someone who is in a relationship with someone else-a mistress, to simplify things.  It seems to be an acceptable and common practice in some circles.  As I research the subject I am floored by how much information is available on being a side chick.  Wikihow even has an article listing fourteen ways to become a better side chick! Some links describe what a side chick should expect or ways to keep expectations limited to avoid getting hurt.  Some even go as far to question if having a side chick makes a husband better!  What am I missing?

There are at least two glaring issues with this concept.  The first and most obvious is the issue of loyalty or fidelity.  Before I go there, yes, I know that adultery goes back to Biblical days.  I am fully aware of the stories of King David, Solomon’s concubines and polygamous relationships.  But one must be very careful to use Old Testament stories to justify modern day trends-it can become a treacherous and slippery slope as it opens up all kinds of behavior that has since been deemed unacceptable.  The ideal of a monogamous relationship should be protected as sacred.  It is impossible for two to become one if one of them is already one with someone else.  When scripture speaks of the strength of three cords, it isn’t condoning polygamy.  Speaking from the perspective of a Christian man, the wife God gives you should be cherished and honored as the only possession greater than your life.  There is no just cause to seek pleasure, whether sexual or emotional, outside of the marriage.  There is no over riding man code that compels us to hunt and gather to the point of defending infidelity and unfaithfulness.  To say it’s just what a man does is total bull and a copout.  Let’s at least be honest in calling it what it is.  If you are in a relationship with someone other than your spouse, it is adultery.  Jesus had very strong words regarding this subject.

The second issue deals with the actual side chick.  I am always puzzled as to why women or anyone would settle for anything less than a loving, committed relationship.  I struggle with understanding why someone would find it acceptable to be the number two option, the secret lover, the one who gets his body but will never have his heart or the benefits of his devotion.  Have self-esteems been lowered to a point that any affection is better than no affection, or that physical intimacy can serve as a reasonable facsimile to the real thing?  God created women to be the equal partner and helper to the man, not a subservient asset who is to respond to his beckoning needs.  She is deserving and should expect the same level of love, of praise, of adoration as her male counterpart.  Why on earth would any woman, outside of maybe rock groupies, ever settle for such a shallow, demeaning situation that will only serve to leave her wanting from the shadows-always hungry but never full, wanting love but settling for sex.  I just don’t get it.

In my book, Sex Begins in the Kitchen, I attempt to describe the beauty of the marital relationship as intended by our Creator.  I describe it as an equal partnership between two people fully, lovingly and exclusively committed to each other and the mutual benefits that result from doing it the right way. I messed it up more than once in my two marriages, but I can honestly state I never had a side chick or any affair.  Honesty and integrity should not be foreign concepts.  There is no real justification for unfaithfulness.  The best relationships, and the ones that last, understand this.  Relationships are hard enough for two committed people without the distractions of adding extra people into the equation.

This leads me to my last point.  Can you have spiritual side chicks?  That is to say are there things that cause infidelity in our relationship with God?  We read that one of the first commands given was to have no other gods or idols.  Idols are not always tangible items such as statues or other hand-made images.  An idol, or if you will, a side chick, can be anything that takes away from your loyalty and commitment to the relationship God wants with each of us.  We, the body of believers, or the church, are described as the bride of Christ.  As such there is an implied exclusive devotion to him and no other.  The New Testament lists several “side chicks” that lead to idolatry with warnings of the potential outcome if we continue on with these spiritual polygamous affairs before God. What is even more dangerous is when these distractions become so dominating that they replace God in such a way that God becomes the side chick.

We are imperfect, broken people.  We can’t live perfectly holy lives.  If we could there would have been no need for Christ.   However we are called to be loyal servants.  In marriage, in relationships and in our faith there should exist within us a desire to be wholly faithful, needing and seeking nothing more outside of our relationships with each other and with God.  He always takes us back when we stray.  Our mates deserve the same level of commitment.  There should be nothing on the side except the fries you order with your Big Mac.  Blessings!

PRAISE-Our Weapon of Mass Destruction!

“At midnight Paul and Silas began to praise God. Suddenly there cam a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, opening all the locked doors and shaking loose the chains of every prisoner!”. Acts 16

If you follow this blog you will know that I often write from the eye of the storm in a very transparent perspective.  This is intentional for a couple reasons-one, to identify with those who are going through similar trials and challenges, and two, so that in our struggles, together we can cling to the hope and promises left for our benefit, our life-savers, if you will.  Through each of the challenges I’ve encountered over the past several years, I have always tried to find a way to continue to offer up praise, even if faint, and even if less than totally sincere.  I have always known it is the best and often last weapon I have if I was to overcome the latest challenge.  I am simply amazed at how effective a weapon praise can be!

There is a story in the Old Testament about a King of Judah named Jehoshaphat.  Our 70’s band Resurrection, did a song about his story.  A vast army was about to attack Judah and understandably, the people of the city were terrified.  So King Jehoshaphat didn’t gather all his fighting men, horses and chariots to plan out a defense.  Instead, he declared a mandatory fast and all the people gathered together to seek an answer from God. Entire families, including children, waited before the Lord.  Then God gave them a message through a man named Jahaziel.  The message, so powerful and complete, was this;

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the size of this army.  For this battle isn’t yours to fight, but God’s!”

You don’t know how many times I have relied on this verse over the years!  The story continues that King Jehoshaphat mounted up the next day and did something unexpected-he had the Worship Team lead the army out, his weapon of mass destruction!  Instead of beating their swords against their shields, they sang out;

“Give praise to the Lord for his love and mercies endure forever!”

As the King’s men sang their praises the Ammonites and Moabites became so confused they began to attack each other until not a single soldier was left standing.  The army of Judah won the battle and annihilated the enemy without drawing a single sword or firing a single arrow!  Praise is a powerful and effective weapon.  I am still learning how devastating it can be against unseen attacks! The victory experienced by the army of Judah was so devastating and complete that news traveled far and wide that God was their protector and they enjoyed peace for many years because anyone who heard the story was too fearful to challenge their God!

It is so easy in life to be intimidated by the size of the enemy waging war against us.  We see through human eyes that we are surrounded by a vast army getting ready to attack us on every front and we see no way out.  I believe that sometimes we forget that the armies surrounding us that we too easily see, are themselves surrounded by an even greater, heavenly, unseen Army of fiery chariots of heavens angels who are saying to us, “don’t be afraid-this battle isn’t yours but God’s!” What we envision as being a battle to big to win, is in fact, just another day of deliverance at the hands of a heavenly host, ready to go to war for us, and just waiting for the command, our release through the most difficult of circumstances of the praise from our hearts and lips-our weapon of mass destruction!  When we praise and worship God we are in essence giving the command and permission for heaven’s armies to unleash its power against all other weapons formed against us in such a way that the enemy is left defenseless and in ruins!

Paul and Silas were chained and sent to prison by the very people they were trying to save.  After being stripped and severely beaten and flogged, they were chained by their feet in the inner prison.  At midnight when it’s the darkest, in chains, bloodied and suffering pain from the open wounds from their flogging, they lifted up their praise and sang hymns to God, so openly that all the prisoners who were jailed with them could hear their praises.  Surely they must have thought that Paul and Silas had lost their freaking minds-how could anyone under such dire circumstances possibly worship God?  What they didn’t realize is that Paul and Silas knew the power of praise in tearing down strongholds and breaking chains!  As their praise ascended God sent an earthquake so violent that even the chains of those who heard the worship were shaken off and fell to the jail floor.  The jailer, seeing and feeling this phenomenal event was so moved he and his entire family accepted their message and were saved.  When God moves and responds, people are changed and set free!

There are so many promises of complete victory for those who follow Christ;

“All thanks to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”

“In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us”

“Thanks to God who in Christ, always leads us in triumphal procession…”

“For the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies and to assure you receive victory”

“What else is there to say-if God is for us, WHO can come against us!”

So far 2019 has been an amazing year of victories and turn around for me.  I am seeing prayers answered so dramatically that I know it is nothing but a God thing.  And I can’t claim any glory except to say that in my weakest moments, I found a way to still worship Christ even when there were no words left to offer up.  I am simply in awe of his goodness in my life and his faithfulness in responding, not on my time but in his.  I am humbled and speechless before Him.  Can I offer some heartfelt advice?

I have heard it said that the worship time of a church service is intended to allow stragglers to get to their seats before the sermon or homily.  I’ve even heard some say they just come for the message and not the worship time.  I can’t emphasize enough how wrong that approach is!  To me, that’s like going to a fine restaurant just to pay the bill without enjoying the food.  When believers come together in one voice or concerted effort to praise a holy God together as one church family, there is a power, a restoration, a healing, a battle cry that gives you more deliverance and strength than the greatest of sermons.  Scripture tells us that God inhabits, or simply put, takes his residence in the praises of his children.  That corporate time when we gather simply to worship and revere our Father and his holiness-that’s where our power comes from-that’s our secret weapon against the attacks against us, not the ear-tickling sermon.  I win when I worship-I receive when I praise-I feel closest to God when I am reaching out to him in song and I stand no taller than when I’m on my face before His throne.  He is my weapon of mass destruction, my salvation, my victory.  “Praise be to God-His mercies endure forever”.

Make America Hate Again?

A recent article published in USA Today states that active hate groups are at the highest level in the last twenty years. Organizations that have been identified as Hate Groups have climbed from 784 in 2014 to over 1,000 in 2018, and is up over 7% just in the last year.  This number is not limited to white groups but includes among others, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, black nationalists and neo-confederate groups.  What is particularly sad, however, is that many religious organizations have been labeled among these hate groups right along side of the Ku Klux Klan or American Nazis.  This label may be misleading as for most civil activist police, any group that shows any intolerance toward another group is deemed a hate group.  The unanswered question is this; have these identified hate groups actually increased in number over the past few years, or has a season and atmosphere of hatred and bigotry simply empowered already existing groups to become more vocal and public?  Why the sudden uproar in exposure and boldness?

Even as I write these observations I know how critical it is that I choose my words carefully lest I too be labeled a hater.  We have evolved into a society where anything and everything goes, and anyone who questions current trends from any conservative or traditional perspective is caught up in the widely cast net of intolerant haters.  Our world is changing, morality is evolving, standards are being broken and liberal progression is leaving many behind in its wake.  There seems to be little common ground for those who wish to remain neutral as more and more people are falling into one of two categories, extremist right wing or socialist left liberal, sharply divided like the partisan leadership we have flippantly elected to oversee our affairs and tell us how we ought to live, albeit not by exemplary lifestyles they live out.

The targets of hateful aggression is growing longer each year. You don’t have to search very hard to find a hate group to fit into.  We are currently hating on blacks, whites, Jews, Muslims, gays, transgenders, Republicans, Democrats, Trump, Pelosi, the church, the atheists, Catholics, Baptists, Hannity, Farrakhan-the list is exhaustive.  It doesn’t really matter if you are from the confederate south or the Yankee regions of the north, the Bible belt Midwest of the socialist state of California-there is something for everyone, a plethora of hate groups to call your own.  What a sad and horrible state of affairs!

Those who choose to harbor hatred or intolerance may never be eradicated from society-it’s been over two hundred years and America still accommodates hate.  That being the case, it is imperative that those of us who practice love and charity become as vocal and empowered in spreading light as those who prefer darkness.  We are each presented each day with opportunities to display and express love, good will and blessings over those who are beaten down by societal and generational hatred.  With everything that has changed over the past decades, we possess a truth that remains a constant, a plumb line and a guide for loving on others.  We have the Bible, the written Word, and even though many of today’s haters attempt to point to the Bible as a source of hatred, the fact is irrefutable that it remains a standard of unconditional love and sacrifice.  However it remains useless and ineffective unless we live out its principles in every day life as a weapon against the evils of hatred, bigotry and intolerance we face in our world.  And unlike the mixed messages from even some religious groups, the Bible is black and white on the subject of love and hate:

1 John 4; “If you say “I love God” but you hate your neighbor, you are a liar!”

1 John 3; “Anyone who hates their brother or sister is guilty of murder”

1 John 2: “Anyone who claims to walk in light but has hatred is actually walking in darkness”

1 John 4; “Anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, who is love”

John 13; “A new commandment-love one another, just as I have loved you”

Colossians 3; “Above all else, put on love which brings everything together in harmony”

Ephesians 4; “With humility and gentleness, accompanied by patience, love each other’

Luke 6; “Love your enemies, expecting nothing in return”

Romans 13; “Be in debt to  no one, except for the unpayable debt of love, fulfilling the commands”

We who claim to walk in the light of the Word can not blindly ignore what has been written and left on our behalf. Believers are quick to get caught up in controversial issues like immigration, partisan politics, senseless arguments and debates over things that have no real eternal consequences in our lives, as if we take leave of the fact that our citizenship is not Earthly but Heavenly, and that our welfare is dependent upon God’s provisions, not current administration policy.  Hatred is a byproduct of fear, and believers should have nothing to fear from anyone or anything in this life.  and when we lose sight of this, we become just another lamb being led with the flock by the current trends, losing our light and identity in Christ.  Each time I hear of  more hate crimes, or read posts on social media touting the latest hate du jour of the day, my stomach turns as we can and should be so much better than this.  Our only hope is to be points of light in the dark confines in which we may find ourselves so that through our love and genuine concerns we can refocus the light away from hatred and toward Christ, who is forever the ultimate definition of love.

 

 

Greatest Speech of All Time?

 

I am told and have indeed read that I missed perhaps one of the greatest speeches ever given by an American President last night as the latest State of the Union Address was delivered.  I have also heard or read many of the speeches delivered by some of the world’s greatest orators, so I started pondering the question, what was the greatest speech ever given?

There are several that quickly come to mind.  Based on their content and the climate of their times, it would be difficult to select just one.  Would it be Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech, of maybe Winston Churchill promising to “fight them on the beaches”? How could one not consider the great Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, still quoted today, or Nelson Mandela’s numerous anti-apartheid speeches?  There’s Patrick Henry declaring “Give me liberty or give me death” and Abe Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address.  And in stark contrast to the current Build a Wall rhetoric, there is the ever memorable “Tear down this wall” speech by my favorite President, Ronald Reagan.  And even more impressive than these is the oration delivered by history’s first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen, a Christian apologetic speech delivered to the Sanhedrin recorded in Acts Chapter 7 just before he is stoned to death for Christ.  So with so many great speeches to choose from, who gets the nod as Numero Uno?

In my most humble of opinions, I don’t believe there has ever been a more meaningful, impactful, history-changing speech ever given than that which Christ gave and first recorded in Matthew 5-7, now commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount. In it is contained the essence of all good and proper living.  One does not even need to be of the Christian faith in order to appreciate the heart of what is being taught, but as a believer it may be the most concise delivery of the Christian tenets of faith ever composed in one sitting.  Much has been written throughout history pertaining to the sheer content of this incredible sermon.  In his Fifth Century book Saint Augustine says;

“If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as w read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards to the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian Life“.

The great sermon can be broken down into several sub-sections, each worthy  themselves of being considered great speeches. The oration starts with the Beatitudes, or as some refer to them, The Blessings, or even more literal, the Happy sayings.  “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom; Happy are those who mourn for they will receive comfort; Happy are the meek for they will inherit the earth, and so forth.  These were not new revelations necessarily as many came from previous Old Testament writings, but Jesus shed new light into the heart of each blessing that focused on the ideals of living a life of love, service and humility, a lesson not confined to political or religious views alone.

Then Jesus begins to speak of salt and light, metaphors rich in context as to how believers should live their lives of faith openly and unashamedly.  Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the world.  As believers, we are each imparted with that same light so that we may be lights in the world.  He also uses the terminology of being salt, and how ineffective we become if we lose our faith, or saltiness, good for nothing more than filling in holes on a walking trail.

Then He goes into a discussion where He gives teeth to Old Testament Law with such phrasing as “you have heard it said…but I tell you…”.  Christ doesn’t abolish the law but fulfills it to the “nth” degree with things like, “you say don’t murder but I say don’t even call someone an idiot” or you say don’t commit adultery but I say if you even look at a woman and think about having sex with her you are just as guilty-harsh and difficult teachings for sure.  He goes on with exchanging the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy with instead praying for your enemies and those who wish you evil.  His statements turn their thinking and beliefs upside down!

Form there Jesus teaches his disciples and ultimately the world how we are to pray.  Whether you consider The Lord’s Prayer as a literal and perfect daily prayer or you use it as a model to fashion your own prayers after, it may be the single most cited, recorded and printed piece of literature of all time!  And he immediately follows it up by giving us the key to unlocking the beauty and promise of the prayer, that being the importance of forgiveness, by reminding us that “if we do not forgive others their sins against us, our Father will  not forgive us our sins either“. The prayer has five components, acknowledgement of God’s deity, submission to his will, Petitions for our provisions, forgiveness of our sins and triumphant living over temptation; all we need, any day, every day!

Jesus then reminds us of the folly of worrying with the familiar verse reminding us that if he sees even the tiniest of birds and takes care to feed them, how much more is he concerned with the affairs of the lives of his children.  And as for possessions, if even King Solomon was not as adorned as the flowers in any wild field, how much more God wants to clothe us with all good things.  There is simply too much good stuff to chew on here, basic, sound biblical rules of conduct and promises of God’s provision and sufficiency for our daily lives.

This sermon goes on to deliver so much more than we can take in.  From warnings about being judgmental when we should be more aware of our own faults, to the famous “ask and receive, seek and find, knock and come in” teachings about approaching God in prayer.  And on it goes, the wide and narrow gates, true and false teachers, Smart and stupid builders, Mind Blown!  He left the crowds who had gathered to hear him in shock and amazement as they had never been taught by anyone with such insight and vision or with overwhelming authority.  And it hasn’t changed up to this day, over two thousand years later!

Greatest speech of all time?  I confidently contend that you can’t find one better than the Sermon Christ delivered in Matthew, but what, you may ask, is the differentiator for this speech compared to any of the other worthy candidates?  It’s easy actually, Credibility.  If you were just to read the speech in Matthew 5-7, it would be impressive on its own merit, but what happens immediately after, recorded in Matthew Chapter 8, seals the deal. As Jesus comes down from this famous speech on the mountain, large crowds still followed him.  Among them was a leper, an outcast due to his condition.  The leper humbly bows before Jesus and asks in all good faith for Jesus to heal him.  With the simple words “Be Clean” the leper’s skin condition immediately disappears and his skin is renewed and pure again.  For thousands of witnesses, this elevates Christ from just a good speaker to the Divine Son of God with all power and authority to back up his previous words.  All other speeches that deal with the heart of decent living from that time forward are directly connected in every decent and moral way to the words Christ delivered to us and to the world on the mountain that day, the greatest speech of all time!

Just to Feel the Sun Again

This week much of the United States will be experiencing dangerously cold temperatures, with some forecasts of wind chills near 50 degrees below zero!  Most will not be able to see any sign of the sun, let alone bask in its heat.  Depending on which part of the country some reside, these Winters can last from one month to six months.  Some may wonder if the cold will ever end or if they will ever see the sun or feel its warmth on their skin.  I live in Las Vegas and it was sunny and warm enough here yesterday that I sat on my patio sans shirt and simply relished the heat as it hit my face after a few chilly months of being indoors.  Whether it’s the first day after a long Winter or those first steps onto your favorite beach, there is something very healing in being exposed to warmth after a prolonged period of being kept in the cold and the dark of a Winter season.

For many, life can seem like a bitter cold and extended Winter season void of sunlight, leaving them desperate and begging for some relief in the way of sunbeams and a warming heat.  It’s been so long since they basked in the glow of the sun that they may wonder if they will ever feel or see it again.  I know this all too well.  There is an agonizing cry out to God for any relief, any comfort, any sign that he is aware of your situation and is listening to prayers you feel are bouncing off the ceiling.  Many of the world’s most successful leaders endured seasons of cold and darkness that left them questioning everything, including their own faith.  As recent as yesterday I read the horrific stories of two prominent pastors of megachurches committing suicide because they were in such a dark place that even their faith in God was overwhelmed by the severity and chill of their circumstances.  A verse in Matthew chapter six says that if the light within you has turned to darkness, how great and massive that darkness can be.  If the cold temperatures and the dead of Life’s Winter months are so great that even studied church leaders can not escape its cold grip, we must all be on alert to protect the light and heat placed within each of us as God’s children.

One of my favorite places to be, my happy place, if you will, is on the beach.  Besides just being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and majesty of a mighty ocean being reduced to gentle waves kissing the sandy shore where I’m laying, there is also a physical relaxation of soaking up the sun and being warmed from the inside out by its heat.  In that small period of restoration there is such a healing peace and natural euphoria that is hard to put into words.  All life’s stress and issues seem to melt away, at least for the duration of my time in the sun, and the long Winter months become a distant memory.  Perhaps your Winter is one of a serious illness or a less than adequate employment situation.  Maybe its a strained relationship with certain family members or friends.  Or if like me, it is just the pain of being alone when your best life would be one shared with a special someone.  Whatever the source of your sunless days, they can and often do seem like an eternity as you beg God for his mercy in your situation while you seek any comfort or shelter from the elements, like being left out in the cold with no source of heat to warm your face.

But….there is good news!  God may take us places we would never choose to go on our own, but He will never leave us there too long.  When Job was exposed to the harshness of a cold Winter that left him with nothing but frostbite in the form of death, destruction and even physical disease, he begged God to take his life and put him out of his misery.  But God in his never-ending mercy and compassion restored Job to a level even higher than the one from which he was removed, and reimbursed him many times over for his losses.  I can share with you from recent experience that when God looks down and says “Ok child, I guess you’ve had enough.  Sit back and watch what I’m about to do for you!”, and you once again feel the warmth of the sun and the Son on your face as it warms your entire being, the healing restorative power is indescribable. In a very real sense, it is the bitter chill of sunless days that cause you to fully appreciate the restoration of the Son’s rays!  And you find in that warming heat love, joy, peace, fullness and rest from life’s challenging seasons.  There is simply nothing in all the world like being brought back to life by the warmth of God’s compassion and love. Malachi 4:2 read like this;

“For those of you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings”.  And Ecclesiastes says that it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So today I pray that my readers, whatever part of the world they may live in or however cold it may be there, can hold on until they can once again experience the heatwave they seek and can shake the chills of life’s bitter cold temps as they anticipate the end of their Winter season.  Blessings to each of you.

 

Never Give Up

According to recent polls and research, today, January 17th, is the day that most of us who made New Year resolutions to better ourselves, give up on them.  Not even three weeks into the year, our haughty aspirations to become the next Mr. Universe or Bill Gates have become a distant memory.  After all, it’s hardly fair; for most people January is one of the coldest months of the year and going outdoors or to the gym is much less favorable than just curling up in a blanket with hot cocoa  a good movie than working up a sweat in the dead of Winter.  And then there is the national fitness conspiracy that is the Girl Scout Cookie campaign, which begins the second week of January and runs until virtually all resolve to improve our individual diets has been all but obliterated.  Add to that the football parties ranging from the college Bowl Games to the NFL playoffs and eventual Super Bowl-good hosts can’t serve lettuce wraps with tonic water for rowdy sports fans-it’s wings, nachos, pizza, soda, craft beers-impossible!  Perhaps we should defer our New Year resolutions to July!

It can be easy to make up excuses to give up on resolutions, on dreams, on vows.  Life gets hard, throws us an unexpected curve, knocks us off our feet and robs us of any remaining intestinal fortitude.  For many it becomes easier to just stay down than to get back up and risk being knocked down again.  We convince ourselves we aren’t good enough anyway, or we aren’t really deserving of that which we are striving for. We listen to the voices of fear and doubt and fall for lies without much of a challenge.  It’s hard to swim against the current or to run in the face of oncoming wind.  I know and can speak of this from experience.

Scripture is full of stories about men who faced incredible challenges and odds but persevered and achieved what they were after.  David was anointed to be King of Israel but spent most of the next decade in the wilderness running for his life before eventually taking the thrown promised to him.  Sarah was in her nineties before God finally granted her request for a child!  Jacob fell in love with Rachel and worked seven years for her father in order to be given her as his bride, only to be tricked into marrying her sister, so he had to work another seven years, a total of fourteen, just to be with the woman of his dreams. These saints of old had a vision and a promise and never gave up, even though it appeared from all human perspective that these dreams may not be realized.

Life truly is short.  If you wish upon a dream, to borrow a lyric, and do all you can to keep that dream alive, ESPECIALLY if that dream is from God, giving up is not an option.  Maybe your dream is to be the lead singer of a band or perhaps a best-selling author; maybe you just want to earn a degree or switch to some exciting career like law enforcement or maybe flight attendant. Maybe you would be content to simply lose ten pounds before Summer so you aren’t embarrassed to be seen at the pool or beach, like me.  Perhaps you are seeking that special someone to be your person this year. Whatever it is, you are never too old and it’s never too late to be a dream chaser.  The person who fails to dream about what might be, or to continually take measures to make it happen-that person will lose sight of the potential reward, and once the vision is gone, so is the hope and determination.

Ask God to help you define your vision in light of what he wants for you, and to give you all the necessary tools to stick to it and see it to fruition. You can never be sorry you did, only regretful that you gave up too soon!  Blessings to you.

New Year Resolutions-Over/Under Odds

We are just a few days away from the start of another New Year, a time of new beginnings, reflection and a renewed resolve to make one’s self over in a more pleasing and acceptable way.  I reside in Las Vegas, NV, where you can place a wager on virtually anything.  I have yet to find any oddsmakers willing to tackle New Year Resolution Success rates.  It’s a shame-the books would make a fortune!

According to a study out of the University of Bristol, nearly 88% of all seemingly genuine and motivated individuals who make annual NY resolutions, fail miserably!  Not only do they fail, but they most often do so in the first month to six weeks!  Seems our resolve to resolve is weak at best.  Intentional change takes discipline and a strong willpower.  Some resolutions involving certain addictions even require outside medical support and additional costs.  It is simply more easy to  just continue on with your current status than to make real changes.  As one who buys new workout clothes for the gym and wears them once, I know and can attest that the struggle is real.  And yet each year most of us set ourselves up for failure and disappointment by making promises to ourselves we know we just won’t keep.  And so it goes.

According to an article on patch.com, the following is a list of this year’s most popular New Year Resolutions:

  • Eat better — 37 percent
  • Exercise more — 37 percent
  • Spend less money — 37 percent
  • Self-care (e.g. getting more sleep) — 24 percent
  • Read more books —18 percent
  • Learn a new skill — 15 percent
  • Get a new job — 14 percent
  • Make new friends — 13 percent
  • New hobby — 13 percent
  • Focus more on appearance — 12 percent
  • Focus on relationship — 12 percent
  • Cut down on cigarettes/alcohol — 9 percent
  • Go on more dates — 7 percent
  • Focus less on appearance — 3 percent

Do any of these look familiar?  I love to eat, so eating better is always a tough one for me.  I’m frugal, and single, so spending less money is easy enough. Who reads books anymore? Do Facebook friends count as new? Only 12% are concerned with relationships?  That would explain my low book sales. And in 2018 I went out on ZERO dates, so that bar is limbo low.

I compared this to other Top Ten NY Resolution lists available online and discovered something oddly common.  Very few, if any, list spiritual growth or enrichment as a top concern.  No mention of increased prayer or study time, church attendance or even benevolent involvement.  Virtually very resolution is self-centered or for self-improvement, with very little being outward focused, let alone spiritually motivated.  Now don’t get me wrong-I am on an extended stretch of trials and challenges that have all but zapped me of any religious fervor, and I understand how easily it might be to blow off any faith based approach to the future when it seems like you’ve been left to your own devices anyway.  But all of us, whether we admit it, whether we accept it, whether we believe it, are spiritual beings.  Good or bad, right or wrong, we are spirit-driven.  That spirit is oft times malnourished, be it by too much junk food, or mere starvation, and its state of health affects every other aspect of our life.

The end of one year and the immediate beginning of the next is celebrated with parties, revelry, music, dancing, and if you are one of the fortunate ones, a kiss for good luck from someone special.  I’m all for the traditional festivities of New Year’s Eve and am not suggesting you forego the parties and find a quiet church, although in many cultures that too is traditional.  After all, the parties are for the night while the resolutions are for the next twelve months.  That said, the New Year does provide the perfect opportunity to take inventory of your life and to see if you are still on course or if your GPS needs to be reset or updated.  In doing so don’t forget that your spiritual compass settings and updated processes will be your best friend when those challenges arise, and they always do, that require more than that which is in your ability.  So resolve to drop those few extra pounds, again, renew the gym membership for another six weeks, by your Chantix, and learn a new language, but don’t neglect your spiritual welfare-it always needs improvement!

On a personal note, I want to thank you for following In My Own Words at papaswords.com.  I receive reports that show me where the blog is being read.  The latest report listed over 90 different countries!  I am humbled at the thought of this blog being so global.  I hope to continue to write for you as I have done now for five years going back to 12/26/2013.  I want to wish you all a very healthy, blessed and prosperous 2019!  May God keep you and your families safe for another year!  Happy New Year…Joe Hill

Christmas Means Nothing if Not True

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It’s that time of year again when the whole world will cease from their labors to ponder and celebrate this thing we refer to as Christmas.  It is of all days of the year, a most honored and sacred tradition, especially for those who still consider the wonder of the first Christmas and the significant history changing impact it had on a world, and individually to all who choose to believe.  Sadly, however, there are still those who refute the story and indeed the entirety of Scripture as wholly fictitious, a collection of handed down fables and legends, if you will, with no credible evidence or factual basis.  While each of us are guaranteed the right to our beliefs, or lack thereof, it is sad to consider how many are missing out on something so wonderful and life changing simply because they refuse to accept the preponderance of evidence that exists to the contrary.

This week I was privy to such opinions as expressed on social media.  The overwhelming number of original copies of Scripture and many archeological finds show sound support for many of the stories recorded in the Bible, too many to blindly disregard if one is truly being objective.  First, let’s measure the accuracy and legitimacy of the Bible based solely on literary standards accepted by scholars who define historic credibility.  Homer’s Iliad, long recognized as an accurate and accepted historic document, can only produce a little over 600 original copies, with the amount of time between the original writing and the first known copy being well over 1,000 years.  Much of the original Iliad is filled in because of missing original texts.  In contrast, there exists today over 6,300 original copies of the Bible, with the amount of time between the original writing and the first known copy being not 1,000 years, but a mere 60!  In addition, out of 31,103 original verses that make up the Bible, all but 11 are accounted for!  This then  makes the Bible 99.965% complete! So by any literary standard, secular or otherwise, the credibility of the Bible and it’s stories can not be challenged.

In addition to the staggering number of copies available, there are also non-biblical references made to the stories by early and recognized historians.  From Tacitus in the first century:

Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. .

From Pliny the Younger in 112 AD:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.

From Josephus’s writings, Jewish Antiquities:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.

So you can see just from these three examples that Jesus and his life and movement have nonbiblical documentation by accepted historians.  There are many more such nonbiblical recordings available for review and accepted as accurate. But let’s go further and examine some key archeological finds that support Biblical stories.

In 1968 in Jerusalem contractors discovered an ossuary (bone box) containing the remains of a man aged between 24-28. A spike was discovered driven through his left heel with  piece of the olive wood cross still attached.  To date this is the only evidence found that supports the Roman crucifixion as described in the New Testament, and proof that criminals were not left to rot on the cross but buried, just as scripture indicates took place with Jesus.

In 1986 a severe drought caused the Sea of Galilee to drop to record lows, revealing the remains of a well-preserved 27′ fishing boat buried in the mud, dating back to the days of Jesus. It was discovered near Migdal, or Magdaline in ancient times, from where mary Magdaline was from. Pots and pans found next to the boat, along with radiocarbon dating confirm its age.  The boat easily holds 15 grown men, which would be enough for Jesus and his 12 disciples.

In 2004 near Hezekiah’s water tunnel near Jerusalem archeologists discovered the lost Pool of Siloam mentioned in the recording of one of the many miracles of Jesus. Coins found intact within the pool walls date the pool to years immediately before and after Christ.

In 2009 archeologists found the first and only known housing structure from the ancient city of Nazareth, a city some suggest never existed because there is so little mention of it in historic documents outside of the Christmas story.

In 2012 the Israeli Antiquities Society announced the find of a 2700 year old bulla in the city of Jerusalem.  A bulla was a clay stamp used to seal a document or container.  On this bulla was stamped the insignia for the town of Bethlehem, the first known discovery from the city of Jesus’s birth, again significant because so little is known or recorded in history about Bethlehem outside of the Bible story.

Biblical archeology is fascinating and there are many finds, too many to list here, that support stories, cities, and people described within the Bible.  So, we have discussed accepted literary standards supporting scripture, nonbiblical records of its stories and tangible, hold-in-your-hands archeological finds-all evidence of the credibility of scripture and the Christmas story.  But is there more?  Only if you choose to believe.

It is hard for a believer to adequately explain to an unbeliever that undeniable sensation that wells up within the heart and soul when we see the miracles of love, of restoration, of release from the guilt of a sinful life-the joy and tears of singing a song of worship with other believers.  It’s hard to describe the peace when going through life’s most difficult moments or the true hope of all Christians of being reunited with beloved family members who have passed on.  These things require faith in things not seen, not recorded, not found in digs.  And yet, this is the magic and wonder of Christmas!  It remains a time when all the world,  regardless of religion, race, creed or nationality, feels at the same time, the charitable expressions of love, peace and goodwill, a day, if you please, when God opens up heaven to remind us all, believers or not, that he and all he stands for and represents, is real, that his Son existed and exists, and that the hope of the message of God With Us, Emmanuel, is wrapped up in this one very special, very sacred and holy day we celebrate, Christmas!

I want to wish each of my followers a very Merry and Blessed Christmas this year.  It has and will always be a pleasure writing for you and I am truly honored and humbled that you choose to follow me from literally across the globe.  My books, My Soul Cries Out and Sex Begins in the Kitchen are available on Amazon.  Christmas love to you all!

 

Recapturing the Lost Wonder of Christmas

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The tree and its collection of unique ornaments that would rival a Macy’s window creation remains packed away in boxes.  The lights and animated reindeer that was part of a Griswold-esque lawn display is hibernating in storage. Except for a Hallmark movie or a rerun of an old holiday classic on TV, there is little evidence that Christmas is just a couple weeks away.

There is an unexplainable magic and wonder that ushers in the Christmas holiday. It takes us back in time to when things were simpler, more genuine-where Peace on Earth seemed attainable and the very best of human nature surfaced ever so briefly so that all the world was better because of it.  For many this annual euphoria still exists and is eagerly anticipated and welcomed like an old friend you only see once each year. But sadly for others the season is anything but joyful.  Silent Night becomes just that, silent. Old carols become seasonal haunts leftover from Halloween like the Ghost of Christmas Past except unlike the Dickens story there is little hope of redemption given to its chosen victims. While there is no real evidence that the rate of suicides is elevated during the holidays, it can’t be denied that depression is all the more apparent and intense when you are alone or coming off a particularly cruel year of trials. The hope is that like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life we can find our way through the muck and mire of mental games just in time to celebrate but many will carry their depression on into the new year. Just like the Grinch, someone snuck in during the night and stole our Christmas.

Christmas is the ultimate time for sharing-a dance to a familiar carol, a gift to someone not expecting it, your love with that special someone, memories of past years with old friends, the celebration of an Incarnate baby savior. However when those opportunities to share are removed due to loss of income, loss of health, the death of a spouse or loved one, divorce or separation, the vehicle used to share the holiday is rendered useless, out of order, incapacitated, leaving one feeling lonely and nothing resembling Merry. It is during these times that we as believers in Christ, the Christmas miracle, have to rely on the true focus of the Christmas celebration and recreate our own miracles. It is only through our ability to see and recall the Babe in the manger that we have a chance of recapturing the wonder we so long for at this special and holy time of year.

I have always believed in my heart that the reason Christmas is so wondrous is that God opens up Heaven and releases just a little bit of the holy residue that covered the earth those two thousand years ago on that special night when Christ the Son became flesh and stepped into the world He Himself created. It was the ultimate gift, the epitome of love that the Son of the Most High would enter this world through extraordinary means on a journey He knew would end on a cross. He didn’t come here to turn water to wine, to feed thousands with a few fish or to leave behind quotes that make for good wall plaques. Christ the Christmas miracle came with the objective and divine plan to willingly lay down His life as a once and for all sacrifice that afforded us redemption, reconciliation to the Father and a blessed hope of eternal Christmases in an everlasting Kingdom where sadness, loneliness and depression are forever banished. It is a kingdom according to Revelation where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for these things will have passed away-forever!”  It is a miracle beyond our human comprehension or explanation. It is the truest essence of Christmas! It remains the wonder of Christmas, if we can but set our sights above the trials and despair of this troubled world.

It would be a bit cruel to identify the problem without offering suggestions on where to go from here.  Lest I be like the TV commercial where I just monitor a problem (“there’s a problem”) here are some things that work for me. I love holiday lights.  There is something about colored lights glowing in the dark that just make you feel good inside.  I recall as kids my brother and I counting light displays on our way to church-a great memory. So now, I go out of my way to take in light displays.  And instead of the same old TV fare I switch over to an old Christmas show or a Hallmark Movie.  Yes, I still watch Frosty, Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It takes me back 50 years to an innocence I cherish, even if there are those days when I resemble Bergermeister or the Grinch. And who doesn’t enjoy the classic holiday songs that accompany Christmas.  Whether it is taking in a concert by Trans Siberian or a local church production, you can’t possibly walk away without at least a tinge of Christmas spirit. One more great remedy for holiday blues is to find a cause, a charity, a need you can adopt to help bring a little Christmas wonder to others who may be feeling just as left out.  It is amazing the healing properties of adopting a family at Christmas or providing a tree or a dinner or a few unexpected toys.  Their joy is infectious and you can’t help but catch the bug if anywhere near. But perhaps the greatest therapy of all is to seek out Church services billed as Christmas celebrations so that the heart, the meaning and the purpose of our celebration is driven home into our depleted spirit so our focus can be redirected to the source of all wonder, the Christ Child, The Prince of our Peace, God with us, the perfect gift for all occasions that like the Jelly of the Month Club from Christmas Vacation, just keeps on giving.  Let the peace of God, which according to Philippians 4 “transcends all understanding”, all hurt, all depression, all loneliness, guard your hearts and minds in the Christ Child.

If you are hurting and not looking forward to the holidays this year, I encourage you with these words and the sincerest of prayers to kneel before the manger and ask for the peace, the comfort, the healing from the source of all celebration and the subject of our reverence, Jesus. Christmas this year may look a little different than in years past but our Father Who is the same yesterday, today and for all Christmases to come will rekindle the holiday flame that may be extinguished so that you can once again warm up to that lost wonder that is Christmas.

 

 

 

 

The Apostles Creed Controversy

This week some old and tired arguments surrounding the Apostles Creed were resurrected as it was cited at the reverent and honorable funeral of #41 George H.W. Bush.  I am continually perplexed at how a statement of sound biblical beliefs is so quickly and easily dismissed by my Protestant brothers and sisters because they can’t get past the misinterpreted use of the word “catholic”, a descriptive inserted acknowledging the universal fellowship under one faith.  I have even read some comment that the Creed isn’t biblical, or isn’t recorded in its current form in the Bible and is thus irrelevant or even a heterodoxy. Those opposed to its acceptance as a statement of faith are guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater simply because they incorrectly assume “catholic” refers to the Roman Catholic Church exclusively, and since they find fault with Catholicism, the Creed must too be in error.  Sadly, those who hold this opinion are simply echoing bad teaching without any due diligence or exegesis on their own part.

So, I thought I would go through the Creed line by line, showing scriptural foundation for each tenet so the reader can decide.  First, certain elements of the Creed are recorded in many nonbiblical sources from early church fathers, including Irenaeus and Eusebius, and in a somewhat formatted form as early as 390 A.D. It is given the name Apostles Creed as it is originally based on writings and teachings recorded by the original apostles of Christ, and adopted by the provinces of the original Orthodox Church, of which Rome was a part of before 1054. The Creed continues to be cited in more liturgical Christian churches today, including but not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church.  Here is the Creed broken down by line and verse:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord,

John 3:16: God loved us so much he sent us his only begotten son.

born of the virgin Mary,

Luke 1:34-35: “How can this be”, Mary asked, “as I am still a virgin”. The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you…”.

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried.

Matthew 27: 26, 31, 50, 59, 60: Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified; then they led him away to be crucified; and Jesus cried in a loud voice and gave up his spirit; Joseph took and wrapped the body in a clean cloth and placed it in a new tomb.

He descended into hell.

Ephesians 4:9; What could “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower regions of earth?

On the third day he rose from the dead:

Luke 24:5-6: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

Mark 16:19; After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

from there he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.

2 Timothy 4:1; In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead,

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

John 14:16; I will ask the Father and he will give you and advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirt of Truth

the holy catholic church,

1 Corinthians 12;12-13; Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. for we are all baptized by one spirit so as to form one body, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, and given one spirit to drink.

the communion of saints,

Psalm 133; How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity

the forgiveness of sins,

John 1:9; If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

and the resurrection of the body (earlier forms say “flesh”)

1 Corinthians 15:52; in a flash, the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will all be changed

and the life everlasting.

John 3:16; that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

I should do so well as to live my life every day by this creed.  I could have selected from dozens of passages to support any of these holy tenets of faith.  There is nothing here that is in any way discriminatory toward any faith except those who do not believe in the triune God.  The Creed of the Apostles is a beautiful expression of sound biblical doctrine.  While I would agree that it is always best to live out your beliefs in deed and action, I see nothing wrong or in error by quoting this beautiful statement if you so choose.  I do find fault, however,  with anyone who condemns anyone else who chooses to quote it.

We in the Protestant church often times get too wrapped up in traditions we don’t practice or understand.  We are quick to condemn as idolatry any practice that varies from our own denominations.  We laugh at the reverent parade of the holy Book before readings but think dancing a two step in the “spirit” is normal.  We fault people who pray The Lord’s Prayer but hold parishioners in contempt for not tithing by teaching them they won’t be blessed.  We treat the Word of God like we do some politicians-it’s mostly good if you overlook those parts you don’t understand or agree with.  And we are simply to eager to ostracize anyone who doesn’t worship like we do.  We are guilty of the same exclusion we condemn others for who cite this Creed.  It is hypocritical at the very least.

Perhaps,  having attended a Catholic high school and having a brother who is a priest in the Greek Orthodox church, I am a bit more objective through my exposure.  But we are living in an age when we should be finding ways to “commune with the saints” in a show of love, compassion and unity in reaching out to a world who needs to hear one voice of truth.  We should be very concerned with allowing the body of Christ to go the way of politics by finding partisanship due to worship styles and traditions.  We are to test all teaching to confirms its alliance with scripture, but we are not to create false heresy by misinterpretation or sloppy research.  We can do better than that.  Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Gratitude at Thanksgiving

In just a couple of days we will once again be gathering with friends and family to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, an annual tradition.  For many this is merely the first official day of the Christmas season, but for more traditionalists, it is its own unique and timeless holiday.  It should be a time when we reflect on all we have, and to be grateful for our provisions and blessings.  But we live in a culture of hurt, brokenness and loneliness, and even with the most gracious of attitudes, can find it difficult to count the positives in our lives when weighed against the negatives.  For those who have lost loved ones though the year, this may be the first holiday without their presence and they may be revisited by the grief they thought had been fully processed.  Some may find themselves alone after failed relationships.  Many will have difficulty preparing enough food or the family due to loss of income or jobs.  The weight we place on the hardships in our lives will often overwhelm the positive in ways that make it challenging to recognize our blessings.

As I grow older I have developed an appreciation for the older hymns we sang in church and the timeless integrity of sound doctrine they contain.  One of those hymns is appropriate for Thanksgiving as it addresses the state of the human condition some of us deal with, but yet gives encouragement that there is always good and hope to be found in every situation.  The hymn is Count Your Blessings and the lyrics follow:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. (Refrain)

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. (Refrain)

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

It’s easy to fall for the mind games our adversary likes to use against us, because unless you are narcissistic you always question your worth.  I know this well.  But if you really want to, you can turn this game into a tennis match where the last volley wins, something like this:

I wish I had more money/I’m grateful I can buy those things I need when I need them.

I wish I owned a home/I’m grateful for shelter, a warm bed and a controlled climate.

I wish I weren’t so heavy/I’m grateful to live where there is plenty of food and I never go to bed hungry.

I wish my car was newer/I’m grateful for transportation to come and go as I please.

I wish I wasn’t in pain all the time/I’m grateful for mobility and agility and that I’m not confined to a wheel chair.

I wish I had a companion/I’m grateful to have known love and that I have good friends who watch out for me.

I’m sure you get the idea here.  None of us have perfect lives, and few of us have the lives we thought we would in our advanced age.  Life is full of detours, road closures and washed out bridges.  When the easy paved road we were on disappears, we need to learn how to four-wheel our way through the rough until we find the road again.  This can only happen with a determination to remain grateful and find blessings among the trials.  If you are reading this blog, then things could always be worse!  There is always hope within despair.  Count your blessings even in the rain.

If you find my writing encouraging and would like to read more, please consider buying my book, My Soul Cries Out, available on Amazon and Kindle.  You will find many very transparent articles about holding fast to hope and faith in the midst of life’s darkest hours.  And if you do buy my book, reviews on Amazon are always appreciated!  Happy Thanksgiving.