Fear, Faith and Foreboding; a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6, “Don’t worry about tomorrow”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Is the 1 as Important as the 99?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words for the Class of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Interview With Christ-The Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Gratitude at Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Mother Speaks From Heaven

My dearest child, I want to try to reach out to you from my new home, and I hope somehow you will be able to understand.  I know that this time each year on your Earthly calendar you pause to remember me and all the other motherly figures in your life.  I see how you recall fond memories of times we spent together like viewing old movies over and over again.  I too still remember all those beautiful moments.  The memories we made together are indeed eternal and still very real. You will understand this someday.  However, I also see that this day is bittersweet for you and that you have a sense of sadness that I am no longer with you to continue making memories.  I wish you could know that nothing could be farther from the truth! You may not see me, but I am still there in more ways than you could ever imagine.  You were taught from an early age that God gives his angels the charge of watching over his children.  Well my child, I was assigned to watch over you! It’s one of the percs of my new situation! I see your every move.

How I wish I could tell you that I didn’t become a mother on the day you were born; I was a mom the minute I knew I had conceived you!  I started loving you months before I ever saw your beautiful face for the first time.  I cradled you the first time I felt you moving inside me. I sang lullabies to you every night before I went to sleep.  I began to pray over your life, that God would bless you and keep you from all pain long before I ever experienced the pain of introducing you to the world and your new family. There is a bond that forms between a mother and her child that only moms fully appreciate, and I can assure you that the bond is never severed, even after death!  In fact it is only now that I truly understand the unconditional love between a parent and a child since I am with my true Father and can see things more clearly from my new vantage point. You are even now more precious to me than ever before.  I never thought that possible, but I can assure you it’s true!

You have become the embodiment of every good thing I tried to teach you all those years.  I know there are times when you wonder if I would be proud of the person you’ve become.  I wish you knew the pride I still feel as I watch over you.  I see a bit of me in you with every act of loving kindness you show others.  I observe how you courageously respond to earthly challenges; I feel the emotions you have when you worry about others.  I see the full intent of a heart much bigger than I ever imagined while on Earth, one full of goodness and love that is an uncommon virtue in your world.  And each and every time I see you doing things out of the love you learned from me, I thank my Father that he blessed me of all people with the privilege of being your mother.  Nothing I ever achieved or accomplished in my old home means more to me now than being selected to be your mom. How I wish I could accurately relay that to you now.

I know there are supposedly no egos up here, but moms still get together and share stories of their children and stake claims to bragging rights.  You child, have given me so many stories since I left that it never seems like a fair fight with the other moms!  God in his mercy has actually given us all the privilege of being the guardian angels of our earthly children. It is perhaps our greatest reward!  So while we await the appointed time when we will be reunited, I want to assure you of my presence.  There are little ways I can still interact with you-I just hope you know it’s me.  When you are walking and you feel that soft breeze on your face or see that tiny butterfly land near you and sense a calming spirit, that’s me!  When you experience the pride of watching your children grow, you got that from me! And when you face the challenges that life will throw at you but sense a peace about it, that’s God channeling through me to you! I will be in the laughter you can’t explain, the songs that bring you to tears, the worship that flows freely from you heart and even in the love you feel for that special someone God gave you.  I’m there in all of it, still loving, still caring, still so full of pride I can’t speak.  You will never be alone and you and I will never be separated by time or distance because I am no longer bound by those things!  So on this special day when you remember me, I hope you know that I am celebrating you my dear child. My greatest badge of honor was, and still is, that of being your mom!  I am still learning all the ways I can touch you, but I have plenty of time and a great teacher!  You are forever in my heart and I will forever be in yours.  I will ask God to reveal that to you every day until we are together again.

Love, Mom.

And Just Like That-My 2017 Story

Our beautiful Beagle boy finally laid calm in my arms after a 30-minute full Grand Mal seizure. He had been in our family since his birth nine years earlier. An injection of valium calmed him down long enough for what was about to come. The cancer had spread to his brain and the seizures he was having daily were unbearable to witness-it had to end today.  I cradled him like a baby one last time.  The vet asked us if we were ready.  Of course not!  But out of love and mercy I nodded to proceed.  The injection worked quickly, and just like that, this once full of life furry friend lay motionless in my arms as his life came to a merciful end.  I sobbed like  little boy and continued to hold him until the vet finally took him from me and carried him out of the room.  Thus 2017 was ushered in.

In January and then again in February I was served with two different lawsuits stemming from a business I was forced to close through foreclosure in 2014.  I thought that chapter had been closed but aggressive attorneys thought otherwise. The amounts of the lawsuits coupled with the legal fee estimates to defend them were staggering.  I had received nothing from the business when it closed and had lost my entire savings that I had invested when it closed down.  These unexpected court actions left me with little recourse.  My finances and credit were now in shambles.  And just like that a lifetime of perfect credit history was now, well, history.

The following March, thinking things could get no worse, things got much worse. The love of my life asked for a divorce after a twenty year relationship.  What began as a Hallmark fairytale romance that others envied had now been reduced to a signature on a legal document.  To save money, with vision blurred by tears, I drafted the legal documents that would terminate my own marriage.  Upon their completion and our signatures, I proceeded to the courthouse and waited in line for what seemed like an eternity waiting to file them.  Upon the clerk’s stamp, I took them up to the Judge’s inbox and deposited them for final signature, which took just one day.  And just like that the air I breathed for twenty years was taken from me. I felt abandoned, unloved and alone.

The following May I was scheduled for my quarterly check-up with my nephrologist.  I suffer from Polycystic kidney disease for which there is no cure.  I was advised by someone close that with the year I had experience thus far perhaps I should cancel-I should have listened.  I was informed the disease had now progressed to stage Four and I was nearing the need for dialysis.  And just like that an otherwise health-minded man was forced to consider life-altering choices and my own mortality.

In a mere span of just five months every aspect of my entire being had come under severe attack.  I had lost a dear friend, I lost my financial security, I  lost my health and most tragic, I lost the love of my life and best friend.  I was, and in many ways, still am quite the mess.  Any one of these life-changing events would be enough to take down the strongest of men.  But seriously , all in one year?  I was left alone in a 2000 square foot house with empty rooms having nothing but the haunts of the past as a companion.  Funny thing-I never realized that quietness could echo!  Few knew of the numerous challenges I faced this year.  More than one person, perhaps not fully disclosed, reprimanded me for wallowing in self-pity.  My closer friends shared concerns over what I might do.  After all, many have pulled the trigger for much less.

It would be at this point in the story that some, just like friends of Job, would ask how I could still trust in a God who had allowed such destruction to overcome me.  I will confess that God and I had some serious “come to Jesus” conversations as I wrestled for answers or purpose.  If this is what perseverance looks like, I wanted no part of it. But as a long-time believer I knew that faith was not based on feelings or emotions but on knowledge and trust.  My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to find words of hope within the Psalms.  David and I became close friends. He could cry out and lament to God over his turmoil in one breath and confess his hope and faith in the very next breath.  David always went back to what he KNEW to be true even when he was hiding for his life. In a twisted irony He who allowed these things to invade my 2017 was the One who I had to turn to and lean on in order to survive them.  I have surely walked this year through the valley of shadows but Christ has been my comfort and His spirit has been my  lifeline when I had little sense or worth, purpose or direction.

I can now see some light as I enter 2018.  The demise of my marriage prompted me to write a book that has already made an impact in other couples’ marriages.  Claiming a promise of healing, my last check-up on my kidneys revealed the progression of the disease had halted for now-I am claiming a miracle.  The Christmas and holiday season which had left me with old familiar and painful memories of years past was spent with my children, all alive, healthy and well.  And my first gift, the announcement of a new grandchild’s arrival this coming Summer, brought tears of joy, the first in a long while.  My faith sustained me through an impossible year and I now see some sense of purpose and a restored reason to continue the race the Apostle Paul describes. I know I am not alone.  Many this year suffered tragic and heart-wrenching losses-death of spouses or loved ones, serious illnesses, broken relationships, unemployment and the list is long.  When you are shut in by the surrounding thickness of storm clouds it is challenging to see the sun or feel its warmth, but yet it remains.  I want to encourage-no, implore you to seek shelter in the hope and promises of God’s Word and the comfort of His Son, Jesus.  David understood it while hiding in caves-the Apostle Paul got it while singing songs in prison chains.  I’m no David or Paul, but I get it too.

May the hope, the comfort and the love of our Father bring you into a glorious, prosperous and healthy new 2018.  May His will and purpose be revealed in your spirit and inspire you to do great things this year!  May you find in Him the strength and courage to boldly face and navigate the storms that may pop up out of nowhere with full knowledge that the Son is always there!  Happy New Year!

Sleeping Through the Storm

barn-in-rain-2I have fond and vivid memories of our Summer visits to my grandparents farm in Mississippi when I was a young boy. Of all the stories I could tell and experiences my kids will never know, one of my favorites was crawling up into the loft of one of the old barns where they stored some of the peanut crop and resting during a southern Summer rain storm.  There was something incredibly peaceful, relaxing and almost hypnotic about listening to the rain hit the old tin roof.  As much as I love the ocean, if I could make a sleep sound mode machine of my choice, it would be that familiar sound when raindrops collide with rusty tin.

I wish I could tell you that metaphorically speaking I can always sleep with such peace in the midst of storms. More times than not the sound of the rain and the chill of the wind leaves me more on edge than at rest.  Even though I’ve lived through and survived my share of life’s storms there is still an uncertain but familiar tension that arises and remains until the storm passes.  When I lived in Florida I recall during the monsoon season that the sun would be out and the skies would be clear and in mere seconds the sky would open up with a torrential rain storm seemingly out of nowhere.  Life for many is much the same-smooth sailing, sunny skies and kaboom-instant thunderstorm, dry one minute and drenched the next, warm and cozy to bone-chilling gusts before you knew what hit you.

There is a story recorded for us in Matthew Chapter 8 that most are very familiar with:

” And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

I can almost hear readers making the obvious observation because it’s the same one that I made.  “Yeah but He’s Jesus and I’m not”.  Of course He did have a bit of an unfair advantage as He was the creator of the seasons and the storms and was undoubtedly not in any peril. But how easy it is for us to automatically displace Christ when we are in these storms, forgetting that “this same spirit” remains in us and consequently the same peace also resides within us.  I’m fifty-five years old and have known the Lord as my Savior since I was seven, and to this day I have to be reminded that I always survive, that God is always in control and that the spirit of Christ is always at my side.  It’s ironic how we as a people can be wronged and we may never forget it but when we are “righted”, rescued and restored, time and time again, we have such short memories.  No matter the severity of the storms we face we must as believers find shelter in the words left for our comfort and encouragement:

Psalm 107:28; “when they cried out to the Lord in their trouble He brought them out of their distress.  He calmed the storm and its waves quieted down…”.

Nahum 1:7; ” The Lord is good, a stronghold in days of trouble; He knows those who take refuge in Him”.

Isaiah 25:4;” For You have been a strong place for those who could not help themselves…and a safe place from the storm and a shadow from the heat”.

Isaiah 44:6; “There will be a booth for shade by day from the  heat, and a shelter from the storm and rain”.

When I first met my wife I took her to meet some friends of mine in Dana Point, CA who had a thirty-nine foot schooner.  This was her first experience on a sailboat. There was a red flag warning out that day, meaning the winds were too high for sailing, but they subsided just long enough for us to take a quick cruise to the Newport Harbor and back.  Although the warning had been lifted the seas were still choppy and rough.  My friend asked me if I wanted to take the helm for a bit and I jumped at the experience.  After just a few minutes he said I looked like I knew what I was doing so he and everyone on board went below deck for a nap and left me at the helm with instructions to let him know when were close to our harbor. At no time was I afraid or timid.  It remains one of my most precious memories. Alone at the wheel of a boat surrounded by sea with large swells, and I was having the time of my life!  My approach to life’s storms should be equally undaunted, knowing that Christ has placed me at the helm of something He knows I can handle and he is taking His siesta, asleep but close by if needed.  He has given me instructions, set my compass, and provided me with coordinates that I need but follow so that even on a stormy sea, I can hold and follow a true course through the waves.  How easy that sounds through keystrokes.

 

 

Just a Vapor in the Wind

life_is_just_a_vapor_in_in_the_wind

Once again we were recently reminded of the fragility of life and of the uncertainty of days as we said goodbye to another legend long before their three score and ten years were up. We have witnessed an alarming number of deaths just this year of those we were not expecting who seemed to be immortal just by virtue of their contributions that were woven into our mainstream lives.  These are just a few who are gone too early:

Prince, age 57; Chyna, age 46; Gary Shandling, age 67; Joey Feek, age 41; Vanity, age 57; Glen Frey, age 67; David Bowie, age 69; Natalie Cole, age 65.

The most recent mortality tables for the U.S. puts the average life expectancy at 78.8 years and yet we hear daily of tragedies of the not-so-popular people killed by violent acts, auto accidents or heath related issues that never get close to their allotted seventy years of life. As a fifty-four year old man with a few health issues, I am paying attention and considering the fact that I may live to see eighty or I may die on the golf course before I reach sixty.  No one knows for sure save God.

Where do we believers get the three score and ten years idea from?  The Psalmist David says in Psalm 90:10 that “our days may come to three score and ten, or fourscore for some”, score representing twenty years.  But he adds that “the best of them (years) are but trouble and sorrow for they quickly pass and we fly away”.  The older I get the more I can testify as to how quickly the years have gone by.  Through social media I keep in touch with many of my childhood and school friends and I am confounded as to how we can be discussing our grandkids. Time indeed flies.

There was a very popular song written by Kansas called Dust in the Wind which captures this essence.  The first line says “I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment’s gone.”.  How true.  The author of this song was Kerry Livgren, a Christian who took this right out of the Word.  We read the following in James 4:14:

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”.

Some argue that our days are predestined and that nothing we do can take from or add to the years of our life.  While it may be true that God knows our life expectancy, there are verses left for us that indicate we can play a role in our life span. In 1 Kings we are told that “if we walk in obedience and keep his commands we will be given long life”. and again in Exodus 20, we should honor our father and mother so that we may live long”. The mystery of all mysteries is the shortened lives of those we view as righteous. We are simply called to a life of humility and obedience and service as we await. There is a parable in the New Testament about 5 wise virgins and 5 foolish virgins waiting for the groom to come for them. The wise virgins, not knowing for sure how long they may wait were smart enough to buy enough oil for their lamps should the wait be extended.  The foolish virgins, thinking they had more than enough time found that their lamps burned out too soon and they missed the groom when he came because they had to leave and buy more oil at the wrong time. There is a lesson for us here.  We can’t assume the time we have because of our own false sense of immortality-we can’t wait until tomorrow to be reconciled to God through Christ because we are only in our twenties, thirties or fifties.

So what should my response be when I read of unexpected deaths and consider my own pending mortality?  First I should rest in the knowledge that this life, although it is all I know with my human understanding, is but a short precursor to my REAL life which starts when I begin eternity with my savior, Christ.  We are reminded in the Word that we are just aliens here on this earth waiting for our eternal home. Second, this realization should compel me to make every moment of every day count for something bigger than me.  My kids need to know how much I love them.  They also need to be aware of my faith and my desire that they too be reconciled to Christ while there is time to do so, not knowing for sure what tomorrow brings. Third, I need to find joy in life even when life seems to be amused at my constant struggles.  This is a hard one for me as there are times when I feel like the poor mole in the arcade game Whack a Mole; every time I pop my head up someone is waiting there with a hammer to knock me back down. On these days I must find comfort in uplifting music, charitable work, leisurely activities-anything to keep me occupied so as not to dwell on current circumstances. This chapter may not be going the way I would have written it, but I still know how the story ends-I have to find peace in that knowledge.

The point is simple-look around, read the news, consider your own close circle of friends and acknowledge that no one is guaranteed another day, that no amount of fame or fortune will buy you another minute and that in a split second you or those close to you may be gone from this life. Embrace your mortality and use it as exhortation to live every moment to the fullest and leave no regrets.  Try to find happiness during deep times of sorrow and be conscious off those around you who need your encouragement and your love so they too can overcome their trials.  If the wind blows out your candle, light a bigger one. Be a friend, a mentor, and a road sign that leads to Christ in all you do, say and yes, post. Live life abundantly as to overflow onto others and go out with a bang!  At least that’s my ultimate plan.

 

 

 

Finding Hope in Times of Great Loss

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None of us are shielded from unexpected events that rattle our lives like an erupting volcano or a major earthquake.  The strongest among us can be brought to our knees when faced with certain life events or painful losses-the loss of a child, the loss of a home, the loss of a job or a business, the loss of a spouse due to death or divorce.  All of us will eventually face one or more of these events or know of some who have and can bear witness to the long term damaging effects it can have on an individual’s attitude, their outlook on the future and their quality of life.  And all of us who have already been visited by any of these can attest to the resulting sense of hopelessness and isolation.

Besides the obvious impact these losses or changes can have on the emotional or mental health of a person, these events can also alter the physical health as well.  In 1967 two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of more than 5000 patients to see if there was any correlation between some life events and eventual major illness.  Their findings have been confirmed by subsequent independent studies and the results are the same, and not at all surprising.  Based on their data they developed the famous Holmes and Rahe Scale, used to determine the chances of a person suffering major illnesses in the future.  Each event was given a numerical value in line with the severity of the event.  Here is what the scale looks like with events and numeric values listed:

Holmes-Rahe-Stress-Inventory

When you begin to take inventory and add up the numbers, especially if you are older, the results can be scary in light of the rating scale based on your score. The things that happen in our lives have a measurable impact on our mental and physical health-there is simply no disputing this.

But before you add up your score and head for your garage to start the car and close the garage door, take heart-there is a disclaimer!  These studies are based on the normal conditions and responses of the normal person.  There is no allowance or consideration given for the person who has overcome or survived these events due to the hope they have through their faith in Christ. Upon our conversion we are promised that we become “new” creatures, that is with clean slates, having all old things and events “pass away”.  That is certainly not to say we don’t suffer the same pain or agony when faced with any of these major life-changing events-we do, believe me. However it is to say that we have the promise and the assurance, the Hope that even though we walk through these dark places (not over or around as some suggest) that God is with us to provide comfort and courage and strength to endure.  We may not sense His presence during these trials in life but we rely on the knowledge through the Holy Spirit that His word is true and that He is faithful and completely incapable of breaking His promise or His covenant with us when we need Him the most. The great disclaimer to the Holmes Rahe Scale is Christ. He is or can be the great equalizer to those with high risk factors and scale totals-He is the unaccounted for variant in the numeric scale.  You may score high, but Christ…

Holy Scriptures are alive with resounding promises of hope, too many to list.

You may have lost a loved one but you can “lie down and sleep and wake again because the Lord sustains you”. You may have lost a job or a business but “you have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for food”. You may feel abandoned or that God has overlooked you, but in your heart you remember “Has he said and will He not do it or has He spoken and will not fulfill it?”  You may have lost the person closest to you but you can hold fast to the words “Fear not, I’m with you; don’t be dismayed for I’m your God and will strengthen you and hold you steady with my righteous right hand.”

Some of us have faced the events measured on this scale more than once. In fact if not for the disclaimer mentioned some of us may not have lived to tell about it.  But hope is like a skin graft that offers immediate healing and comfort and eventually manifests itself in new growth so that hardly a scar remains.  And by the way, these aren’t just shallow words but first hand testimony that is continuing to be rewritten.  I added up my scores, assuming just one time per episode although I have faced several of these events more than once.  My score….931!  But Christ.

 

New Year Resolution Disillusions

New Year's Resolutions, list of items

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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!

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.

Year End Inventory-A Personal Assessment

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As I begin my last blog of 2014 I want to take a minute to thank those of you who have signed up to follow papaswords.com this year. It is humbling anytime anyone is interested enough in what a person has to say that they choose to follow your weekly posting.  Your interest, your comments and your sharing on topics and the every day struggles of living the Christian faith are always welcomed.

Having been in business and retail in the past I’ve taken many physical inventories.  While some businesses take quarterly inventories the big one is always the one taken at the end of the year. In business much can be learned from the inventory left at year’s end. It can tell you what items you sold or distributed the most.  It can tell you how well you forecasted your annual needs.  Inventory can identify current trends and it can help you better judge which items you will need to restock or liquidate for the upcoming year.

Each year at this time many of us do similar personal inventories.  New Year’s Day is the day when resolutions are made usually for the betterment of our personal lives based on habits or trends of the previous year. There are the standard quit smoking, eat better or lose weight commitments and maybe the read the Bible and pray more resolutions.  However you do it and whatever it looks like, this is the time of the year when most of us swear to make some kind of change in our personal lives. That is unless you have come to the stage where past failures in keeping these year end decisions deter you from taking such personal assessment tests ever again. Like you, each year I too consider what I did wrong the previous year and what I need to do to live better in the year ahead.

2014 was not a kind year for me.  After much effort, sleepless nights and negative health effects, I lost my business.  Some reports in the medical field read that losing a business is as traumatic for some as losing a close family member.  The grieving process is much the same. As a result my personal year end inventory tells a story that isn’t necessarily a pretty one. I am left with many boxes of good inventory that should have been distributed and I have little left of bad inventory that should never have left the building.  Here is what I’m talking about.

The Bible is clear about the inventory of good items that every Christian believer should posses and distribute.  Galatians 5:22 says this;

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

“By our fruit they will know us”.  I’m not sure if I displayed enough of this fruit or inventory in 2014 to convince some of my faith. I certainly didn’t display much peace as I struggled with the business. I can’t say I demonstrated much kindness or goodness to others as I was a bit too focused on my own issues at the time to consider others. While I tried to remain faithful through the process there were many days when I lost control.  These items listed are inventory items that should be replenished at the end of each year because we distributed and shipped all the inventory we had to others throughout the year.  Sadly I still have quite a bit of unused inventory still sitting there on the shelves at year’s end.

On the other end of the scale are those inventory items that each of us are born with because of our sinful nature that should be stored in a part of your warehouse for slow moving items.  The Bible lists these as well. They are listed earlier in Galatians 5:19;

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I am convinced that God enabled me to be a business owner.  I could not have accomplished purchasing a business on my own accord or with my limited resources. So naturally I had a difficult time understanding why through prayers and fasting and blessings God was taking the business away from me so soon. I depleted all my strife inventory. I certainly had my fits of rage and shook my holy fists at God more than once. Through selfish ambition I tried desperately to hold on to something that was being taken from me. And on more than one occasion my blood alcohol count might have exceeded the legal limit while wallowing in despair in the midnight hours of my home. As I count the various items that one should never be giving away I find that some of these boxes have been emptied and others are shamefully low. Many elements of my personal inventory are reversed.  Like the Apostle Paul, those things I should have I am out of and those things I don’t need are in abundance.

What a blessing it is that with God you can start new inventory habits every single day.  Thankfully His memory is shorter than ours is. We can start each year, each quarter, even each day with a clean slate and fresh start.

Lamentations 3:23 says Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

As you consider on this the last day of 2014 those things you want to achieve in 2015, your good inventory, and those things you wish to change, the bad inventory, prayerfully seek God in humility and ask Him to supply those items He deems necessary for the purpose He has for your life this year. Be prepared for trials-Christianity ain’t easy! But never forget that God forgets! Fresh everyday are the tools and the inventory He sets aside for you to accomplish his will in your life and to bring you through to complete peace and joy.  It’s a long learning process, longer for some of us than others, but well worth the lessons. And don’t forget to inventory your blessings along the way!

I prayerfully wish all of you a blessed, a peaceful and God fulfilled Happy New Year!

The Heart is Compelled to Celebrate Christmas

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In just a few days the world will pause to remember the day when God the Son laid aside His Heavenly Kingship and entered into the world He created to set into motion the divine plan of redemption and reconciliation conceived from the beginning.  But sadly too many will get caught up in the wrappings of the holiday through business, through commercialization and even through religious debates as to the validity of our commemoration, and will completely miss out on the heart and the reasons we pause. Defense over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” will stir indignation and false piety; the worn argument over leaving Christ in Christmas opposed to those who use Xmas; the ever aging debate over the pagan roots of the holiday and why like Halloween, “Real” Christians would never participate in such secular distractions.  I’m confident Christ is pleased at how diligently we defend Him and promote the model of love He displayed by coming into our world to save us from, well, us.

Christmas brings back so many joyful memories for me from my younger years, and most all of them center around the central figure of Christmas, the Christ Child. I can’t tell you the number of times I played Joseph in the annual church Christmas play.  I recall being part of a multi-level living Christmas Tree set up outside in the cold parking lot of an Indiana mall as we sang carols about none other than Jesus in near zero temps.  I remember as a teen in our youth group taking part in a Madrigal Dinner performance complete with costumes and yes, even tights (because back then I made tights fashionable for men).  I did the Santa thing with our kids and enjoyed every minute and memory made.  The snow, the songs, the plays, the animated Christmas displays downtown, the lights-all part of Christmas memories no one can take from me or diminish through theological orations of gross holiness infractions served up by some who are guilty of brutality through overbearing policing. We get through deeper study that the birth was most likely not a December event.  We understand that the shepherds being outside with the flock indicate a season other than Winter.  We know the timing of the Census and the calendar of Jewish festivals create doubt for a December nativity.  But are these things really essential on our choice and reasoning to remember?

Throwing off the wrappings, the controversy and the distractions, let us merely examine the wonder and the reason of the Incarnation of the Christ child on that Holy night. Jesus, the Word and creator of all things made according to John 1, saw His creation in turmoil. Mankind had perverted everything good about life.  Sin had separated us from Him and there was not enough time or livestock available for the continuing of sacrifices required according to Jewish custom to atone for our sinful ways. A promise had been made to never destroy the population as in the days of Noah, so a new covenant had to be established, one that was final, all inclusive and everlasting, and yet still meet the requirements of bloodshed. Enter Jesus-literally! The time was right and the need never greater. God’s entry into our planet was done in the most unusual, abnormal and uncharacteristic way possible.  He didn’t come into existence suddenly in the synagogue-He didn’t just appear before Kings and religious leaders. He picked a young teen aged girl from a city of poverty and disease and a man who had many of the same struggles we do today, fear, doubt, jealousy, weakness, to be the earthly vessel and parents of His Son. The news of his birth was not proclaimed to the rabbis in the temple-it was proclaimed to the shepherds, the outcasts of society, the indispensable protectors of flocks from wild predators who had little family or means.  Jesus didn’t come with prenatal care in a lavish facility worthy of  king’s birth, but rather a holding stable for animals-the local kennel if you will for all the visiting guests from other countries who had converged on Bethlehem that night. But in that blessed event is the fulfillment of all the carols we sing to this day recalling His birth. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining til He appeared”. “Peace on earth and mercy mild-God and sinner reconciled”. “Come and behold Him, born the king of ages”. “Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping”. The plan was set into motion.

While we rejoiced, God the Father was broken, knowing that in the blink of an eye this baby boy so innocently portrayed in a manger would be maliciously beaten and scourged and left to die on the Roman cross of crucifixion. In order for the perpetual sacrifice to be made for us, God had to become one of us-the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. The Lamb of God was born only to die. The virgin birth secured His separation from all things sinful so that He who knew no sin, could become the flawless sacrifice-the lamb without any blemish, to die blameless just as he was born. There was no other way for us to be restored to our creator because of our sin, than through the death and blood of one of us who was perfect-Jesus the Christ child. It was truly a cradle to the grave implementation of a divine plan by which we would be forgiven, redeemed, restored and made spotless before Him who made us.  At last we who were made in His image could once again appear like Him, reconciled into the lineage of Christ. We sing “Glory to the newborn king” so that we can sing “my sin, oh the joy of this glorious thought-my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more”! This my friends is Christmas!

I am a wretched man, like Joseph, who struggles with pride, impatience, temptation-living everyday in a sinful world. The message of Christmas is that He who knew me before I was conceived made provisions for my shortcomings and afforded me forgiveness, salvation and everlasting life with Him in a kingdom yet to come, and it all started on that first Christmas morning 2000 years or so ago in Bethlehem, whatever night it was. You’re damn right I’m going to celebrate it-I’m going to sing songs about it-I’m going to enjoy a special church service to reflect on it-I’m going to have my family over and share in a great feast and offer up prayers in remembrance of it and even exchange gifts, remembering that the greatest gift of all was given freely on that first Holy night to all who choose to receive it. There are lights on my house, angels on my tree, a nativity in our family room, and Christmas shows on the TV. I will live according to the book of Romans knowing that some keep certain days as more holy than others but all being acceptable when done to the glory of God.  My only regret is that we only mark one day each year to remember the essence of our faith.  If it were left to me the lights would never come down, the carols would never cease and the magic and joy felt in December would never diminish in January. “For unto us a savior is born-unto us a Son is given, and He is called Jesus”.

It is my heartfelt wish and fervent prayer that my family, my kids, my grand kids and friends find in their hearts this season the wonder and the joy and the core of all things Christmas, and that they make merry in full acknowledgement of the hope born to us on that special night.

Merry Christmas to all!

Oh Holy Night-an Unlikely Composition Makes History

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All who know me know that Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year. Being a native of the snowy mid-western state of Indiana I cherish the memories and traditions of Christmas past and have tried my best to create similar memories for our family in Las Vegas, sans the snow and cold temps. For me Christmas was always ushered in by the seasonal carols-I knew the holiday was close when the radio began playing Joy to the World, White Christmas, Silver Bells, Silent Night, and all the carols that have survived through the decades.  But no carol moves me to this day more so than Oh Holy Night. Of all the carols this song does more to transport me back to what must have been a magical night all over the earth as God the Son and Creator became flesh to dwell among us. This carol has been covered by the best voices in the world, each adding their own touch, from Celine to Groban to Crosby, and my favorite, Transiberian Orchestra.  There is no carol that sets the mood for Christmas among believers more than Oh Holy Night.

What many people don’t know is how God orchestrated the most unlikely characters and unusual circumstances in the composition of this song.  The lyrics were written by a man who would later walk away from the church to join the socialist party, and the music by a Jewish man who did not believe in Jesus the Messiah.  I was fascinated when I first read this story.

Placide Cappeau was a well known poet and commissioner of wines in France but not so well known as a church attender.  It was in 1847 that the priest of his parish asked him to compose a poem of religious origin that would be appropriate for Christmas Mass. Cappeau relied on texts from the Gospel of Luke and his imagination of what that blessed night must have been like and penned the words to Cantique de Noel on a stage coach ride to Paris. Upon its completion, Cappeau was so moved by his own composition that he decided these words should be put to music but music was not his strength.  So he called upon his good friend Adolphe Charles Adam, equally well known for his musical compositions.  Adolphe was Jewish. It was miraculous how the words to Cappeau’s poem moved Adam so much that he composed perhaps the most beloved and recognizable hymn about an event he did’t celebrate and personally didn’t believe in. Oh Holy Night, words by a socialist and music by a Jew!

The score was performed for Mass just three weeks later and quickly accepted across France.  However its fame was short lived as Cappeau joined the Socialist Party and the Catholic Church discovered that a Jew composed the music.  Oh Holy Night was banned for lack of content and musical taste for decades after, that is until John Sullivan Dwight, a struggling Unitarian minister and publisher of Dwight’s Journal of Music found the words and was moved by the composition.  You see, Dwight was an abolitionist and when he saw the lyrics, “for the slave is our brother”, he was inspired. It was Dwight who translated the lyrics into English and first introduced it to America.  But wait, there’s more!

In 1906, six decades after the song was composed by the most unlikely sources, another miracle was about to take place. The alternator-trasmitter had recently been developed allowing voice to be transmitted to ships and newspaper publishers by radio waves produced as a result of the high spinning alternator. Radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden, a former employee for Thomas Edison, first tested this new radio device by reading the first few verses from the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospel of Luke chapter two. Fessenden, also a musician, then picked up his violin and played Cantique de Noel, Oh Holy Night!  This beloved Christmas carol made history and is acknowledged as the very first song ever broadcast over radio, and all at the hands of a socialist, a Jew, a failed Unitarian minister and an Anglican through the orchestration of events by an all inclusive God!  Awe inspiring and yet, not at all surprising-He is after all, God!

Christmas is all about inclusion, and in light of recent events revolving around police actions and injustices, what a better time to reflect on the commonalities of our races and status and not the differences. Dwight, being a witness to the evils of slavery, fell in love with the lyric “change shall He bring for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease“. Paul would write in Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ”.  You see, if you read the story carefully you will see that the young are represented by Mary, thought to be no more than fourteen years old when she gave birth, and the old are represented by Simeon, who would die shortly after seeing his Messiah. The rich are represented by the Wise men from the east bearing gifts for the Savior, and the poor by Jesus own parents who could barely afford doves for their sacrifice at the temple. The women are represented by the Theotokos, Mary, the bearer of God and her cousin Elizabeth who bore John the Baptist, while the men are represented by Joseph, a hard working everyday man chosen by God to be the earthly father of Jesus. And the outcast are represented by the shepherds, the lowest of the low deemed indispensable enough to guard the flocks against bears and other predators. This was God’s plan all along-unity through love and a common hope and equal inheritance.  We are to blame for creating the racial, societal and even the religious divisions among us. God’s gift of His son was to unite us and reconcile all of us, each different but all the same in Christ, to Him.

So this Christmas season, when you hear or sing this beautiful and beloved hymn Oh Holy Night, I want to challenge you to consider each other as you sing, the poor, the homeless, the black or the white, the Republican or Democrat, the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Atheist, the immigrant-those who would never come to mind normally, and imagine a time and a place two thousand years ago when the world for one night was at peace and as one as they ushered in with great celebration and Holy awe the creator of us all, the Christ child Jesus.  Surely, it must have been one holy night!  When you do, I can promise you that the spirit of Christmas past present and to come will dwell richly within you and the world around you will seem just a little less hostile, and each other a little less different.  God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

Thou Shalt Love thy Neighbor,,,Unless

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Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I’m too idealistic, or as my black brothers have often implied, I just don’t get it because I’m white. So I went to the local Christian bookstore to buy the White Bible.  Couldn’t find it-maybe they were just out of stock,  So I looked instead for the Black Bible. Same thing. I asked the clerk to check stock for me and she laughed at me. “I’ve never heard of the Black or White Bible”, she exclaimed. “Why would you believe there was such a thing”, she asked. “There has to be”, I replied. “We aren’t all reading the same thing”.

My heart aches over the rhetoric of hatred being spewed on both sides of the recent Ferguson shooting. I’m not shocked by the violence of those who don’t live a lifestyle of brotherly love.  Hell, cities burn when a major Sports Championship is won. What saddens me most is how some of the religious leaders have, in lieu of taking a stand against hate and reminding their congregations of the words of Christ, turned their pulpits into platforms that have only served to widen the barriers between races. Love thy neighbor, unless they are a cop, unless they have a different skin color, unless they have more money or drive a nicer car or attend the wrong church or have the wrong political sign in their yard. I’m amazed at the disclaimers we have added to God’s word because surely He must have accidentally left them out.  In many of my dialogues with my black Christian brothers, many of whom are clergy, I have been relegated to an unsympathetic and out of touch white man who couldn’t possibly understand discrimination or challenges because of the color of my skin.  There will always exist an element of racism and hatred because of sin-I can’t deny the ugly existence of racism and I would never intentionally dismiss as foolish the incidents made known to us that display blatant racist behavior. But to dismiss my concerns because I’m too white to understand is by very definition, racist. I too have had my share of issues because of the color of my skin.  While I don’t wish to draw comparisons, allow me to share some of my experiences.

I grew up on the west side of Indianapolis during the onset of bussing kids into school districts for racial balance in the 60’s and 70’s. I was always the tallest white boy in the school, so naturally I became a target to the blacks who wanted to show superiority, especially since I was, well close, to their girlfriends. On a specific day it was made known to me that I was going to “get me ass kicked” after school off premises.  I asked a few of my closer friends to have my back but all declined. True to their word I was jumped about 4 blocks from the school by a gang of black schoolmates wielding bricks, masonry blocks and belts. When the police arrived I was put into the back of the squad car because I appeared to be the aggressor.  I also took the blunt of the punishment by the school because an example of “fairness” to the entire community needed to be displayed.

In High School I was the starting center on our basketball team and third leading scorer. I lived and breathed basketball.  In my Junior year I was cut from the squad and replaced by a black student who couldn’t dribble out the side of his mouth or hit one free throw out of 20 attempts, because the Catholic school needed to show some “diversity” on the squad and to the teams we played on our schedule. I was devastated and to this day remember the feelings of being cut to make room for someone else because of skin color.

In my early adult years I had decided to pursue my dream of becoming a police officer in Indy.  The testing process was hard but I studied and passed the test with flying colors, only to be informed I wasn’t going to be accepted.  Chin up, I took the test again when open hiring was announced. Same scores, same results.  I went through this process one more time only to be told by the recruiting officer that I was wasting my time. Affirmative Action required that racial quotas be established in law enforcement departments and that I, being white, did not stand a chance of being hired as a result. Once again I was discriminated against due to my skin color-sounds familiar.

Upon moving to Las Vegas with my young family we rented an apartment on what turned out to be the wrong side of the city. We always tried to look out for our three sons.  I was informed that there was a drug pusher working the apartments giving out free drugs to kids and teens.  One day I spotted them, just feet from our oldest son and I gave chase to them, a truck load of blacks who in turn fired back at me with loaded handguns. Luckily for me their aim was much like that of many metro officers-they missed.

Most recently as a business owner in Las Vegas dealing with the largest gaming corporations in the world I was once again discriminated against in bidding on large contracts.  Seems just like I experienced in the 80’s, racial diversity needed to be displayed in vendor selection, and even though I had the best products, the best pricing and established relationships, my company was overlooked in favor of minority owned companies. I was too white.

Are these fair comparisons-maybe, maybe not.  What is common is that I was targeted because of the color of my skin and have legitimate reasons to be biased because of that discrimination.  The difference is that I have not let these incidents define me or my character.  Am I just a good Christian-hardly.  Most who know me will say I’m a gentle giant but my wife will tell you I’m an angry and impatient man with many issues. But I can’t escape my knowledge of the things written in scripture that deal with love, hate and true faith. Regardless of your individual life experiences, the Word of God is very straight forward and transparently clear when it comes to love and forgiveness:

1 John 4:20 ESV 

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 3:15 ESV 

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

Leviticus 19:17 ESV 

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

John 13:34-35 ESV 

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

1 John 2:9 ESV 

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness

 

“But Joe, you don’t know what we’ve been through.  You can’t understand how I feel and how I’ve been wronged”.  Well maybe you are right.  All I can do is defer to Scriptures regarding forgiveness.

 

Ephesians 4:32 ESV 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Mark 11:25 ESV 

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Matthew 6:15 ESV 

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:21-22 ESV 

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Luke 6:27 ESV 

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Colossians 3:13 ESV 

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Luke 6:27-36 ESV 

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 

Maybe my friends are right about me.  Perhaps I’m too naive in my beliefs that Christians should be the torch bearers that heal racism instead of the fuel that keeps the flames of racism burning bright. Maybe the deep seed of prejudice is just too much for the common man to overcome, even in Christ. And most assuredly there is too much water under the bridge of racism to believe that somehow some way Christians can begin to live in a Kingdom fashion while still inhabitants of earth. But of all the words that have been used to describe me, stubborn stands out.  I will continue to hope for better, pray for better, live for better and speak up for better while it is within me to do so. None of us can play God, but none of us can deny God’s words or His commands because our life experiences justify our disobedience. Christianity isn’t a black or white man’s religion, but God’s word is clearly Black and White. Peace.

 

Running the Race

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it…

1 Cor. 9:24

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On more than one occasion in the New Testament the Apostle Paul refers to our spiritual journey as a race, a race to run and obtain the prize and a race to finish.  It’s not clear if Paul was formerly an athlete in the tradition of the Roman Games or merely a spectator, but he knew enough about the races and the rules of the races to make analogies for us to follow and aspire to.

As a Three Year Letterman in track I know something about competing in races.  I know that at my age I no longer enjoy running, for one.  But back in the day it was quite a different story.  I was not into cross country competition, nor did I run the mile or two mile.  And before you ask, yes, when I ran the distances were still measured in yards and miles, not meters and kilometers.  I was a sprinter, preferring to run the 100, 220 and 440 yard dashes.  This might explain my impatience in life now-endurance is not one of my gifts.  I want it now please.

I learned a few things in my training as a sprinter that have served me well in my Christian walk, that is when I remember to apply them.  One of the most important aspects of a sprint is the start-getting out of the blocks. You push off of the blocks at the sound of the starter’s gun.  The blocks need to be set, secure and in proper alignment with the lane you’re in.  If the blocks shift or are not anchored, you will “stumble coming out of the blocks” as the old adage goes.  I know this to be true as our races were first run on loose cinder tracks.

Psalm 143 say “may your gracious spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.  None of us are born theologians, nor do we become such upon our conversion.  It is only through Bible study, memorization and application that we can develop this firm foundation needed to get out of the blocks, making our first strides sure so we can more quickly reach our full pace. Our lives must be in line (in lane) with the Word so we are not guilty of lane infractions that would disqualify us or nullify our finish.

I also learned quickly that a sprinter should never look back.  Sprinting is all about form-the best sprinters know how important it is to keep form.  When you look to the left, the right or behind you in a sprint, your running form is broken, even temporarily, and your momentum is decreased.  It really is true that you can’t run forward if you are looking backward.  Jesus said in Luke 9:62:  “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  

What causes us to look back?  We may be looking to see how we are progressing compared to others like us in our walks.  Every person’s race is different and our progress should not be determined by that of others in different circumstances.  We may look back to see if our past is catching up to us.  Many in the faith, especially new converts, have a difficult time comprehending God’s promise and ability to completely forgive our past and remove our sins from us by the dispensation of grace.  We run but we are constantly looking over our shoulders, breaking form, losing momentum.

Another mistake sprinters can make is giving up once the possibility of a top finish seems unlikely.  I will never forget competing in the city wide meet in the 440 yard dash.  The best in the entire city were there based on their recorded times throughout the season.  At the sound of the starter’s gun we were off.  I had one of my best starts ever and quickly went to the lead.  I held that lead all the way down the back stretch.  I rounded the final turn and I’m seeing a shiny blue ribbon just 100 yards away when suddenly this freight train comes roaring past me out of nowhere-four runners glued to each other like a team of horses.  I was devastated and couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.  No Blue Ribbon, or Red or White for that matter.  What else could I do but fall in right behind them and catch their draft and momentum.  I finished a disappointing fifth but ran my personal best time and it remained a school record for several years.

It is easy in our spiritual journey to feel like we are in stride, setting a good pace and out in clean air when life comes rushing by like a flood. And it happens to all of us-divorce, severe illness, loss of a close relative, financial crisis, failed businesses-all distractions that are very real and that can cause us to want to give up and stop competing for the prize.  The overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair of not finishing as high as we thought we would, if finishing at all, sets in and takes residence in our hearts and minds and become real, tangible stumbling blocks that block our running lanes. I suppose it’s then that we learn to become hurdlers!

Acts 20:24 puts it this way:  “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

The best way we can testify to the Good News of God’s grace is to keep our footing, come out strong, don’t look back and finish your own race regardless of the runners around you running their own races, or the obstacles placed in your lanes to hinder you or cause you to fall.

I love Paul’s words in Phil. 3 as he compares once again our lives to a race;

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Runners to your marks-set, FINISH!

I Will Never Be Like Him

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He was born into a poor family in rural Mississippi. Upon his birth his mother went right back into the cotton fields where she worked and placed him on the ground in a blanket beneath the shade of a tree that offered little comfort from the 100 degree heat and southern sun and humidity. He was vitamin deficient and and could not fend off childhood illnesses easily. At the young age of just seven, he was made to work in the cotton fields along with adults. Because of his lack of experience and speed, he was beaten mercilessly with the handle of a hoe until sheer adrenaline sped him up. He and hunger were good friends. He was familiar with the pains of an empty stomach. Cornbread and molasses was a welcome treat.  Flour and feed sacks were his daily clothing. 

They would pick 1800 to 2000 lbs of cotton that might yield 400 lbs after being processed. At the age of eight he was put to the plow and would work sun up to sun down. The nearest town for supplies was eight miles away-he walked, and many trips home were in the dark of night before electricity. At age 12 he would work for other area farmers for $1.00 per day, only after his normal work was completed. His dad was not a kind man and would beat him with plow lines at the slightest infringement. This went on most of his adolescent life. He survived childhood Rickets, Rheumatic Fever, heart murmurs, beatings and hunger.  He knew no other life than this.

Perhaps by now you might assume I am portraying the story of a southern slave. I would never be so bold as to draw direct comparisons to their plight, even thought there are similarities in their stories. You may be surprised to find that this is the story of my Dad. It is a story of survival-it is a story of overcoming-it is a story of breaking a cycle through an amazing faith in a God many of us would have dismissed in similar circumstances. And its a story that none of us would have ever imagined as we grew up in our family as his children.

We didn’t learn of our dad’s history until just a few years ago. We were raised in a normal mid-western home and atmosphere. Dad worked for a truck manufacturer and we always had food on the table and clothes on our back. At 6’8″ he was a gentle giant who never unleashed his anger on us.  In fact I can remember explicitly that it really hurt him to spank our butts when needed. Now we understand why. We were never beaten physically or emotionally-quite the opposite!  We were blessed with loving parents who were engaged in our lives and who showed us their faith in God every day. We learned about Christ in church and saw him in action in our parents.  So you might imagine the shock as my brother, sister and I learned of our dad’s harsh upbringing. 

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My dad asked Christ into his life at the age of eight and held to that faith until such time as he was able to leave home and all his past behind him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!  This surely must be true. We witnessed it without knowing at the time. We were raised and nurtured with all the love, the encouragement, the unity that any family could ask for. We didn’t realize it but we were the broken links of a chain from the past that had been ripped apart by the love and faith of an earthly father determined to be free from generational abuse, and a Heavenly Father who honored the faith of two parents living in His love and pouring it out on us.  

My dad set a standard of fathering that I never reached with my boys. With full disclosure now as an adult to the life my dad overcame and the great distance with which he removed himself from his past, I missed the mark dramatically as a dad. Yet I work everyday, just as I did as a kid, to make my dad proud and to pass along something of his character to our kids and grand kids, three generations removed. I only wish our grand kids could know what a great man he is.

I’ve heard of sons declaring to their dads-“I can’t wait to grow up. I’m never going to be like you!”. Well, I’m grown up and I can truly declare, I will never be like him!  Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

Fan Into Flame the Gifts Inside

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There is an episode in my childhood I will never forget. We were at a church function and the boys were picking teams for a basketball game. I was tall for my age, about twelve at the time, and being born in Indiana, the basketball capitol of the world, you might think I slept with a basketball, ala basketball Jones. Nothing could be further from reality. I couldn’t dribble except while eating and I threw the basketball like a baseball, and usually over the backboard.  I was picked dead last-I think I heard the comment “I guess we’ll take him”. Ouch. That hurt a lot. That night I made it my goal to never ever again be the last person picked by a team forced to take me. I bought a basketball and headed to Park Lafayette on the west side of Indianapolis every single day.  I spent four to five hours a day or more watching players, playing with those who were bigger and better than I was, practicing the fundamentals of dribbling, jump shots, bank shots, free throws, blocking out and rebounding (the NBA might find these fundamentals useful). In two short years I was a starter on the grade school basketball team and I continued working to become a starter in high school.  I had the size and the skills but I had done nothing to discover or develop then into ability.  I had to grow into my given skill set.

When I was younger my parents and friends noticed I was always tapping on things, tapping to music, tapping to anything that had a beat. So one Christmas they bought me a blue metallic Ludwig snare drum.  I played that thing in the basement every day until bedtime. In high school I decided to buy my first drum set, a used 5 piece Pearl set.

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Like with basketball I soon discovered that having the right equipment didn’t make me a drummer.  But the gift of rhythm was already inside me so all I needed to do was practice, study and observe others who were better than I was.  One year after purchasing the set I was in a Christian band and playing weekly around the mid-west.  In both instances, I did not create my own talent or gifts, but rather I developed that which was already inside me and did what I could to bring it out for my use and enjoyment.  I have seen seven foot men who couldn’t hit a layup and I’ve seen kids with 12 piece drum kits who couldn’t keep a straight 4/4 beat. We each have to discover our gifts and develop them through practice and patience.

The New Testament speaks about spiritual gifts we all receive when we come to accept and follow Christ. We are each given differing abilities so that we can serve each other in the body of Christ. 2 Timothy 1:6 says that we are to “fan into a flame the gifts that we have received”.  Accepting Christ and deciding to live your life for Him does not make you a minister, a Bible scholar or a small group leader anymore than buying a Bible makes you a believer.  Some in the body have not yet learned this. In working out our salvation with “fear and trembling” there is a learning process that must be accepted and endured. God does not give us developed spiritual gifts, but rather the seeds of these gifts that are ours to cultivate or fan into flame. 

There is something about fire that is captivating. I can sit around my fire pit at night and just get lost in the flames-something just draws me in and holds my attention. It is alive, ever glowing but changing color, always changing while remaining the same. The properties of these gifts God has placed within each of us should have that same affect when others see them at work in our lives. They should be compelling and inviting, showing the love and the way to Christ, opposed to the approach that much of today’s church has taken through Bible weaponry and hatred. But these gifts will remain untapped and dormant if we ignore them or rely on our favorite TV evangelist to somehow reach through the screen and zap us into super Christians through miracles prayers and a generous seed offering. 

Jesus’s parable of the talents comes to mind here. Three individuals were given talents based on their respective abilities.  Two of the three fanned into flame their gifts and doubled them while the one buried his deep with no thought or intent of growth. The two were deemed good and faithful-the one, not so much!  What are we doing to fan into flame that which God has planted in us upon our election?  Can we keep a beat or connect on a jumper, or would we be the last one picked because we have no apparent skills?  While age has decreased my ability to jump or ball the way I once did, spiritual gifts do not decay with age and remain eternal for the benefit and edification of the body of Christ.  God teach us to develop what you have richly given. 

But I just Hate Going to the Gym

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When I turned fifty my wife surprised me with a trip to Hawaii, a place I always wanted to visit.  As you might expect we took many photos as it was the first visit for both of us.  Upon our return we couldn’t wait to go through the pictures we had taken. I wasn’t impressed with many of them that I was in. My initial response was “honey, who’s the fat guy you’re with?”  I knew I was out of shape compared to my earlier athletic years, but photos show what mirrors don’t-reality! I was embarrassed.

There is an epidemic of laziness and lethargy in our country. The U.S. boasts some of the best Medical Schools and facilities in the world. Regardless of your opinion of our current healthcare system, most anyone can find treatment for their ailments.  The F.D.A. has stepped in to inform all consumers of the dangers of the foods they consume.  We know what foods contain the highest levels fat and calories, which foods can elevate our cholesterol and blood sugars, which foods can lead to heart issues and even which ones have known carcinogens in them. As a food loving society, we can not plead ignorant to what we consume. Nor can we hide behind the veil of ignorance when it comes to daily exercise. And yet with all this publicized knowledge the U.S. consistently ranks low in the overall world health reviews. Forever we were the most obese nation in the world with over 30% of all citizens being obese-we are still #2! We rank higher on all preventable illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, COPD and cancers due to smoking and UV exposure. We know, what to do, or what not to do, but like the Apostle Paul, we do just the opposite. 

Each year as I observe the mass rush to local churches for Easter I am compelled to draw the same comparisons to the overall spiritual health of our country and the Christian church in general. We live in perhaps the most religiously tolerant country in the world.

We have the freedom to express our worship and live out our faith to the unlimited degree we desire, or not. Unlike many world countries, the U.S. has more than 450,000 churches, temples or synagogues to choose from. There is no shortage of facilities available for spiritual fitness.  There are radio formats and cable television stations broadcasting daily in most US cities. Bible sales as well as phone and computer apps are profitable ventures, and even Hollywood is starting to cash in on the religious demographic, so that our senses are constantly aware of the spiritual realm. 

But on Easter Sunday, churches prepare for the largest service of the year, some even scheduling multiple services to accommodate all those who will show up for their annual pilgrimage to a house of worship.  Thank God for every person who pulls themselves away from the sofa to attend church on Easter Sunday. But the very next Sunday churches are back to half capacity.  What are we doing to enhance our spiritual fitness the other 51 weeks of the year?  Why are we, especially of the faith, less than zealous to be in service early enough to get a good seat and not miss anything? Where is the local church marketing and evangelism team when it is not Easter or Christmas? Why are many churches closing their doors due to reduced attendance and consequential funding instead of fighting for the fitness of their entire congregation?

There is little urgency in the body of Christ for the same reasons there is little concern over our physical health. If we aren’t sick, haven’t had a stroke or heart attack, haven’t yet developed diabetes or coughed up a lung, we assume all on the inside is well, and why fix something that isn’t broken on the outside. We will get to the gym when we get that first bad medical report.  We have heard all our lives that Christ will return, but it hasn’t happened in over 2000 years, so what’s the rush. We will find our way to church when we lose our job or when we suffer through a nasty divorce or when we have some serious crisis that is bigger than our daily routine. We will exercise our unique religious freedoms by going to church when we feel like it. We will continue to treat our spiritual health on a symptomatic basis, when a pain arises or for an annual checkup.

However the comparisons between our physical and spiritual fitness only go so far.  There is a unique difference that many fail to acknowledge.  Our physical bodies are deteriorating every day toward an eventual physical death, no matter how hard you fought to stay in shape and apply your knowledge of physical fitness.  Our spiritual being, however, goes on into eternity after physical death, in the state and level of fitness you maintained during your lifetime.  Those things we do now to enhance our spiritual fitness, or those ways we simply ignore it, will last an eternity.

When I finally realized the seriousness of my lethargic lifestyle I forced myself to head for the gym at least 3 times each week. While I am not big into repetitive exercise, being around a group of people all there for the same purpose, I felt encouraged to push on and increase my level of activity and stretch myself beyond my current limitations. Might I suggest the same dynamic happens when we attend church with fellow believers. Going to church to worship is only half of our purpose.  According to scripture we are to be there to encourage and be encouraged, to motivate and exhort each other to greater levels of spiritual fitness, something that can’t be done by watching your favorite TV evangelist from the comfort of your sofa by yourself. How many time this week have your worked on your physical and spiritual fitness levels?

Severe Storm Warnings

Today much of the Midwestern and Eastern part of the Country woke to snow measured in feet, not inches and temperatures below zero.  The News channels covered stories of multitudes of people converging on stores to pick up the essentials necessary to weather the storm, heeding the warnings they had received about the coming blizzard.  I recall living on the coast of Florida that most of the homes had hurricane shutters that could be closed to minimize the damage from storms that were a given for their area.   In the Midwest tornado alley many homes have storm cellars to escape the winds of tornado season.  In some Gulf States homes on the beach are built on stilts to encounter the high surge of water that comes with their seasonal storms.  In each case provisions are made to enable the structures to survive inevitable storms they are sure to encounter.

Our lives are going to encounter storms. It’s not a matter of if but when.  In fact as believers we are told in more than one place in the New Testament that we will face storms in our lives.  Jesus said that in this life we would have troubles.  Comforting, isn’t it! We may have to weather storms of divorce, storms of bad health or disease, storms of unemployment or failing businesses, storms of unexpected loss of loved ones or just the storm of depression or loneliness. As I write I’m in the eye of a storm of my own.  All of us at some point of our life will experience a major and unwelcome storm.  We can’t escape life’s tragedies, unless you are like the blonde who heard that all accidents happen within a mile of where you live, so she moved! (Okay, if you are blonde change it to brunette). How we fare the severe weather has everything to do with how well prepared we are when it hits us.

For the believer there are essentials made available to us to navigate any kind of bad weather.  We have The Word, our daily how-to manual for the Christian life. We have a 24 hour prayer channel for live chats with God. We have the support of brothers and sisters in the faith to hold us up and encourage us until the storms pass.  We need to build our lives on these solid essentials. Jesus told a story about two builders of houses, one built on a solid foundation and one not so solid.  The house built on the solid rock withstood the storm while the other crumbled.  We have to presume from the story that both houses faces similar storms but with drastically differing results.

If you wait until you are snowed in or until the roads are washed out before you venture out to get what you need for the storm, you will find it too late or too difficult to acquire the proper supplies. While it is never too late to cry out to God or begin praying and studying The Word, you will find it much easier to handle a life crisis when you already have a good foundation of prayer and study habits.  Jesus did say we’d have storms, but He also said to have no fear since He’d already overcome them for us.  I like the verse in the popular 23rd Psalm, when we walk through the valley.  Nothing is said of us passing over it or going around it, but that we have the tools needed to go through it.

No one likes storms. Even having the knowledge that sometimes God deliberately puts us in the midst of trials to teach us to depend on Him makes the storms no less welcomed. I’m weight training again and building stronger muscles requires pain and discomfort.   The methods God uses to build us up are uncomfortable at best, and extremely painful at worst. But know that Jesus faced all these trials during His life on earth so we could have victory and peace when we pass through them if Christ is part of our storm kit. As painful or as lonely or isolated as you may feel in the midst of the storm, take comfort in knowing there is a calm waiting for us when it dies down, as it surely will.