The Dark Side of Hearts Day

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December 26th-shelves filled with Christmas products just the day before have been reduced to a single 50% off Clearance aisle.  In their place, the newest assortment of red heart-shaped boxes, stuffed furry animals and oversized cards, the annual commercial tribute to Valentine’s Day. And although given almost two full months to select the perfect gift, most will wait until just days before, some out of true love and others mere obligation. The Valentine’s Day holiday is a thirteen billion dollar annual event (that’s $13,000,000,000.00). More than 180 million cards will be exchanged, 480 million roses and more chocolate than any of us need. Ironically, while it’s the best time for a man to buy that card once a year that says the things he can’t articulate, one study says 85%of these cards are actually purchased by women.

While many joke that the day was created by Hallmark, it’s romantic roots can be traced back to a 13th century poet named Chaucer who in essence wrote that all creation comes together in love and harmony, etc. etc. etc.  Simply stated, it is a dedicated day each year that gives most an opportunity to freely express or reaffirm their love for their significant other, accompanied by many passed down traditions and gestures.  In Europe for instance some still exchange Valentines Day keys that signify an invitation to unlock the heart of their lover. But sadly for just as many, this day only serves as a reminder that the locks to the hearts of their special love have been changed and their keys no longer work.  A day that brings joy to those in love brings severe pain and isolation to those who bear the scars of broken hearts.

Statistics may not prove that suicide rates are higher on Valentine’s Day than on others but many studies support that depression brought on by broken relationships is a leading trigger for suicide attempts. When asked of those who survived such attempts, they responded that they didn’t necessarily want to die, they just simply had no reason to live. I can speak from past experience-there is no greater pain than to love someone with all your heart only to know they no longer love you in return. The feelings of loss, hopelessness and loneliness resulting from a severed relationship are no different than those feelings of mourning the sudden death of a loved one.  All of us, if breathing, have experienced it at least once in our lives.  The brave dare to love again, some more than a few times, but others shy away from the vulnerability necessary to love again for fear of the possibility of yet another broken heart already scarred by past loves and the pain associated with it that can bring even the strongest to their knees and turn their world upside down.

I wish I could offer words of healing or a fix-all solution for a quick recovery for those who feel the sting of rejection while witnessing others exchange their flowers and chocolates on this day of love.  If I could I wouldn’t be writing a blog post but a multi-million copy best-seller.  The pain of rejected love can be found in the earliest recorded writings in existence. It is a timeless tragedy that all will eventually suffer.  Some may bring calamity upon their love due to their own indiscretions-some due to apathy or just being oblivious to symptoms of trouble, and others will simply be innocent victims of a heart gone astray. Whatever the reason, the euphoric feelings that many celebrate on Valentine’s Day are the daggers that re-wound broken hearts haunted by abandonment and rejection and lingering memories of past loves that play over in their minds like an old movie projector with no Off switch.

If there are words of hope to offer, they must be found in Holy scripture.  I know that curling up with your Bible on a lonely night may seem to offer little in the way of comfort or companionship but there are words that can serve as a salve to help ease pain until such time as the heart can begin to recover.  Here are but a few to consider;

Psalm 34:18; The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3; He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 73:26; My flesh and heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

1 Corinthians 13:7; …love endures all things

2 Corinthians 12:9; My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness.

Lamentations 3:22; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.

Til death do us part…”. Apparently some die more than once in their lifetime.

For better of for worse…”. And some must be beyond “worse”.

Time is the universal healer of brokenness and Christ is the accelerator of the healing process. The feelings of loneliness felt by widows, divorcees and others on Valentine’s Day are natural and can’t be avoided without crawling into a hole and coming out when the stores start stocking for Easter. But there is no reason to feel totally unloved or uncared for.  There is another simple verse that reminds us if we will take heed…

cast all your cares on Him for He truly cares for you..

I’m Truly Sorry

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A famous Pop artist once wrote a hit song entitled Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. When offered up in genuine humility and remorse it can be a difficult word to cough up.  When withheld due to pride it can be the cancer that costs us the very things or people we hold most dear.  And if pondered too long it won’t bring the onlyremedy that will heal us.

Speaking purely from a man’s perspective-well, we can be pig headed at times and downright oblivious at others. We are often given way too much credit for being clairvoyant or all knowing.  Sometimes the pain we cause is immediately apparent but sometimes we simply have no clue until it’s too late. And while a sincere apology goes a long way in eventual forgiveness, the damage done is sometimes irreversible.

The best grandpas often times were not the best dads, as was the case with me.  It took years of mistakes and miscues as a father to learn how to be a beloved Papa.  The years spent in error as a dad can not be recaptured.  Grandchildren become the benefactors of a life long learning process full of blunders they never know of. Smart men take full advantage of this second chance and relish in the perceived image that we know is not always fully disclosed.

The best spouses were not born that way. It comes with years of trial and many errors, grace and forgiveness, humility and servanthood and selflessness that few possess, least of all me. The simple words “I’m Sorry” spoken in sincerity are the best remedies for damage control in any committed relationship, as well as a good sense of timing. Great men master this process quickly in their relationships-good men take a little longer but eventually get it right before it’s too late. Foolish men sadly never acquire the skill before differences become irreconcilable, and only after they are left alone with their thoughts do they realize that indeed, they are truly sorry.

The Apostle Paul showed us that even he, the author of the majority of our New Testament, didn’t always get things right.  He openly confessed that he didn’t do the things he knew he should do, and often did the things he knew he shouldn’t, referring to his acts as despicable. Sometimes we are held to such unattainable standards that failure is eminent. In Christ there is grace, patience and forgiveness but in life we are sometimes left sitting in the ashes. The sooner we can grasp the concept of humility and remorse the sooner we can reduce the collateral damage left behind otherwise.

Jesus taught us in His prayer that asking for forgiveness should be a part of every prayer.  The notion that our grace covering eliminates our need to have a humble and contrite spirit when approaching Him is simply bad teaching.  This same principle of humility and self-awareness of our actions will also serve us well in every day life.  You can stand on false principle and withhold your apologies when they are deeply needed the most, or, you can spend the rest of your life apologizing to people who are no longer around to hear.  It’s your choice-choose wisely.

 

Hemorrhoids as Currency-Only in the Bible

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Anyone who has had the privilege, or curse of knowing me for long knows I have somewhat of a twisted sense of humor. I can find funny things sometimes in the most mundane of situations. For example, the New Testament records for us a story of Paul who brings a man back to life after the young man falls from the wall at the place where Paul is preaching-a miracle indeed.  Most will read this story as God using Paul to perform a miracle that gives credibility to Paul’s mission, but not me.  This is how I read the story with my twisted mind. In Acts chapter 20 a young man named Eutychus (Greek, meaning good luck) is sitting on a wall as Paul preaches.  Specifically, scripture says “as Paul went on and on”. If you’ve ever been in a southern tent meeting, you know what “on and on” means. Paul literally preaches the young man to sleep, at which time he falls from the wall and dies, perhaps the origin of our phrase “bored to death”? In any event, Paul sees the situation, lays over him and miraculously brings the young man back to life, and goes on preaching as scripture records until dawn!  I can imagine here the young man thinking to himself, ala Jim Carey, “aren’t I the lucky one (again, his name means good luck)”. Yes I know, a sacrilegious perception at the very least-I just think God has a sense of humor not unlike mine!

As New Testament Christians we tend to grab our Bible and proceed to the Gospels or the Letters in our devotions-I’m guilty too. But the Old Testament is full of nuggets that many of us miss.  Besides being rich in historical recordings that are confirmed in other ancient texts, there is a bevy of humor for us who are sensitive challenged. One of the funnier but never preached on stories of the Old Testament is found in 1 Samuel 5-6.  The Philistines have taken the Ark of the Covenant. We all know how seriously God treated the handling of His Ark. They take it back and set it in the temple of one of their gods, Dagon.  In fact they place the Ark right next to the statue of Dagon, a bold and brazen move. The next morning when their priests arrive and enter the temple they find the statue of Dagon lying face down before the Ark, as in worship. I think that’s funny. Anyway they set the statue of Dagon back on its perch.  The next morning they come in and find the same thing, Dagon lying before the Ark  but this time, its head and hands have been broken off and are laying to the side. God could easily have destroyed the image by fire or crumbled it into hundreds of pieces, but instead He placed him face down before the Ark as a sign of reverence in a playful display.

Because the Philistines were mistreating the sacred Ark that they should not be possession of in the first place, God smites them with a smitey smite!  Bloody water, no; grasshoppers and locusts, no; weeks of darkness, no. God’s punishment of choice, Hemorrhoids! Translated texts use the word tumor because it is less explicit but earlier translations use the word “emerods”, which has been concluded to mean hemorrhoids. “Emerods in their inner places”, as recorded, is much more descriptive to the twisted minds of Biblical scholars. Can the story get more funny, you bet. Consumed by their burning punishment and well before the invention of Preparation H, they appeal to God as to how to be relieved from their suffering.

At this point those with a weak constitution may choose to stop reading as the cure is as painful (and I might add gross) as the affliction.  The remedy-God demanded five gold plated emerods!  Gold was the currency of the day.  Someone had to take five hemorrhoids and cast  them in gold as a sacrifice to God. So I have to ask myself the obvious question that few would ponder, again because that’s just the way I’m wired. Who would be the least fortunate, the person chosen to collect and cast these hemorrhoids in gold, or the unlucky soul who, with no anesthesia had to offer them up?  Say about me what you will-I see that God has a funny and twisted side to Him just like me.  After all, He accepted me as one of His kids so He can’t be all there, right?

Seriously, God is to be reverenced and worshiped for His Deity as we do each week together or in our individual time alone with Him. But it’s ok to laugh at the thought of some of God’s recorded antics as proof of His lighter side. Maybe George Burns or Morgan Freeman’s depictions of God in their respective films Oh God and Bruce Almighty aren’t so far off. Maybe there is a time to worship Him in solemnness and reflection as well as a time to laugh about Him in a celebration of mirth.

Or just maybe the funny side of God can only be revealed to the simple twisted minds of a few like me.

New Year Resolution Disillusions

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Yep, it’s that time again!  It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone already. I’m still tanned from my last visit to the beach-it can’t be almost January! But just as the ghost of Christmas present dries up and blows away at the strike of midnight on Christmas Eve, 2015 will soon be but a memory.  Some will have great memories of the past twelve months while others will still be living through the pain the year brought them. Whatever your story, you will likely be among the countless throngs who sum up the year and take inventory in an attempt to make the New Year better.  And just like last year, you will wonder after another twelve months just when your plans veered off course.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for self-improvement, being a better version of me, and perhaps a bit smaller as well.  We all tend to resolve to accomplish things that will make our lives better.  I would bet that if you compared one hundred random lists of resolutions, the majority would have very similar and common objectives: lose weight, eat better, save more money, pay off bills, quit smoking, drink less, (or for some, more), reduce stress, etc., etc.   The busiest week of any gym or fitness franchise is the first week of January. These are healthy and positive goals and I see nothing wrong with having them, at least on the surface.  But this year I have to ask myself, what is the real value of these goals in respect to the world around me?  Look at the list again, I want to lose weight, I want to eat better, I want to save money, and so forth. In being consistent with my faith and desiring to be a better Christian as well, I have to line up my list of resolutions against a master list that is provided each year in scripture, and one that never changes with time or the calendar.

Christmas is a time that temporarily for most, alters the usual inward perception to an outward one, making us more benevolence minded.  We buy gifts for “angels” we’ll never meet, serve at the local shelter or food bank or maybe even adopt a family for the holiday.  These are grand and caring gestures worthy of our efforts. But for many the charity outfit worn so festively just before Christmas is pressed and put back in the closet for another year the day after. I know as I am guilty and keep a closet full of barely worn charity outfits myself. I’ve always wondered why it is so easy to give of our time and resources for three weeks before December 25th, but so unnatural from December 26th on.  Our focus at New Year tends to change from others to self, resolving to do all I can to make my New Year a better one for me.

The sum of my annual resolutions should be met with but one command, the same command Jesus gave His disciples when He said to love your neighbor, even as I have loved you! Simple yet profound, straight forward but complex. Love each other-support each other-provide for each other-rejoice and mourn with each other.  In a world increasingly bigoted, hateful, intolerant and partisan, how can we possibly achieve a level of love that would ever resemble the same love that Christ shows, the “even as I have loved you” kind of love? What of our human efforts could ever be mistaken for that kind of supernatural, super human love?

On the surface it seems unattainable and unachievable and perhaps for some, an impossible undertaking not worthy of even attempting. While it may be true that our works of righteousness are “as filthy rags” compared to our Savior’s, the precedent has been set to take care of and notice the least of these. The same needs that are presented to us during the holidays exist 365 days of each year.  Hunger doesn’t hibernate until the next Thanksgiving; the homeless don’t retreat to some unseen holding area for eleven months; the need for visitation in nursing homes and jails isn’t silenced at the start of a new year. The only thing that seems to change is me, my perception, my involvement and investment in others.  This year the change I need most is the desire to bring change to others, which consequently will bring about eternal and valuable change in me in the process.  This will be my resolution this year-God help me help someone else just as you would.

One parting thought as I submit this last post of 2015. This year many families, including ours, said goodbyes to loved ones they were not expecting to leave so soon. Death and tragedy is not reserved for the elderly, as we have seen played out once again this year. While an unexpected passing is cause for us to hold our loved ones a little tighter, we should always have the attitude that any day could be their last, or ours in an unpredictable world of disease and tragedy.  As we strive to love each other a little more this year, please don’t forget to love on each other within your earthly family as well, bearing in mind that only God knows the number of our days.  Make each day count, say what needs to be said, don’t be shy or stingy with affection and be foolish enough to be vulnerable with your family, your mates and your closest friends.

Thanks to all who have considered my thoughts worthy to follow this year.  God bless and extend His grace to each of you in 2016 so that we may collectively draw a bit closer in reflecting His love to others.

The Hope That Heals All Christmas Pain

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Its almost time for Christmas, one of the holiest days of the year

The world for a moment stops spinning to send tidings of love and cheer

But for some this day’s a challenge as they try to find some gladness

For each one has a story that for them gives way to sadness

Seems everywhere they cast their glance they’re reminded of the reasons

Why they just can’t find the simple joy of this yearly Holy season

For some a dated ornament, the first Christmas spent together

A love to last the storms of life the two of them would weather

But one storm showed no mercy as it tore the two apart

Leaving nothing good of Christmas and instead, a broken heart

For others there’s and empty chair a loved one used to fill

Though gone, they’re not forgotten and their seat is empty still

They spent their lives united, gave their all to one another

But failing health and extended years claimed one but left the other

Some approach the season just a few weeks unemployed

And find it hard to celebrate being robbed of all their joy

They can’t afford the usual gifts that bring their children laughter

Feeling like they’ve failed again with no prospect of work hereafter

While for some there sits a present wrapped in true anticipation

Of the joy when finally opened at the family’s celebration

But something unexpected, a life so quickly taken

Leaves a family asking questions and the day completely shaken

There’s bitterness and anger as we wrestle with God’s purpose

Trying hard to hide the obvious pain that lies beneath the surface

Why now, why me, what good can come from allowing us these tests

And how do we now reconcile that God still knows what’s best

Yet, in the corner, hardly noticed, a nativity scene displayed

In the center lies the Child of peace, born that Christmas day

His entrance ushered hope and peace for all who would believe

A hope that heals the deepest wounds when to Him we humbly cleave

He understands how hard it is for some to find their cheer

And offers us eternal hope that will last beyond our tears

The cure for all that ails us entered earth that Christmas night

It’s His hope that brings a lasting peace and His love that sets things right

It heals all wounds, fills all voids, brings comfort to ease our pain

And chases tears and sorrows so that love alone remains

We all have things we’d wish to change to make our lives more pleasant

And questions we would pose to God if He stood within our presence

But He knew our pains before our birth and addressed them from above

When He sent His Son to heal all hurts in the ultimate show of love

So we’ll gather on this Christmas day to commemorate His birth

The Christ child come to soothe our pain, the greatest cure on earth

It comforts loss and covers scars if we’ll but humbly kneel

To worship Him who heals our hearts with a peace we each can feel.

 

My Life as a Christmas Tree

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For nineteen years now I’ve been putting up our Christmas tree.  It’s a daunting and physical task and it takes the better part of a day, sometimes two days to complete it. Yet each year it’s a ritual I truly welcome and look forward to for many reasons, but I think this year something occurred to me while putting it up.  I think me and this old tree are a lot alike, I just never saw it before now.  Allow me to elaborate.

When people see our tree for the first time they are moved-it’s a beautiful creation. But being the one who puts it up each year I see the things no one else sees, the flaws and imperfections that are covered by the decorations. Only I know the work it takes to cover or make up for these imperfections so that they will not be noticed by others.  First, some of the limbs are getting old and are difficult to bend back into place. A few of the hinged limbs have fallen completely and are held up by wire I used that no one else can see. The tree has also lost many of its bristles.  Having nearly two thousand tips it’s hard to notice bald spots but when you put the tree up and then take it down you can fill a vacuum bag with fallen bristles.  I can relate.

Ours it a pre-lit tree with  built-in lights. However, through the years many of the lights have faded and some don’t work at all. This year there was a new section void of any light at all and I had to insert a new string of lights to compensate for the dark areas. I replaced the fuses of the bad lights but nothing I did seemed to be enough  to get the old lights working again. Yet with all that is wrong with our tree the base in which the tree stands remains sturdy and secure and the tree is safe from total collapse for now. Again, I think I can relate.

The ornaments used to dress up the tree are a plethora of pieces collected during the nineteen years of the tree’s existence and represent quite the array of diversity and change. The  plain, simple but sentimental ornaments from that very first tree as well as the strands of colored beads are still displayed on the tree now and are among the first things placed on the tree each year. They may not be as appealing or noticeable as some of the newer or more expensive ones, but they will never be replaced because of what they represent and the memories associated with them. Some of the ornaments are imprinted or engraved with certain important dates from years past for our recollection. Some are one-only ornaments, hand-crafted by artisans as unique and irreplaceable. Others are a bit more common but necessary in helping to maintain the theme of the tree. Some of the ornaments we picked out together and we can recall when and where we acquired them, and others I chose myself along the way to enhance the appearance and add to the creation.

Then there are the silk florals, the “never die” roses. There must be close to one hundred of them, and they are the last things to go on the tree. I use them to fill in the bare spots where no ornaments exist. I take a few steps away from the tree so I can get a better perspective.  Any area I deem as void gets one of these roses to help cover the otherwise bare branch. There are some years when it’s hard to find those void areas and there are a few years when the bare spots are quite obvious. The simple insertion of a rose makes the tree much fuller.

The last thing to go on our tree is our angel who we named Hope from the onset. The tree isn’t complete until Hope takes her place on top, surrounded by a host of smaller angels just below her.  And just like the rest of the tree Hope has had to be restored through the years. One year she lost her harp, her music. Another year it was her wings that had fallen off and had to be restored. Although the tree is sturdy and straight, some years it is more difficult to get Hope to remain upright without leaning or falling off all together. Because she sits so high on the eight-foot tree she is the hardest thing for me to reach and maintain-it’s a real stretch for me touch her at times and straighten her, but the tree isn’t complete until Hope is established and secured.

At this point our tree is finished and ready to be enjoyed once again.  There is just one final step in the process. You see, as pretty as the tree is, the true magic doesn’t happen until I flip the switch and the lights come on. It is the light that brings the creation to life. Each ornament, simple or ornate changes under the glow of the lights. All the shadows of the tree are chased away by the light. All the imperfections and flaws that only I know about and work so hard to make up for, a seemingly impossible task at times, are hidden once again as the light reflects on the good parts of the tree to such an extent that the bad areas are barely noticeable. It’s the light that transforms the dark spots into a magical wonder fitting for the cover of a high end catalogue, a wonder that is the envy of many who view it.

So now you can see my life as a tree. Our tree has changed significantly over nineteen years.  It’s not the same tree it started out as, though much of what made the first tree so special remains on it today. And it’s likely not the same tree it will be years from now as we continue to add things to it, but it’s our tree, full of memories, imperfections and light. Just like the little tree in Charlie Brown’s Christmas, it may not seem like much at first, but with a blanket of love and some well placed lights it has become a holiday legend.  My life, our tree.  I think I’ll keep it a little longer.

 

Blessed Art Thou Among….Men?

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Even if you were not raised Catholic you are most likely aware of the Hail Mary prayer, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women…” The Christmas story centers largely around Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of Jesus, as it should. The virgin birth of our savior is a key element of our faith and belief. But little attention is given to Joseph the man charged with being the earthly father and protector of young Jesus.  The New Testament doesn’t mention Joseph again after Jesus debuts in the temple as a young boy.  The Western church gives him little attention while the Catholic and Orthodox churches venerated him as a Saint. Joseph holds a very unique place in the story of the Incarnate birth, one that is rarely mentioned or considered, a privilege that is hard to fathom.

The Gospels record that Joseph was commissioned by an angel to take charge of young Mary.  The two of them make their journey to Bethlehem while Mary is in her last stages of pregnancy.  On that night in the holding area for livestock Mary gives birth to Jesus. There is no recording of anyone being present with her except Joseph.  So what special privilege does Joseph hold that no other human can boast?  Having witnessed the birth of all my sons and my granddaughter and understanding the birthing process, there can only be one conclusion.  As he is the only one present to assist Mary with her birth, it is Joseph who is the first to behold baby Jesus as He enters into our globe, and it is Joseph who is the first to touch and hold our incarnate savior before he presents Him to Mary. Wow! Scripture records that the angel told Mary she was highly favored, but that same favor must have surely rested upon Joseph as well as his was the first human encounter with the eternal lamb.

Each Christmas I try to imagine the story from the perspective of some of the other characters mentioned in scripture.  However, I’m not sure how one could adequately capture the emotions of the realization through the Holy Spirit that you are holding in your hands your own creator and creator of the universe.  Did Joseph swell up with joy, did he cringe at the thought of being God’s earthy protector? Did he have a clue to the mission and divine plan set into place by this birth?  One can only speculate.

Little else is recorded about Joseph in scripture.  We know that he is not present at the wedding in Canaan. Nor is he present at the crucifixion.  Had he been alive it would have been his responsibility to take custody of the body of Christ and arrange the burial, but that wasn’t the case.  The fifth century apocryphal biography of Joseph gives us some interesting clues as to the life of Joseph that answers questions the story poses. The biography lists the birth of Joseph as being 90 B.C. and his death about 18 A.D. These dates throw a curve into our western perception of a young couple in Bethlehem as often depicted in our nativities, but largely supports what the absence of scripture may suggest. These dates would make Joseph ninety years old when betrothed to Mary, and he would have died at the age of well over one hundred years, before Jesus enters into His ministry. The biography records Joseph as being a widow with children, which would account for the step siblings of Jesus. It is not recorded that Joseph and Mary had any children. This too is important in the theology that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Tradition has it that Joseph died near or in the arms of Jesus and Mary, and in the ministry of heaven’s angels.

Whatever conclusion your personal research may lead you to, one can’t deny the unique privilege Joseph holds in the  Christmas story. To find favor in the sight of God, to be charged with the earthly paternity of God’s Son, to be the first human eyes to behold Jesus, the first rough but blessed hands to touch and hold Him-who among us can attain such favor! There is every good reason for Joseph to be venerated as a Saint for his role in this blessed tradition we call Christmas.

He Stepped Into Our Globe

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The young woman stared intently at the scene in the globe. Ravished by the scars of recent events in her life and desperate for some solace and relief, she found comfort in the simplicity and safety of the images depicted and encapsulated within the safety of the globe.  As she rotated the globe she watched as the winter scene unfolded. The homes were all lit up and looked warm and inviting, their chimneys showing evidence of logs on the fire.  She could almost smell the aroma escaping their kitchens as they prepared their holiday meals.  The children were playing outside in the snow in a safe and protected environment. The church doors were open and she could imagine hearing the hymns as the old organ bellowed out sweet melodies of traditional seasonal music. There was no traffic, no rush, no sirens-just a fresh falling snow that covered the village in a security blanket of white. Everything she held as ideal was captured in the globe she held in her hands, and just for a moment she longed for the ability to step into the world she was viewing and find refuge within the confines of this artificial creation.

I would imagine we have all done this at least once-perhaps like this young woman, it was a snow globe that captured our attention, or maybe a peaceful Thomas Kincade painting or even a man-made Hollywood setting depicted in a favorite Christmas movie.  The thought of stepping out of our world into a different one is not a concept foreign to many of us.  We long to escape the burdens and cares of a crime riddled, hateful, unloving planet in favor of a peaceful euphoric existence, even if within the limited dimensions of a painting or a plastic figurine within a snow globe.

Christmas is upon us, a time of joy, nostalgia and charity. Yet each year so many get caught up in the hustle and busyness of the holiday that we forget that it is for believers, a Holy day. It is best signified with the limited realization that 2000 or so years ago, God the Son, held His creation, his Earth globe if you will, in His hands.  However it wasn’t a Kincade scene He was viewing but rather one of brokenness, of sin and despair, in need of healing and reconciliation through means only He could deliver. It wasn’t a man-made world He beheld-He was the creator, but the world had turned away from Him and all the simplicity, the tranquility, the beauty He originally intended. The globe He held in His hands was neither peaceful nor inviting.

So, He did what only He could do-He stepped out of His heavenly kingdom and entered the globe He created. He entered not through some easy means but through the painful delivery of human birth that first Christmas. It was vital to the plan that He become the very flesh He had created and experience the frailty of humanity in every way. John 1:1 says that the Word became human and moved into His globe (my paraphrase) and we witnessed His beauty and unique glory.  Romans 8:3 explains it this way:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did. By sending His own Son in the form of humanity, He condemned sin by being incarnate (flesh).

There was nothing picturesque about His mission. We celebrate and depict a peaceful entry with shepherds, livestock and a star, and I’m quite certain the entire earth stopped spinning at the moment of His birth, but the objective was clear and anything but tranquil. He entered His globe that first Christmas morning on a path that would lead to Easter-the lamb that was born would be the eternal lamb to be slain so that through grace and forgiveness we could be reconciled to our original relationship with Him.

The songs, the spirit, the love and if you will, the magic of Christmas, comes alive each year in a very supernatural way to the believer who takes the time to ponder the great mystery of the incarnation of God to His people, His creation, His globe. So the next time you hold one in your hand and imagine what it would be like to insert yourself as a figure in the glass dome, remember God already did, and we call it Christmas.

Jesus Was a Child Refugee

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Matthew 2 records for us the story of how Joseph was instructed to take his wife and the child Jesus and flee to Egypt because their lives were in danger. Jesus was a child refugee.

We are in the midst of a horrifying dilemma as we witness the tragedy of families being forced from their homelands and having no place to go and no place to welcome them. Fresh off the recent attacks in Paris our first instinct is the safety and welfare of our own families.  Choosing to err on the side of preservation, Congress is being urged to close all borders and Governors are following suit, turning away families literally in mid air before they  even land. Even Franklin Graham, son of the famed Rev. Billy Graham and founder of Samaritans Purse, a charity that caters to homeless and the hungry, put out a statement that we must close our borders to anyone who may be Muslim for our own protection. But is this the proper Christian response? The answer to this polarizing question lies within the irrefutable Scriptures, and the answer will not be a popular one.

The children of Israel were refugees. They were led out of bondage, captivity, torture and many of the same circumstances that modern refugees face. While God made their way of escape, He reminded them several times that they should welcome strangers and foreigners as they too were once escapees from captivity and persecution. Exodus 22:21 reads “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner for you too were foreigners in Egypt”.  Deuteronomy 10:19 takes it one step further, saying “love those who are foreigners”. There are at least a dozen more Old Testament verses calling on the benevolence and welcoming of foreigners and strangers.

I get it-I’ve read the arguments. “We don’t take care of our own, why should we bring in foreigners?” We have a homeless crisis of our own to contend with. There are thousands of veterans, teens and children living on the streets of our  country.  But they have always been there, and yet suddenly when faced with a potential threat, they become the face of our stand against further hospitality toward a desperate and hopeless people as if suddenly their plight has a useful purpose. Our historic and current treatment of our own under privileged population can not be used as an intelligent argument to refuse aid to families who have nothing but the clothes they are wearing, just because there may be an evil person among the thousands of helpless families, or because we have failed as a nation to provide for those we encounter every day. Two wrongs, especially in this case, certainly do not make it right.

Another argument I’ve read is that they should all just go back to where they came from.

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This is where they came from. This is why they flee. This is why they overload a refugee boat resulting in the drowning deaths of their own children.  We all recall the horrendous and heartbreaking image of the three year old little boy’s lifeless body washed up onto the shore. And yet I know it’s still hard to somehow reconcile.  What would Jesus have us to do?  Well, He actually told us, and made it pretty clear.

In a positive affirmation, Jesus placed a child on His lap and said that anyone who welcomed one of them in His name not only welcomed Him but “the One Who sent Me“. In another passage He reminds us that rue religion is taking care of widows and children. There is no qualifying criteria for whose widows or children. And in Matthew there is a much more damning story of the sheep and goats. You know the story.  He addresses those on His left when He says that whoever didn’t feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty or clothes to the naked, or who didn’t visit the prisoners or welcome the stranger, didn’t do these things for Him as well.  Again, try as I might, I can find no qualifying criteria for strangers. Shall we go on?

Jesus also exhorted us in Matthew 5 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Of course that doesn’t mean that if someone breaks into your home or threatens your family that you should join hands and say “let us pray”. What it does mean is that we are called to love supernaturally, above the expected or explainable conditions, just as Christ did. He said in this way the world would see that we are different. That is perhaps the most difficult task of the Christian experience, especially when faced with uncertain outcome. We can’t find this capacity for love except through Christ and not of ourselves.

There is one other facet to this whole refugee situation that no one has mentioned but that has to be considered by the followers of Christ. We tend to be a patriotic people, proud of our heritage, our ethnicity and our geographical borders. We proudly proclaim our status as Hoosiers or Buckeyes or Americans, etc., which is all fine and well, to a point. However, as believers, we are reminded, in scripture, that we are not citizens of this earth, rather our citizenship is a heavenly one. Christians are not defined by the man-made borders in which they live. One of my favorite classic Christian songs was one by Petra, entitled Not of This World. One stanza says “we are pilgrims in a strange land-we are so far from our homeland-with each passing day it seems so clear, this world will never want us here-we’re not welcomed in this world below-we are foreigners who don’t belong”. Nothing could be more true for the believer. We can’t in the faith claim allegiance or ownership of a bordered land that our souls don’t claim. It is against our core beliefs to do so.

Illegal immigration may be a deciding factor in the upcoming Presidential election. We absolutely have a problem with people crossing the border for more opportunity. But we must be clear in differentiating those looking for economic advantage and those seeking survival. We also must be careful not to add our own qualifiers to Holy Scripture as justification to refuse aid to those who are desperate and hopeless without it. This issue may be a defining moment for the modern church, more so than any previous issue. I have tried to imagine the hopelessness of being a father with a wife and young children, minding my own business, working hard to support my family, and suddenly finding that my home, my business and all my belongings were suddenly destroyed. Now I am forced to flee because the war and violence poses a dangerous and potentially lethal threat to my wife and children. We flee to the nearest country for harbor but are soon deported and ultimately turned away because there is no room or provisions available, much like the night of our Savior’s birth. I have no funds, no food, no shelter and no foreseeable relief. Through no fault of my own I and my family are now unwanted visitors to a cruel world. I’m quite sure that my imagination of their plight pales in comparison to the harsh reality. The very thing that we hold dear, self-preservation is ironically the very same reason they are refugees.

The inscription on the statue of Liberty reads “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free-send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. ”

Jesus says “come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened down and I will give you rest.” Are we the hands and feet of Christ or just a safe meme on social media for a Like and an Amen?

There is certainly no easy answer to this crisis, but for believers in Christ, there is only one right one. Father, soften our hearts and give wisdom to our leaders and let us not be found guilty of refusing the least of these when asked how we responded to your children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUTRAGEOUS OUTRAGE – The Flap over Frap

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The controversy du jour of the day for religious zealots everywhere is a plain red cup void of any traditional holiday graphics save its red color. Social media ironically has been lit up like a Christmas tree with comments and posts over the absence of, said Christmas tree, snowflake, angel or other Pavlov-esque seasonal stimulators. Zealots everywhere have called for, or fallen for the command to either boycott this coffee establishment, or give a false name like Merry Christmas when ordering just so employees are forced to comply with our demand of a cheery holiday greeting. To that I reply with a resounding Bah Humbug!

The things that get some Christians’ panties knotted up continues to baffle me. Real, everyday situations that scream for our help and attention barely get a glance, but we stick our chests out like a Thanksgiving Butterball when it comes to a $5.00 cup of Frappuccino that fails to inspire us to have a Merry Christmas. This is nothing new. We’ll step over the legs of a homeless person or claim to be cashless when confronted by a vagrant wanting change for a dinner,  but we can become indignant over conceived evils of corporate America and pick up our crosses and blare out our off-key rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers as a sign of our unashamed allegiance to the cause.

I fully support taking a stand on legitimate principles based on personal convictions. Right or wrong we are given the freedom to protest and boycott at will.  What I question is our consistency to do so across the board, opposed to our selective preferences or trending evils, preferring to isolate others instead of remaining open to them in an attempt to be Christ whenever and wherever we can.  Out of curiosity I did some quick research to see just who and why Christians are boycotting these days.  The following are the current top 10;

  1. Starbucks, for lack of holiday spirit and views on serving everyone including the LGBT community.
  2. Pepsi for allegedly supporting the gay agenda.
  3. UPS for stopping their funding of Boy Scouts who initially disqualified gay scout leaders.
  4. Oreo, yes Oreo Cookies for support of same gay agenda.
  5. The Muppets for reasons above.  I always wondered about Beaker and the 2 old men.
  6. JC Penny for offering fashions to the gay community.  (See a pattern yet?)
  7. Nike for shoes that let you be light on your feet, like Mikee
  8. Home Depot for selling to the gay community.  Tool guy from Village people was consequently fired.
  9. General Mills because gay people have to eat too.
  10. Girl Scout Cookies-the only one in the top 10 not related to the LGBT agenda. They just aren’t godly enough.

If we as a faith-based community could demand that every corporation doing business in America do so based on our Christian values, there would be no need for us to be the light and salt of the earth.  Jesus said it Himself-it’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. We are exhorted to let our light shine before men and bring glory to Christ.  We can’t do that if we refuse to enter into places that are dark to the Gospel. Our views on ministry and evangelism are terribly skewed. However, in keeping with the current boycott trends based on our perception of supporting sinful lifestyles, I would like to propose that we add the following companies to our boycott list for their sins:

  1. Holiday Inn and all hotel chains-a hot bed (pun intended) for fornication and adulterous acts.
  2. If JC Penny, then Walmart, Target, Macys, Sears and any retail outlet that sells paisley.
  3. Any restaurant or club that sell alcoholic beverages because too much liquor makes you drunk.
  4. Any dance hall or club because dancing leads to touching-dancing is the devil.
  5. Any all-you-can-eat-buffet because the saints are getting gluttonous. Glutton is a sin.
  6. Churches-yes, they are full of hypocrites and sinners! Boycott them all.

How ridiculous can we be and how foolish we must look to a world we should be reaching out to as Christ would if He were still here in body. It is fine to be viewed as foolish because of the Gospel, but it is questionable to be viewed as fools because of misdirected indignation over things as silly as a red cup.  So here is my proposal and challenge to all my blog followers who read this.  If you really want to be in the Christmas spirit, buy a homeless person a hot cup of that coffee in a red cup.  Better still, get them a gift card for several and wish them a Merry Christmas. Ship your holiday packages with UPS and slap a Merry Christmas sticker on it somewhere. Buy a case of Oreos and deliver it to the local orphanage with a big red bow on it-better yet, wait until the red holiday Oreos come out. Raid your local JC Penny store for their clearance on scarfs and gloves and hand them out to the local homeless tent cities. Find that little boy whose parents are struggling and buy him a pair of Nikes for his parents to wrap for Christmas. Go to your local grocer who sells General Mills and get some Gift Cards for families who may not have a decent Christmas dinner this year.  I’d imagine they would gladly accept General Mills food without protest.

We can make a real difference, and not by engaging in social facades of overly righteous appearances.  Jesus had a term for that too-white washed tombs, pretty on he outside but full of dead bones on the inside. If you agree, share this with your social friends.  If not, I’ll still love you and drink to your health, with my red cup.

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.

Time-Our Most Precious Commodity

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The text read “So how would you feel about going to Indy the weekend of Oct. 17th?”. It came from my youngest son. The timing wasn’t good.  I had just returned from a trip to Indy two weeks prior and was preparing for a business trip to Dallas. “I have two tix to Notre Dame USC in South Bend”. “I’ll buy your plane ticket”. It was clear that my son was anxious for me to spend the weekend with him and take in a great game.  How could I say no to that?  To say it was a great weekend would be the grandest of understatements!  We had the best time visiting friends and family, catching the game and being on the road, just the two of us.  Had I not made time for this weekend, I would have regretted it for years to come.

We spoke about jobs, women, future plans, tattoos and kicked back a beverage or three.  It was a reminder to me of what great sons I have, not that I had much to do with it. To pass myself off as the model father would be dishonest. While I took advantage of this opportunity to spend time with my son, there were too many times that I didn’t. We have made some great memories along the way-I just wonder how many memories were left unmade because I didn’t  make time. How many such moments did I not experience because I was too busy. It’s shameful and regrettable. And sadly, once the moments have passed, they can’t be recaptured.

We live in a world that spins as a hectic pace. Whether you are chasing a career, remodeling a house or even a fixture at your local church, our time gets divided by the things we choose to prioritize. I can’t make that event because it’s my poker night, or I will miss your birthday party because I’m singing at church. Don’t misunderstand me-there are things in each of our lives that we do as eternal investments, but in doing so many times we miss the chance to invest in the here and now-our adult children ever maturing or our grandchildren who remind us, if we pay attention, of just how precious and fleeting time is whether we are in the moment or not. Time passes at the same pace for all of us but some are much better at recognizing Kodak opportunities.  None of us are guaranteed a certain quota of time-it’s as if we are in a constant game of musical chairs, wondering when it’s our time for the music to stop and to find ourselves the odd man out for additional time, left to face eternity with no more opportunities to create memories for those we leave behind.

As I write this I just turned fifty-four years old.  As I look back on my life so far, the best memories I have are not of the things I had, the cars I drove or the salaries I made. The best times were when I was with people I loved just doing life together-Christmases, vacations, walks on the beach, making snow women with the kids on the block, playing monster at the playground with the grandkids-riding roller coasters with the boys-the things that will keep me company when I am old and alone. I don’t want any more regrets of time wasted, of memories lost at the expense of something so temporal to even remember. But how many of us have made the same mistakes in the name of chasing the dream. That, sadly, I have been very good at.

In the New Testament Jesus reminds us how foolish it is to say tomorrow we are going here or there and make this amount of profit, etc, when in fact we don’t have any assurance that we will be around in the near future.  It is certainly not in error to plan for your future or make plans for events or activities, but to do so in arrogance as if we have all the time in the world and not taking advantage of today is a mistake Christ didn’t want us to make. As always, His words are true for us on numerous levels if we will but listen.

This week is the twentieth year anniversary of the film back to the Future about time travel.  While the movie was entertaining, it certainly was far from realty.  What we wouldn’t give to go back in time and make better decisions, eliminate events that weren’t so important after all and replace them with those we didn’t take advantage of. But time has only one direction, forward. We can make time that that is still before us but none of us can substitute for the time that has already passed. The weekend I spent with my son will be one I’ll always remember and will serve to further remind me that whether taking in a road trip for football, or spending the afternoon on the golf course or sipping a beer at a NASCAR race, time spent with my kids is never wasted. The same may be said of siblings, spouses and close friends. When we leave this earth it won’t be the toys we acquired, the titles we held or the degrees we earned that will be remembered, it will be the moments, the toasts, the laughs and a few tears.  These are the real things that make up life. These are the things I want to spend the balance of my time pursuing. A plaque on the wall is nice; a Notre Dame ticket stub or a golf score card is priceless.

Congress Passes Law Making it More Difficult to Own … Hate

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I am not one to make light of others’ tragedy. The funerals held this week and the pain being felt by the families of the victims of yet another mass murder in Oregon is real and heartbreaking. We have an epidemic of violence on our hands and it is being played out every day in our cities and our communities.  Many of us have been touched by the senseless loss of life at the hands of an irrational person.  These homicides all have one thing in common.

A study released in 2013 revealed the methods of homicide employed in the United States.  You may or may not be surprised at the various methods used to maliciously take someone’s life.

     *Handguns; 5,782 (75% by gang activity with guns acquired illegally)

     *Knives; 1,490

     *Misc. non-classified: 850

     *Hands, feet, body; 687

     *Blunt objects (Clubs, bats, hammers, etc); 428

     *Shotguns: 308

     *Rifles; 285

     *Strangulation; 95

     *Arson; 94

     *Poisoning by drugs; 64

     *Drowning; 4

Whenever a life is lost it is a tragedy.  Our attention is systematically and intentionally drawn to multiple homicides while in any given large city double figure homicide totals are a daily occurrence that garners no national or social media but are tragic to the victims families just the same. We do have  control problem in America, as the numbers above indicate, but it isn’t necessarily the problem that is being fed to us by those who would politicize a tragedy to advance a social agenda. The one common denominator in the homicides listed above is not a gun or a particular method.  The problem we have in America is uncontrolled HATE.

Hate is an uncontrollable cancer that has been the demise of literal millions or people throughout history. Entire races of people have been decimated by those whose fear of them nurtured a seed of hatred that grew into a rage of arrogance and superiority over another.  While we think this lends itself more to countries or ethnicities, just think about your last drive on a busy interstate or that rude waiter at the restaurant.  Our nature is one of self-importance and priority.  If we are insulted, inconvenienced, cut off on the road or cheated on, we pull the victim hate card from our inside pocket and proceed to have our justice and our entitled satisfaction.  We hate what we don’t accept, understand or identify with.  We hate gays, blacks, whites, liberals, atheists, Christians, Baptists, Muslims, short people, tall people, heavy people, gingers, and on and on and on.  Tragically some hate themselves and take out that hatred on unsuspecting innocent victims.

Mental illness and drug abuse has been cited as a possible cause of recent multiple homicides.  One wouldn’t have to make much of a stretch to suggest that anyone capable of taking a life must have a screw or two loose. But this argument is a diversion of the real underlying problem.  Many have said that alcohol is the ultimate truth serum.  When one has a drink too many, the real person kept private in sobriety is revealed for the world to see.  Alcohol abuse serves to reveal the monster lurking inside.  If so then the same should be said of drug abuse and mental illness, as being mere indicators of the core person that is no longer able to control the beast.  It is not the method of homicide that should be further legislated. What should be scrutinized is society’s raging hate, how we got to this point and what, if anything can be done to recognize it and control it to avert further tragedies.

1 John 3:15 says this about hate:” Anyone who hates their brother or sister is really a murderer at heart.  And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.”

I’m no authority on the human condition. I am an authority on my response mechanisms and how the natural fleshly part of me can be consumed with intolerance for others at times. Even the Apostle Paul acknowledged the monster he had to chain daily.  Those who have tasted of God’s grace and have been made new creations stand a fighting chance and controlling the hate that leads to death.  If you can demonstrate to me with any credibility that tougher laws would control hate, I’ll be your biggest supporter. Show me where to vote to outlaw hatred and make it more difficult to obtain-I’ll be all over it. Assuming that won’t ever happen, resolve to love your enemies and pray for those who spitefully use you and don’t go to bed with hatred in your heart.  Don’t be caught up in numbers, remembering that the Good Shepherd left the 99 to search for the one, signifying that every life matters, even if only taken one at a time outside of the spotlight and in the dark alleys of our own neighborhoods.

“JUDGE NOT”-the New Age Anthem

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Some of my posts tend to get me in hot water-other times I just find the hot water and jump right in. One of the most used, most abused, most misunderstood and misquoted scriptures in all of the Bible are the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 7, “Judge not that ye be not judged”.  This verse has been used to justify every lifestyle, every bad choice, every rebellious act and every moral stance, scriptural or not. That said it is often used selectively as most of us judge all the time without realizing it.  How?  Let me count the ways:

I judge thee by where ye live.

I judge thee by the brand of shoes ye wear or whether ye prefer Nike or Adidas.

I judge thee by the length of ye hair (or so I’m told).

I judge ye by how ye votest and who ye support.

I judge ye by where ye worship or which denomination ye claim or the volume and style of ye worship music.

I judge thee because ye judge others.

I judge ye by the color of ye chariot, the color of ye suit, the color of ye spouse and sadly, the color of ye skin.

We are and always have been a very judgmental people. Right or wrong, justified or not, we all do it.  But when we are the recipients of what we deem to be critical judgment, we become Bible scholars and quote Matthew 7 in our defense.  How silly we are (oh, that was judgmental).

Whenever I want more clarity on a passage for better understanding I refer to the Masters, one being Matthew Henry.  He adds this important caveat to this misused verse: “Some cautions about reproving. Because we must not judge others, which is a great sin, it does not therefore follow that we must NOT reprove others, which is a great duty, and may be a means of ‘saving a soul from death’; however, it will be a means of saving OUR souls from sharing in their guilt”.  WOW, what an implication!  He is saying here that if we are in a position in our own lives to offer reproof but fail to do so, we may share in the guilt of the person whose ways are in error!  If you don’t agree, blame the old guy.

Later on in this same passage Jesus goes on to say why point out the splinter in someone else’s eye when you have a log lodged in your own.  Of course He is correct in saying that we must be sure to have our own house clean.  But contrary to scriptural surgeons who cut and paste, this is not where Jesus left it.  CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING! He went on to say that we should first remove the log from our own eye so that we can see better when, and here it is-we remove the splinter from someone else’s eye!  And that is where most people fall asleep during the sermon.  Jesus didn’t say for us not to reprove, He said be sure we have no skeletons in our closet first, then we can approve. What a difference than the message being posted on social media.

John 7:24 tells us to “judge with a righteous judgment”.  Some judge from a self-righteous holier-than-thou approach.  In Jesus day these would have been the Scribes and Pharisees. Their motive is condemnation, not restoration. In Galatians 6 we are told that if we see one of our siblings in sin, we (who have clean houses and clear eyes) are to approach and restore them in a spirit of love and mercy with gentleness, understanding that tomorrow it may be our turn to be restored.  Again, these passages do not condemn judging or reproof, they simply lay out the conditions by which we are worthy to offer such reproof.  No where in scripture will you find the notion that we are not to reprove those who are in error of Holy scripture. We are instead to offer such judgment recalling all that we ourselves have and will continue to be forgiven of in our own lives.

Personally, I feel unfit most days to offer anyone any sort of reproof unsolicited.  There are those much more worthy of this responsibility than I. I have forests of my own in my eyes to deal with and more than a few petrified trees.  That said, the concept of the Bible advocating a universal Judge-me-not message is just plain, well, unbiblical.  I don’t want to share in the guilt of another or be held partly accountable for their spiritual demise. Jesus, the very one whose words are so misconstrued, gave us the perfect example of judging, reproof and restoration in yet another story that is often misrepresented.  The woman brought before him accused of adultery was spared her life when Jesus said that those without sin could throw the first stone.  They all left to have personal timber-ectomies.  BUT, Jesus did not give the woman a free pass, but rather He told her “I don’t condemn you. Now this life you are living, STOP IT-go and stop sinning”, another part that people miss during their Sunday nap.

I’m grateful that I’m not the judge and jury.  I don’t want to be.  But, as I have briefly laid out according to contextual scripture, we not only can judge, we are compelled in love and gentleness to do just that.

 

A Response to the Papal Visit

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass on the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 19. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo) (May 20, 2013) See POPE-PENTECOST May 20, 2013.

This week Pope Francis, the recognized leader of the Catholic church made his first visit to the U.S. Pope Francis is extremely popular, not only among the Catholic church but with many non-Catholics as well.  His outward demeanor, his refusal to hide behind the peaceful sanitary confines of the Vatican in favor of mingling with his flock and dirtying his hand in service have not gone unnoticed.  He is truly a peoples’ Pope.

The overwhelming crowds and cheers along his parade route and the pomp of his arrival yesterday is not too surprising.  What is surprising, however are those who not only oppose his visit and his views, but who do so with disdain and a classless disrespect for the position.  Just today on popular social media sites he has been called a moron, a dope, a tree-hugger and other unmentionable labels by those who have no fear or reverence for the Church or its leaders. The protestors and hate mongers have already made their presence known and this is only the first full day of the Pope’s visit.

I am not a Catholic but I attended a Catholic High School and I appreciate the history of the Catholic Church and understand somewhat its long held Christian views on many of the social issues that have polarized the Church. I don’t have to be in agreement with every stance held by the Catholic Church any more than I agree with all the various Protestant beliefs of my current practice. That said, the Catholic church, perhaps more so than the Protestant counterpart, has held firm and in line with the Biblical views on the sanctity of marriage, the protection of the unborn and the benevolence of the under privileged that society chooses to overlook. Pope Francis favors responsible and reasonable capitalism as a means to further provide for the “least of these”. To many he seems to be saying and doing all the right things.  This fact alone has brought out the end-timers in great numbers.

Throughout modern history there have been those who are sure who the anti-Christ will be, where he will come from and how we will recognize him.  Various apocalyptic movies have portrayed the anti-Christ coming from the Vatican.  You don’t have to search past the first google page to find articles claiming the possibility of this Pope being the anti-Christ.  While I am not ashamed to admit I don’t know everything, I find it both laughable and sad that a man who is doing everything according to scripture, both Catholic and Protestant scripture, and consequently being hailed by the hundreds of millions he represents as the genuine article, is being labeled an anti-Christ because of his resulting popularity. Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama and Taylor Swift EACH have over 60 MILLION followers on Twitter.  Should we be looking at them as possible anti-Christs because of their popularity? Is there any credibility in the criteria being used to prop up the Pope as being Anti-Christian? I would argue that not only is that answer a resounding No but Pope Francis seems to be the embodiment of what a Christ follower should look like.  If you read scripture closely, you will see that everywhere Jesus went crowds followed.

Another argument touted by many non-Catholics is that no one man should be given so much attention or held in such a high esteem.  This would be true if one were propping himself up as a god to be worshipped and followed.  We are to have no gods but God.  However, there is a story in the book of Acts that gets little attention.  It involves the Apostle Peter, viewed by most as the first head of the Church.

“More and more people believed and were brought to the Lord-crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles work, sick people were brought into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.” …Acts Chapter 5

There is a lot of misunderstanding between the Catholic, the Orthodox and the Protestant churches, and sadly a lot of exclusivity. We don’t accept iconology so it must be wrong.  We don’t get incense or confession so it must be inaccurate.  We don’t accept free worship and non-liturgical approaches so they too must not be correct. I wish it weren’t so. I’ve looked and looked for geographical, denominational and liturgical parameters in scripture but to date, I have found none. What I have found is that God so loved all the world, He gave up His Son.  All who accept, believe, emulate and worship Him are called children of God.  I find that true religion consists of taking care of orphans, widows, homeless and the less fortunate without boundaries or qualifications. Any man that shows me how to do this has my respect as a religious leader, be they a Pope, an Orthodox priest, a monk, a nameless face working skid row, a missionary to a third world country or even (choke) a political leader. When we stand before the throne of Christ there will be no titles, no rankings, no vestments and no exclusive recognition.  We will be on our faces before the one true and forever leader of the Church. Until that day comes we have been given the Pope Francis’s and the Billy Grahams to emulate as leaders.  If we are called through Holy Scripture to uphold, pray for and respect those in public office, how much more should we show the same respect for our religious and spiritual leaders, even if outside of our faith approach or practice.  God bless Pope Francis and all like him who carry the banner of Christ.

Should We Really Expect to Reverse America’s Decline?

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Birth pains-women will understand this, men, not so much.  Birth pains are the physical sign that the time is near for a woman to bear a child and that the wheels in motion for this event can not be stopped or reversed.  Jesus refers to the signs of the end times in Matthew 24 as the beginning of birth pains. This post is based on that analogy and may not rest well with many.

It would be intellectually dishonest from a spiritual perspective to deny that our great nation, the United States of America, has been on a great decline for many years now. We can still love her and prefer her over other countries, cheer for her at International events and proudly display her colors as patriots on holidays while relishing her freedoms. But we can’t deny the moral and spiritual decay she is suffering. That decay is like a spreading cancer slowly eating away at those elements which have always made America a strong and healthy nation.  As with most cancer the treatment, or response, is often worse than the disease until it becomes a matter of waiting for the inevitable.  Sounds hopeless, I know.

As I read the story this week of a beloved Pastor and University Professor who got caught up in the Ashley Madison profile leaks who decided to take his own life, it hit me just how far we have fallen.  Don’t get me totally wrong-there are saints preserving the Gospel, saints feeding the hungry, rescuing the enslaved, taking mission trips to help the helpless-all attributes of a healthy church.  Our Lord though His Spirit continues to use His people to do His work to help those with sincere and hungry hearts and real needs.  But when you step back to view the big picture, the lines are becoming blurred and the colors once brilliant are fading.

There is no better time than at election time that one can hear how bad America is, though campaign speeches should never serve as a true State of the Union gauge. In any debate we will learn that our defenses are down, our economy is bankrupt, our schools are behind internationally and we are heading to Hell in a hand basket.  Our natural and gut reaction is to climb onboard the bandwagon of the candidate we are sure is going to turn America around again and fix all our ills. And if he or she is evangelical, that’s even better.  And while we should always have hope and be proactive in making the world around us a better place, can we honestly in view of New Testament prophesy concerning the signs of the end times, expect for a sudden and miraculous reversal when all indications are that the birth pains have begun?

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy he lays out for us some signs of the last days.

“There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (Kingdom entitlement?), lovers of money (prosperity doctrine?) boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy(lacking spiritual discipline?), without love(prayer with no works?), unforgiving, slanderous(social media gossips?), without self-control (abusive priests?), brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than God(Congress?), having a form of godliness but denying its power, swayed by evil desires, always learning but never grasping the truth.”

I’m sure you would agree that in reviewing the list above we can see all these characteristics in our society today, and sadly even in the Church. We are told in the NT that God removes His spirit from such people and lets sin run its course.  The traits mentioned above are running their course.  Granted, there will always be individual stories of rescue by grace and God’s spirit will continue to be worked out in the lives of those who seek in earnest so that “none may perish”. But again, in light of the big picture view the fig leaves are falling and the signs are apparent.

A day closer to the return of Christ can be nothing short of Good News for the believer.  We should be able to with hope and confidence view the events around us and look up with eager anticipation knowing that however many days, weeks, months, years or decades, we are getting closer to that day. That is not to say we should become oblivious to the world around us or throw our hands up in surrender opposed to being active and making a difference when and where we can.  God defines true religion as loving Him, loving our neighbor, and taking care of the less fortunate.  There things carry on regardless of the surrounding circumstances.  Love good, hate evil, love everybody.  All Souls Matter! But in doing so we must be cognizant that birth pains don’t stop and that the process the pains represent is in full motion. We may never again see the America we love and remember.  We are certainly in a post-Christian America and I don’t see us going back. Scripture spells out what lies ahead for us.  There will be suffering, persecution, a falling away from the Church, false teachers and weak followers getting their ears tickled each week. But to those who see and understand the grand plan and correlate these times to the script left for us to follow, we will become less geographically oriented and more Kingdom oriented as we await the return of Christ in the midst of falling fig leaves as Summer comes to an end. .

 

Applied Christianty-Do We Really Get It?

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Upon our recent trip to Southern California we had the privilege of spending some time with one of our adopted kids-in-Christ. She and her peers from Vanguard University had gone on a mission to the Philippines earlier in the year to work with an orphanage.  When she arrived back in the states she was very certain that God was calling her to go back for an immediate return trip.  Learning of the opportunity and the need my wife and I were happy to provide some staple items that she would deliver to the orphanage and a birth center.  In every aspect, it really was the least we could do.  While in California we were blessed and convicted to hear the report of her latest mission trip.

She described for us in great detail the climate of the islands. Her “accommodations” were hot, humid and buggy. It was required that she sleep in long sleeves and pants to ward off insect bites and other night time creatures, though sleeping in this hot and humid climate with no air conditioning. Although she felt God’s hand of protection, safety is always an issue on the island as local law enforcement can be bought by the highest bidder. While she was relaying her experiences she was popping antibiotics for an amoeba she had picked up on her last trip.  As she told us her story we were all to the point of tears.  Why?  Because she suffered so much while doing good? Because of the horrendous living conditions of those she was serving? Not at all.  It was because of the glow on her face as she gave us the details-because of the love you could see in  her eyes and her expression for the kids she had come to know on her trips. And because of the true guilt we felt when  she told us that she could not wait to go back!

This young college student was showing me, a professed follower of Christ for over 45 years, what Christianity looked like when applied.  I was and am still dumbfounded. Still dealing with parasites and bug bites this young lady can’t wait to go back into the conditions most of us would shy away from, just to be a blessing to children who have no family but show love to all who come into their villages.  I was so proud and at the same time, so shamed.

We sing “Give Me Your Eyes” and “I Want to be Your Hands and Feet” emotionally in our comfortable climate controlled worship services and listen intently to messages about the Good Samaritan once a week to get out “feel good” on, but do we take it to the streets?  Are we living an applied Christian faith in our everyday lives?  Are we quick to jump on a soapbox over social ills and ungodly laws but slow to buy a homeless person a meal or give a coat to a street teen?  Are we guilty of hitting Like and Share and typing Amen on social websites to show our faith but stingy in our response to support even our local shelters or charities?  I have to tell you straight up-upon hearing this young lady’s testimony I was convicted to the core.

James 2 in the Message Bible speaks this same sentiment to me like this:

“Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really (gets it)? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say ‘Good Morning Friend! Be clothed in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit!” and yet walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup-where does that get you?  Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” 

I am not a man of means but I know now that if I am to reflect through my walk what I profess in my talk, I need to be less concerned with my approaching retirement and more concerned with the real-time needs of those around me “while it is still day”. I need to be teaching our young people how to show forth good works rather than being schooled by those who “got it” much sooner than I did. She will tell you that she’s been blessed by crossing paths with my wife and I, but I will tell you I’ve been changed by crossing hers! God help us to emulate those around us who get and apply their faith, even when they are 20 or so years our junior.

Meekness-It’s Not for Wimps

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We just returned from our favorite spot on Earth-the Pacific Coast of Southern California.  Each year my wife and I make a point of vacationing and beach hopping from Huntington Beach to Newport to Laguna to Dana Point. When it comes time to plan our trip we weigh and consider our vacation options and always choose to go back to what we love most.  If Heaven is no better than our beaches, we will be most content with our reward!

The waves in Huntington Beach are particularly powerful.  It is called Surf City for good reason; the US Open of Surfing is held there each year because the area produces some of the best scoring waves for competitive surfing.  It is not unusual for my 6’4″ 200+ pound frame to be standing in two feet of surf and be taken down by a powerful wave that seemingly developed from nowhere.  The best total body workout I could come up with would be to stand or walk against the power of these small waves as they pound the shoreline.  After my first day back on the beach I could barely walk that evening.

People visit the beach for various reasons and each one takes away something different from their experience.  For me, I feel close to God when I see the force of these waves and hear the thunder of their voices as they break on the beach.  But this year I took something a little different away from my visit.  I was impressed with the concept of meekness.  One may have a hard time understanding the meekness of a wave that can knock a 300 pounder off their feet, but that is because we have a misconception sometimes of that word.  Meekness is often defined or understood as being lowly, humble, subservient or gentle in spirit-all attributes perhaps.  But a better understanding of this term is to control or restrain one’s own power or strength. When I see how the waves that have historically capsized ocean liners and large sailing vessels lay themselves down under restraint and submission as they reach the shorelines comprised of tiny insignificant grains of sand and curtail their strength as they reach the toes of a toddler enjoying their first beach experience, I see for myself the full living definition of meekness and I am in awe!

All of us have a spirit of pride within us that is not always healthy and which constantly wages war against our spirit. Social media has made all of us experts on everything and we constantly look for ways to prove our debate skills and intellect on matters that, well, don’t really matter. I write this blog each week with the sincere desire of speaking words that offer advice and give glory to Christ, but I often find myself checking to see how many likes or shares it gets or how many different countries it reaches with each new post-a result of a prideful spirit, and certainly not the essence of meekness.  In Matthew 5 Jesus speaks to those assembled to hear Him and tells them “Blessed are the meek For they will inherit the earth”.  Other versions say Blessed are the humbled or those content with who they are, no more and no less. These aren’t hapless individuals who are the walking mats of society He is referring to. On the contrary, these are those who get slapped in the face and can stand tall like a grizzly, flex their muscles  but take another blow.  Jesus showed all of us who pay attention what meekness looks like when they came to arrest Him and when asked if He was Jesus, his response of “I AM” knocked everyone off of their feet-just the words from his mouth-restrained power-submissive strength-displayed superiority, meekness defined.

The author of Philippians describes meekness by citing the example of Christ for us:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord-MEEKNESS!!!

This is how I want to live my life.  I want to be a meek gentle giant, strong enough to defend, meek enough to submit and wise enough to know my strength comes from God who has much larger muscles to flex than I do. Yes, that’s what I received from my visit this year to the beach-that and a nice Summer tan.

 

Cyber Whisperers

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A woman heard a rumor about a lady in her neighborhood that was too good to pass up.  Being the busybody she was she quickly spread this rumor to those in her social circle. Word quickly spread and the lady who was the object of the rumor was soon shunned by even her close friends.  Not long afterward the neighbor who initially spread the rumor learned from a trusted source that what she had heard was not true. Feeling remorseful she sought out the advice of her priest on how to fix the situation.  Her priest told her to go to a local farmer and get a chicken and pluck the feathers out one by one on her walk home.  This sounded easy enough so she complied.  The next day she reported to the priest that she had done as he instructed her.  “Good”, said the priest.  “Now today, go back and collect those same feathers”. The neighbor lady retraced her steps but to her dismay found that most of the feathers had already been carried off by the wind.  She returned to the priest holding three single feathers.  “And so it is with rumors”, sad the priest. “Once you have spread them it is impossible to gather them back up before they are carried away by the wind”‘.

Yes, if you are in my social media circles you know I have been on a kick about cyber gossip. We all remember the story years back of Megan Meier, the teen whose friend Josh along with his mother launched a bunch of rumors that quickly spread through the Myspace world and eventually led Megan to commit suicide.  Words, whether spoken or shared on cyberspace are harmful, destructive and in many cases fatal. There are countless pages of examples of murder, assault and suicide over something that was shared or read on the internet, many of which turned out to be false but discovered too late to prevent the damage. Facebook seems to have made everybody an expert on everything and there seems to be no limits as to how far some will go in posting articles they know to be false in order to stir up the flock, increase ratings and likes or support social agendas in a manner that takes away any credibility from the core issues.

Backbiting is nothing new-there really is nothing new under the sun.  The Apostle Paul had to address this in Biblical times in his letter to the Romans.  In the KJV gossipers are referred to as whisperers and secret slanderers.  Here is how the passage reads in the Message Bible, Romans 1:29:

And then all hell broke loose; rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on Earth with their envy, wanton, killing, bickering and cheating. Look at them-mean spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers and insufferable windbags!”

It is no accident that gossip, slanderers and whisperers are mentioned right along with murderers because destruction by tongue is just as deadly as by gun. Not convinced? Proverbs says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue“. 1 Peter says “Whoever desires to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit”. 

Still not enough, then let’s read the words straight from our Master Jesus recorded in Matthew 12: “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will give account for every CARELESS word they speak…”

Any accepted form of communication, spoken word, letter, email, or cyber media where ideas, stories or rumors can be spread falls under the edict from the verses listed above pertaining to gossip.  Any information spread without due diligence as to its accuracy, credibility or truthfulness equates to gossiping and rumormongering. We who use social media as outlets for communication need to be a little less right and a bit more righteous in our discernment in being involved in cyber rumors and hate speech when nothing but destruction can be the end result. Disagreeing, having opinions, stating personal beliefs that are characterized as such is not what I am referring to.  However sharing malicious posts, pushing along false theories and butchered photo-shop images to support a trending social agenda should be off base for believers who are concerned with being Christ-like in all things. With the 2016 Campaign season getting into full swing I fear many of the faith will get themselves caught up in polarizing threads that do nothing but harm to the Body of Christ, just as they have with recent trending stories “too good to pass up”.

My prayer for me is that God will help me recognize my weakness and temptation to be pulled into these cyber rumor mills and give me the strength to just shut up opposed to saying something hurtful that can’t be retracted.  I hope your prayer is similar.

 

Perspectives

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A man kneels to pray in his living room and notices a rip in his leather sofa and asks God “why don’t you bless me more?” Another man kneels at an old wooden chair in a run down lean to and prays “Father, I am unworthy to receive such blessings”.

A teen slams the refrigerator door shut in anger over the selection of leftovers from previous meals and heads to the local grocery store. Across the globe a little girl grins from ear to ear because a stranger has given her an apple and some oatmeal for the day.

A middle aged man has grown weary of his marriage and can’t understand why God trapped him in a bad relationship. Across town another man sits alone after laying his long time wife to rest after a battle with cancer and offers prayers for others who are experiencing the same.

A couple changes churches for the third time in 2 years because they don’t like the music and aren’t feeling anything from the message or the worship. In a dark room lit by  single candle believers huddle in secret to share a few pages from a smuggled Bible, risking their lives if they are discovered.

A social activist burns an American flag in protest of current policies, claiming freedom of speech. An armed police officer who lost his only son in the recent war stands in guard over him and protects the activist from harm from other protestors while the activist exercises his rights.

A Pro athlete sits out training camp over a contract dispute over the eight-figure guarantee amount. A young father of three is denied Federal assistance because his $12.00 per hour job disqualifies him for aide.

Perspective is everything. Compared to many I have little worth.  Compared to countless others I am exceedingly wealthy. We in America are blessed beyond description to be born into a country of freedom and wealth, so much so that we are sometimes ungrateful, feeling we are entitled to so much more through citizenship. We complain about food prices but still eat three or four times each day. We want that built in pool but sleep in cozy beds in temperature controlled homes. We complain because our preferred house of worship is twenty miles across town.  I am guilty. God forgive me. We want our kids and grandkids to be perfect but overlook the fact that they are all alive and healthy. We want our spouses to change when in fact if they ever did they would have the sense enough to leave us. What a silly, arrogant, ungrateful people we can be.

In a letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul lays out for us what our attitude and response should be for the blessings we have from God.

“Meditate on things that are true, noble, authentic, compelling-the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.  I’m just as happy with little as much, with much as little.  I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the one who makes me who I am”–The Message Bible.

My personal perspective needs refocusing every day.  For me that means taking time over coffee to just sit with God and say thanks. It shouldn’t take the unfortunate state of others for us to recognize our blessings. It just takes a different perspective.

Unseen Pain

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On July 4th I was walking on the top floor of a local casino parking garage to get a panoramic view of the city’s fireworks displays. I noticed a strange pain in my left foot but kept walking. The pain intensified and by evening I was wrapped in a blanket with chills from the intense pain (it was 105 outside). The next day I could barely walk and by the third day I could put no weight on the foot. Reluctantly I went to the local Quick Care for treatment but multiple x-rays revealed no injury.  When offered pain medication I declined, thinking I could just live with it if it didn’t get any worse. It got worse. A couple days later I was back at the quick care begging for drugs.  It’s amazing what strong narcotics can do for pain relief. The pain had become so severe I could not think-I could barely communicate-I could not function normally-it was crippling!  Upon administering treatment I was back to some level of sanity and could focus on something other than the pain.

We live in a world full of hurting people. Their pain may not be obvious but the hurt is no less severe. We encounter them everywhere we go unaware-unaware because we seldom take the time to notice. The pain they endure may be from a broken relationship with a mate or close family member. They may be that teenager who just can’t seem to measure up to their parents’ expectations. Some suffer the pain of acute loneliness that could be relieved with a simple conversation or visit. Some carry the burden of failed marriages or businesses.  Psychologists agree that a man responds to a failed business much the same as he would to the loss of a loved one.  I know that to be true. The wife who gives her all to her husband and kids but never receives appreciation or affection from them walks in silent pain. The incarcerated serving time in a lonely cell for one bad and costly decision or act suffers a pain we can’t comprehend. The young girl who thought aborting or giving up her child was the right decision may now be carrying the pain of guilt and regret. The man who lost his family over indiscretions and now sees another care for what was once his suffers a dull pain that may never go away. These are the pains that left untreated can cause one not to think clearly-not to be able to communicate-to not be able to function normally-the unseen pains that are crippling.

How I wish I had the time-the capacity-the reach to embrace these who suffer silently. We all know how our hearts ache when our kids or grandkids cry. We don’t need to know why the tears-we just want to hold them until they stop flowing. How much more does our Savior react to our pain. How cool is it that we have someone to call out to who lived the human experience in the Earth He created so as to empathize with our hurts and our feelings.  Psalm 34 tells us that the Lord is always near to those with broken hearts and crushed spirits. Sometimes in the midst of our pain we can’t see or accept the relief that comes from calling out to God for mercy, so we go on through life thinking like I did, that we can live with the pain if it doesn’t get worse.

There are no quick fixes to deep emotional stress carried unseen by so many.  However that is no excuse to not be engaged or aware of those around us who may be hurting. It is surprising how many of these people worship with us each week in our churches!  I am always on someone’s schedule, running here or there, but I am trying to remember to ask God to help me see others who need a word, a hug or a meal. If you know of individuals who suffer in silence, get involved, go out of the way, send a card, make a phone call, buy them coffee-whatever it requires to just be a presence at a lonely time.  We don’t need answers-we don’t  need to bombard them with Bible verses. We just need to let them know we are aware of their hurts so some healing process can begin. It’s not about deeds and works and righteousness-it’s about love, about caring, about sharing the burden of pain that is too great or someone to carry alone.

Father, help us see the pains in others that you see and respond as you would with love, with empathy and with presence.

The Static Nature of Change-Lessons From the Chameleon

Cape Dwarf Chamaeleon

The ability to adapt to an ever changing environment is never so evident as when observing certain species of chameleons. As seen in the image above they can change to camouflage their appearance to avoid detection by would be predators. However they can also change to signal to others of their species as in flirtation or simply to display their current mood. It was long thought that process was achieved due to numerous pigments beneath the skin but studies as late as 2014 proved this to be false. Instead they found that some species actually have a sub layer lattice of nanocrystals that can be manipulated by the chameleon to affect the way wavelengths of light are reflected or absorbed to create various colors. As for mood swings highly agitated chameleons will appear as red, dark or even black while calm, relaxed or non-threatened ones will appears in the softer blue and green shades.  So in essence it is possible to know the mood of your pet lizard just by observing their color.

There is at least one thing about life that never changes, and that is that life will always change!  Change does not discriminate-it comes to us all.  Many times those changes are welcomed and embraced-you get that promotion you worked for-you meet that special someone-you recover form an illness-you move to that location you always dreamed about-you attend the wedding of your child-you escape an abusive relationship-you change your hairstyle.

And then there are the unwelcomed and unsolicited changes we dread-you become unemployed-your spouse asks for a divorce-you receive bad news from your doctor-your financial and credit status take a major hit-you fall off that trail you’ve navigate before in a foreign country and shatter your leg-you lose your hair. Like it or not, good or bad, a change is a comin’.

Much of the Christian world has been in a panic over recent decisions by our courts that are contrary to our belief system. They feel the church is heading for disaster or even that our standard, God’s word has been compromised or forcefully changed. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have an assurance from Christ Himself that His words would never change or pass away.  The Gospel is an absolute static truth.  What will change is how we effectively use it as a weapon of defense in these trying times.  The face of our enemy will change-the strategy against the family unit and the church will change-the effective polarization of the church will change-the increasing test of our resolve and relationship with Christ will change. Like our chameleon friend, we have to be ready and able to adapt to our new surroundings, and we have to determine how that change needs to take place.

There is a passage familiar to many in the Book of Habakuk, chapter 3 which reads like this:

Though the fig tree does not bud  and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

Many use this passage as an affirmation of faithfulness and devotion to God, and rightly so. But when I read a bit closer, I see an assertion that faith will remain in spite of the pending season of change.  In fact the verse preceding this one eludes to pending calamity. Just for my benefit, this scripture carries much more meaning when I read it as when the tree doesn’t bud and when there are no grapes and when the crops fail and there is little food. Why? Because few of us will escape this world of troubles without facing these seasons of change. Season by definition eludes to something different than the now. If indeed there is a season for everything as written in Ecclesiastes 3, then our expected norm should be the expectation of change, or the change of life’s seasons. If we live our lives prepared for the possibility of change, then change can’t possibly come when we least expect it.

God in His sovereignty is the source of much change in the life of a growing and maturing believer. In every area of life where we ascribe for something higher, whether a higher degree, a higher job title, a higher belt or certification, there is a time of testing that is required to see if we have satisfied the requirements to obtain that higher level. As faithful followers of Christ we should expect nothing different. I have never gone through so great a season of testing than when I asked God to take me to a higher level-a season of spiritual change. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but the change was for my good. Be careful the sincerity of what you ask for!

Thank God for the NEVER changing Word that we an fall back on in our EVER changing lives. And thank God for lessons from the most unusual of His creation. I wonder what it would be like to be purple for a day.

The Progressive Evolution of the Church

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I have spent the last couple days configuring a new notebook computer.  May I insert here that Patience is not one of my spiritual gifts. I do not embrace advanced technological change. When everyone was singing the praises o this new phone called the IPhone I was perfectly happy with my antiquated Blackberry. When personal music media evolved I was still humming away with my Walkman. As people gather to worship with their electronic tablets I still like the look and feel and smell of my old leather bound Bible with its scribbles, crumpled pages and stretched cover.  I don’t consider myself as old fashioned necessarily but I am not eager to change things that work for me just because I’m told there are better ways of doing things. This new touch screen laptop with Windows 8.1 and Outlook 2013 is replacing my old desktop with Windows XP and Outlook 2003-you can see what I mean when I say I don’t embrace change.

We live in a progressive world. Everything around us is changing-faster, greener, leaner, smarter. Gadgets not in existence twenty years ago are now staples to our lifestyle that we can’t imagine living without. When is the last time you used a corded phone or played your favorite cassette? Can you even find a store that still accepts paper checks? Does anyone still own or use a phonebook or dictionary? Some change can be good even when it is forced upon us through advanced technology.  Some forced change however should not be so quickly embraced.

The face and identity of the twenty-first century church as we know it has certainly been caught up in change. Prayer chapels are now bookstores-greeting areas are being replaced with bistros. The only church organ you might here is an effect on the more modern Korg keyboard.  But more has changed than just the cosmetics.  Our theology and ideology has “evolved” to better fit into a more tolerant society that frowns upon uncomfortable Biblical tenets, rigid commandments and outdated creed. In many churches this more modern ideology has been incorporated to keep attendance numbers and giving in place.  In others the thought is to be more open and nonjudgmental for fear of being targeted as hateful or pious. The mega-churches in our country preach happiness, prosperity, kingdom privilege and favor over discipline, humility, sacrifice and suffering. After all, who wants to go to a church that teaches that following after Christ requires submission to the same sufferings as our Savior when just down the road we can hear the secrets to getting the best parking spot or that job promotion we are not qualified for. And Worship should make us feel good and sermons should be motivational speeches, not disciplinary lessons of faith.

Many in the faith are concerned with the modern day evolution of the church.  Even as I write this the courts of our country have made a decision on what was once a sacred cow to the church.  But we as believers must share the responsibility for the face of our church.  We have stepped away from sound doctrine. We have set up sermon courses like a TCBY bar-just pick those toppings you prefer. We have turned a blind eye to things going on right under our noses because we don’t want the world to see our imperfections. When I was a teen it was common knowledge that you go to church camp to lose your virginity. Famed televangelists are caught up in adultery, fraud and solicitation but reconciled back to their pulpits at the speed of the best computer processors. Fear of God, or more precisely fear of our individual actions before God has been MIA for decades and the fruits of our blindness are being seen today.

We should not be surprised at these events as Christ told us in the Word, that Book that many are trying to change to make more palatable, that there would be false teachers, bad teaching and a falling away from the Body, the church. I’m not an alarmist by nature but we were warned. But if the great apostasy that was foretold is a result of the lukewarm stance and disregard of traditional and Biblical church tenets by the church, then we are going to have some explaining to do before Christ when He will judge us all for how we handled, divided, represented and lived His words in our lives, our churches and our communities.

As an imperfect follow of Christ I have to conduct my thoughts, beliefs and affairs according to absolute, relevant and eternal truths, specifically those I find in scripture:

Psalm 33:4; For the Word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.

Hebrews 4:12; The Word of the Lord is alive and active.

2 Timothy 316; All scripture is God breathed and to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119:105; Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Isaiah 40:8; Grass dies and flowers fall but the Word of God lasts forever.

Psalm 18:30; Gods ways are perfect; The Lord’s word is flawless.

As a church we must united on the uncompromising Word, careful not to disregard the heart of the commands it contains for us in an effort to me more appealing to the world.  Yes we are to go out to the highways and biways to invite them all to come just as they are and we are to love them as Christ loved us and to show them the same mercy and compassion, allowing the Spirit of Christ to make the change.  But in doing so, the church still needs to be reflective of the true character of Christ, not the twenty-first century version we are presenting to them. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, we must forgive so that we may be forgiven, we must acknowledge injustice and take a stand-we must strive for peace whenever it is possible without compromising the very words and nature of our God.  The enemies and forces of this world are ramping up the intensity of the attack.  The weak will fall and the careless will be trapped. The unchanging, still relevant, unpopular Word of God is our only defense and our best offense. It should not be up for debate within the church but held as our eternal banner and standard for living a loving, caring and disciplined Christian life even in the twenty-first century.

Disclaimer; the thoughts above are my opinion and not directed toward any specific faith or denomination. Any resemblance to these allegations are coincidental (and should probably be addressed).

 

 

 

How do I Measure Up On Father’s Day?

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It’s 105 degrees on a hot Las Vegas high desert afternoon. I have the rare occasion to go golfing with my son.  We are both duffers-my handicap is, well, um-Golf! We schedule a 3:00 PM Tee Time as only idiots play golf in 105 degree heat-this way we have the course to ourselves.  After two holes we decide keeping score is not beneficial to our male egos and discard the score card.  At three holes my back is reminding me why I don’t play golf more often.  After six holes it is doing so with four-letter words and exclamation points!! After twelve holes I’m grateful that I rented a cart instead of walking the course. We finish and cool down with an adult beverage and talk about our better shots on the course-we each had two I think.

Why do this knowing the physical outcome? Because spending time with the boys is something I value more now than when I was a young father, and because I missed out on too many opportunities with them along the way.  There could never be enough time to make up for time wasted. Whether spent wisely or squandered, it remains spent nonetheless.

The next morning I roll out of bed and on to the floor after a couple hours of sleep, only to hear those words every man wants to hear from his beloved wife-“You walk like an old man!”. Nothing says love like verbal reminders of your aging physical limitations and resulting posture. No time to ponder it now-we are picking up the grandkids for a day at the amusement park. A day of thrill rides, corkscrew barrel rolls and loopty-loops on roller coasters should do the trick!  Oh, and can’t forget the Big Shot that shoots you up about 300 feet into the air in about two seconds, compressing a normal spine into 12 inches of bone and nerves where vertebrae used to be! And then just as quickly it drops you with a sudden free fall with a stop that eliminates any remaining vertebrae from the previous rapid ascent. Honey if you thought I was an old man this morning, just wait until tomorrow!

Why, you might ask? Two reasons. First, when it comes to thrill rides and amusement parks I’m still just a big kid at heart-to die on an inverted roller coaster would be the best way to go. More importantly, I learned the hard way, as mentioned above, that time squandered can’t be recaptured.  Your children have a way of making you realize how quickly time flies, but your grandchildren teach you that time flies at hyper speed. I don’t want to miss any opportunity to be with them and create memories that they and I can share until it’s time for me to die on a roller coaster. There is nothing more precious to me than having fun and spending time wisely with my grandchildren.

It’s the morning of the third day now. My wife knows not to say anything about my posture or speed because the weekend isn’t over yet.  It’s my grandson’s fourteenth birthday and he and I are heading to the ballpark for a baseball game. I asked the lady at the ticket window for the soft seats in the air conditioned section. She didn’t appreciate my humor or have knowledge of my situation.  It’s all good. The seats are rigid but we are in the shade for a hot afternoon of America’s favorite past time.  This was important to me-he had never seen a professional baseball game-I was the one who was privileged to expose him to the sport-he’s now hooked! We threw back a couple dogs each and washed it down with our over priced souvenir ball park drinks. I dropped him off at the house and he says “Thanks papa-that was fun-Love you!”. That’s why! That’s my reward-that makes the pain go away-that’s why I’d do it all again next weekend and probably will.

So you might ask if I’m making my case for a Father of the Year Award-hardly. In fact quite the opposite is true. I’m not a great dad-it didn’t come naturally to me.  I’m a man on a mission to compensate for missed opportunities, for time wasted, for disappointing memories or memories missing in action I left behind with my kids. People joke about a middle-aged man with a sports car over compensating for various short comings.  When you see me with my grandchildren the smiles are genuine but I am compensating for all the years I came up short as a dad. I only hope I live long enough to someday even out the scorecard somewhat. If I died today, there would be way too many gaps in my life’s “dash” where the kids are concerned.

Most people use Father’s day as a day to celebrate and reflect on those father-figures who made impacts on their lives, as well we should. However I use it as a grading opportunity as I look back over the past year on my performance as a Dad and a Papa. I am usually left with more questions than answers as I honestly review and grade the areas that are most important to me:

Do my kids and grandkids know beyond any doubt how much I love them?

Am I doing enough to create fun and lasting memories? 

Am I genuinely engaged in their lives or just there for the fun stuff?

Am I showing the boys what a real love relationship should look like and how to properly treat their eventual mates?

Have I taught them the importance of faith and do they see Jesus in my life and character?

Have I fulfilled Proverbs 22:6, to train them and teach them the right paths to navigate in their adulthood?

I am not a fitting candidate for any awards, but I have learned some valuable lessons in my quest to make up for lost time.  First, don’t lose any more time dwelling on lost time-a no brainer. Second, don’t tell yourself it’s too late to do things the right way now.  You can’t go back and fix or rearrange history, good or bad.  You can however resolve to go forward and make every moment count. Third, pray-pray for your children and grandchildren daily, for their health, their safety, the salvation and their happiness.  And then pray for yourself, that God will continue to reveal His fatherly character in your life so that you can accurately emulate it in the lives of your family. In many cases, you are the only Christ they may see. And lastly, just be there-show up-be open and available and always have your proverbial “The Dad is In” shingle hanging and obvious for them to see at times when they need you.

Fathering kids is easy and instinctive-being a dad is difficult and a life-long learning process.  I hope some day I measure up. There’s nothing more desirable in this life I could ever hope to achieve than to be a loving Dad and Papa in the eyes of my family.

One Christ, One Destination, Too Many Roads

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If you have ever used Mapquest for directions, you know that when you identify your starting point and your destination, this man developed program app will give you one way to get from point A to point B with explicit instructions on where to turn, how many miles for each new direction and the approximate travel time to complete your trip. Navigational systems in newer cars are similarly programmed and even give you cute little sound bytes when you correctly follow directions. So how is it that man can so easily identify and navigate the best routes for geographic destinations when there are always multiple ways to reach them, but offer up so many routes in religion when there is only one absolute truth and path?

A wise woman recently asked me a serious and deep question, one that has been submitted to much more deeply rooted theologians than I could ever hope to be, with no consensus. If there exists One Christ and One Inspired Holy Bible, how is it that there are so many denominations since the inception of Christianity? It is truly a question that is not foreign to me as I have traveled my own faith journey for these forty-six year now. Perhaps for me it is because I have been exposed to all levels of the Christian Faith.  There exists three primary faiths in Christianity-Eastern or European Orthodox, Catholicism and Protestantism. I have all three in my blood.  I was raised and introduced to Christ in a Pentecostal church and have remained in the Protestant faith through my adult years.  However, I attended a Catholic High School and learned the practices and traditions of their faith through education and required attendance in Mass.  My younger brother went a different direction as a young adult and is now a Greek Orthodox Priest in AZ.  I have attended his church and sat through many liturgies and he and I engage in discussions about the Orthodox faith and practice virtually every time we converse-it is a beautiful and historical faith and remains as the oldest purest tradition most closely related to the early church.

So the question remains-why so many roads to one place and do they all eventually lead to Christ? Are all denominations so different?  A denomination defined is a sub group or sect of people who share a common belief, interpretation, name and organization.  A denomination is easily formed when a group of people have a different view of scripture or practice than the wholly shared main group, resulting in a split from the larger group and the beginning of a new identity. How many times over history has this happened?  To date 43,000 times and counting.  At it’s core belief system, there may in fact be only about forty main traditional denominations, but cultural upbringing, geographic locations, worship style preferences and historic vs. contemporary practice has caused people to venture out in ways that would put Mapquest out of business if they navigated under the same rules. It should come as no surprise that the un-churched world around us scratches their heads when viewing our mass confusion.  We have the message of hope and can accommodate any preference you may have in receiving it, like your local TCBY-just pick the toppings you want-thousands of possible combinations.

But here’s the real scoop (pun intended). Denominations are largely man made, not God intended. how do we know?  Just examine the words recorded in the New Testament;

1 Cor. 1:10; I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Eph. 4:6; There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 

Phil. 2:1: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Romans 15:5; May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Eph. 2:19; So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together…

I am fully aware of the over simplification I am suggesting in Christian unity, however, these verses are absolute truths and inspired recordings.  Any deviation from and absolute renders it as not an absolute, correct? This was clearly addressed by Paul in the church of Corinth when he heard reports of some claiming “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Paul was disturbed at how the focus was shifted from Christ to men and made clear that this was not acceptable.

The follow up question from those of you mature in the faith with an understanding of how the Holy Spirit works to reveal God’s Word to us, is how can the Holy Spirit of Christ yield so many differing interpretations of the same Holy Scripture and the same Gospel? The obvious answer is it can’t. Christ is not divided-He is not inconsistent, He does not author confusion or make exemptions for bad exegesis or uncomfortable truth. Man alone does that, through pride, arrogance, stubbornness and even disobedience.  God is all about unity-a man and a woman shall become one-I and the Father are one-there is one body, and so on and so on.

So what is the truth? For believers it is black and white. There is one God, the Father of us all, One Son and One Holy spirit. Man is sinful and should receive the death penalty for sin but our salvation was paid for by the Blood of Christ, who rose from the grave after three days to sit at God’s right hand and allow us access to His Father and to eternal life when we confess Him as Lord.  Everything else is just fluff and confusion. Jesus said “I am THE way” Everything about that statement is singular and exclusive!  It is man who has turned One Way into 43,00 ways. Are they all 100% Biblically accurate or properly interpreted?  Most likely not.  Will they all lead to the same place? Most likely so. So why the confusion?

What Does Real Courage Look Like?

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The Social media has been ablaze this week with articles, debates, mud slinging and downright vicious attacks over the subject of bravery and courage.  You would have to have your residence in a cave to have not been exposed to it through either the televised news media, recent magazine publications or your preferred social media outlet.  One thing is sure, when it comes to real bravery, real courage and true heroism, America has certainly perverted the definition and twisted the perception of how we once defined these rare attributes.

This week I want to share my definitions of courage and how I recognize real heroes.  You may not agree-you would certainly not be the first this week! I choose not to mention specific names but rather share stories of what bravery and courage looks like to me.

A female student who loved the Lord was among the victims killed in a senseless shooting in Columbine. When approached by one of the two gunmen and asked if she believed in Jesus she responded without hesitation, yes.  She died of wounds to the head.

One of the twenty Christians shown recently being executed in the Middle east for their faith, was actually not Christian at the time of his capture.  However, after seeing the bravery of the men who were executed for their faith before they reached him this man had a change of heart.  When it came his turn to denounce his faith in Christ, he replied “their God is my God”.  And with that became a precious martyr.

Twin brothers in Chicago were on their way to the High School basketball game when they were accosted by four men who wanted one of their coats.  When they jumped one of the brothers the other brother placed himself between them and his brother allowing the brother to escape.  The brother who intervened was shot and killed. He was just fifteen years old.

A woman who was burned by her husband in Pakistan when her husband threw acid on her, scarring her for life because of her conversion to Christianity, now spends her time working with other women who were burned for the same reason as an advocate and a support resource.

A promising NFL football star with a lucrative seven figure contract laid it all aside because of an overwhelming urge to serve his country in the war in Iraq. He traded his team colors for his country’s colors and was buried with honor as a fallen hero.

A woman who found freedom after being trapped in the world of the sex for sale industry now spends her time counseling other women who are looking for a way out, risking her life as pimps lose their profits.

In Sandy Hook 20 students lost their lives as did six teachers.  One female teacher hid her kids in a closet and told the gunmen when they entered that they were in the gym.  The students however panicked and began to run from the closet to escape, at which time the gunmen open fired on them.  The teacher died from wounds as she put herself between the gunmen and her students.  More then one teacher died that day doing the same.

Right here in Las Vegas last month some friends were cliff diving at Lake Mead.  One of the teens jumped even though they were not a great swimmer and did not emerge from the water right away.  Another friend dove in and located the friend and brought them up to safety but quickly disappeared under the waves himself.  They found him the next day just under the water’s surface, our latest drowning victim.

These are my heroes. These are the men and women I would want to emulate in similar situations, the ones I would prop up as the face of courage and bravery. Maybe you have your own stories.  Courage doesn’t have to be this dramatic.  It can be seen in the single mom who works two jobs to take care of her kids when no father is present.  It can be the long time addict who finally finds the strength to overcome his addiction and become a sponsor to someone else trying to do the same.  Courage can be the deeply scarred burn victim that society doesn’t want to look upon who goes through life happy to be alive and more beautiful on the inside than their scars would indicate on the outside. Courage can be that teen at a party who stands alone and true to their convictions against drugs or alcohol or sex. Courage can be that person who comes to the defense of the unpopular kid in school who is constantly bullied. Bravery can be that young child fighting cancer who always has a smile for someone else engaged in the same battle. Courage can be the wife of that police officer killed in the line of duty as she hold back tears in a show of strength for her children.

My point is simple really-let’s give honor and credit where it is due, not where it is sensationalized. Let’s be careful in our tendency to idolize the ordinary and look past the heroic acts we encounter in others every day. Don’t fall for every story the media wants to feed us about who we should cheer and champion as our heroes. Let’s be sure we show our kids and grandchildren how to recognize courage, how to act courageously in the face of adversity and Who to call upon when our courage and strength is weak. And if I haven’t given you enough examples of true courage, feel free to pick up the Bible and start reading in Genesis.

FEAR-Life’s Greatest Thief

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Eighteen years ago on our wedding day we were introduced for the first time to our newest beautiful dark-haired granddaughter Sierra. This week she is graduating along with thousands of others with the High School Class of 2015. 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 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-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. My wife thought it the most gross thing she’d ever seen, that is until she tasted it for the first time. Now we BOTH refuse to eat at restaurants that don’t serve peanut butter, and trust us, we know which ones they are! 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-change 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 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 2015. May God richly bless and keep you as you enter the world of the unknown without fear.

The Purpose of Memorials

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One of the most solemn and eerie memorials we ever visited was the Pearl Harbor Memorial situated over the sunken Arizona in Hawaii. From the deck you can easily view the remains of the lost battleship that serves as the final resting place of hundreds of brave soldiers. You can see and smell the still leaking oil from the steel tomb rising to the surface. The legend is that as long as there are survivors of that attack the oil will continue to rise to the surface as a reminder and a sign from their shipmates below. It’s an experience that pierces the hardest facades and causes one to remember the tragic losses of that infamous day.

April 14th, 1984. We received a call at the office to return home immediately-there was a fire. Upon pulling into the parking lot of our apartment complex we were in shock to see the burned out frame of what was just an hour before, our home. We were left with the clothes we wore to work that day. Nothing survived-except one sole box that held a collection of ribbons I had won in High School during my Track and Field Days.  I still have that box tucked safely away in my garage.  It is my reminder of the events of that day.

Our lives are built around a series of markers, or memorials, some of pleasant events and others of painful experiences.  They are left behind to tell us that something significant happened in our lives on this particular day or at this certain location. We may not even recognize the markers that we encounter.  Our mates are a marker of the day we entered into the marital commitment, a pleasant day for most.  Our kids are walking markers of the day love brought forth shared life. April 15th is a marker that reminds us that it’s time to pay our increasing tax burden for the freedoms we enjoy. The American Flag is a constantly waving reminder that even though she is sick and maybe not what she used to be, she is still the greatest country in the world.  No one is trying to escape our borders.

As believers we have several memorials left behind for our observance. The rainbows that appear after a heavy storm are God’s reminder to us to never destroy the earth for our sins and disobedience to Him. The communion we receive is done in remembrance of the love and the sacrifice of our Savior as He gave up His body and blood for our good. Christmas and Easter and the Passover are calendar memorials that commemorate the events of the Bible that are central to our faith. The cross we wear around our neck or tattoo on our body is a memorial of the ultimate expression of love that is just as fresh to day as it was over two thousand years ago.

On This Memorial Day we pay tribute to the brave men and women who served, who lost limbs, who suffered tragic burns in explosions and who paid the ultimate price of their lives so that we could bicker over religious freedoms, argue over Constitutional rights, blame everyone but ourselves for our current status and yes, even stomp Old glory and burn the Holy Bible. The freedoms we were blessed by God to be born into did not come cheap. There was a heavy toll paid for our freedom.  We must never forget that.

And the eternal life and salvation that we were born again into also came at a heavy price-we must never forget that either. God bless you this Memorial Day, God bless and have mercy on America.

Praise Him for Roses-Thank Him for the Thorns

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Have you ever been stuck by a sharp thorn?  Why do some of the most beautiful flowers, shrubs and even fruits, have thorns?  When you think of roses, how can something so beautiful and desired and something so painful and unwanted grow together on the same vine?  These are the types of things I think about-questions few ask.  So I did some research on plants with thorns, briers, or other prickly appendages.

There are three specific functions of the thorns on plants. The first one involves protection.  Specific to the rose, thorns offer protection from larger plant eating animals that may otherwise prey on the flower for food.  The large pointed thorns tell would be herbivores to leave this plant alone for their own good.  At the same time, the thorns are large enough that smaller bugs or insects can easily maneuver them and carry on their task of pollination, assuring that the plants will produce beautiful blooms when the time is right.  I had a pyracanthia tree in my back yard and the thorns are deadly, but when that tree was in full bloom, it was magnificent. Thorns are vital in the protection and the growth process of the plant.

Psalm 91:14 says “I will rescue those who love me.  I will protect those who trust in my name.

There are a variety of flowers that are pretty to look at but are easy to pick or snatch up.  They have no protection that would cause predators to turn away. But smart people don’t grab a rose and try to snatch it up like you might a tulip or daisy because they know they will come away with a bloody hand.  Christ is our protector-He prevents our devourers from snatching us up. 

John 10: 28  No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.[d] No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand

The second function of thorns in certain plants is to direct water to the stem for growth.  They take in moisture in the form of fog, dew or rain, and direct them to the root of the plant’s water table to help the plant grow.  You can imagine how important this is to the life of cacti which typically live in hot dry climates.  You can say that without the thorns, the cacti would not survive the heat and drought.

In Job 38:26 God is speaking to Job after he complained to God about the troubles he had just gone through.

Who do you suppose carves canyons  for the downpours of rain, and charts the route of thunderstorms that bring water to unvisited fields, deserts no one ever lays eyes on, drenching the useless wastelands so they’re carpeted with wildflowers and grass? And who do you think is the father of rain and dew, the mother of ice and frost? 

God provides us with those things we need for growth in Him, even though at times the process is painful and we question His methods.

The third purpose of thorns, particularly briers, is that they offer the plant support and the ability to reach toward the sky for sunlight.  Plants like these are typically low lying berry plants.  I will never forget the many weekends when I was young when my dad would load us up in the car and drive far out to the country looking for wild blackberry and raspberry plants.   The plants that were the tallest were always the one with the biggest berries because they were closer to the sun’s nutrients.  These briers allow the stems of the plant to hook on to each other and give them support or stability from falling.  If you’ve picked blackberries, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It is virtually impossible to separate these vines or branches from each other because they are so intensely entwined with each other.  Without briers, these plants would lie flat to the ground and would not produce fruit.

To me this scenario is the easiest to compare to the thorns that come our way.  More times than not, we view the troubles in our life as thorns that are painful and unwelcome.  Life today is full of these thorns-losing a job, failed marriages, unexpected sickness, deaths of loved ones, bankruptcy, being victimized by crime, and the list goes on.  Like Job we would question God as to why these troubles come our way, as if we’re above trials and tribulations, or worse, that God is picking on us for some reason.  We fail to recognize that these thorns of life are meant to make us grow, make us stronger, give us protection, and keep us close to the Son.  We forget that Psalm 23 says the God is with us when we walk THROUGH the valley of shadows and death, not around it.  We believe the mis-teachings of those who would tell us that the Christian walk is easy if we living right.  But that’s not what Christ taught us-He said that in this life we would have troubles!

But we gain strength and endurance in these thorny situations.  The process of building and gaining muscle in weight lifting happens in the strain of the lift.  The muscles are actually torn down and they regenerate as stronger and larger muscles.

Romans 5 says We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

When we’ve been through these trials and survived, we become support for others who are going through similar situations.  Those who are the most helpful and supporting in bad times are the ones who have already been through the same situations.  There is strength when people get together who have similar thorns in their past and together they can help and support the weaker vines or people who now need to reach the Son.

If you’re like me you’ll never view roses again without noticing the thorns and understanding their importance in producing something so beautiful and so sought after. Remember, it’s the thorns we don’t see that help create the beauty in each of us through a divine process we don’t need to understand, but one we should accept with thanks.

 

My Worship Music is Better Than Your Worship Music

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I know when a post is bound to get me into hot water with some.  This is one of those times. I am often amused, bewildered, confused and disappointed at the comments I hear or read about various styles of musical worship in the church. The common complaints are:

The music is too loud; The music is too contemporary; The music is too old; I wish they would sing hymns; We changed churches because we didn’t like the music; God doesn’t move through that kind of music.

We choose churches many times like we choose which concerts to attend, based solely on the quality and genre of the worship music.  We want to attend where we receive the best worship experience and where we feel God’s presence over other locations. Even worse than this, many still view the Worship time of a church service as simply a time to allow stragglers to get there before the sermon begins. Even while composing this I can’t believe the arrogance we display when we approach corporate worship. Are we really that self-centered a church that we use worship style as criteria for membership?

We are all products of our upbringing and exposure when it comes to church attendance.  Of course we naturally have certain preferences of music styles when given an opportunity to choose.  Many churches actually offer worship experiences either at different times or simultaneously to accommodate all preferences, but that can lead to separation within the church, or an Us vs. them mentality.  I only know the people who attend my specific worship service, about a third of the total church. The problem with this ongoing debate over worship preferences is that by definition, a preference is reflective of a personal, inward “what I desire” attitude vs. an outward expression and contribution to worship of an all inclusive God. That, in my opinion is where we miss the boat in this debate.  There are at least two big problems with the way in which we approach musical worship.

This is the first problem as I see it. I have been involved in heated discussions with some of my Christian siblings regarding which style is more conducive to the moving and freedom of the Holy Spirit of God.  It makes me want to scream and run naked King Davis style at how self-righteous we sound when trying to argue one style being more “spiritual” of “Godly” than another.  Lets take a look back at the history of music as we know it.

Western hymns began with the Homeric Hymns written around 700 BC in Greece and sung to ancient Greek Gods. Their origins are clearly founded in idolatry, not Christianity.

Byzantine or Chant music is an ancient traditional music style that involves a series of tones used to put poems and prayers to worship.  It is vocal only and can be traced as one of the original musical worship forms of the early church.

Gospel music, the basis for Black Gospel, Southern Gospel et al, can be traced no further back than the 17th century as a poetic call, response style set to rhythm with hand clapping and foot stomping.

Jazz is another African American style dated to late 19th century but hailed as an American Original art form.  It gain popularity in 1910 in the New Orleans area with heavy brass influence and has evolved into modern jazz, southern jazz, jazz fusion and the like.

Rhythm and Blues, or R & B, dates to 1940 and combined blues, jazz and urban influence into a new style. R & B bands might consist of piano, guitars, bass, drums, brass, and background vocalists.

Country and Western can be traced to Atlanta, GA in or about 1920 and is easily identified by its guitars, banjos, hillbilly lyrics and all things Apple Pie and Chevrolet. There is no need to further describe Country music.

Rock and Roll emerged in the 50’s as a style influenced by gospel, Jazz, Blues and Country.  It started with Bill Haley and others and now includes Heavy rock, garage or Seattle rock, alternative, rock, pop, grunge and more.

The 70’s introduced us to Contemporary Christian Music, banned on radio stations and picketed at church or concert events.  The list of pioneers who paid heavy prices is too long to list.  Some include Andre Crouch, Petra, Larry Norman, Barry McGuire and the Rez Band. They were booed and protested but they endured and we enjoy CCM as one of several worship styles today.

Here is my problem with arguing the effectiveness and spirituality of worship styles used in the church today.  All of these music genres have one glaring fact in common that can’t be debated.  It’s quite simple but so often overlooked in our arrogance.  Are you ready-wait for it-grab a seat!

THEY ARE ALL MAN MADE!

We are in essence arguing that the music my great-grandpa invented is better than the music your great-great-uncle invented.  We are speaking for God in saying He only moves through a hymn but not an urban rap song.  We are limiting the move and the power and the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit by suggesting this style is more worshipful than that style.  As it relates to corporate worship we are catering to the inward receiving attitude of worship and enabling divisions in the church over worship preferences. We are defining God by time signatures, instrument selection and tradition within styles that are still in their infancy in the great time table.

The second problem and perhaps the greater grievance is that somehow we have made worship all about us and not about God.  We have actually created denominations based on worship genres. We have adopted the attitude of coming to a worship service to receive from God, opposed to coming together to corporately join and offer our outward expressions of love, devotion and gratitude TO God. To put it simply, we paid for a good show when we should have been in the band! We have made it clear that we want to worship this way-we are only receptive to this style-we can only feel God with a 2/4 back beat or a Hammond organ and not with a fiddle, a harp or an acapella choir.

I researched all the verses pertaining to worship music that I could find in scripture and this is all I could determine:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord: Praise him with songs, psalms and spiritual songs; praise him with drums, stringed instruments and cymbals; make merry melody from your heart; enter into His courts with praise!  Play skillfully with a loud noise; Sing your praises to Him.

i can’t determine a defining genre or style being suggested anywhere in the OT or NT. I can’t find where one man-made style is more honorable than another.  I can’t see where God’s spirit was moving until someone hit a bad note or plucked the bass too loud or used an out-of-tune piano as their only backup. I can’t find where the whisper of a shy child singing a song was any less received than the most beautiful operatic voice. In fact I find just the opposite. I’m no saint-please don’t presume otherwise. I have just come to adapt an attitude of grateful praise in whatever environment I am in.  I attend a service where Rock and Blues is the theme and love it.  When I visit my brother’s Greek Orthodox church I relish in the ancient and reverent tonal chants they use that date back centuries.  When I am alone on the weekend I show my age by singing along with the old quartet hymns. When I’m on the beach I listen to the incomparable praise of His created waves-something no man can duplicate, and am moved to awe in worship.

Don’t go to church to worship-bring the worship to church with you. Don’t attend to receive-attend to be part of the two or three gathered in His name.  Don’t go to church to play worship Simon Says-worship god in Spirit and truth from the heart whatever that looks like for you. And please, don’t get caught up in the arrogant self-centered debates over how God decides to respond to His people. Just go and join in a unified response to Him! It’s not about styles, instrument selection or volume levels-it’s about uncontainable and inexpressible reverence, fear and awe from forgiven sinful felons who have had their sentences commuted! But if you want to mic the drums that’s okay too!

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.

Red & Yellow, Black & White-ALL Lives Matter

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If you were raised in Sunday School as I was you will remember this song we all knew:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world

     Red and yellow, black and white-they are precious in his sight.

A simple little tune composed for children but perhaps one that should be revisited by us adults for it’s purity as it is the core of Christianity. There is a conspicuous hypocrisy in the protests and riots covered recently by news media like piranha circling a bloody corpse in murky water.  Lest I be stoned or my car set on fire, allow me to explain. We have a civic right, and some might even suggest a duty to voice our strong opposition to what are deemed social injustices when and where they occur. We are indeed protected under our rights for peaceful assembly and protests. In recent cases made known to us by media outlets and social sites that show rogue cops asserting unreasonable force, the resulting protests should not be surprising. Officer Friendly is taking a social beating like the one some of his comrades appear to be dishing out. The rush to judgment and the indignation leading to burned out cars, looted businesses and destroyed housing complexes is covered and the flames fanned by news media and modern social activists, seemingly to bring light and change to the situation.

But in my charge of hypocrisy I must ask the question-do all lives really matter or just the ones that fit into certain social agendas that serve to boost ratings?  Does the unjustified death of an individual really spark rage with us or are we merely reacting to controlled media feedings like Pavlov’s dog?  Does violence, blood, and death really affect us as it once did?  Consider for a moment the #1 selling video game of the last few years, Grand Theft Auto, now in it’s 5th release. The player can choose from one of three characters in a no-rules games that glorifies crime.  You gain points and power for more intense violence by dragging people out of their cars and by beating street civilians to death.  Almost as popular is another game called Watch Dog, set on the fictional streets of Chicago, where you gain points and access into private homes through events that involve violence, blood, nudity, sexual acts, drugs and alcohol. Video games have come along way since Pong and the desensitization of crime and death is instilled in our youth right under our noses, yet we march and protest when we perceive the wrongful death of someone caught up in these acts.

To further support my hypocrisy charge of indignation over death I want to introduce the following statistics of other unjustifiable deaths that few media outlets find newsworthy enough to report.

Year-to-date abortions in the us for 2015 are at 380,000.  There were over 1.06 million last year.  Year-to-date abortions in the world are already at 14,100,000 and expected to top 30,000,000 by years end. Where are the protests?

The Homicide rate in the U.S. last year was over 15,000.  5,000 of those were kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24 years old. Around the globe over 437,000 murders were reported with over 95,000 of them being children under legal age.  Where are the picket signs and posters?

This year 1.5 million people will die from starvation-75% of them young children, you know, the ones that are precious in His sight. In fact in the time it will take you to read this post 84 children will have passed away from simple lack of food. Where are the burning buildings?

Although numbers are often exaggerated, there were over 2100 documented deaths last year of persons killed for their religious beliefs and that number however calculated grows each year, with many more going unreported due to lack of proper documentation. Where are our pastors-turned-activists for them?  Do their lives matter?

Last year in the U.S. alone, there weer 466,949 reports of missing children; half will never be found.  Most will end up in the sex trafficking industry in Third World countries where the U.S is too busy hammering out policy to protect oil concerns than to focus on the evil of child sexploitation that includes many kids, mostly girls from our own country. Where is CNN, FOX and MSNBC on these stories?

In the 18th chapter of Matthew Jesus makes it very clear to us how He regards children, and what our responsibility is to them in His kingdom:

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

The fact that so many take to Facebook and other social sites to voice their two cents worth over sensationalized media stories, however true they may be, but overlook the real atrocities being perpetrated on our kids every day without one comment is the epitome of hypocrisy in my humble opinion. Sending your funds to a Go Fund Me account for the criminal defense of a charged assailant or supporters of social protests but not sending a penny to organizations feeding children around the world seems equally hypocritical. Back in the day many wore the trendy WWJD bracelets that stood for What Would Jesus Do.  If He were here today in body would He be in the streets of Baltimore or in shanties of hungry kids in India?  Would he be in a courtroom trial of an officer or would He be in the streets of Nigeria holding the hands of those being martyred for His namesake?  Would He be marching with a picket sign or would He be crying over the lost innocence of a girl taken from her family and forced to work the streets in Thailand? Would Jesus be found in the church meetings of preachers working up their congregations over police shootings or would He be found in the midst of the souls of the millions of children who never saw the light of day but are just as precious in His sight?

What enrages us today? What makes the hairs on our heads stand on end? What events bring us to tears? What in all the hyped up footage really causes our hearts to break? If we are more outraged at the thought of a same-sex couple than we are at the images of lifeless corpses of dead children we are hypocrites. ALL lives matter-the faceless-the nameless-the inconvenient-the abandoned-the homeless-the incarcerated-they are all precious in His sight.  May they all be precious in ours as well.

 

The Healthy Fear of a Sovereign God

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As a young boy much bigger for may age than average, there was little I was afraid of, at least from my peers. I got into very little trouble growing up. It might have been that I was in church so much there was little down time to get into any mischief. Or it may have been the one thing I did fear-those six words that evoked the fire of God whenever I heard them-“just wait until your dad gets home”. You see, at 6’8″ and 300 lbs my dad too was bigger than average! For greater impact I would hear my mom relaying the details of my latest waywardness to my dad when he called while on break, so I knew he would be planning my punishment for several hours before ha came home and played the role of disciplinarian. In every single case the wait was more dreaded and effective than the punishment.

As a believer I am grateful for a God who we can approach as Abba Father-one who is often described as loving, gracious, merciful kind, forgiving, patient-all attributes which are scriptural and true. We are told and can bet our life on the scriptures that tell us nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God.  But, I wonder if the church, both the institutional church and the body of believers that make up the church, have so embraced the message of grace that we have completely disregarded the unchallenged sovereignty of God. We don’t want to consider the Old Testament God of jealousy , vengeance and wrath because it doesn’t fit into our 2015 definition of a more tolerant, sociable, politically correct, changing with the times God that we have created to better fit our conscious-one that allows us to fit in and be more widely accepted and considered for office, for promotion and for more likes on our social media outlets.

It’s ironic that those who oppose or deny the concept of God are first to point out accurately that God killed people in the Old testament simply because they did not follow His commands. The Mega-churches have apparently lost that section of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe that those who are looking for the truth and for eternal hope should not be scared into salvation at the thought of an angry God just for eternal insurance purposes alone. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of hope, of reconciliation and restoration of a sinful people to a loving, caring God whose desire is that none should perish needlessly. But to properly appreciate the loving and merciful side of God one must balance it against the judging, jealous and total rule of the same God who created a race of people to worship Him and Him alone and to fear Him who has no equals.

The stories of God’s wrath against an unruly people are too numerous to list. There were complete cities destroyed for their shameless disobedience. The armies of Israel were often decimated when they turned their backs on God.  Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised land because of a procedural error.  God was and is a stern God who demands fear, allegiance and obedience-nothing has changed in His expectations.  The difference today is God’s gift of His Son who took our sin punishment on the cross and acts as our advocate by covering us who accept Him with His righteousness so that the wrath of God is thwarted before being administered.

We are living in a time of great arrogance and brazen boldness as a church in general and as a nation as it relates to the issues and spiritual challenges of the day.  In order to boost attendance and keep our nonprofit status we have put forth a God who more resembles a Disney character than a God who is described in Revelation having hair white as wool and eyes blazing like fire-with feet like burning bronze and a tongue like a double edged sword. When I was younger and in church I hated always hearing sermons about hell-about how you could leave the church building and be struck by a car and enter into eternity.  The message left me uncomfortable and uneasy about the true motive for following in the path of Christ.  But the message was and is that God can’t be ignored forever just because His ways and laws are inconvenient to us or socially irrelative to the current culture.

In Him there is a life of abundance. But outside of Him, there is danger-there is peril-there is judgment. Some might ask “why would God do that” or how does a loving God allow this or that”. And my answer would be simply, I don’t always know.  He is God, I’m not. He’s in charge-I’m under His loving rule. I don’t try to argue with God.  I have many questions, but who Am I to demand answers or justification from God. I accept my role and love the promise of what is waiting.  And yes, I fear God.  Not in a panic fear but in the realization that apart from Christ, I am worthy of no less than the punishment I read about in the Old Testament.

We are living in perilous times. The Word of God is being dissected and voided of all hateful appearing verbiage. The Government is trying to tell us how we can interpret and practice our faith in complete defiance of the first Amendment to practice without interference. The entertainment, educational and political systems are lining up against the church in what will eventually play itself out as a major war for the saints that may change the face of the church as we know it now.  It is time like never before to have or develop a healthy fear of God, His word, His commands and His judgment.  The popular t-shirt is so right on-“Only God Can Judge Me”. What a horrible notion for those living in opposition to His nature and His sovereignty.

Stories Behind the Songs We Love

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I have always loved the progression of Contemporary Christian Music and the impact it has had on sharing our faith with music that appeals to the younger crowd.  Just this past weekend I attended a Worship Experience here with Tenth Avenue North and Chris Tomlin, the Bill Gaither of our generation and had an amazing time of praise and worship. However, I grew up on the Hymns of the church and they are ingrained into my memory as much as the multiplication tables I learned in school.  While I may never relinquish my love for Contemporary Christian music, I am finding that the older I get the more I love and appreciate the hymns from my past.  It’s funny how I can be going about my daily business and out of nowhere an old hymn that I haven’t sung since I was a kid will start playing in my mind as if I had been singing it over the past weekend. Some would call that dementia; I call it wisdom.

There is a purity and an integrity in the lyrics of songs written before our days that is hard to find in their modern successors.  You can almost hear the intensity and the depth of the relationships these authors had with their God, one that is envious to me.  But even beyond the depth of their faith are the stories and the tragedies behind some of the most popular hymns that make the songs even more inspiring if possible.  I wanted to share a couple with you on this post.

Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago Attorney with a successful practice in the mid to late 1800’s. He was a devout Christian and counted among his friends Dwight Moody. But money doesn’t protect one from tragedy.  Early on he and his wife Anna lost their young son, devastating to the most faithful of men. Shortly thereafter in the Great Chicago fire of 1871 Spafford suffered a great financial loss when most all of his real estate investments went up in smoke.

In 1873 Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe for his wife and four remaining daughters where they could relax and recover from their recent losses. Spafford would be joining them and then helping Moody with an evangelistic campaign but last minute business detained him in Chicago. About 4 days into the trip the Ville du Harve collided with a Scottish Iron vessel and within 12 minutes the ship sank into the deep Atlantic taking 226 passenger down with her, including all of Horatio’s daughters.  A fishing boat near the scene spotted a woman clinging to some boards.  It was Spafford’s wife Anna-she had survived. She sent a wire to Spafford which simply said “I alone survived.  What shall I do?”

Devastated and in mourning Spafford boarded a ship to meet his wife in Wales.  About 4 days into the trip the Captain of the ship came to Spafford’s cabin to tell him they were over the area where the Ville du Harve had sunk. Spafford went to the deck to view the spot and reflect on his loss. It is there and at that moment that Horatio Spafford penned these words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet and trials should come

Let this blessed assurance control

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate

And has shed His own blood for my soul

Chorus:

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul

It would be the only hymn Spafford would ever write but one that brings hope to everyone who hears it haunting but beautiful lyrics. What an amazing and incomprehensible testament to the faith of a truly Godly man, to compose such a timeless classic in the midst of the most horrific tragedy.  This is the purity and integrity of lyrics to which I referred.

Louisa Stead was born in 1850. At a very young age Louisa felt a call to ministry but she suffered from frail health and was unable to go into the mission field. At age 25 Louisa married the love of her life and later gave birth to their daughter Lilly. But just a few short years later her beloved husband was attempting to save the life of a drowning child and in his attempt lost his own life.  Louisa was devastated beyond grief.  It was in her sorrow that she penned these now famous words:

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus says the Lord!’

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Chorus

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Who was the “wretch” in Amazing Grace? John Newton, born in 1725 grew up with no religious training or conviction and was often in trouble.  he was forced involuntarily into the military and the service of the Royal Navy where he learned his navigational skills. After leaving the Royal Navy he became a major figure in the Atlantic Slave Trading business.  During one of his trip his ship was hit with a violent storm off the coast of Ireland that battered his boat so severely he instinctively cried out to God for rescue. It is while his boat was being repaired that he penned the first verse to this Anthem of the Faith;

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found

Was blind but now I see

In 1755 Newton gave up slave trading and entered Seminary. He went on to a vocation of Christian ministry and completed the song Amazing Grace.  It is estimated that this tune is sung more than ten million times annually in churches across America yet today. It’s a story of redemption from past sins, of hope for the lowliest of creatures and of our future glory, When We’ve Been There Ten Thousand Years.  It has truly become one of if not the most recognizable hymns in history.

There are so many more stories like these of the circumstances behind the hymns we love-not all of them as tragic but just as inspiring. They say the greatest love songs ever written come from a broken heart.  It can truly be said that the most inspiring hymns of the church today come from tragedy and broken spirits.  But oh how we are the benefactors of the situations that birthed these awesome anthems that we relish and still sing today.  I’m not getting rid of any of my contemporary CD’s just yet, but When the Roll is Called Up Yonder and With a Thousand Tongues to Tell we sing Holy Holy Holy and How Great Thou Art to our Fairest Lord Jesus, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to contain the overwhelming joy and gratitude, or express any better our adoration to Him than these and others have already done decades ago.  The older I get, the more precious these hymns.

Politics and the Church-Our Filthy Rags

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We as the Church in America are about to embark upon what has become a heated, sometimes hostile, divided and downright nasty debate that leaves those outside the church scratching their heads as they observe. With the onset of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, candidates are throwing their hats into the ring and announcing their intent and the Church is rolling up their sleeves and forming battle lines that would intimidate Navy Seal teams.  They will back their candidate and prepare for a war that will play itself out in embarrassing fashion on social media with misquotes, creative memes and misguided scriptural support that will be at least as muddy as the campaigns themselves. It has always been this way but with the transparency of social media outlets the debate within the Church is now exploited for the world to see like a window dancer in the Red light district.  It’s shameful, divisive and heartbreaking to witness and the resulting battles divide the American Church more than any other social event or issue.

We all have different ideas and expectations of those we elect to represent us both at the State and Federal level of Government.  Foreign policy, local economy, Government spending and taxation, entitlements, education, healthcare, social agendas, all have different weight and priority to the individual voter, which is completely understandable. We all come from different backgrounds and carry with us varying ideals formed from our own unique personal experience and upbringing. Some vote Red or Blue because that’s just what their family has always done; some vote one way or another strictly on a single issue.  Some approach their decision prayerfully while others approach it based on the good of their personal bank account.  Some are very private and secretive in their balloting while many will use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and other Social outlets as their soapbox for all things holy and political.

I am so grateful to be born in a country where we can cast a vote in a democratic process to elect leaders, to be able to voice opinions or displeasure with the administration with little or no repercussion, and to be engaged at whatever level of activity we choose in the process.  And I can appreciate that just as there are apparently 35,000 different Christian denominations of the Same Gospel there are also at least the same number of opinions and criteria for voting in elections. What is hard to accept is the vile and the tone of speech and posts from siblings in Christ displayed with each other who don’t come to the same political conclusions as others believe they should.  I have actually seen the following comments displayed on my page over the years from confessed believers:

“How can you call yourself Christian but vote for that person?” 

“A real believer wouldn’t be part of that party”

“If you vote that way your an idiot”

“Just shoot them all”

So in considering what is about to be played out for the unchurched public, I have to approach this with my eyes open from two points of view; 1) What does the Word say, if anything, about casting our vote, and 2) What does the Word tell us about being an example to a world who is watching us or looking to us for real hope and solutions?  For me, these are the only things that should matter.

First, what scriptural references do we have for elections or for those we elect?  Not surprisingly, there are several passages dealing with this subject:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;” Psalm 1:1

“Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” Exodus 18:21

“He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. ” 2 Samuel 23:3

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?   2 Corinthians 6:14

“Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is the reproach of any people.” Proverbs 14:34 –

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalms 33:12) 

However you approach your ballot, there are fundamental truths laid out for us in scripture that should guide your decision. Contrary to what is being sponsored as truth, God’s laws are not to be disregarded. The welfare of widows, children, homeless, sick-the integrity of life-these things should always trump the welfare of our net worth, the protection of our retirement or any other non-Kingdom criteria used in making a voting decision. Sometime the best vote is not the one that benefits you.

Second, how should the world view us during this process-should we be boisterous in our arrogance and piety which only serves to emphasize our divisions? Or should Christ be glorified in our speech, in our debate, in our tones, in our posts and in the words we choose as we label each other Red or Blue?  So back to the Word we go:

Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Romans 13:14; Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy 

Ephesians 5:7-14 Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light

Acts 13:47 “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'”

I can only speculate that God may question the motives behind our voting habits and our public expression or our political affiliation.  But based on the passages above, I can pretty much guarantee we will be judged by how we let our light shine before the world or what fruit they saw in us during political seasons. When the Church takes on the appearance of the world in our political bantering and the mud bombs launched at each other over Presidential candidates, to the point we are no longer distinguishable as the Church of Christ, our magnified division and ultimate demise will be thunderous and catastrophic to a world looking for something we possess but lose focus on at times-the hope of the Gospel, the evidence of “love thy Neighbor”.

We have a long journey to November 2016. I fear that the potential for much harm will be realized before it’s over. I pray that we in the Body of Christ hold to our right to vote but live our lives in the process in a way that does not divide, that we disagree with reason, sobriety and respect, and that above all else, Jesus is glorified in our actions and not defiled in our debate.

The Twice a Year Husband

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I must say I’ve been blessed with a pretty amazing, forgiving, gracious and still attractive wife. Ours may not be the perfect relationship. We have weathered some storms that few know of and can only boast that we survived. But I can’t imagine sharing my earthly life with anyone else.  She keeps me grounded, motivated, inspired and loved, and I strive to do the same for her.  To quote an old song, Me and Mrs. Hill got a Thing Going On.

As important a role she plays in my life, I’ve tried to imagine what our relationship would look like if I only acknowledged her two or three times per year, maybe on her birthday or our anniversary or Valentines Day. What kind of a marriage would we have if I only spoke to her, wrapped my arms around her, acknowledged her or in any other way interacted with her only on certain annual occasions? What would the state of our marital bliss be if she waited for me to come home from work so we could be together but I completely ignored her as I headed for the dinner table or to my room to relax?  And heaven forbid, what if she tried talking to me each day but I only responded to her communication attempts twice each year?  I think I can say with all certainty that we would be just another divorce statistic.

Last week most of us celebrated Easter. Churches cleaned up and put their best foot forward in anticipating the larger than normal attendance of biannual visitors.  Facebook and social media was lit up with memes and images and the traditional posts that go along with the Easter reflections. Retailers offered sale prices for those who would buy that once a year dress or suit for church.  Television offered up the usual King of Kings, Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Passion and other Easter themed programming. Even CNN got in on the act with their series on Jesus.  And oh the goodies and specials given at Easter at the local eateries, knowing there would be long lines waiting to dine after the Easter services. Don’t get me wrong-I am grateful anytime Christ is glorified and acknowledged-He is surely worthy of our accolades and so much more.

Revelation 5:12-  And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered–to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

In considering the implied ramifications of being a twice per year husband as it relates to the marital relationship, how can we defend biannual reflections on our faith or expect any different results if we choose to be twice per year believers?  Are we just as guilty of acknowledging the divine work of redemption and the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior at Christmas and Easter?  Are we too engrossed in our lives to take a few minutes to converse with God each day?  Do we forego the opportunity to unite with our brothers and sisters in corporate worship each week? Do we boast of the various Bible translations we have on our shelves but rarely spend time in devotion of scripture?  If we tended to our wives or husbands the way we tend to church would our relationships be stronger, or much weaker?  And if we tended to our faith in the same manner we do our mates, would we be weaker or much stronger?

Being engaged in your faith and in the universal and local church is critical to the health of your spiritual walk. The Bible is not shy about church attendance and involvement:

Hebrews 10:25-Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near

Matthew 18:20-For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them

Colossians 3:16-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

Psalm 92:12-The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I can’t imagine how I would get by if I only interacted with my beautiful wife twice each year. I am so grateful for the knowledge that even on less than perfect days, she is there and I can approach her, speak to her, spend time alone with her and enjoy the fruits of the relationship we have with each other. There is no greater joy in my earthly life than pleasing her and being in her company.  How much more, given the world we live in and the continuing martyrdom that we hear of daily, am I grateful in knowing that I can commune with God daily, and that He cherishes the time I devote to Him.  My faith, though still weak at times is strengthened through engagement and my soul is nourished in corporate worship.  What a mess I would be if I only met with God at Christmas and Easter.

I AM HE-The Proven Submission of Jesus

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Most of us have seen various depictions through movies of the events leading up to and including the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Some may have even felt a tinge of hostility toward the religious leaders and Roman rule who so viciously had Jesus beaten, tortured and put to death, as if they were actually in control of the events. The accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and trial are similarly recorded in the four gospels.  But the account John gives us has one added observation, one that leaves us with no doubt that the only person who had total control of the events that night was in fact Jesus.

This account aligns perfectly with the intent and theme of each of the four gospels, not to be viewed as inconsistent, but as different perspectives of the same story.  Matthew writes to Jews familiar with the Old Testament presenting the genealogy of Jesus and proof of Old Testament prophecy that Jesus in the expected Messiah. Mark’s audience is more to the Romans not familiar with the Old Testament prophecies.  Mark provides more stories of the miracles of Jesus as proof through action of His deity. Luke’s objective was to point out the human element of Jesus through various and detailed physical descriptions, including the anatomical aspects of the death of Jesus-fully God in the form of human man.  John on the other hand wrote in a way to show us from the very first verse that Jesus was the human expression of the eternal God-“In the beginning was the Word-the Word was with God and the Word  WAS GOD!”  So it’s only natural that John would remind us that even in death, Jesus God was present. This is how John reveals this to us in his gospel:

John 18:1-5;   18 After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove. Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked. “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied. I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground!

Jesus God invoked the very name He had given in response to Moses when asked “who should I tell them has sent me?”  God said “tell them I Am has sent you”. At the very verbalizing of the name ‘I Am” all who came to arrest Jesus were given full disclosure if they had any doubt of who Jesus really was-God!  Who was in the crowd that came that night to arrest Jesus?  The gospels give us enough information to determine that it was a mixed crowd of select religious leaders, the guards of the Jewish temple and Roman soldiers-Jews and Gentiles alike. It is given through Peter’s response in slicing off the ear of one of the religious leader’s servants that even the disciples were shaken at the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, so His response of “I Am” and the resulting “we all fall down” that they witnessed served to assure them too that Jesus was in total control.

I can’t help but imagine the reaction of the religious leaders when they found themselves on the ground at the mention of the name “I Am”. How long did they sit there? Were they in shock?  Did they begin to question their authority or Christ’s deity? How could they just get up, shake the dust from their cloaks and continue in this arrest?  What about the Roman guard?  They were strong and feared men who ruled by force and intimidation.  They were reportedly carrying swords on their person.  But at the mentioning of the name “I Am” they too were knocked backwards to the ground by the power of Jesus’ words.  There should have been little doubt to all who were present that night, the religious leaders, the Roman guard and the followers of Christ that this man was God in the flesh and in charge of the situation.

Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus portrays this very nature of total control of what’s coming ahead.  In John 10:14-18 Jesus spells it out for us very clearly:

 14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

In Mark’s gospel, chapter 8, Jesus is again recorded as predicting to His followers what must come.  From the Message Bible,

30-32 Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.

Those who heard these words at the time perhaps did not fully grasp what Jesus was predicting.  I’m quite certain that given the crucial role the disciples would eventually play in the birth of the new church and the new gospel, Jesus needed them too to be reminded that night that His betrayal and arrest was prophetic and being orchestrated as part of the plan of salvation set forth from the beginning of time, when Jesus was the Word and was with God and was God.

For good measure, Jesus reminded even Pilate of His power and control, recorded again by John in chapter 19;

He took Jesus back into the headquarters[a] again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

11 Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.

In no way is this a suggestion that Jesus laid aside the physical aspects of His humanity as to not suffer pain. Any inferred implication that this was the case is not supported by scriptural texts. Jesus was fully God with complete power and control but yet fully man, responding to the torture and pain as any mortal man would. Luke is quick to record for us the physical elements of Christ’s suffering. Jesus was clear and deliberate to everyone present at the time and all who choose to observe His recorded words today that He voluntarily surrendered His life-laid it down and relinquished physical control, suffered the humiliating torment of suffering and death ascribed to the common criminal of that period out of a pure love we can never fully comprehend.  Jesus God allowed Roman guards to beat Him about the face, pull out his hair and beard, spit on Him, mock him, discriminate against Him and publicly bully Him. He didn’t demand his rights-He didn’t sue for defamation of character or false arrest-He didn’t accuse the leaders of profiling or religious bigotry. He simple gave us His life of His own free will as the ultimate and supreme sacrifice for all mankind for all time to come, because He wanted to, because He could and because He loved us that much. The Great I Am proved His submission to us. How unworthy I am for such a sacrifice.

True Relics, True Gospel, Changed Lives

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This post may be summarily dismissed by many Protestants who don’t accept, acknowledge or understand the existence of historic Christian relics or the miracles attributed to them.  Relics are simply the remains of saints, i.e. bones, hair, skin, etc., or items closely associated with them or that may have come in contact with them.  There has always been a reluctance in the Western church to acknowledge or venerate these relics for fear that they would somehow be guilty of their misunderstanding of the constitution of idolatry. However for us to dismiss the stories and the miracles reported in association with some of these relics is to dismiss portions of Holy scripture in both Old and New Testaments that document similar miracles. Consider as a basis of Biblical support the following verses:

2Kings 13:20-21  Elisha died and was buried.  At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year.  Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band.  So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off.  But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet. 

Matthew 9:20   Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, 21 for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”

Acts 19:11-12  So extraordinary were the mighty deeds GOD accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Upon reading these passages it would be intellectually dishonest to deny that God released His power indirectly through dead bones, clothing, personal items and even shadows. The items listed were never the object of worship. They were used to show that with God nothing is impossible and not everything is explainable.

The stories of miracles associated with relics are countless and can easily be researched for study by anyone with internet access.  One miracle involves the death of St. Nectarios.

On September 20, 1920 one of the nuns took him to the local hospital, in spite of his protest. He was convulsing in pain from a long-standing ailment. He was admitted, and placed into a ward reserved for the poor and unwanted. There he stayed for two months among the sick and dying. At 10:30 in the evening of November 8th, although in the midst of terrible pains, in peace and at prayer he gave up his spirit unto God at the age of 74. As soon as the Saint gave up his Spirit, a nurse came to prepare him for transfer to Aegina for burial. As the nurse removed the Saints sweater, she inadvertently placed it on the next bed, on which a paralytic lay. And O, strange wonder!, the paralytic immediately began to regain his strength and arose from his bed healthy, and glorifying God.

The oil from the sacred lamp of St. Nectarios continues to be used for anointing with resulting healing reported frequently.

Another of my favorite relic stories involves the discovery of the cross of our Savior, referred to in research as the True Cross. St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, is said to have discovered three wooden crosses under a pagan shrine that had been built on the site of Golgotha. She ordered the shrine to be leveled and was led to the spot by a man in Jerusalem claiming to know the burial place of the crosses. Upon the discovery it was not clear which one was the cross of Christ, so a Bishop who was with her suggested they bring a lady from the city who was known to be critically ill.  Upon the lady’s exposure to the True Cross she was immediately healed.

Other stories are associated with those who possess just small pieces of the True Cross, like this one of Fr. Stavros. When Fr. Stavros was young, he accidentally fell from a height, and his injuries were so great that even the doctor acknowledged that he had died. Everyone was preparing for his burial, at which point his mother remembered the Precious Cross that was in her possession, and she crossed him. A few hours later, he was brought back to life. Fr. Stavros is now in possession of this relic of the True Cross and continues to witness miracles as a result. When Fr. Stavros or another priest places the Cross on the bare skin of a sick person, it adheres or sticks like a magnet where there is sickness or illness.  When the person is healed, or when the sick person is about to have an operation which will heal the person, it no longer sticks to them.  Here is another reported miracle of this particular relic. When Fr. Stavros brought the True Cross to the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Wisconsin, Many sick people came seeking healing. One of these was a Native-America woman with a large, malignant tumor on her chest. With fear and faith she approached and was blessed with the Cross, and a few days later, her tumor had totally disappeared.

As you might expect any sacred items that people seek out for various reasons become prime targets for forgery for profit. You can buy your very own piece of the True Cross on various Ebay stores today for $9.99. Many medieval merchants brought back wood from the Middle East and passed it off as True Cross relics. CNN has documented cases where carbon dating on certain acclaimed relics, including the supposed finger of john the Baptist, cast heavy doubt on their authenticity.  So what, if anything, is the true measure of the authenticity of a relic? It’s actually quite simple.  Those who come in contact with it and release their faith are changed. The lady who touched the robe of Jesus was healed by her faith response.  Those who wanted to be in the path of Peter’s shadow were healed by their faith response. Those seeking miracles at the exposure to Christian relics are healed through their faith response.  False relics do not result in dramatic changes.

There is a direct correlation to be made between true relics and the true Gospel. From the day the Gospel was first preached lives were changed and miracles were performed. People heard of the healing and redemptive powers of the message being delivered and they journeyed for days to hear, to see and believe. The early church grew quickly and in great numbers because of people’s faith response to the true Gospel. And at the same time and even so today there are a myriad of false or forgery gospels being preached, and yes many of them just for profit. Many modern day evangelists are being exposed for teachings that are contrary to the Gospel.

Galatians 1:8 – Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.

So what is our measure for the authenticity of the Gospel? Just as with relics, no one can come in contact with it and not be forever changed. And herein lies the beauty of the True and authentic Gospel; you don’t need the capacity to understand the entire Gospel in order for transformation to begin. The Holy Spirit of God can pierce the soul with a single verse!  That may not sell well in some evangelic churches today. But who among even the mature and life-long students of the Word can claim to grasp in full the context or the mysteries of the Gospel or expound upon the message of God’s grace and mercy with the finite capacity that is the human mind?  While we are exhorted to study and rightly divide the Word, none of us have to score 100% to ascribe to the benefits hidden therein.  The life altering transformation of our spirit can begin with the initial exposure to just a fragment of the Gospel, just as those who are healed at the release of their faith and exposure to just a fragment of a relic.

If you want to know if an evangelist is authentic or a forgery, look at their fruit.  Are lives made better?  Is Christ glorified? Is the integrity of the Holy Scriptures maintained? Jesus said a bad tree can’t produce good fruit and a good tree can’t produce bad fruit. Our great commission as followers of Christ and representatives of the true Gospel is to be vessels of change ourselves and in our lives and conduct, share that change with others-to become individual relics of the life-changing Gospel of Christ for a world seeking even the smallest fragment of hope so that their faith response to our relic of grace may manifest a miraculous and eternal change in their lives.

Judas Syndrome-Subtle Betrayals

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The character Judas Iscariot has always fascinated me for some reason. Not much is written about him in the New Testament and little else is available through tradition or other writings. The theories about his life and motives span both sides of the spectrum. Some consider him to be the seed of the devil for his betrayal of Jesus while other sects look to venerate him as a saint, crediting him with putting into motion the chain of events that is our redemption and reconciliation. And yet others believe his role was to be viewed as an example that no one is safe from the snares of personal greed and temptation, even an Apostle of Jesus. Whatever your view, Judas Iscariot makes for controversial study.

We know his name in Hebrew means “Praised”. We know that he was from Judah, the only one of the twelve with all others being from Galilee. We know he was the treasurer of the twelve, responsible for the money and necessities of the group.  But what else do find in Judas that may be shockingly familiar?

In Matthew’s account Peter, in his explanation of how prophecy was fulfilled by Judas’ betrayal, describes Judas as “being numbered among us and having a share in the ministry”.  This does not suggest a passive but a hands on involved role, the evangelizing, the bearing witness to the miracles of Jesus first hand, the intimate instruction by the Master and even possibly the faith and partnership with the Apostles as they performed their own miracles in Christ’s name. We have no reason to believe that Judas started out as anything but a fully engaged “on fire” Apostle of Jesus. But along the way Judas fell prey to greed and temptation that he chose not to resist. Judas had a love for money.  We see that in his false narrative as he protests the anointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume.  We are told that he stole from the group treasury funds.  Materialistic greed is a powerful and addicting cancer that even the strongest can’t always escape.  The character of Judas is not one void of all redeeming qualities doomed from the start but one that in spite of the knowledge of Christ fell victim to his own desires.

It is possible that the act of the betrayal itself was merely motivated by profit and greed? Consider how many times we are told in the New Testament that Jesus “escapes” through the crowd because it wasn’t yet His time.  Did Judas believe that Jesus would simply escape again as in times past and that he would reap a reward of silver with no harm being done?  One has to wonder at the remorse Judas displays when he realizes that this time Jesus is indeed apprehended and taken into custody.  His immediate response is one of sorrow and regret as he returns the money and takes his own life feeling unworthy to carry on as an Apostle. The act of his suicide suggests to us that in the end he did not believe the words of Christ pertaining to resurrection and eternity so even his faith and intimate knowledge of Jesus was overcome by his greed and desires. Throughout all history perhaps no one individual was ever elevated to as high a status and yet lowered to a more detestable state than Judas Iscariot. How can one hear first hand the teachings of Christ,  share everyday life and fellowship with Him, observe Him as he heals the lame and raises the dead and even partakes in the initial ministry outreach of Christianity and still fall with so great a fall?  How could one man chosen to be one of the twelve that would see and hear things the rest of us can only imagine, one who literally sat in the presence of God in the body of Jesus who basked in His glory for a three year period, betray Him for any price, let alone a paltry thirty pieces of silver?

And now for a tough question-are we any different than Judas Iscariot? Judas did not harbor the typical hatred of a traitor but rather loved Jesus to the end, betraying Him with a kiss of brotherly affection. Do we openly proclaim our love and devotion for Jesus while in possession of an unforgiving spirit?  Do we praise and worship on the weekends but cuss out drivers throughout the work week? Do we hold onto every possession without thought for the desperate and needy? Do we practice subtle betrayal in our actions when no one else is around?  Do we have an intimate enough knowledge of Christ that compels us in holy awe and exhorts us to acquiring the character of our namesake or do we hang our Jesus outfit in the closet until the next weekend?  Do the thoughts we fail to take captive, the desires we allow to exist in secret or the actions we take when angered serve as betrayals of God’s grace and Christ’s redeeming work? I wonder, and I shudder at the thought. God have mercy on us.

Scripture is full of good news and hope for everyday life, but there is one passage that tends to be haunting to me.  Matthew 7:21-23 says this:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

The Message Translation spins it this way:

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Subtle willing betrayals-secret sinful desires-dormant but breathing temptations, just like Judas. “Father, observe and restore our motivation to be like your Son Jesus in all we think and do, and to genuinely reflect His character in our lives so that we are not deemed guilty of His betrayal through our actions and unbelief”

Peace.

Prayer for Dummies-A Simplistic Privilege

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I’ve often heard of prayer being described as a spiritual discipline when in fact, it’s a holy privilege afforded us by the brutality and suffering of our Savior which we will be remembering in a few weeks.   There seems to be misconceptions about prayer, who prays better, what catch phrases to use to get God’s attention, the secret tricks to getting your prayers answered and so on. There is no mystery in prayer, no seeds of faith that must first be planted, no prayer hankies to purchase, no holy water from the Jordan River. It’s not snake oil, it’s simple and honest dialogue between us and our Father. Yet many remain intimidated at the concept or waiver thinking they don’t know how to pray.

What exactly is prayer?  Simply put, prayer is nothing more than communicating with God.  It isn’t something you have to study and learn, it’s not a dialect you have to master.  All my life I’ve heard people say they are not good at praying, or say something like “I wish I could pray like that person”, or “you pray, I’m not very good at it”.  I walk away scratching my head.  So, for all of you who may feel you don’t know how to pray, I’m going to give you the real secret.  If you can put words together is some recognizable form, whether vocalized or in thought, you have mastered prayer!

Do we fully grasp the privilege we have in approaching God directly in prayer? How did we came to acquire this privilege?  Before Christ, only High Priests were allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, a special place within the temple, to offer up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then, only at certain times of the year.  After Christ’s death and resurrection, we read that the temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn completely from top to bottom, symbolizing our new direct access to the throne of grace, by anyone and at anytime! We can instantly be in the presence of God, on holy ground.

In many of the Catholic, Orthodox and other faiths, you won’t find a schedule of services-you’ll find instead a schedule of liturgies.  Liturgy  comes from the Greek leitos, the people of God, offering up their ergon, or energy and efforts to God in prayer.  There should be a compelling desire on the part of all Christians to be a people of prayer, to want to stand in the presence of our Lord and spend time with him daily in our personal life, and corporately in our churchesMartin Luther King Jr. said that being a Christian without prayer is like life without breath.

When I met my wife, I wanted to be in her presence all the time.  It wasn’t enough for me to stand in front of a picture of her and think about her, or call her up on the phone once a week for 30 minutes or read a biography about her written by someone else.  My days were brighter because I knew I could see her and spend time with her everyday.  And when I was with her, I wanted to talk to her, and to listen to her talk back.  I wanted to know what she thought about things-I wanted to know more about who she was.  I put in the time and energy to make this happen.  God desires our time alone with Him more than we could fathom.

In Luke Chapter 11, verse 1 we read “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he had finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray”. What do you think the disciple was asking him?  These disciples did life with Jesus-they watched him perform miracles-they listened to his teachings, and they observed his prayer habits.  They didn’t just want to know how to pray-they wanted to know how to pray like He did!  They watched as he spoke to his Father-they witnessed him bask in the glory of God’s presence.  The disciples wanted their prayer life to have the same impact on them as they saw on Christ.

At that point Jesus responded by giving us one of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for-the model prayer.  He responded to the request by saying, “when you pray, pray like this”.  After that, we read the Lord’s prayer, recorded both here in Luke 11 and in Matthew 6.  Note here that Jesus didn’t say, “pray this prayer”.  Jesus understood what the disciples were asking him, and he gave them a model to fashion their prayers around.  Let’s take a look at that model we call The Lord’s Prayer.

The prayer can be broken down into 5 parts, all important ingredients for powerful and effective prayer.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

  “Our Father in Heaven, hollowed be your name”.

It’s important that we recognize the deity of God.  It’s a beautiful thing to know that by virtue of the cross, we have been given the right to call him Abba, or Father, on the same level as our Brother, Jesus Christ.  But, oh, how important it is to remember that we are in the presence of Holiness when we approach God, and we need to express that gratitude reverently and in awe when we pray.

Any of you who have kids or in my case grandkids, especially girls, can relate to this.  When your little girl, daughter or granddaughter climbs up in your lap and throws her arms around your neck and says I love you Dad, or I love you Papa, you know that at that moment there is nothing in the world you would not do for her if she asked.  Why-because she just got your undivided attention.   Jesus said,” if you dads on earth know how to give good gifts to your kids when they ask, how much more does the Father want to give you good things when you ask of him”.

SUBMISSION

Your kingdom and your will be established on earth just as it is in Heaven”.

It is important that when we approach God, that he knows we want and seek his will for our lives, first and foremost-that regardless of what we are about to petition him for, we submit to his perfect plan for our life.  That’s a tall order.  Whenever we talk about “God’s will for our life”, we almost always assume it’s different than our will for our life, and few of us want to know that.  We need to remember Christ’s example when he prayed in Ghesthemane before his arrest.  He knew what he was about to endure and asked if there was any other way for this plan to unfold, that he wanted the choice, but prayed, “nonetheless, not my will but yours be done”.  If we are to be like Christ, we have to submit to God’s will.

In the very same chapter where we find The Lord’s Prayer, in verse 33, we read “seek first the kingdom of God, and then everything else will be added to you”.

PETITION

Give us our food for today

AFTER we have acknowledged God and his deity, and AFTER we have requested his will over ours, then can we make our requests of God.  Let’s go back to our little girl for a moment.  If you’re sitting there reading the paper and she comes in and knocks the paper out of your hand and says “Daddy, why won’t you buy me a new pair of shoes”, your immediate response would be for her to step off and remember who she’s dealing with.  But if she comes over and climbs in your lap and gives you a big kiss, and then asks you, you give in, even if you recognize the ploy, because she’s your little girl and you love her that much.  Remember, our emotions are God given-if it works for us, it must work for him.

Note that in the model, we are to ask for our provisions for the day.  I think sometimes our petitions look more like a Christmas wish list than daily necessities.  Yes, James 4:2 says we have not because we ask not, but this is not to be understood as a blank check promise, but willingness to be blessed as God sees fit to better serve Him and His kingdom.

REPENTENCE

Forgive us of our sins as we forgive others”

This is a prerequisite to effective prayer.  Mark 11:25 says “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive your sins too”.

Some in the body have been led astray by a false presentation of the work of Grace and eternal salvation.  The Apostle Paul had to address this even in his day as many thought they had a license to do anything because of a grace covering.  Paul said, “should we sin more so that grace may abound more?  No Way”.  A humble and repentive spirit is required for effective prayer. God’s mercies are made new and fresh every day because we need them every day!

DIRECTION

Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one

Psalms 19:13 reads, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.  Then I will be blameless and innocent of great transgression”.

God does not put stumbling blocks before us-that’s the work of the evil one.  Sometimes, however, we put ourselves into positions or situations where we are tempted or attracted to doing what we know is wrong.  Prayer is a great weapon against the daily onslaught of the tempting situations we face. In Ephesians 6:11, we read “Put on all God’s armor so that you’ll be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil.” It then tells us in verse 18 to “pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit.” God knows what we’re up against, and has given us all the weapons we need, working together in prayer.

There is a final key to developing a reverent fear of God through effective prayer.  Quite simply, there are times when we need to know when to just shut up!  Psalms 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God”. It may be coincidence, but again maybe not, that both times in the New Testament when the Lord’s Prayer is recorded, there is no modeled ending to the prayer, no “amen”, etc.  I see this as my invitation to sit patiently in the Lord’s presence and listen for his voice.  His voice may come as a peaceful holy silence; it may come as an inner voice in your heart; it may come as an urging or sudden thought or inspiration.  One thing is for sure, it won’t be detectable unless you are giving God an opportunity to speak as you wait and listen.

“Pray without ceasing”; “in everything give thanks”. What an awesome privilege to spend time alone with the creator of the universe in intimate prayer.

 

 

LOL-It Does the Heart Good!

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Actual Church Bulletins:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

—The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks on the Water.” The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”

—Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

—Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.

—For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

—At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.

–Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.

—The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

—This evening at 7 PM there will be hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin..

—Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM.. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.

—Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door..

—Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

—The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: “I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours”

An Internet site advises this Wellness Tip: “Go on and laugh! Whether your preference is giggle, chuckle or guffaw, here are a dozen well-being benefits of laughter: Increases antibodies in saliva that combats upper respiratory infections. Secretes an enzyme that protects the stomach from forming ulcers. Conditions the abdominal muscles. Relaxes muscles throughout the body. Aids in reducing symptoms of  rheumatism. Has positive benefits on mental functions. Reduces blood pressure and heart-rate. Helps the body fight infection. Releases endorphins which provide natural pain relief. Tightens stomach muscles. Helps move nutrients and oxygen to body tissues. AND, it makes you feel good!”

“Why, Joe, we’re Christians and we must take seriously the business of building the Kingdom and saving souls and making disciples-we don’t have time to laugh”.  

And to that I would say look at how many empty seats there are in any church on any given Sunday-maybe we should try a different approach?  Perhaps it’s time to let the joy of our salvation show just a little more on the outside. Besides, if you really don’t believe God has a sense of humor, just look around you! 

There is something to be said about having a joyful attitude and demeanor when spreading what is supposed to be GOOD NEWS.  I wrote a song called The Dead In Christ Blues that addressed the over-seriousness of so-called Christians.  One verse says “There’s joy in our salvation-we’re all sinners saved by grace.  So if you’re saved and you know it, then why don’t you tell your face?”

God has a holy sense of humor, as the following stories from the Bible will plainly illustrate.  Consider this story from Acts chapter 20.  In this story the Apostle Paul is preaching, and he preached for a very long time!  I’m talking, a really long time.  I’m not going to make any correlations to any long-winded preachers we know, I just think this is a hilariously funny story, of course I’m twisted that way  Again, from the Message Bible:

7-9We met on Sunday to worship and celebrate the Master’s Supper. Paul addressed the congregation. Our plan was to leave first thing in the morning, but Paul talked on, way past midnight. We were meeting in a well-lighted upper room. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window. As Paul went on and on, Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out the third-story window. When they picked him up, he was dead.

 10-12Paul went down, stretched himself on him, and hugged him hard. “No more crying,” he said. “There’s life in him yet.” Then Paul got up and served the Master’s Supper. And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn! On that note, they left—Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.

Now we can laugh at this story, first off because we can all relate to falling asleep during a long sermon, and secondly because the story has a happy ending.  But try to picture this scene-Paul is preaching and goes on for hours, and finally this guy falls asleep and falls out of the window. Paul goes down, brings him back to life, and then picks up where he left off and continues preaching!  I’m twisted, but somehow I see this as the kind of skit Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would have done on the Carol Burnette Show.  This is funny.  I can almost hear the young man saying “Geez, what’s a guy have to do to give a hint.  You killed me once already-don’t do me anymore favors.”

So you’re still not convinced?  Let’s try one last story found in I Samuel chapter 5.  And this is the story you will only hear here this morning-I can pretty much guarantee it!

Let me set the story for you.  The Philistines have stolen the Ark of the Covenant from Israel, a big no-no in God-eyes.  And they take it back and place it next to the image of their God, Dagon, another big no-no.  Let’s pick up the story from the King James version, just because it’s funnier.

 2When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it next to Dagon 3And when they arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.  4And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.  5Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.

So the first part of the story, God knocks over their little image of Dagon so that he’s flat on his face, then after the Philistines set him back up, the next day he’s knocked over again, but he was missing his head and hands.  God could have destroyed the whole place or burned the image up entirely or struck it with a bolt of lightening, but instead, He toys with the Philistines by just slapping their little god around a bit. But it gets better!

 6But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, (Hemorrhoids) even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.  7And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.  8They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.  9And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.

I’m sorry, but that’s funny stuff!  You Gotta love God’s sense of humor. But wait, there’s more.

2And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.  3And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.  4Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.  11And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the images of their emerods. 15And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.

Now you know why hemorrhoids always burn!  It’s the Philistines fault.  So it begs to question-they were told to make golden images of their hemorrhoids and present as a sacrifice.  How could they possibly have known what they looked like?  I leave that up to your imagination. The Bible is full of humor, especially if you tend to have a twisted sense of humor like mine.  It is the only book that is an historical document, a love story, a mystery, a tragedy, a comedy, a how-to manual, a motivational book, and on and on.  But you’ll never know the wealth and diversity of The Bible without spending some serious time in it, including, as we’ve just demonstrated, the Old Testament. 

So what’s the point?  Was I just trying to be a comedian today and get you to laugh-ABSOLUTELY.  Most people who know me would say I need to laugh more myself.  Here’s the essence of today’s message.  When Christ ascended into Heaven, He gave us a commission to spread the Good News of love and peace and hope and forgiveness.  There should be something beautiful and attractive and compelling about the Gospel to those who hear it and see it for the first time.  But instead of joy, we hear fiery sermons intended to literally scare the hell out of people-we see others standing on street corners with signs that say repent or burn.  We hear legalists condemning everything from tattoos to dancing to having a drink to showing your knees and elbows in public to staying up past 10 PM.  What kind of model of Christianity is the un-churched world seeing from us, and what are we showing them that would attract them to the cross of Christ?   The message of Christ should not be preached and presented solely as an insurance policy to avoid hell-it is much more than that!

When other see us at work or out and about or even in church, they should see something in us that makes them say “Whatever they have, I want some of that too”, like the TV commercials-I’ll have what she’s having!    Anything less is not in keeping with the true character of Christ, our namesake.  I’ve seen bumper stickers that say “Lord, deliver us from other Christians”.  It would be funny if it weren’t true!  There are far too many Christians who take up their cross daily and have sucked all the life out of their Christian witness.  They misrepresent the Gospel of Joy and Peace in a way that would turn anybody off or away from the message we’re supposed to deliver.  Our Christian lives should be Christ like in every aspect.  It’s as though we are walking mirrors so that when God shines His light down to us we reflect the exact image of God without any distortions unlike mirrors in a funhouse, twisted, out of shape and hard to determine.

Listen to the words in I John 1 and ask yourself if your Christianity looks like this:

1 John 1  3-4We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

This is why we laugh-this is why we enjoy special occasions in life-this is what our faith should look like to others who need to know the whole story.  There is a time to be reverent and to wait on the Lord-a time to be on our knees and faces in holy respect of our King, but there is also a time for joy and music and praise and yes, laughter.  It’s ok to enjoy your faith and to do so in a way that draws others who want to know more about our joy and our hope.  The world should be envious of the hope and joy we have, to the point of wanting some for themselves.  If there is joy in Heaven when one sinner repents, then there should be joy on earth as we reflect Christ in our lives.

 

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

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If you are one of those who are always on top of your game, you wake up and kiss the sky and your kitchen sings to you while you make breakfast, this post isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us who don’t live in Disney World, those who strive to live a positive life but still battle the demons of failure, sin and worthlessness-real people.  I am one-I’m with you-those days when you wonder if you really matter, if you are really loved, if you would be missed if you were gone, if you are having any positive impact on those you love and pray for. Those small doubts become large gaping holes of opportunity for attack. Each day is a new war to wage against the dark, spiritual and tangible forces that are well trained at knocking us off course.  If you aren’t the target of such attacks, you aren’t fully engaged in life or your faith. The following are excerpts from a sermon I wrote years ago but still as relevant as it was then.  There are key weapons at our disposal to aid us in our daily battles against weariness, depression and discouragement.

“There are times in our faith walk when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk.  We are on a straight and narrow road, running this race-running like Forest Gump-running and running and running. There comes a time when I just want to stop running.  I see a little spot off the beaten path and I pull off the road just to stop running.  The place I find myself in here isn’t necessarily attractive-it’s isolated-it’s disconnected-it’s quiet.  It’s not lively, it’s not dead-it’s just hereHere is a place where my prayers don’t seem to travel far.  Here is a place that is under the radar from the dark forces of life.

Eph. 6:12 reads “For we fight not against people made of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in heavenly realms”.

The enemy is highly trained to target those who are engaged in their faith.  But as long as I’m here, no one cares.  As a Christian, I know all I need to do is call on Jesus for help and get back on the road.  I can even see the road from here, but it is just easier to stay here.  This is my spiritual funk.

Now that I’ve painted you a picture of spiritual funk, how many of you have been here too?  How can we get there from here?  I have come up with 5 easy but vital steps for Christians to follow to avoid these funks.

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

We are so easily led astray by our own thoughts.  We haven’t mastered the art of bringing every thought into captivity. I have struggles with reassurance issues.  In my mind, I tend to put myself up here more than I should.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much of a parting shot to knock me down to here-an unhappy customer, something the kids say, a series of unlucky events, any form of rejection.  If I believed in blind luck, I would be the one person he can’t see.  When things don’t go your way, or the people around you point fingers, you start to believe that maybe you are the problem. Job’s friends told him he was the reason for all the calamities God allowed in his life, and Job tended to believe them.  We completely disregard every positive thing scripture has to say about who we are in Christ. This is the ultimate trick of the deceiver-he wants to remind us of all our past mistakes, all our failed relationships, all our closet skeletons, and we buy right into this trick.  The result is a feeling of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness, all contrary to what Christ thinks of us.

Philippians 4:7 says this; “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he’s done.  If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  (Vs 8). Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. 

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

There are several good sources of Christian nourishment available to us.  One of my favorites is Christian music.  I’ve always loved music-it is the one medium that can completely change your attitude or actions.  For example, when the classic rock song “I can’t drive 55” comes on, amazingly, I really can’t drive 55.

Music can be uplifting-I’m always amazed how a piece of music that was recorded years ago on electronic media can still become a worship experience in your car.

Our brains are complex recorders-we can recall every good or bad thing we’ve seen or heard in the course of a day.  If that’s the case, we should expose ourselves to positive influence, whether music, or a good book or a good TV program.

Romans12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is a daily process if we are to avoid spiritual funk.

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

This one is interesting to me.  I don’t personally believe that as Christians we are only supposed to hang with other Christians.  That’s not the model Christ gave us.  In fact Jesus, according to scripture, was quite a party animal. But his closest friends were believers.  When we socialize it is important to spend time with those who share your faith-they will become a great help and support to you when you’re in trouble.  And be very careful about those you hang with who are not Christian-they can easily lead you down a different path.  Our non-believing friends need our influence, but we must not yield to theirs.  It is too easy in the course of having a good time to let your guard down or compromise your core values after prolonged exposure.  The friends you confide in will ultimately be advising you.

Psalm 1:1 reads “Oh the joy of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.”

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

I have weaknesses.  I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian, we all have kinks in our armor.  The enemy always knows your weakness.  For some maybe it’s lust, for others maybe pornography.  Some may have a substance addiction-maybe you gossip-maybe you eat too much-maybe you have a gambling problem-maybe you’re just plain crazy.  Having a weakness is not necessarily the problem, especially if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself and to God. However yielding to your weakness over God’s strength  can put you in your own spiritual funk.  Putting yourselves in situations where you could stumble is just not responsible as a Christian.

1 Peter 2:11 says “Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here.  So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very soul”.

What does this mean?  It’s simple really-if you can’t hold your liquor, you should stay out of bars.  If you have an eating disorder, the Carnival Buffet is not for you.  If you can’t get on the internet without migrating to a porn site, stay off the computer.  If you’re down to your last $3, don’t spend it on Megabucks.  If you like spreading rumors, don’t listen to any new ones.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Don’t give our enemy any advantages against you.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be Careful. Watch out for attacks from the devil, your enemy.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some victim to devour”.

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re in a spiritual funk is to spend time alone with God.  Part of being in this place is the feeling of disconnection you feel.  When you cry out to God, it’s as if you hear the echoes of the canyons, but when you pray, you almost feel the prayers bouncing back off the ceiling.  It is in these times that it is most imperative that you habitually seek God out, remembering he hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we don’t feel his closeness.

James 4:7 says “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.  (vs. 10).  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.”

Sometimes our path is dark and cold and each step is just another step of faith into the unknown. But God promised to be with us in the valley of shadows and death, not to take us around it as some might suggest but to be our guide and companion until we can navigate through the density and the turns. Our yellow brick road to Oz may seem more like a muddy trail through an endless swamp but in Christ, we can be sure that our final destination will be worth the hazards of the journey.

 

Humbly We Bow-What Worship Should Be

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Of all the aspects of the Christian experience perhaps the act of corporate worship is the most misunderstood, misappropriated and most divisive of them all. In our arrogance we actually seek out the church that offers US the best worship experience, the one that WE can get the most out of.  We will actually change churches when we leave feeling like we didn’t get anything out of the worship service. How much more puffed up and ass backwards can we be?  This post will be using excerpts from a sermon or mine some years ago addressing the heart of Worship as I understand it.  It’s not about us or what we “get” out of it-it’s always about Christ and our sacrifice of praise to Him.

Consider this definition of worship as given by William Temple, one of the great Anglican Theologians.  He said, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.  It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of our heart to His love; the surrender of will to his purpose”.

While we do come to church to worship, we should not feel that worship starts when we arrive.  As Christians, we should always be in a state of worship.   We do not come to church on Sunday to worship-we come to church already worshiping.  We are merely joining other believers in a spirit of communion to join our worship together as one united.  It’s like singing-you come to church as a soloist and join others at church to form a choir.  If you’re coming to church, hoping that a good worship service will suddenly break out, you probably aren’t worshiping when you come, and a worship experience will not happen for you. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord”

Corporate worship is not about you, nor is it for you.   It is all about the acknowledgement of our smallness compared to God’s bigness and the resulting epiphany of His never ending love and mercy for us in lieu of what our sinfulness rightly deserves. We bow as if pardoned from a death sentence and humbly surrender our whole and unworthy being to His sovereignty and goodness.  We sing the song Heart of Worship-consider the lyrics.

When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come, wanting just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart-I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required.  And the 2nd verse, King of endless worth, no one can express how much you deserve-though I’m weak and poor, all I have is yours-every single breath-I’m coming to the heart of worship because it’s all about you. 

Worship is not an option for the Christian.  The Lord demands our worship.

1 Samuel 12:24 says “You must obey the Lord-you must worship Him with all your heart and remember the great things He has done for you”.  And again in Deut. 11:13, it says

“The Lord your God commands you to love him and to serve him with all your heart and soul”.

These are not suggestions or strong recommendations, nor should they be subject to your current frame of mind or emotional state.  As humans we tend to worship or ascribe worth to those we love-our kids, our parents, and our spouses.  In addition to showing our love, we speak it over them.  We say things like I love you, or I adore you, or you are special or precious to me.  These are natural expressions of love and worship.  How much more is our Heavenly Father deserving of even more adoration and worship, just for who He is and what He has already done for us!  Our worship of a loving God should be automatic and second nature-He doesn’t owe it to us-we owe it to Him!

There is a renewing strength in worship. 

David is a man who had many issues in his life; he was guilty of everything from adultery to murder, but he had an intimate relationship with God, and he knew where grace and forgiveness came from, and he knew what total worship was.  David knew that even in the worst of times when he was alone in a wilderness, he had power over his enemies because he had God on his side.  The more he was pursued, the more he worshipped and praised God for deliverance.

Another great example of the strength in worship is Paul and Silas.  They were ministering in Philippi and being harassed by a fortune teller who made lots of money for her employer.  Finally Paul and Silas rebuked the spirit that was in her so she would leave them alone.  This enraged her owners and they had Paul and Silas put in prison for disturbing the peace.  The story picks up in Acts 16, starting in Verse 22.

“A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods.  They were severely beaten and then thrown into prison.  The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape.  So he took no chances but put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet into stocks.  Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and all the other prisoners were listening.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake and the prison was shaken to its foundations.  All the doors flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!  The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open.  He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself.  But Paul shouted to him, “Don’t do it-we are all here”. 

When you praise and worship the Lord, He hears and responds.  Scripture says the God inhabits, or takes His residence within the praises of His people. When Paul and Silas were praising God, they weren’t trying to bring God down to their level and circumstances; they were elevating themselves through worship to the Heavenly realms where God dwells.  Worship is an uplifting event.  Worshipping the Lord takes you far above sickness, doubt, problems with your family, problems with your marriage, problems with your finances, problems with the events of the day. 

THERE IS HEALING AND COMFORT IN GENUINE WORSHIP

Some of the greatest love songs ever written were inspired by tragic events in someone’s life.  There is something about tragedy that begets inspiration.  Just listen to the lyrics of any country song.  But for the Christian, tragedy turns our focus on God, which is the essence of worship.  Consider Job-he was one of the wealthiest men of his time.  Yet in a matter of hours, Job lost all his wealth and fortune, and eventually even his children.  As recorded in Job 1, “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came from across the desert and struck the four corners of the house and it fell on the young people, and they are all dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you”.  Then Job arose, tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped”.

There was a modern day Job-you probably won’t know the name of Horatio Spafford.  Horatio was an active and faithful member of the Presbyterian Church, and a successful attorney in Chicago in the late 1800s.  He was also a good friend and supporter of evangelist D.L. Moody.  Like Job, Horatio was quite wealthy, investing in commercial real estate in Chicago.  Horatio’s first tragedy came when he and his wife lost their only son at the young age of 4.  Not long after, the Great fire of Chicago occurred, and Horatio lost all his real estate holdings, and most of his wealth to that fire.  When Moody and his associate planned a series of church meetings in Great Britain, Horatio thought it might be a good opportunity to help Moody with the services, and at the same time lift the spirits of his family by taking them on vacation to Europe.  In November if 1873, Horatio was detained on business, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead to Europe on the SS Ville du Havre.  Horatio would catch up to them after they arrived in Europe.  Halfway across the Atlantic, their ship was struck by an English iron vessel, and in 12 minutes, the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean, killing 226 people, including all Horatio’s remaining children, his 4 precious daughters, just like Job.  Horatio’s wife survived, and when she arrived in Wales, she sent Horatio a telegram saying the girls were lost at sea and she alone survived.  Immediately a grieving Horatio boarded ship to meet his wife in Wales.  When the captain told him they were crossing over the coordinates of where the ship sank, Horatio, filled with both sorrow and inspiration, observing the rolling waves of the sea, penned these words, which we’re all probably familiar with:

When peace like a river attendeth my way-when sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Only through inspired worship could Horatio truly be comforted at his tragic loss.  There is healing and comfort found in God when you open your hearts and worship him in your vulnerability.  It’s tremendously easy to worship and give thanks when you have a hefty bank account, your job’s going well, your kids aren’t in jail, your health is good and you still love your wife.  It’s much tougher to worship in the midst of chaos, confusion and doubt.  But raising yourself out of your despair to a higher level of awareness of God through worship, placing yourself in that Heavenly realm, brings a comfort and healing that nothing and no one on earth can offer.

Psalm 147:1 & 3 Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise him…. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

There is community in worship

Webster’s defines community as a unified body of individuals.

Another definition describes community as a kinship.  If you put these two together, I think you have the perfect definition of the body of Christ-a group of people of one mind with family ties-bound in blood by Christ.

 Galatians 3:26-“So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus”.

I would imagine most of you have been to a concert sometime in your life.  But no matter how good a concert may be, there is no comparison to being in the midst of thousands of people gathered together for one purpose-to lift up the name of Jesus in praise and worship.   I’ll never forget witnessing 10,000 teens in Las Vegas experiencing something they can’t get from MTV, as they listened to Michael W. Smith and Third Day and Max Lucado speak and sing of God’s love and how it could change their life.  When you get a large number of people together and they begin to sing praises and worship, community happens-everyone seems to know everyone else because they are bound by love in Christ and by purpose to lift up His name.  And when you get people of faith truly worshiping together, it’s electrifying and highly contagious.

When community happens, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what religion you were brought up in, how big your house is, what kind of car you drive, whether you have a Masters degree or you dropped out of high school, single, married, divorced, clean record or police record-we are all God’s children, and co-heirs with Christ-we are kin. Our past is covered, our present is hopeful and our future is guaranteed!  If through worship we could develop that kind of atmosphere, we would never again have to worry about empty seats or church budget deficits!  We would not be able to contain those who wanted to come and experience what it’s like to be unified in God’s presence.

There’s a day coming when we will join literal millions of believers in a Heavenly place around God’s throne in an everlasting worship.  When John had his vision on the island of Patmos, he described his futuristic vision in Revelation. In Chapter 7, starting in verse 9, John describes a scene hard to fathom.

“After this, I saw a vast crowd too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before The Lamb.  They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands.  And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the lamb!”  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings.  And they fell face down before the throne and worshiped God.

Wow-I can only imagine.  I guess the whole point of this message is this-if we really love our Lord even remotely the way he loves us, we shouldn’t have to wait until we are literally around His throne to worship him-we should be on our spiritual faces before him every time we have the opportunity.  There’s been a lot of preaching and books about blessings and prosperity and receiving all the good things from God-living your best life, keys to the kingdom and so forth-all benefits of being Christian.  For the most part, these are all well and good, and certainly popular teachings.  But, it’s high time we remember who God is and what he’s already done for us, and acknowledge his holiness, and turn our hearts and our focus for a change on what we can offer him-and the only thing he wants is our worship and devotion-that’s why he made us-that’s why we’re here!

Love Stories-God’s Gift for the Heart

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It was a warm and sunny day as always in Las Vegas on September 15th, 1996. I was heading to our newly opened motor speedway for the inaugural race with an extra ticket in hand. As I pulled away from the apartment, there she was, getting out of her car. Her short shorts revealed the most beautiful long legs I’d ever seen. Her blonde hair blowing in the light breeze served as the perfect frame for her crystal blue eyes that were captivating even from many yards away. It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed her-she lived in the apartment across the lot from mine. But even in my arrogance I would never have had the courage to approach her-she was from heaven and I a mere mortal. Only in fairy tales and Hollywood movies do such unlikely unions take place. Ah, but I did have an extra race ticket-a reasonable excuse to at least see her up close and say hello. So I did-she was even more breath-taking standing just a few feet away. I offered her the ticket assuming she would have some friend who would enjoy the race.  She graciously accepted and thanked me and I drove off, forgetting for a moment where it was I was heading and grateful to God for my brief brush with one of His angels.

Just a few minutes before the drop of the green flag a shadow was converging on my seat but the background of the bright sun prohibited me from identifying the figure, until the figure took the vacant seat next to mine-it was her, the angel. Her friends had dropped her off and left her in my custody for the race and the balance of the day. Wondering if this was a cruel trick from God or if not, how I came to deserve to spend the afternoon with this creature, I just went with it. We enjoyed getting to know each other over the roar of the open wheel engines and as the race ended, I was pleasantly surprised as she asked if she could ride with me back to our apartments.  As luck or fate or divine providence would have it, the 20 minute trip took over two hours due to the unexpected attendance and the city’s clueless efforts to direct traffic from such a large event, an amount of time that gives ample opportunity to become intimately acquainted. When we finally returned we met at the pool, ordered pizza and spent the rest of the evening together.  As it turns out she had previously and secretly noticed my legs as well-who would have guessed!  On September 27th of the following year I married my angel and have been blessed of God to spend the last 18 years with her as we shared life together.

Love Stories-most of us have them.  Some may be epic and worthy of Hollywood screen plays and others more simple but no less cherished.  I’ve heard many people argue that there is no such thing as love at first sight, or that two people don’t “fall” in love but grow slowly and comfortably into a relationship like breaking in a new pair of jeans.  I couldn’t disagree more. Countless are the stories retold of eyes meeting from across a crowded room or chance encounters on a busy street or mall when the individuals knew from first glance that there was something special in the gaze worthy of investigation and closer review. God creates each of us with a special set of interests and features that form a uniquely shaped profile, and only He knows for sure who He created with the complimenting and opposite profile that when joined with ours, fits perfectly together like two pieces of a puzzle.  God’s cool like that!

The concept of two souls joining together for a lifetime has certainly been subjected to the modern day devaluation of eternal commitment. Some seem more sure of the longevity of a tattoo than the covenant of marriage. To be willing to stand before friends, family and God and vow to each other and to God to remain loyal and joined to this one person for the balance of your life causes fear and trepidation with many young couples, while others take the vows flippantly, knowing if they get bored or “fall out of love” they can always proceed with divorce and find another. Just this past weekend I was privileged to be among the witnesses as my niece married.  In her tradition, Greek Orthodox, the words “til death do us part” are never used because they believe that marriage does not end with death but rather transitions to our ultimate marriage to Christ as His bride. In the ceremony two crowns, one each for the bride and groom, are placed on their heads and blessed by the priest.  These crowns are connected by one ribbon and guarded throughout their marriage.  Upon the death of one of the partners the ribbon is cut and the departed is buried with his or her crown while the survivor retains theirs and is then buried with it upon their own death.  What blessed symbolism of eternal love, of lifelong commitment and of honoring the sacred vows made to each other in the presence of their Lord and eventual groom Jesus Christ!

And if you think for one moment that God did not establish and ordain the beauty and rapture of romantic love between two people, consider the words from the fourth chapter of the Old Testament Book, The Song of Solomon, taken from The Message translation:

1-5 You’re so beautiful, my darling, so beautiful, and your dove eyes are veiled
By your hair as it flows and shimmers, like a flock of goats in the distance
    streaming down a hillside in the sunshine. Your smile is generous and full—
    expressive and strong and clean. Your lips are jewel red,
    your mouth elegant and inviting, your veiled cheeks soft and radiant.
The smooth, lithe lines of your neck command notice—all heads turn in awe and admiration!
Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle, grazing among the first spring flowers.

6-7 The sweet, fragrant curves of your body, the soft, spiced contours of your flesh
Invite me, and I come. I stay until dawn breathes its light and night slips away.
You’re beautiful from head to toe, my dear love, beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless.

You have captured my heart, dear friend. You looked at me, and I fell in love.
    One look my way and I was hopelessly in love! How beautiful your love, dear, dear friend—
    far more pleasing than a fine, rare wine, your fragrance more exotic than select spices.
The kisses of your lips are honey, my love,  every syllable you speak a delicacy to savor.

God saw that it wasn’t good for His created man to be alone and created from his own flesh the perfect compliment, woman. His ideal from the beginning was for these two newly created beings to enjoy and be filled and fulfilled with each other and to share a long and happy life together, learning new things, blazing new paths and being one in life and in worship to their creator. You can tell that a woman loves her husband by looking into her eyes and seeing her expression; you can tell how much a man loves God by how much he loves and dotes over his wife!

A word to the men-we are not naturally gifted in all things romantic and some of us lack the art of expression or sentiment.  There is a day approaching, you know, the Hallmark holiday, that as cheesy as you may think it to be, provides an inexcusable opportunity to shower your beloved with love and attention, and to thank God for the beauty and grace of such women who put up with us when we are at our worst. DON”T BLOW IT-MAN UP-LOVE YOUR WIFE AND MAKE IT KNOWN LIKE A MEDAL OF HONOR OR A TROPHY PROUDLY DISPLAYED IN YOUR CASE. BY HONORING HER WE ARE HONORING GOD HIMSELF!

As I close this week’s blog, I think it would be an amazing tribute to your spouse and God’s greatest gift to reply or comment and share your love stories. Let’s exchange each others epic tales  and glorify our creator in reliving those moments when you just knew that God shined his light of favor on you and His spirit slapped you on the back and said “go get ’em”.  “God, thank you for the gift of romantic love, the blessing of eternal union and the hope of our ultimate heavenly marriage to the Lamb of God, your son and gift to us, Jesus Christ”. 

You Can Create Nothing More Precious Than Memories

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As I write this week’s blog I’m about to embark on a weekend wedding for my niece. Camera, check. Kilt, check. Greek dance lessons, check. I’m not exactly sure what all is in store but of this I’m certain-lasting memories will be made. Some will be suitable for print and framing while others will simply be etched forever in our minds. Truly, there is little more precious that one can create than a memory of a happier time. They cost nothing but are priceless.

I’m not old by any means but I’m certainly getting older every day. While I try not to linger on things past or regrets just yet, I do already regret that I didn’t make the effort to create more positive memories, especially with my boys. I’m sure many who thought they took advantage of every opportunity can look back and say much the same thing, especially as your kids grow into adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, I carry with me plenty of precious memories of their childhood and school years.  I can still remember my oldest son’s cap and gown kindergarten graduation. I recall my middle son playing Little League baseball-I still have his gear. I recall my youngest being a chubby version of his current model like appearance. I remember taking all of them to a small Indiana amusement park no longer there; I remember wrestling with them on the living room floor and sledding with them on cardboard boxes down snowy banks during Indiana winters. These are things I won’t soon forget. But, I didn’t spend nearly enough time with them as I should have.  For every opportunity I took advantage of there are two or three or more I missed. And sadly there is no way to go back in time and recapture lost moments or forfeited opportunities-once lost, they’re gone forever. And I’m just as certain that if you were to ask the boys they would say the same thing-I could have done more.

My wife takes pictures of everything-every event-every occasion; we must have 50 photo albums waiting to be filled that we haven’t started because we have 100 albums worth of photos to go through. Each photo is a moment in time-an image captured that can be revisited and for a brief moment relived. There seems to be nothing so insignificant or unworthy of a photo opp with her-I love that about her. One thing we have learned as grandparents is that moments are fleeting.  We want to be sure not to miss anything we might have missed in the first round as a parent. And besides, who can resist pulling out embarrassing baby pictures on certain occasions just because we were smart enough to keep them handy for such times.

There are many things we do in the faith to remember special occasions-things we should never forget. In the Jewish custom Passover is celebrated as a reminder of the Exodus. We partake of Communion at the Lord’s command to remember His broken body and shed blood on our behalf. We celebrate Christmas to acknowledge the Incarnation, the day the Word became flesh.  We likewise celebrate Easter or Pascha and give thanks for the glorious works done through the cross and the Resurrection. We refer to scripture to revisit the historical roots of the early church and acknowledge the lives of certain Saints for their works and contributions to the traditions of our faith. To us of the faith these are indeed precious memories of eternal existence that will continue to be celebrated in our Heavenly home. 

Creating lasting positive memories is vital to enjoying life because all of us will unfortunately have our share of not so positive memories that must somehow be offset. There are the memories of past relationships that couldn’t be repaired.  There are the memories of broken homes and reduced visitations and forever lost bonding time. There are the memories of tragic events, auto accidents, violence, the unexpected loss of a loved one, the crippling illness that one never recovered from. I recall a fire in 1994 that destroyed all our photos.  Life is not always kind and some painful memories will be created by circumstances beyond your control and without your consent. Such is life.  They too are forever etched in the recesses of your mind and can pop up randomly without explanation. It is for this reason that we must have an inventory of deliberate memories to fall back on that can push out the ones we don’t cherish as much.  This catalog of mental archives can sustain us through the most difficult situations. It is in times of distress that we can be grateful for moments captured and embossed in our memories.

This wasn’t intended to be overly spiritual. All of us, regardless of faith or race or income bracket have equal opportunities to latch on to memorable occasions and relish the value of time-stamped memory making. If I could offer any advice for my children that they would actually adhere to, it would be to never take for granted the small seemingly insignificant events of your life when laughter is shared and family and friends are gathered.  And never think that time stands still for you or that you will pass this way again at some point in the future. Don’t let “if only I had known” be a regular part of your vocabulary. Don’t look back at times in your life and have regrets that you didn’t do more to exploit and savor the moments. Take advantage of every opportunity you are given to create something that costs you nothing but can’t be purchased for all the money in the world-precious, timeless memories.

Sex Trafficking-the Ugly Truth We Need to Know

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This post will be difficult-difficult to write without tears and surely difficult to read without compassion and conviction. The sex trafficking and exploitation of young children and teens in our country is a harsh and relevant reality. The numbers are staggering, the stories heart breaking and the victims often unheard. It is easier for us to turn a blind eye to the crisis or throw a buck or two in the direction of organizations on the front line of this war than to take the time to ponder the dark facts and undeniable truths associated with the sexual exploitation of child-sex for profit. The best of bloggers can not come up with the right vernacular to adequately describe the horrors these kids face on a daily basis. But we can no longer turn the other way.  We can’t choose the safer arguments of worship styles, denominational differences or Biblical prosperity theology and ignore the victims of these heinous crimes, those which our Savior eluded to in his description of “true” religion. We need to endure the pain of knowledge and the sting of disclosure so we can respond with compassion and tearful prayers for the rescue of these precious souls.

A good friend of mine, Mike Bartel, and his wife operate an organization called F.R.E.E. InternationalFind, Rescue, Embrace, Empower.  This week he and his team are in Phoenix working in conjunction with the local F.B.I. to locate and recover young girls who have been reported missing and are expected to be “working” the Super Bowl. The miraculous and yet tragic truth is each year many of those they fear will be on hand are indeed found and rescued. F.R.E.E. actively engages the local High Schools by educating them on the issue through Say Something assemblies.  Their street teams are working the surrounding areas and hotel districts handing out cards with missing girls pictures on the front and their bios on the back, hoping someone will recognize them. I have worked with F.R.E.E international and wholeheartedly endorse their work and their efforts. They are one of several organizations who have seriously taken up the call and subsequent challenges of finding these kids and making a difference in their lives through their rescue and their restoration.

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The stats above need no explanation. Upwards of 300,000 young people and kids are sexually exploited each year for profit, just in the U.S.  It is 2nd only to drug trafficking in illegal profits, a whopping $32,000,000,000.00 industry-yes, that’s billions. The average age of girls forced into prostitution slavery is 14, and they have been rescued through sting operations at the age of just five years old! Imagine for just a minute that this isn’t some impoverished girl taken from a run down city park on the wrong side of the tracks, but this is your daughter or granddaughter, your flesh and blood, kidnapped on her way to school or church. The tendency is to believe these girls and this issue is a foreign crisis, choosing to ignore that this is happening in our backyards, under our noses to parents and grandparents we may actually know or worship with each week. Cities where children are routinely kidnapped and put into sexploitation include Miami, Las Vegas, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, Dallas and others.  If you think your children are safe, you are deceived.

So why am I writing this article now?  There is a big game coming up this weekend.  Major sporting events are proven to be hubs for the trafficking of minors.  Read this excerpt from an article put out by Global Centurian regarding the Super Bowl:

From scantily clad cheerleaders to groupies to VIP parties, sex and sports are linked in contemporary society.   With no wives or girlfriends in sight, the adrenaline and alcohol fueled fans has the potential to create a concentrated demand for commercial sex. Unfortunately, this demand is sometimes being met by trafficked persons. Some of these victims will be underage — as young as 11 — who have been trafficked into prostitution, as well as other young women who have become ensnared in sexual servitude for a variety of reasons. A case in point: earlier this year in Florida, a number of arrests were made on charges of sex trafficking. In one case a Hawaiian man was caught trafficking an 11 year old child. As more cases are uncovered, the correlation between commercial sex trafficking and major sporting events is being documented.”

It is estimated that solicitations for sex will be equal to the number of tickets sold for the game, with many involving under aged children. Many of these kids have been kidnapped and forced into prostitution against their wills. Many were kicked out of their homes or ran away and left homeless with no resources to rely on but the offering of their bodies just to be able to eat.  Some ran away and were befriended by those who at first provided them with basic needs and then guilted them into paying back the “kindness” shown by working the streets. Don’t be naive enough to believe they have chosen this lifestyle, at least not initially.  Do many remain after being forced into it?  With no family support, with no formal education, many with no high school diploma or G.E.D. and having known no other life, the sad answer is yes. They are slaves to their condition as much as anyone can be.  The thought of one of my granddaughters existing in this manner tears at every fiber within me and should tear at you as well if you have a heart. Books could be written describing the facts, the statistics, the horror stories of those fortunate enough to be rescued, and sadly the staggering number of our kids taken from our country and solicited abroad never to be seen or heard from again. Our hearts cry out, God have mercy!

So now that we are aware of the evils of this industry from both the supply and demand side, let’s choose to be active in aiding and supporting the efforts to find our kids and restore them to normalcy through rescue and empowerment campaigns, through donations of time and money, and through keeping them in our daily prayers.  If you want to be involved, find an organization in your city where you can volunteer.  If you know of none, let me recommend F.R.E.E. International.  You can find them at

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http://www.freeinternational.org

God, help us to be aware and active and diligent in aiding the children you love so much.  May the things that tear at your heart tear at ours as well and spur us to activism in your name.

State of the Church Union

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Last night the President gave his State of the union address.  When not used as a campaign platform this address is a disclosure speech to inform us of the current state of the things that matter to most of us, the economy, jobs creation, tax reform and the like.  Going back through the history of the address it tends to be more of a pep rally than a reality check.  If you really want to know how the country is doing you have to do some research beyond the political rhetoric.

So in keeping with the theme of the week I thought it appropriate to offer my version of the State of the Church address.  The health of the eternal church hits much more close to home with me than the state of a temporal country. I don’t wish to go into denominational statistics here but rather offer some general observations referencing some research data easily confirmed by personal research. The church is sick. Recent surveys (Gallup and Barna) show that 40% of People in the US claim to attend church, but when questioned further the truth is only 18% actually attend church at least two times per month, leaving over 80% as non or hardly ever church attenders. Further studies show that in recent years one thousand churches are planted in the U.S. but four thousand will close in the same amount of time for a net of 3000 less churches per year. Why is that?  Why are the faithful not being, well, faithful? The following are just my thoughts and not intended to be all inclusive as to some possible reasons church attendance is dropping.

TECHNOLOGY

With the advances of the smart phones, the Tablets and streaming services, many prefer to “get their religion” in the comfort of their home. If you miss a message you can always download it from the church website as if you were there. Some even make their worship services available online which is great for being able to listen, record and play over again, but does little for the encouraging and exhortation that results from personal fellowship with your sibling believers. Can the Lord bless through technology? Of course He can, but He designed us for fellowship and encourages us through Paul to “not forsake” the opportunity to gather.  It’s just not the same.

Radical Acceptance

In today’s society, this is huge. While the church teaches unconditional love, is it always expressed by those in the church or felt by those who desire it most? Does the man who struggles with attractions to other men feel at ease in any evangelical congregation? Is the young mother who is feeling the guilt and pain of a recent abortion ashamed to be seen in her community church?  Do people still whisper when a racially mixed couple comes through their doors?  While the church is founded on the tenets of sound and unwavering Biblical doctrine, we sometimes forget that the greatest commandment is to love one another even as Christ loves us!  If the church is to be a true refuge or hospital for the sick, as Christ eluded to, then we have to not only welcome but embrace those who are sick and love them to Christ.

Competing for our Time

Let’s be honest, especially us men-there are always things we would prefer to be doing on any Any Given Sunday than go to churchFootball or other televised sports, fishing, concerts, the all-you-can-eat- breakfast bar that closes at 11:00 AM-you get the picture. Even moms appreciate a day when they don’t have to bathe and dress the little ones and get them out early on Sunday morning.  Compared to many of our European counterparts American work entirely too many hours in a week, some 60 to 70 or more.  Sunday may be the one day to catch your breath or take a nap and get recharged.  It’s entirely understandable.  The informed churches make other weekly service times available for those who have alternative work schedules common to the times.

Lack of Man Time

Speaking of us men, it is no secret that the local church has somewhat forgotten about us-let me clarify. It is great for churches to sponsor men’s prayer breakfasts or Men’s fellowships like Promise Keepers attempted to do-opportunities for men to grow spiritually, to practice the art of iron sharpening iron.  But many men feel they have to check their man card when they come to church.  Sometime Christian men just want to go play golf together, or basketball or maybe enjoy a camping weekend or attend a sports event, and just kick back and, dare I say it, enjoy a beer or a good cigar with other Christian men being men.  The effemination of Christian men not only tends to isolate some from becoming or remaining regular church attenders-it does little to attract new men into the church.  Ladies I love you but we men need to fulfill our godly roles in our churches and the church needs to recognize ways to encourage fellowship without turning in our man cards.

Contemporary Church

I know this will get stick as many of us, me included, attend the local large contemporary church as shown in the image above. Again, technology has allowed us to create a modern interactive church experience complete with large screens, special lighting effects and yes, even fog.  While we embrace the freedom to worship God in this manner, for many it has the appearance of little more than your typical rock concert, void of any resemblance of a traditional church atmosphere. I participate in a Worship team on such a stage and I relish each week I’m privileged to be one of the Lead Worshippers.  That said, I am still in awe when I enter a traditional church with pews, stained glass windows, a cross, divine images and other things that resemble church. I can’t fully explain it but when I enter a chapel or a cathedral or hear a majestic pipe organ with a choir or chanters there is a feeling of humility and smallness before God that I don’t always sense in a contemporary sanctuary. In our attempt to reach out to a modern world we have in some cases left every visual reminder behind in our efforts, and the seeker looking for something other than what they find in the world doesn’t sense that they have entered into a holy place when they see the coffee shop before they see the doors to the sanctuary. Again, this is just my personal observation and experience.

Marketing

Yes, marketing. I’ve been in business for a long time and I know first hand from unfortunate experiences that if you don’t market yourself or your product you will fail and close up shop very quickly. Let’s be honest-some see this as commercialization and contend that the church having a marketing strategy equates to little more than being in the church business.  What a glaring misconception of the role and purpose of marketing!  What better “product” can one offer than Jesus? What more can the local church consumer be offered than forgiveness and hope and eternal life in Christ? We have something that no one else can offer-there is no competition for our product-no one can beat or undercut our price-no one else offers a legitimate Lifetime Guarantee that can compare to the message of salvation available each week in the local church. In the story of the marriage supper the servants were encouraged to go out into the highways and byways and to compel them to come in-MARKETING 101!  If no one knows your church exists, if no one knows what your church offers, if they haven’t been fully sold on the benefits of your product and retained as a local attender and participating contributor, your church will ultimately fail.

I’m sure there are other contributing factors to why church attendance is decreasing each year-who can fully know all the reasons many choose to stay home on the weekends. I’m certainly not the expert on the subject, just an observant bystander wanting to see a healthy local church and a healthy universal church. It should be of concern to all of us who see the empty seats and pews each week.  It shouldn’t take another 9/11 to get people in our churches if we are doing all we can to attract them through our lifestyle, to compel them through our marketing and to retain them through proper acknowledgement of individual and demographic needs and expectations.  I pray that we as the body of Christ seize the opportunities to reach and embrace our world in a time when they need us more than they might realize.

God help us to be Christ to the lost, love to the hurting and a beacon of light to those searching through darkness.

Put on Christ-The Ultimate Wardrobe Malfunction

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Romans 13:14 tells us to “clothe ourselves with Christ”.  Some translations read “Put on Christ”.  When we consider wardrobe malfunctions we may think of various pictures we’ve seen of celebrities getting out of cars or even Janet Jackson’s famous “slip” that leave certain body parts exposed.  But wardrobe malfunctions also occur when clothing is worn in ways the designer had not intended.  When we consider this in light of the passage in Romans, many of us are guilty of similar malfunctions when it comes to putting on Christ.

I did a sermon on this a few years back and I used a sport coat to illustrate the various ways some of us choose to wear Christ. In one example I put the coat on inside out.  This would be representative of those who want to wear Christ in such a way that it’s not visible to others.  Perhaps they are embarrassed to be labeled Christian or are afraid they would be ostracized by their social and professional groups if Christ showed.  Or maybe they are the ones who feel faith should be personal and no one’s business.  So they wear the coat inside out so no one can see that they are wearing Christ.

Then I put the coat just half way on with one arm hanging out.  This would be for those who are indecisive or uncommitted to wearing Christ.  They want to have Him handy in case of emergencies so they could quickly put the other arm in the jacket and complete the wardrobe but they don’t feel the need to wear Him all the time.  Or maybe they are still trying to figure out how to wear Him.  They are new to the faith, or they have been in situations and trials that have left them with more questions than answers and they leave one arm out in rebellion or protest, remaining completely noncommittal.

Then the coat was put on all the way but buttoned wrong with the collar up and one sleeve rolled up.  This would represent those who are so eager to put on Christ that they wear Him in haste and with piety.  I liken these to the Church police, the legalists, or the eager but still learning new believers who grab the coat and dash out with it everyday without first checking the mirror to see how others will be seeing you.  I argue with people like this on a daily basis.  They are quick to throw a scriptural stone at anything that looks or smells ungodly, they carry the largest Bibles and condemn anything that seems out of line with their finite definition of all things holy.  Their intentions are good and their heart may even be in the right place but they haven’t been properly discipled to effectiveness and accuracy concerning the Word and the faith.

And then these was my favorite.  I just casually threw the coat over my shoulder like a model in Esquire magazine.  This is the person who has no real faith in Christ at all and no desire to be counted among genuine believers.  This person just wears Christ like a fashion statement, completely off the shoulders and carried around for show but not a part of the wardrobe ensemble. This describes a lot of people.  It might be the gang banger who gets a crucifix tattoo or the business professional who places the Christian Fish image on his business card in order to increase sales with the Christian community. This would be the award winning artist who has a questionable lifestyle but thanks God for his or her award.  It would most certainly cover recording artists who put our a song that eludes to deity among other cuts that glorify darkness.  This person treats Christ like a fad or a trend and carries Him because it’s the in thing to do but has no regard whatsoever with the words, the teaching of the life that Christ calls us all to live. Just bling, no more.

And then there is the one who puts on the coat, straightens the lapel, pulls the sleeves down so they are both even, makes sure the buttons are lined properly and that the coat is free from lent or debris, and checks himself in the mirror before venturing out.  He wants to know what he looks like and how others are going to see him before he leaves his place.  This is the one who properly “Puts on Christ”.  They know that if worn correctly He will be seen and they are concerned with how he will be viewed, so they do all they can to wear Him properly.  If the wind blows, they hold the coat snug and together.  If something is spilled on it, they are quick to blot away the spill and clean the soiled area.  If the coat is snagged they quickly and cleanly make repairs.  This person is not afraid of wearing Christ everyday-they are more afraid of keeping the Christ they put on from becoming a major wardrobe malfunction that leaves them embarrassed or exposed to others.  They don’t wear the coat with anything that would clash with it or anything that would take away from it’s intended design.  They wear it so much that if they show up some place without it others notice immediately that it’s missing and they ask them about it.  It becomes a part of who they are, their known identity.  The one who wears the coat this way enjoys the warmth and the comfort of the proper attire and they would never consider any other outer wear than their Christ coat.

Let’s be real-many of us are not fashionistas. Even among us “mature in the faith” there are days when we haphazardly throw on Christ as we leave our homes.  We don’t pray or study, we don’t “check” ourselves in the mirror.  We get our coats dirty and are not quick in getting them cleaned.  we are of the human nature and wearing Christ accurately 24/7 is a high calling that few can boast with any real success.  The beauty is that God provide through Christ an all day dry cleaning service, an all day alteration for rips or snags and a world of mirrors so we always have an idea what our sphere of friends see when they look at us.  When the winds howl and the rains come and soak us, we can still be wearing Christ at the end of the day and feel warm in his comfort and the knowledge that we have worn Him effectively another day.

How do you put on Christ?  Inside out so no one sees?  Half on half off in indecisiveness? In haste and judgement? Over the shoulder simply for fashion but not protection? Or the way intended, fully clothed, neat and cleaned?  Let us strive to be the latter so the world will be able to easily recognize Him when they see us walking in Him.  Blessing and peace.

BACK TO THE ROCK-A Tribute to Petra

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This week I want to veer off course a bit from my usual topics to discuss the band who, in my humble opinion, broke all the barriers for the contemporary Christian Bands we enjoy today.  That band is none other than the incomparable, Petra. First formed in 1972 Petra endured the abuse of the would be Christian Music Police and holy music standard bearers as they incorporated “worldly” rock music into a ministry that reached tens of thousands and still touches lives today through the stamp of approval by the Holy Spirit.

I was blessed to see Petra live in 3 concert tours-More Power To Ya, Not of This World and Beat the System. I was blown away at their talent, the special effects uncommon to a “Christian” concert, but more importantly their passion for ministering the message of Christ through their music.  Though Petra has evolved and had many versions due to members coming and going, to me Petra will always be the founder, Bob Hartman on lead guitar, Mark Kelly on Bass, Louie Weaver on drums and the golden voice of Christian Rock, Greg X. Volz on lead vocals. These four men would be my Mount Rushmore of Christian Rock, and if we had our own CCM Hall of Fame, they would be the face of the brand.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s a movement out of Southern California emerged that would come to be known as Jesus Music.  To many this was just a bunch of Woodstock like young Christians playing soft rock/pop music to the likes of Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts (another of my all time favorites I’ve seen multiple times) Randy Stonehill and the late Keith Green.  They drew little attention because they created little controversy.  But out of this movement came a belief that there was a large demographic of young people who not being church attenders, were not hearing the Gospel through traditional methods but were responding to this new music movement. Out of this movement one of the bands formed was Petra. Most churches refused to allow Petra to playing in their churches, voicing strong opposition to using the world’s music in worship or ministry.  Christian radio stations refused to play their music on the air-only a select few campus stations dared to “Beat the System”.  Yet Petra moved forward unintimidated and their popularity began to grow through their work in local coffee houses and word of mouth.

But is was in the 80’s that the Petra I came to love exploded onto the scene. It was then that they introduced synthesizers and keyboards into their Guitar rock genre, and a custom designed stage that resembled one of the space ships on their album covers, as well as special effect lighting.  Imagine the convulsions the church police were having over a Christian band concert looking like an Aerosmith concert!  While wildly popular and well received by those the Lord had laid on their hearts, it was not unusual for the band to arrive at a venue and be greeted by protesters with signs telling them they were going to hell because of the music they played.  We may find it hard to believe that going to a typical Third Day experience would garner any such response, but this was the reality for a band breaking all traditional barriers at the time. Because of the theory that many rock groups were incorporating backward masking messages into their recordings (a message heard when an LP is played in reverse) there were actually “ministers” playing Petra albums backwards and suggesting to churches that there were demonic messages there if you listened closely.  This ridiculousness caused Petra to actually record a back masking message intro to one of their songs Judas’ Kiss.  Played forward it actually sounds demonic but the message played backwards says “why are you looking for demons when you should be looking for the Lord?” What a brilliant way to respond to their critics.  To Petra music fans that backward message is immediately recognized to the beginning of one of their greatest hits.

Petra went on to receive ten Dove Awards, the Christian alternative to the Grammys.  And they also received thirteen Grammy nominations, receiving four.  They released 20 albums with sales of over 10 million worldwide.  I can’t begin to elaborate on their discography but they will be forever known for such greats as The Coloring Song, Why Should the Father Bother, More Power To Ya, Not of This World, Grave Robber, Praise the Lord, Beat the System, Blinded Eyes, Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows, Occupy, Second Wind and soooo many more! To me it is a shame that many of our young people today will never be exposed to such great music from a band instrumental (pun intended) in breaking through the ceiling for the bands they do listen to now. Mercy me, DC Talk, Newsboys, Third Day and the likes would not be here if it were not for bands like Sweet Comfort, Love Song, Resurrection and yes, my favorite, Petra. When I hear the mature Christians among us speak on how the Holy Spirit only moves through “church” music I want to regurgitate at their ignorance. Having played in Christian bands myself from High Schools to Prisons, I can testify that there is no such thing as unholy music when God and His agenda and will are involved and made welcomed.  Many of the pioneers of CCM have already gone to their reward.  How I would love to introduce the generation of my kids and grandkids to the music of Classic Petra so that they too can develop a love and appreciation for what the band endured and accomplished through their obedience and perseverance, and the call to accept their savior Jesus Christ at the end of every concert!

As I post this I join in celebration of the reward another of our great CCM Pioneers is finally receiving. Andrae Crouch suffered a heart attack this past weekend and has entered into his final rest.  I was privileged to see Andrae and the Disciples when I was younger.  As with this post volumes could be written on the ground-breaking contributions he too made to the Christian music scene. He will be greatly missed but his music will live on as one of the most re-recorded Christian artists of all time!  Eternal Memories Brother Andrae.