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.

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!

 

Side Chicks and Loyalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics and Believers

Gods-Politics

I suspect that many of my blog’s followers may take issue with today’s post as it addresses what has become a hot button or sensitive area for some.  I apologize in advance if it is not as well received as my usual post, but I do not apologize for my observations and subsequent response.  It is something that continues to leave a black mark on our faith and we are all guilty to some extent from parishioner to clergy.

With each passing election I am finding that I am becoming more and more apolitical.  For any who have known me long that may come as a bit of a shock.  I was once a grand-stander for all things conservative and a graduate of the Rush Limbaugh school of The Way Things Ought To Be.  I, like many others truly believed that political activism was a Christian duty and obligation to the point of casting shadows on those who refused to vote.  I believed that “true” Christians could only vote one way, and if they didn’t, their faith should be scrutinized.  I could not have been more wrong.

Social media seems to have given many people a voice and platform, and a select few would have you think they have a Master’s Degree in Political Science.  Seems everyone is an expert with a false sense of boldness that comes from the safety and protection of sitting behind a computer screen.  But what troubles me so deeply isn’t necessarily the blind allegiance believers have to a party or the unsubstantiated political memes they share on their timelines without any due diligence; it’s the level of disdain they so easily display with anyone who votes differently than they do.  I’ve posted on it before, I’ve observed it repeatedly, and it only seems to be getting worse.  There is a division in the church that goes right down political party lines.  It is always the elephant in the room, even after an election is over and the results are tallied. It is shameful, hurtful and an embarrassment to the body of Christ that nothing stirs up more heated public exchanges than a good old-fashioned debate about politics.

And yet with each election a new level of boldness is displayed for the unchurched to behold.  And this is perhaps what is most disheartening and so hard to swallow-there is a clear and distinct correlation between political party alliances and the racial division in our country in that the more politically divided we become, the more racially divided we become.  There is wholly nothing Christian about our response and approach to politics, and I am calling out our Christian leaders above all.  Through my social media connections I am privy to many clergy timelines and their postings.  Both sides are equal contributors to the walls of partisanship we see today, left and right, black and white.  I see white leaders using hurtful labels to describe those who vote differently, and even a few supporting or at least tolerating the notion of supremacy or nationalism through their implications or silence.  I see black leaders who allow heavily biased responses on their threads against anyone or anything white.  I even saw just this week that one of my famous black leader friends suggested that blacks should be preparing for a civil war.  What was once at least closely held and private biases have now become bold fodder for the world to witness as we cast stones back and forth over walls we created that have become increasingly higher and thicker.  I hate what politics has become and what it has made us.

And since I am on a roll I’ll take it all the way.  Shame on you on both sides of the aisle who have the balls to suggest that God is in your political camp!  Trump was elected because he was God’s choice; the Dems took back the house because God was displeased so he turned the tables-PLEASE STOP!  How little of us to humanize God to the degree of assigning God the label of Republican or Democrat!  The true glory of God, which no human could ever fully be exposed to, is not nor will ever be subjected to partisanship among his children.  My God is not red or blue. If your god is, you need to step back and reexamine your god.  The visceral, the labels, the allegations we throw back and forth over politics is man-made, not God ordained.  Any Christian leader who uses God to implore parishioners to vote a certain way, or uses God as some holy endorser of the current administration, is guilty of blasphemy in my opinion.

Last week Jewish worshippers were gunned down in their own temple by someone filled with hate.  Just this week 12 very young people lost their lives at the hand of someone equally hateful and bitter.  This week in Las Vegas three youths beat down a 78 year-old man just to take his car.  Everyday in America people are gunned down because of the evil of out-of-control hatred, and we who are “mature” have the gall to ask what has become of today’s youth, while at the same time holding in our hands a stone to throw at the next person who differs from us.  We have become hypocrites by using God to invoke hate and division in a partisan system we created that has nothing to do with God or anything he would deem holy.  Our enemy and the enemies of God are on vacation because we are fulfilling their agendas without them, and any allegiance I had to any party has been squashed by my refusal to be party to a system of division that is anything but civil.

My God is on both sides of any border wall; my God reigns over both halls of congress; my God has mercy on both the innocent lives snuffed out before birth and those sitting in prison for murder; my God is not defined by race or nationalism; my God has compassion on all, even those who refuse to believe in his existence.  Christianity is guilty of humanizing God and decreasing him to fit neatly into boxes we store at our convenience.  The humanity of God has been greatly perverted while his omnipotence has been diminished to fit our molds of what we think he should be. And this is never more evident than in Christian political circles.  God is every color-he is every race- he is neither party-he doesn’t sow discord but promotes harmony, not fear or hate but love and acceptance.  He hurts over the senseless loss of life, over the racially charged environment we created, over the walls of separation in his church over who should be our civil governors as if they wield somehow more power and authority than our true supreme and eternal leader who can never be voted in or out of office.  Once I understood that through ten presidencies and administrations going back to Kennedy God always took care of me, that my life didn’t change because of which side held control of the House or Senate, that Christ died for both sides and all those in countries who don’t know the privilege of electing their own representation, I dropped my colors and my allegiances.  Yes, I still maintain certain convictions, but I take it as a personal challenge to do what I can in my circle without holding disdain for those who feel and vote differently.

Scripture compels us to reason together. Scripture tells us a house divided will not stand. Scripture tells us to test all teaching, views, opinions, against his Word.  Scripture tells us to love and pray for those who hate us.  Scripture warns us of the penalties for sowing discord among believers.  Scripture tells us as believers our true and eternal citizenship  is not of this world or its systems.  I am by nature a man full of issues and by no means perfect, even in my faith.  But I see well enough to recognize the role I played for so many years in contributing to the numerous walls that divide us.  In as much as it’s in my power to do so, I prefer to spend what little influence I have in promoting healing and unity.  If that requires being apolitical for the sake of harmony, I’m all in.

The 1 October Shooting; One Year Later

people-run-from-the-route-91-harvest-country-music-festival-on-october-1-2017-in-las-vegas-nevada

The human mind has the uncanny, and truth be told, sometimes unwanted ability to recall the dates of tragic moments like permanent tattoos that can never be washed off.  Ask any American and depending on their age, they can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the assassinations of JFK or MLK, or the untimely deaths of Elvis, Michael, Whitney or Lady Diana, or that day in September, 9/11. Today marks the one-year anniversary of what we refer to as 1 October here in Las Vegas,  a day in which evil was unleashed on our city resulting in fifty-eight deaths, over five hundred injuries and scores of people permanently disfigured or paralyzed. It is a day when all of us can tell you where we were when we saw the first Breaking News reports.

A sea of thousands had descended on Las Vegas for the Route 91 Music Festival.  Jason Aldeen was performing on stage when the first series of “pops” were heard.  Many at first believed them to be firecrackers set off by rowdy concert-goers.  But when some noticed that their friends who were standing next to them just a second before were now laying at their feet in a pool of blood, the reality of the situation became evident as panic set in.  A sniper was unleashing a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock on them from some unknown position, and the throngs of fans had nowhere to take cover.  Ordinary people became unsuspecting heroes, giving their lives that day to protect others from the gunfire.  Some were wounded because they simply chose to stay by the sides of people they didn’t know so they wouldn’t die alone.  As a parent my first thought was dear God, where are my kids?  My youngest son was employed at the time at the same hotel property where the sniper was perched.  I could not rest easy until I had made contact with all my boys and was assured they were not in harm’s way.  Many parents could not and would not be able to make such confirmation.  Our city was forever changed on 1 October.

As the popular song lyrics remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  This tragedy affected everyone here.  It seems we all had some connection to people who were in attendance.  And those who didn’t still grieved deeply and sympathized with those who had suffered such tremendous loss.  Those who died that evening were young, in their prime, full of hopes and dreams never to be realized.  The outpouring of support, of aid, of “what can I do” attitudes was infectious and on display for the world to witness.  Local blood banks had to eventually turn people away as lines formed blocks long to donate blood for the victims.  Those not donating took time off to provide food and water for those in line as many would spend 8-10 hours to donate their blood.  Las Vegas became #vegasstrong when tragedy came calling.  For us, 1 October will be forever etched in our memories.

All of us, if we have lived at all, will have dates from our past that we pause and commemorate, the birth of a child or grandchild, the day we married our forever life partner, the year we received our diplomas or degrees-dates we celebrate fondly and with festivity.  However, we will also have those more solemn infamous dates that we may try to forget to no avail. The pain we manage to keep controlled 364 days of thee year becomes fresh wounds on that one day we can’t escape.  It might be the day when you had to say goodbye to your parent as they were laid to rest or a spouse who died before their time.  It might be the day your family became torn apart when the parents decided to go their separate ways.  It might be a day when you were a victim of some horrible crime against you or your family.  For many, it could be the day when you lost your best friend and companion through divorce.  What was once celebrated birthdays and anniversaries  are now reminders of an empty chair at the dining room table; a day filled with joy as two people come together in marriage is now a day when you hide after the relationship is over.  We all have similar stories, dates we wish would never be brought to memory that instead hunt us down like movie haunts, constantly tormenting us with no mercy. We may rid ourselves of videos, photos-anything that brings to memory events that we no longer celebrate, in some vain attempt for a sense of peace over tragedies for which there is never any real closure.

How do we cope with such tragic events as survivors of events we never wanted or saw coming? Where do we find hope to continue on a journey when every fiber of our being finds it easier to just give up and give in?  A Prophet in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, was in anguish as he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city.  His sentiments are recorded for us in the seldom read-from book of Lamentations.  He inquired of God many of the same questions we ask in the midst of trials and suffering.  And yet, his knowledge of God’s character would override his fear of his circumstances.  Listen to his words in Lamentations 3 from the Message Translation:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh how well I remember-the feeling of hitting bottom.  But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.  How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.  – I called out your name, O God, from the bottom of the pit.  You listened when I called out “don’t shut your ears, get me out of here-save me”. You came close when I called out.  You said, “Its going to be alright!”

I am no stranger to unsolicited tragedy.  I am perhaps overly transparent in my anguish over events in my personal life over the past few years.  Some have advised that I be less open and more discreet in my writings or my social media posts.  Some of my closer friends and even family have disconnected from me over my overt disclosures as I wrestle with change.  But these types of writings are not employed as sympathy-seeking compositions, but rather glimpses into struggles endured through hope like that of Jeremiah.  I write so that others may know that they are not alone in their tears and that there is light and recovery attainable through a supernatural peace given to us by God even when we can’t sense his presence or determine his twisted ways of teaching.  I’ve said many times before that I would never in a million years volunteer to be God’s toy of illustration-I’d rather have been overlooked-I would have been perfectly okay entering my reward with no more than a kindergarten education in spiritual maturity.  But that wasn’t the plan.  I am instead chosen to be a virtual learning device for others and an encouragement to anyone watching.  The lesson being taught on this 1 October anniversary is that there is hope after loss, there is life after all but physical death, there is restoration after mass destruction, and there is beauty to be formed in the ashes.

Today, how I wish I could personally hug every person who suffered such tragic losses one year ago, but it’s logistically impossible.  I would want them to know they are not alone, their losses are a part of our forever history, and our love for them and that of our heavenly Father knows no bounds.  We will all remember and cope with today in our own way, through memorial services, through watching recaps of that tragic night, through prayer for healing and comfort for all involved.  My personal prayer for my family, my kids, and all who have been touched by days they wish were not a part of their history, is that the God who preserves would keep their hearts and minds in perfect peace, a peace that can only come from a relationship with Him, and a peace that surpasses all our understanding.  I pray that the lingering fear resulting from tragic events that seek to paralyze us and hold us hostage would be overcome with love, as God’s perfect love casts down all fear.  I pray that hearts destroyed and void of hope will find a renewed sense of courage and purpose in moving forward so that all may see that there is life abundantly after passing through the valley of shadows and death.  And I pray that as I write in detail about my personal struggles with doubt, with faith, with hopelessness and hurt, that others will be encouraged to fight, to endure, to press on through the pain knowing that the story never ends as long as we have breath, and that we have the ability to dictate the words that form the chapters of our biographies.  Today we remember, and we move forward.  #vegasstrong, #vegasstronger.  God bless each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dads Need to Feel the Love Too!

If you were to believe most Father’s Day ads, you might think that we dads are quite different than our parental counterparts. Ads for Mom’s Day imply family gatherings and surrounding mom with her favorite people, while ads for Dads suggest giving him the day off, the space he needs to go fishing or camping alone or some new toy he can play with in the garage.  Maybe I’m the odd one out, but the perfect day for me is not a motorcycle ride alone on a country road.  It’s being surrounded by children and grandchildren who make you feel wanted and loved, even if they are grown.  It’s not something we ever outgrow.

The other night I was watching one of the popular talent competitions on television.  A young thirteen-year old girl astonished the crowd with an old throwback song that she killed.  Upon the applause and accolades of the audience she broke into tears and went running into the arms of her dad like a five or six year old might do.  I broke, because I remember that feeling!  When your child wants nothing more than your love and approval, and is content to just be on your lap or close by, there is no higher achievement or sense of pride one can have than at that very moment of being Dad. Sadly, for most anyway, those moments tend to decrease with age.  It’s not that the love and appreciation isn’t still there, it’s just the misconception that we fathers no longer need or want that display of affection.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was struggling to make my business a success.  It remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.  But no matter how bad a day I might have been having, when my grandson came running into my office and jumped into my lap, followed by his older sister, everything bad in my life faded away like a puff of smoke. Their love and presence put everything back into perspective at least for a short time.  These are moments and memories that will remain precious to me.  It is then that I have some sense of what our Heavenly Father must feel when we approach him in the same way, wanting nothing more than to be in his presence, to crawl up into his lap and embrace being loved just for who we are.

My children are grown and the grandkids are getting older every year, but I will never outgrow the need to feel their love.  This is the point I hope to get across with his post.  Don’t buy into the media or marketing suggestions otherwise.  Dads need to feel they are still loved.  They need to know they are still needed, even if just for wisdom and encouragement.  We need to know we aren’t forgotten or left behind by our children who now have their own families and children.  We need to know we made some small difference or impact, either in our approach to parenthood or in the lessons we learned by our mistakes, so that we can take some small credit in the good and successes of our children.  If married, dads need to know their wives admire and love them for their roles as the father of her children.  That respect is priceless-wives will never truly know!  But above all, I think most dads just want that feeling when that young son or daughter runs and jumps into their arms, just because he’s their dad and they love him that much.  When that stops happening for whatever reason, then yes, we may as well go on that weekend fishing trip alone because nothing will ever truly fill the void of a child who no longer needs their parent.  It’s an empty that is hard to fully describe.  Divorced fathers feel the pain of this rejection even when they have done little to deserve it.  It’s a pain I’m familiar with.

I have so many friends my age who will not be able to spend Father’s Day with their dads or grandfathers because they are no longer living. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was ten years old.   There will be fathers in convalescent centers who will not be acknowledged by their families again this year.  There will be fathers who are widowed and will spend the day alone.  God Bless the moms for all they do-they deserve every accolade showered upon them for the roles they play in our lives.  But don’t be deceived into thinking we dads don’t want a little love as well. If you really want to make his day, crawl up in his lap and just squeeze him for a moment.  I guarantee that no matter how old you are or how big you may be, he will still see you as that little one from long ago and will relish the gesture for all it’s worth.  He, I, we still need to feel we are that larger-than-life hero in the eyes of our kids.  There is little more important.

Have a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day.

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!

Storm Surge-the Lingering Aftermath

Today many residents in the state of Florida will begin to make their way back to homes they evacuated due to Hurricane Irma to assess the damages while many others are still dealing with the destruction left behind by Hurricane Harvey.  These were both described as historic storms of epic proportion and as a result many lives will be forever impacted.  In words of advice, newscasters, government officials and emergency responders all echoed similar warnings that went something like this-don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the winds have calmed and the torrential rains have ceased, that the storm is over or that it is safe to come out, because the worst may be yet to come in the way of flooding and storm surge. Although delivered as a message pertaining to a weather event, the profound warning is a life lesson that for many, hits close to home.

Many who survive these storms return to what they knew as their life only to find that everything they know has been lost.  Some homes were washed away and others, though still standing, left inhabitable due to the effects of the wind, the rains and the storm surge that washed away what little the storms had left behind. Tough choices have to be made-do we try to rebuild where are former home once stood-do we move on to a different location we aren’t familiar with-do we just sit in the water and lament the tragic losses with little motivation to move on?  The parrallels to life are too great to ignore.

In this world we will all face life-changing storms of epic proportions. We may be allowed to suffer the unexpected loss of loved ones or children, we may be facing life-altering diseases, we may be reeling from divorce, we may have lost much of our mobility through injuries resulting in paralysis or strokes that left part of our body unresponsive.  Whatever storms we face there is almost certainly a storm surge that follows that is just as damaging or more so than the storm itself.  A breast cancer survivor may be forced to deal with the scars of a life-saving mastectomy.  Graduations and weddings are parrticularly painful for parents who lost children before they ever reached the age when they could experience these things. Divorcees are left wondering what went wrong when faced with  the realization that their former lives and family structure are forever changed and they are left on the outside looking in.

It may be one of the hardest lessons to learn, but somehow, God speaks to us through the storm, if we are desperate enough to listen.  In Job 38, after Job had lost everything, scripture says “…and God spoke to Job from the storm”. There may be little solace in knowing this, but sometimes it is all we have to hold on to when life as we know it changes drastically and permanently. Those who have survived Harvey and Irma never asked for their resolve to be tested by hurricanes-I’m quite certain that if you were to poll them they would say their lives were pretty good and these storms were unsolicited. We don’t get to pick and choose our battles.  No one welcomes death-no one wants to face cancer or other crippling diseases-no one wants a failed relationship, but like the hurricane survivors, we must realistically weigh our options and determine the best path forward as opposed to sitting in the rubble of shattered lives and broken dreams.

It is only by the unlimited grace of God that we are compelled to move forward, one day at a time, mindful of the evidence of the storm’s aftermath but with a resolve to rise from the rubble strong, proven and better built for future climatic events.  Storm victims will have many resource available to them from charities, goverment agencies, insurance policies and the likes.  We may not have similar infrastructures available for our recovery, but having God, even at times when He can’ be seen or heard through the wind and the rain, is all the aid we could ever need and a source that is never depleted due to previous tolls and storms. It is a lesson that, after all these years, I still need to be remonded of daily in my own rebuilding process.

Our most sincere prayers will be with the victims of all the natural disasters of recent weeks, the hurricanes, the fires and the eathquakes.  And we also pray for comfort and peace for those dealing with their own personal storms.  May the God of the wind and rain who walks upon the storm surge hold you in His powerful and unshakable hands and bring you peace.

Hemorrhoids as Currency-Only in the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I Measure Up On Father’s Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I doing enough to create fun and lasting memories? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Christ, One Destination, Too Many Roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does Real Courage Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEAR-Life’s Greatest Thief

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Eighteen years ago on our wedding day we were introduced for the first time to our newest beautiful dark-haired granddaughter Sierra. This week she is graduating along with thousands of others with the High School Class of 2015. I could write volumes just on how quickly times flies and never returns. But instead I want to offer some words of encouragement to the Seniors about to embark upon the big, sometimes unfriendly world of adulthood. Fear serves a purpose in life when it is used as a tool to slice through the dense woods of the unknown. But fear can also be crippling when misunderstood or left unchallenged. Fear can rob you of life’s greatest pleasures if you allow it to control you instead of you becoming its master. So I want to list ten areas of common fear that this year’s class can identify, recognize and utilize to their advantage in a proactive manner in their first steps after High School.

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

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

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

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

Don’t fear trying new things! I put peanut butter on my waffles. My wife thought it the most gross thing she’d ever seen, that is until she tasted it for the first time. Now we BOTH refuse to eat at restaurants that don’t serve peanut butter, and trust us, we know which ones they are! So perhaps peanut butter is a little underwhelming as an adventure but the moral is the same-again, going back to my old days and quoting a TV commercial, Try it-You might like it!

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

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

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

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

And lastly, Fear God, but don’t be afraid of Him. Know God. Have a relationship with Jesus. Desire to be counted among the friends of God and the Bride of Christ. Christianity is not a Sunday thing, not a parental thing, not a trendy or fashionable thing-it is a commitment and a lifestyle. We in our sinfulness deserve nothing less than death, but God in His love has offered instead forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation to Him through His Son Jesus who has already taken our sentence in the ultimate display of unselfish love. Every challenge, every obstacle, every disappointment, every tear, every new adventure, every failure-every broken heart-they will all be more easily endured as you hold onto the Hand of the One who loves you more than anyone on this earth ever could. A healthy fear of God’s majesty and sovereignty will serve you well through life’s most joyous moments and it’s darkest nights. He will be your light, your guide, your strength and your calm.

Congratulations to this years Class of 2015. May God richly bless and keep you as you enter the world of the unknown without fear.

The Purpose of Memorials

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Worship Music is Better Than Your Worship Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEY ARE ALL MAN MADE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Twice a Year Husband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I AM HE-The Proven Submission of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judas Syndrome-Subtle Betrayals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Message Translation spins it this way:

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

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

Peace.

Prayer for Dummies-A Simplistic Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

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

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

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

SUBMISSION

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

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

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

PETITION

Give us our food for today

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

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

REPENTENCE

Forgive us of our sins as we forgive others”

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

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

DIRECTION

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

LOL-It Does the Heart Good!

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Actual Church Bulletins:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

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

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

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

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

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

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

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

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

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

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

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

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

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

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

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

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

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

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

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

 

Humbly We Bow-What Worship Should Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a renewing strength in worship. 

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

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

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

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

THERE IS HEALING AND COMFORT IN GENUINE WORSHIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is community in worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Stories-God’s Gift for the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put on Christ-The Ultimate Wardrobe Malfunction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACK TO THE ROCK-A Tribute to Petra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Eye Has Not Seen…

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It is called by many names, the city where I reside.  It is most commonly known as Sin City. Not sure why we get that exclusive title with the implication that other cities are sin-free.  Maybe it’s that whole ‘what happens here stays here’ campaign. Some call it Lost Wages after a weekend of losing money in casinos where the House usually wins. Some know us as the City of Lights because of millions of colored lights always on display down the Strip.  Some have referred to us as the city that never sleeps, although we share that title with at least one other city.  However you refer to us, you can’t deny we are one unique metropolis known around the world as the number one party destination.

I moved here from Indiana and have been here almost twenty-two years now.  Personally I can take it or leave it.  To come for a weekend visit one can get lost in the twenty-four hour culture of lights, gaming and entertainment.  There is literally something here for everyone-yes, everyone.  If it exists, it can be purchased here.  It’s a town built as an adult playground with each property trying to outdo another to capture the tourist attention and revenue. Nothing is too big, too extravagant or too expensive here if it leads to gaming revenue.  Just consider some of these lesser known facts about Las Vegas.

*Fifteen of the world’s twenty-five largest hotels by room count are located here on the strip, and     represent 62,000 rooms.

     *There are a total of well over 150,000 rooms here between the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.  On most major holidays, we are sold out!  

     *We have an average of over 40 million visitors come to Las Vegas annually.

     *It is estimated that there are over 15,000 miles of neon tubing just on the strip.

     *The beam from the Luxor is one of two man made features that can be seen from space, with over 1 million candle power light.

*The Venetian-Palazzo has over 8000 rooms alone. Yes we build it big.

Las Vegas is in the middle of nowhere, the high and dark desert.  I do have to admit that driving in to Las Vegas at night from out of town is breathtaking. We are surrounded by mountains so the two major roads leading in from the north or from the south are secluded from seeing the city until you reach the apex of the terrain.  On either of the routes at night you feel like you are driving through an eternal tunnel of darkness until you reach that point where the road clears the hills and suddenly, laid out before you is this spectacular blanket of sparkling lights that looks like Oz.  As far as the eyes can see there are lights and a glow that against the desert black night is hard to put into words.  After all these years of living here I’m still impressed when I see the lights of the city at night.  It is like strings of colored diamonds laid out on a black velvet spread.

I’m certainly not trying to impress you with our fair city-I’m laying out a backdrop for something far greater than even this for the believer. I have seen some beautiful places and visited some of God’s best works of creation.  As awestruck as I have been in these places there is coming a day when these places will be no more. Jesus, creator of our universe and all that is in it, told hid disciples “I’m going away to prepare a place for you”. We aren’t told where this new place or heaven is.  We are only given a glimpse of how spectacular our new home will be.  1 Corinthians reads this:

“It is Written that the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.”

When I saw Las Vegas for the first time I could not imagine a place more spectacular.  But this city can’t compare with God’s city, our new home.  The Bible gives us some clues as to what we can expect.

Revelation 21:18-19; “The material of the wall was jasper; and the entire city was like pure gold, like clear glass.  The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone.”

Verse 21; “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, with each gate being made of one single pearl, and the streets of the city were pure gold, like clear glass.”

Revelation 22;1; “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.”

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I have quite the imagination but I can’t fathom pure gold being used for building materials and paving! Nor can I fathom the size of the oyster that produced a pearl large enough to create a city gate!  The things we count as precious and valuable here in our earthly quest for riches and success and portfolio security will be common and ordinary in our new home, putting even Las Vegas to shame.  But even more spectacular than this is the promise of what life will be like.

Revelation 21;3-4; “And I heard a great voice out of Heaven saying ‘Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; and their will be no more death, now any sorrow, nor crying; neither will there be any more pain, the all the former things (that we are accustomed to here on earth) will be no more.”

Now, I’m impressed! I truly believe that God never grants us complete satisfaction or contentment here on earth so that we will be constantly looking forward and yearning for that which our eyes have not seen and our ears have not heard of, but our spirits have confirmed for those who love God and live lives committed to Christ the Lamb!

There was a popular movie out years back titled Heaven Can Wait.  What a farce! I can’t wait for Heaven!

To Reach New Heights You Must Dive to New Lows

Blackwater

I am completely fascinated by a video I viewed recently recorded by a team of biologists with  National Geographic. The Great Cormorant is a large majestic bird that lives high along the trees or cliffs near the ocean.  The cormorant lives off of eels and fish caught deep on the ocean floor.  Biologists attached a camera to the back of one of these big birds to study their eating habits and eventually posted it to YouTube.  The cormorant dove into the water and descended to a depth of over 150 feet, a level that would cause most humans to pass out without proper diving gear. The deeper the bird went the darker the waters became and it was hard at times to make out the video.  Upon reaching the ocean floor the cormorant actually walks the bottom looking for food, following his senses when it’s too dark to detect the surroundings, until it finds just what it wants to satisfy its craving.  When it catches its prey it swims back to the surface in record time and takes less than 10 seconds to decompress, at which time it enjoys the catch of the day.  The food source these birds rely on can only be found at the rocky bottom of the oceans where they live. Only by navigating deep ocean levels for its sustenance can it enjoy living high in the cliffs.

Earlier this year during my prayer time I asked God to take me to a new level of faith uncommon to the status quo of everyday Christendom. I asked this not to become better than others in the faith, but that I may have an uncommon revelation of who God is and who I could become through Him.  It sounded like a genuine request-I wasn’t asking for material blessings or a better life, just a deeper walk, expecting voices and visions and mountain top experiences.  The past year of my life has been the darkest, coldest, loneliest and most silent period of my Christian journey, one from which I have yet to completely emerge. If you have read my earlier posts like God in a Steel Cage or God’s Deafening Silence, you may have a clue to what this period has been like for me.  I have definitely sank to new spiritual lows in the process.

I discovered only what I think I already knew about God but I mistakenly gave Him permission to prove it to me.  So consider this fair warning if you are serious about your faith and tempted to ask God to do the same for you.  I had already learned about patience earlier.  Patience is NOT one of my spiritual gifts.  I don’t like lines, I don’t like being late, I will stand by the microwave counting the seconds for my instant oatmeal and all speed limits are merely suggestions.  I was only smart enough to know I needed more patience.  God didn’t grant me my request with a sprinkling of holy water or twenty Our Fathers. No, He put me in situations that demanded patience. I have to admit I firmly believe God finds humor at times in testing us-didn’t think it possible for God to be sadistic. He sent me fender benders on the only freeway out of my section of town that added thirty minutes of waiting.  He would send me to the shortest check out line at the store only to find it was either the line for training new cashiers who had no computer skills or the line with that person, you know the one, who finds every item in the store that has no price tag.  He would make me take the call from that customer you’ve taken care of successfully for years who goes ballistic when 50 of his 5000 brochures weren’t folded just right.  Ask and it shall be given thee-for reals!!!!

Given what I knew about the patience thing I should have expected as much from God when making my lofty request for a deeper experience.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happens when God gets serious.  I can only attempt to describe in words my spiritual journey this past year.  I liken it to the dark portion of a haunted house, minus the screams, you know that portion where there is total darkness and many built-in dead ends and sections where the floor underneath your feet gives way and you can’t find your way except by holding on to the shirt of the person in front of you, except I had no shirt to hold on to. Darkness, silence, no direction, no voices, no clues or hints of light to guide me, and decreasing confidence with every step, having nothing to lead me except for my knowledge of His Word, which I had to force myself to recall.  I had asked God to take me to new heights and He took me first to all time lows.

As Christians many of us have false conceptions of what our faith walk and life in Christ are to look like.  Through false teaching and itching ears we want to believe that our journey should be one of ease, one of peace and one of tangible Osteen type blessings where our healing is just around the corner and our favorite parking spot at the mall is just waiting for us to pull in and claim.  But without explanation or justification God allows the righteous to suffer illness and the nearest parking spot to be blocks away on a rainy day. Or perhaps we aren’t nearly that gullible and we realize that wanting to grow deeper in our faith requires that we be willing to endure situations too uncomfortable for us to eagerly choose on our own so that settling for mediocrity and the path of least resistance is preferred.  Given the options, I can certainly understand.  I felt and still feel at times like asking God what I did to cause these trials.  The irony is that God was in fact answering my request and honoring me by driving me to the ocean floor where I would find just what was needed to sustain me and allow me to live at a higher level.  It is the method God uses for all of us.  I can’t build muscle by looking at pictures of ripped men in magazines, but by going to the gym and tearing down the smaller muscles I have now through pain and exertion.

There is yet another bird that has recently been discovered that can fly at an altitude of over 21,000 feet over the Himalayas and at commercial airline heights.  I’m not sure if I want to soar that high, at least not yet.  For now I’ll settle for flying over the Smoky Mountains and a diet of food at my current altitude until I catch my breath.

Dancing With the Scars

dancing with the scars

There is a popular reality television show that everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t watch it, called dancing with the Stars. The concept is to pair up professional dancers with known celebrities from the world of entertainment and sports who have little to no professional dance training and turn them into reasonable facsimiles of Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire.  I watched with curiosity the first episode of this season because a NASCAR Driving legend, Michael Waltrip, was on the show and I wanted to see if he had moves on the dance floor that compared to his moves on a race track.  It became apparent within about ten seconds why he is a racing legend and not a dancing star.  In racing terms, he missed a gear on the start, was loose in the corners and tight exiting, had no grip and could not stay close enough to his dance partner to take advantage of the draft.  I don’t see him being a celebrity dancing judge anytime in this lifetime. The same can be said with many of the celebrities selected to appear on this show.

The title of this week’s blog is obviously a play on the title of the popular show.  Dancing in it’s truest form is an expression of joy and freedom, whether you can dance the waltz with grace or you are like me and do the Humpty Hump like a white boy at the club.  Most people enjoy cutting loose and letting your inhibitions go once the music comes on.  How many times have you seen people deep in conversation in a club suddenly jump to their feet and head to the floor proclaiming “that’s my groove!”.  There is a release that comes from personal expression, even if you have three left feet.  But for many dancing through life is a difficult task.  Present or past circumstances prevent one from feeling totally free. Scars from previous episodes are too painful to dance through.  Those scars may represent the emotional wounds of silent depression, bitter divorces, physical or mental abuse, addictions that still haunt you, rejection by those close to you-there are an unlimited number of traumas that leave scars in our lives that may not be evident to everyone but are real just the same.  Those scars are sometimes like heavy chains weighing one down to the point that freedom of any joyful expression is nearly impossible and like Michael Waltrip, awkward at best.

In my life I have felt the pain of divorce, lived through the destruction of alcoholism, suffered the devastation of total loss of fire, dealt with serious illness-all things that can shake a person’s faith to the core. Joining in to the dance of life with joy is not always easy.  There tends to be a hesitation or even a fear that any joy expressed will be temporary as you are always expecting something else to come your way and add another scar.  And in the deepest and darkest times of despair, you even question the willingness of God to sustain or restore you.  The enemy convinces you that your scars are ugly before God and that even He won’t look upon you because they are repulsive.  When God delays His responses to your urgent beseeching, you wonder if maybe the enemy is right.  Job must have felt this when God removed His hand of protection and blessing from him, leaving him literally scarred and in a heap of ashes.  Listen to his words found in Job 10;

18 “‘Why, then, did you deliver me from my mother’s womb?
    Why didn’t you let me die at birth?
19 It would be as though I had never existed,
    going directly from the womb to the grave.
20 I have only a few days left, so leave me alone,
    that I may have a moment of comfort
21 before I leave—never to return—
    for the land of darkness and utter gloom.
22 It is a land as dark as midnight,
    a land of gloom and confusion,
    where even the light is dark as midnight.’”

Remember if you know this story that just a few chapters earlier the Bible describes Job as not only a righteous man, but says that in all the earth there was no one else like him!  Job was the standard for Godly living for his time.  How quickly and completely was his destruction and how deep the scars inflicted, that the most wealthy and righteous man on the face of the earth could so easily question everything he believed about God because of the overwhelming circumstances he found himself in, through no real fault of his own. His kids were destroyed while they were dancing-Job had no more desire to dance.

How many of us have been there in our lives, or maybe you are reading this and going through a similar stage even now?  We become self-conscious of our scars and reluctant to show them.  Reluctance can lead to isolation and from there to depression and hopelessness. We shun dance floors. What is our answer?  Here is the solution, at least as best as I can put into words that carry some truth. Our feelings of despair, our awareness of the ugliness of our scars and our repulsion to others and to God, as real as they may feel, are a FALSE SELF PERCEPTION!  How do we know this to be true?  It’s simple.  Scripture tells us over and over and over again that GOD LOVES US! There is no shortage of passages that refer to God delighting in our existence, in God accepting us as we are, in God forgetting our sins and removing our scars as far as the east is from the west!  God relishes contriteness, brokenness, disillusionment, all manner of emotional suffering and reaffirms that nothing in our life, our past, nothing in Heaven or earth, nothing we’ve done or could ever do can ever separate us from or change the level of God’s love for us.  God sees our scars as beauty marks, as evidence of battles we’ve endured and lived to tell about.  We are encouraged to dance through the pain like no one is watching, to sing out loud even if we miss the notes and to live life as a celebration of the uniqueness of our experiences-to DANCE WITH THE SCARS!

Don’t miss out on life because of your inability to put steps together.  No one is judging or voting on our elimination. Don’t fear the freedom of joyous expression as you live your life, scars and all!

On a personal note, many of you have opted to follow my weekly blog.  There are millions of us doing this-I am deeply honored that you follow mine.  I welcome feedback and certainly all referrals to your friends and family if you like what we put out each week as we attempt to exhort you to living your faith in real life.  God bless you all!

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!

Realness of Despair, Remedy of hope

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Eph. 6:12

Girl standing in rain

 

This has been a tough week for many as the death of the world’s funniest man, Robin Williams, has revealed the truth of one the world’s toughest battles, depression. Many have been the commentaries on the subject, varying from a coward’s choice to a weakness of faith to a legitimate mental disease.  Some have carefully approached the subject with compassion while others have breached it with judgement and vile. While I am not an authority on the correct diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, I am familiar with depression-he is an unwelcome friend always lurking on the other side of the door.  These are my observations and experiences regarding depression.

Depression does not discriminate and most certainly does not prey solely on those of weak minds.  I did some research yesterday and was alarmed to find that many of the world’s most intelligent people have suffered from depression. Among them are Abe Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, O’Keefe, Tolstoy and even Beethoven-all arguably people of extraordinary intellect and yet all victims of the darkness of the mind. I was further stunned to learn that the suicide rate of Christians is nearly the same as those who profess no particular faith, and that even ministers of the Gospel have fallen victim to suicide. If even clergy who have applied themselves  to advanced study of the Bible to be spiritual leaders are subjected to the fatality of depression, then we have little option but to recognize the scope of the battle many of us deal with in our minds.

Many who know me would describe me as a laid back, cool, easy going personality with a teflon approach to life.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I keep locked in my mind a demon that is very real and always looking for ways to escape.  Few have seen me in the heat of these battles except my wife.  Miraculously she is still with me.  I have often accused God of toying with me for His amusement.  Don’t get me wrong, God certainly takes pleasure in testing me, sometimes without a chance to catch my breath, but the war that rages in me is not God sent but mentally seeded and exploited by those forces who would seek my eternal destruction.  And they are real.

The church has done a great disservice to many parishioners who have come to them for help in fighting depression. Many clergy mistakenly dismiss depression as just a bad perception of reality and in turn dismiss the legitimacy of the parishioner’s cries for help.  Others, feeling it’s strictly a spiritual matter, throw some oil on them and quote a Bible verse or two and send them home.  And then there are those who make their member feel completely shamed by “reminding” them of all the good things in their life, suggesting they have nothing to be depressed about, adding to their depression the burden of guilt.  As a result there has been a stigma placed on mental illness in the church that has left many people feeling isolated in their fight and ashamed to openly seek help from even their own Christian siblings. If one came to a pastor requesting prayer for lumps in the breast or chest pains the pastor would not hesitate to refer them to medical experts. Why should disorders of the mind be treated so differently?

And yet with all sickness there is hope. We must never be so disillusioned as to forget the magnitude of the God we profess and His ability to heal any disease. Even in the grips of our deepest despair nothing is to great for God to resolve.  We must also cling to the healing properties of hope, and do all that is within our power to find, recall, strain for and acquire the assurance that each of us who are in Christ possesses, the blessed hope of eternal life beyond the battles of our earthly existence. My bouts with depression are never so severe that a grandchild in my lap can’t bring a smile and reminder of God’s love for me.  But that is only possible with constant contact.  If I were ever left alone for long periods of time during these battles, with no one checking on me or simply being with me, who knows that I may a sad statistic. Depression requires comfort and comfort comes from the strong presence of peers, unlike the peers of Job as he struggled, who implied his troubles were his own doing and that he should just shake it off an move on.  Dealing with loved ones who are depressed requires love, patience and in some cases a tight lip.  It never requires judgment ridicule, guilt or shame.

Corrie Ten Boom, author of the best selling The Hiding Place, battled deep depression while she was in the German concentration camps.  I had the unique privilege of hearing her speak in person about the book and her ordeals in the midst of unimaginable circumstances.  This is an excerpt from one of her stories:

The Ten Booms, all devout Christians, had provided a hiding place in their home for persecuted Jews during World War II. Corrie, who was fifty-nine at the time of her arrest, was placed in an isolation cell for the first few weeks of her imprisonment. Depression and the struggle to maintain a sense of hope consumed her.

“Only to those who have been in prison does freedom have such great meaning. When you are dying – when you stand at the gate of eternity – you see things from a different perspective than when you think you may live for a long time. I [stood] at the gate for many months, living in Barracks 28 in the shadow of the crematorium.

Corrie lived within the smell and cries of the cremation chamber where many of her friends died.  Surely she felt isolated and depressed. and yet she clung to all she had, the hope of eventual salvation through Christ, and he miraculously restored her and allowed her story to touch the hearts of millions around the world.  She was imprisoned at the hands of the Nazis and by the chains of her mind, but the realness of the hope she held helped her survive.  We have the same hope within us.  Love those who are battling-hug those who are depressed-comfort them with compassion and if need be, help them seek treatment from those trained in the area of mental stress disorders.  Pray for them but don’t dismiss them as weak or immature in their faith journey.  No one but God knows the intensity of the battles being fought in a person’s mind.  No one but God can shed light on the healing hope in the darkness of warfare.

Why God Why?

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Why now?  Why her?  Why me?  Why this?  It may be the biggest three letter word in our vocabulary-why.  It is often time the hardest question and most assuredly the least answered-a question that even the most mature and devout of Christian believers struggle with-Why God.

We’ve all been subjected to the inquisitive minds of children as they ask about the whys of the universe, where babies come from, why the sky is blue, with each explanation followed by yet another why.  We find these times amusing when we look back on them.  But as life progresses and children become adults baptized into a world of sin and chaos, the whys become more urgent, less amusing and with fewer answers. When we take into account the state of the human condition and add to it the tragic recent events from around the world, we may all find ourselves asking these heart breaking whys:

Why does my child have cancer?

Why can’t I find employment?

Why did my loved one have to die in that crash?

Why are innocent children the first casualties of war?

Why are Christians being tortured and martyred in this day and age?

Why won’t my kids serve the Lord after years of praying for them?

Why did my spouse leave me?

Why didn’t you heal them?

Why God won’t you respond to me-why so silent?

Why do bad things happen to Godly people?

These whys are painful. These whys are real. And these whys rarely receive a response.  They come from our deepest and darkest moments, our raw and naked emotions, and they test the very fibers of our belief and faith. Many have walked away from their faith in God because they could not find answers or accept silence as their only answer.

There was a man named Job in the Bible, a man described as the most God fearing man of his day-“none like him in all the earth” it says.  But in a matter of hours, Job lost his possessions, his children and his health for no given reason. He had some serious whys for God. Joseph was thrown into prison for years for a crime he didn’t commit with no communication from God. Paul and Silas were chained in a dark dungeon like jail, beaten and tortured for being obedient in preaching the good news about Christ. I’m sure deep inside they may have had a few whys. Even our Savior, while hanging on the cross in our place, feeling the unfathomable pain from the beatings and the nails, rendered to His father an unanswered…Why!

How I wish I could submit a reasonable explanation as to why God allows such suffering seemingly without cause. How I wish I could comfort friends or family who are going through difficult times with words that make sense or scripture that makes it all clear.

The Psalmist David, after being promised the throne, found himself in the wilderness running for his life. He had a few whys as recorded for us in the Psalms;

O LORD, why do you stand so far away?
Why do you hide when I am in trouble?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

Why have you tossed me aside?
Why must I wander around in grief,

O LORD, why do you reject me?
Why do you turn your face from me?

I have had my own whys-why divorce? Why disease? Why did I lose the business? Why God can’t I hear your voice when I desperately seek you? We all have unresolved whys in our lives. To follow God blindly without having questions is unrealistic. But trusting God in the valley of the shadows of death when we don’t understand requires a relationship with Him that can’t be forged just in the easy times. We are purified through fire. We are strongest when we are at the end of human reason and ability. And we are best able to offer comfort when we have been comforted in our own times of why.

I can’t answer in a thousand words or less a question that has been posed by much holier men and women than me for thousands of years. If I could I would be in high demand like Bruce Almighty. I have reconciled in my heart that I will most likely go to my grave having most of my whys for God unanswered.  But I also know that on that day when all things are revealed and the mysteries of faith resolved, it won’t be as important as it seems to be now. God is faithful, just and good and He loves us with an everlasting love, having pardoned our sins through the death and resurrection of His son so that we might inherit eternal life, which may be the biggest why of all.

 

 

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!

 

Is Your Life a Scary Movie?

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I have always been a fan of scary movies.  I don’t go for the blood and guts genres as much as the drama and suspense. I prefer the Classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and particularly the not-so-funny spoofs like Young Frankenstein where the monster dons a top hat and sings Puttin’ on the Ritz, ala Broadway.  

I’m amazed with the more modern horror flicks at how many times a monster can be killed off only to be resurrected for a sequel or two or ten. How many ways can Michael Myers be terminated before he stays dead?  Just when you think the boogey man is gone, he re-emerges back into your life unexpectedly to haunt and terrorize you some more. Every time he comes back to life we entertain him some more, almost as if we have been waiting in anticipation for his return.

For many of us our lives resemble a scary movie, haunted by events and decisions in the past that just won’t die. We are constantly haunted by regrets, by failures, by skeletons in our closets that emerge just when we think the coast is clear. For believers in Christ who have been forgiven their sins, the enemy likes to bring them back from the dead into our memory bank like a shadow we can’t lose or the fog we can’t find our way out of. Could we have saved our marriage? Could I have done more to save a business?  Have I really been forgiven of stupid decisions in my past? How can God, who knows everything from the beginning to the end really forget my sins? Instead of living in peace with the assurance of eternal forgiveness we find ourselves like the victim of a scary movie, running for our lives from monsters who just don’t seem to ever die, and we entertain them as if we were expecting them to come back.

The best weapon we have against the haunts of our past is not a wood stake or crucifix or hi-tech ghost zapper. It’s the simple but powerful Word of God and the promises He has given for our assurance.  Consider just a few of these weapons of mass destruction against the enemies of the mind:

2 Corinthians 5:17-If any man be in Christ, he has become a new creature. All things in his past have gone away and everything has become new.

1 John 1:9-when we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all (past and present) unrighteousness. (parentheses mine)

Isaiah 43:25-I am he who blots out your sins for my sake and remembers them no more.

Romans 8:1-There is now no condemnation to those who are now in Christ. 

Psalm 103:12-As far as the East is from the West he has removed our sins from us.

Hebrews 8:12-I will purge them of all evil, and I will not remember their sins again. I will be merciful to their iniquities and their sins I will remember no more.

If we are truly in Christ and beneficiaries of his promises, then there is no reason to give in to the constant reminders by the enemy of where we were and what we did. “I Still Remember What You Did Last Summer” is the name of a fictional scary movie, not the theme of a believer whose sins are covered and buried under grace and forgiveness. It may be impossible for us to completely blot from memory our past, but it is possible through the daily renewing of our minds to change the scary movie channel and find a different station.  Leave the ghost stories for sleepovers and camp fires!

I Love Being Papa Joe

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In the 70’s during my “cool” phase the thought of someday being a grandparent never invaded my world. I was never going to grow up and I would cling to my coolness for as long as it was cool to do so. By then both of my grandfathers were already gone and I had no real idea what being a grandfather should look like anyway, so why dwell on it.  Then came my three sons and eventually another and two daughters through marriage. Before I realized it I was a grandfather of six!  

Now I can completely appreciate the term because being a grandfather is indeed a grand blessing. Thankfully they don’t call me grandpa but rather Papa Joe, a title that is higher to me than General Manager, President, Owner or any other designation of elevation-being Papa Joe is the coolest thing I could be, and I embrace that title with both humility and pride that no one else could comprehend. 

We have three granddaughters in Texas, and one here in Las Vegas as well as two grandsons. Each of them has a special place in my heart, as I will briefly explain. The oldest of the Lone Star girls, a recent high school graduate, has done an amazing job in helping to care for her younger sisters, and has grown into a beautiful, intelligent and independent young lady. Her middle sister was a newborn when I married their Nana and I fell in love with her just by holding her all that weekend. She has a free spirit and is also an intelligent and beautiful young lady, who will be graduating high school next year.  I developed an immediate connection with the youngest of the three while in Disneyland. She was an infant not yet ready for rides so I carried her most of the day. She quickly grew into rides, mainly on my back whenever we visited. She grew up way too fast and will be an eighth grader next year. They are uncomfortable with being complimented about their God given beauty, but hey, proud Papas don’t have rules.

Every Sunday we picked up our oldest grandson here in Vegas and took him to church.  I played drums in the band and he would cry until I came down to hold him. As he got older he developed an interest in music so I taught him a few guitar chords and now he is one his way to becoming an accomplished guitarist. He is also quite the football player. I was present when our granddaughter was born here 11 years ago and fell in love with her as soon as she cried. She has become a ray of sunlight that can brighten the darkest of my days. Her brother, the youngest of the six, is my little buddy. He is still in the phase that when he sees me, he runs up to me with and animated “Papa” and jumps up into my arms.  He and his sister would visit me in my office frequently. Their presence would make the worst of days a vacation. 

The best of our weekends are those when we are keeping the local grand kids. As the sign above says, what happens att Nana and Papa’s stays at Nana and Papa’s. I can say with all honesty that I love each of our grandchildren as much as any human is capable of. There is nothing in the world I would not do for them-I would gladly lay down my life to save theirs at any time.  I pray for each of them daily, for protection from harm, from abduction, from illness, from anything that would cause them any distress. I also pray that they are open to the reality of God and His Son. And yet with all I feel for them, I’m struck at the thought that God loves each of us with a love that is inhuman, that is untainted and incomprehensible. I’m in awe that that the true depth of love and emotion that any man can have for any other being can not come close to measuring up to the depth of love God shows us daily. To paraphrase a verse in the New Testament, “Stop and observe if you can, the level of Love God the Father has bestowed upon us, that even we in our sins can be labeled Children of the Most High God”. Wow. Wow.

That someone could love me a hundred times greater than I love my grandchildren is indeed incomprehensible. Yet He’s proven it time and again in my life. And I can rest assured that if I can never outrun the love of God, then my grandchildren will never exhaust His supply of love, grace and protection. Thank you God for allowing this cool guy to experience the real coolness of being a proud Papa. 

When There Are No Words

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Have you ever been in a situation when you were at an absolute loss for words? Perhaps it was when you saw your child in their first school or church play, or maybe their first musical recital.  Maybe you were left speechless when friends threw a surprise party for you.  With most of us there have been occasions in our lives when words simply escaped us. For me it was the moment I realized how in love I was with the lady who would soon be my wife. I have always loved writing and thought I possessed a fair mastery of the English vernacular, that is until I tried to put into words the depth of emotions  I was feeling for her. Yes, I wrote her a poem or two-even had one of them published in a poetry anthology. But even with that, I still felt I could not come up with adequate words to express my love for her.   After seventeen years of marriage I am only more aware of this observation.

As much as I love my wife, imagine with me if you can how much more of a challenge I have in approaching God.  There are no words to describe the challenge of having no words!  After all, one can’t even describe God.  When He sent Moses to rescue the children of Israel, Moses asked Him “who should I tell them is sending me?”  God replied “tell them my name is I Am”.  I almost believe even God couldn’t describe Himself in a way that we would understand.  I Am pretty much covers it all with an infinite number of fill-in-the-blank descriptions.   There are no textbook definitions that are remotely adequate to express the person and deity of God.

So if we can’t even find words to describe God, then how can we possibly find words to express our loving response to an indescribable God? It can’t be done. There are no words. Oh many have tried-the writings of the early church fathers are masterful and the hymns written over the centuries have moved us to tears when reflecting on all we know and don’t know about God.  Yet all who have tried have come up short in their attempts.  The created can’t capture in human language the Creator.

When you are with someone you truly love there are those times when just being in their presence is enough. Love is shared and expressed at times when words would get in the way. How cool is it that we can approach God with the confidence of knowing the same holds true for us. In our intimate prayer or reflection time with God we can be assured that God sees our hearts and knows our deepest thoughts so that are linguistic inadequacies are not an issue. We are told in scripture that there are times when His spirit in us prays for us in groans that need no words. There is dialogue between our inner spirit and God’s heart that we wouldn’t understand even if it were somehow audible.  Thou shouldest not have need of  expressing thyself to the Almighty with Shakespearean prose thou canst comprehend or a language thou knoweth not of!

With people we may feel at a loss in trying to relay to them the depths of our emotions, but with God, there is no shortage of understanding even when there are no words.

Father, let my words be few.

You, God and a Steel Cage Match

In order to write this I must with some apprehension admit to being a classic wrestling fan.  Ask most fans to name the stars of Wrestling Entertainment and you will hear the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Rock, John Cena, Stone Cold, etc. But I remember the good old days when wrestling wasn’t a major event or pay per view, but the local circuit that performed at State Fairs and small halls.  I grew up watching Dick the Bruiser, Bobo Brazil, Yukon Moose Chollak, The Big Cat Ernie Ladd and others. As a kid I didn’t notice the pulled punches, the next move play calling in the corner or other now obvious giveaways to the “entertainment” value of wrestling.  I saw two giants trying to beat down the other.

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There was nothing better than the Steel Cage Match, a cage that surrounded the ring with a lock or chain on the door that prevented the wrestlers from running or escaping the beat down they were about to receive. This was not a match for the weak, no sir-this was a blood bath of major proportions that was reserves as the main event of the evening due to the clean up necessary afterwards.  I’d imagine being in the ring against the “bad” guys and laying a few classic moves on them, the old abdominal stretch, a clothesline or two, and before it was outlawed, the pile driver.  I always won!

There was a grappler in the Old Testament named Jacob. We find in Genesis that he was locked in a not-for-entertainment real battle with the Lord.  Jacob didn’t start this fight, but he was certainly eager to participate and he wrestled and clawed and held on for what may have been hours with the Lord or His agent in order to receive a blessing from God.  Jacob was allowed to be engaged in this fight until his will and his energy were spent and he was at the mercy of God, having nothing left with which to resist. Even after the Lord touched Jacob’s hip and put it out of socket Jacob wouldn’t let up. Jacob was eventually rewarded for his fierce tenacity and received his blessing along with a name change. Jacob named the place of the event of that night with a name not indicative of his battle and victory, but of his humility of being allowed to wrestle with God and survive.

Wow, have there been some times in my life that I envied Jacob! How I longed for an opportunity to wrestle with God in a steel cage to show my sincerity and desire to receive God’s blessing and favor in my life or over a certain situation. Foolishly, to have God in a cage where He couldn’t escape my clutches until He gave me what I was asking for. Why, I’m sure God would be impressed with my wrestling knowledge and quiver of moves. He’d really have to be on His game to beat me!

Aren’t we funny. We have God all figured out and applied to man made formulas of interaction, as if certain key words or actions will trigger His response or gain an out-flowing of His favor.  If we say this prayer this many times and quote this verse backwards while performing a step over toe hold, God will cry uncle and give in to our relentlessness.  How I wish it were that easy. The fact is God doesn’t need to be in a cage as He has no desire to escape or hide from us. Jesus said “I am with you always”, even when we (I) can’t see Him or sense Him or hear Him.  Most times we are wrestling against ourselves with what we know to be truth and the enemy who wants to power bomb us with lies. We “wrestle not against flesh and blood” but it sure seems it would be easier at times if we could.  At least the sensation of pain would be a confirmation of divine engagement.  It is believed that Jacob walked with a limp from his encounter with God until the day he died. How cool to carry in your body the evidence of a face to face with the Almighty! Better yet to be in an old fashioned slobber-knocker with God in a steel cage!

The Day After Christmas

Since my earliest recollections as a young child I have sensed December 26th as the day Christmas ends until the following year.  Until recently I didn’t even like hearing Christmas songs on the radio after Christmas day! I have heard from others that I’m not alone in this sensation of the holiday hangover. It’s really a bit odd if you think about it, especially from the Christian perspective. The day we have traditionally set aside as Christmas is to recall with great reverence the incarnation of Jesus, The Christ, a blessed and most holy event that transcends every other holiday commemoration, an event that is the cornerstone of our faith.  Why would it be that we choose to be unnaturally charitable and celebratory over it for a mere couple weeks in December?  What exactly is it about Christmas that builds us up to a particular day on the calendar with a finality when the clock strikes midnight?  Why do we experience “peace on earth, good will to men” only one or two weeks out of the year?  

I stand guilty as charged as each year I vow to keep the Christian mandate of our Savior, to take care of the widows and orphans throughout the year, not just during the “feel good” holiday, yet find as I look back a year later that I failed just like the many years before. It’s almost as if charity and benevolent considerations are an annual obligation, like taxes, that once paid are not due for another year.  And yet I pass the same homeless people every day, I read the same stories about runaway teens, I pass the same local missions on the way to work surprisingly at the same location as the day before without that Christmas tug at the heart.  Even the local Christian radio station sponsors random acts of kindness, going out of your way to pay for the lunch of a perfect stranger or the coffee order for the one behind you in line-great ideas that should be 12 month practices among us of the faith, and those of philanthropic awareness.  

I guess to me the feelings that are ushered in with Christmas are natural and built in through years of tradition, not unlike doing something nice for your wife on Valentine’s Day.  But to continue those practices when “not in season” takes a conscious effort to see, to recognize and respond as if there are only 5 shopping days left until Christmas and with the sounds of carols playing in your mind. There should never be a bad, inconvenient or out of season time to do something charitable for someone in need or to be a blessing when God is urging you to respond.  When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He didn’t show up and perform a miracle or two once every twelve months.  In fact the Bible is clear that it’s not possible to record all the good things Jesus did in His short time on our planet.  

In 2014 I earnestly pray that I have ears that hear cries, that I have eyes that see hurt and that I have a heart that compels me to move and respond as the reaching hands and feet of our Savior in the colors of Spring, in the burning heat of a Las Vegas Summer day, in the warm winds of Autumn and on the 12 days of Christmas.