Truth

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In today’s world of relative truth and cancel culture, what can we believe?

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 CSB

“Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion.”

G K Chesterton Heretics 1905

Jim Denison in Denison Forum wrote about the previous quote, and I was amazed at how prophetic the quote truly was. In 1905, Chesterton could see the approaching storm in which we now live. He could see how a relative truth could create the chaos we now see. Truth is no longer truth. There are no absolutes for one unless you disagree with another, and one believe his truths religiously. Well, at least for now. His truths may shift tomorrow.

We have been seeing how cancel culture has begun to eat its own. Supporters of a particular truth that doesn’t continue to evolve with popular thought, will quickly find those, they previously defended, demand their cancellation. The victors are not safe either. They could be cancelled soon.

I demand your cancellation and the person behind me demands my cancellation. The cycle never ends.

New Religions

A 13-year-old girl from Texas was told to write, for class, a paper on the benefits of renewable energy. She did not write about the benefits but about the problems with renewable energy. She had lived through the energy disaster Texans had suffered with during the recent winter. Because of her position, she had students insult her and some tried to physically harm her over her views on renewable energy. She had attacked their religion and they had attacked her. The teacher and administration were ok with the attacks on her. Because of their position of power, their truth was true. She deserved to be attacked.

Once we realize that we are living in a world of newly appearing religions, we begin to see the problems we face when we criticize things like climate change, critical race theory, renewable energy resources, cancel culture, LGBTQ+, equity, abortion, and systemic racism among a host of others. These religions demand sacrifices from their followers. Those who follow climate change demand the death of fossil fuels. Those who follow the god of abortion demand the deaths of the unborn, no exceptions. Those who follow critical race theory demand the sacrifice of white people and the complete reset of a nation. What happens when CRT and climate change and freedom of choice rule the day and there are no more sacrifices? A new religion will be born, and new sacrifices will be demanded.

Silenced because of truth

If we take a stance on the opposite shore, we find our voices being silenced. We are fired from our jobs. We are called evil, racist, bigots. We are scoffed at, threatened, and even physically harmed. There is no debate, only name calling and the attachment of labels.

You don’t have to be Christian. You can be Jewish, Muslim, Asian, White, rich, successful, and worst of all, conservative. You do not have to be wrong or right; you must simply disagree or argue an opposite position to be attacked.

If my truth comes from God and yours come from your decisions or your philosophy, your truth trumps mine. Since you have a majority of society on your side, including much of the media, you can silence my voice. When my voice is silenced, I become invisible to the world. I still have influence over my family. At least until they become indoctrinated in school or by television or video games. I may have friends with like-minded thinking, but that is not changing minds. I am just reinforcing my circle.

My truth is old fashioned. I believe it is wrong to commit murder, to steal, to lie, to hate, to cheat on my wife, to hurt others, and to physically or verbally harm someone. I was listening to ESPN and a football pro was talking about a friend who had an affair on his wife. “He didn’t do anything wrong,” the pro said. It may not be against the law, but it is wrong. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that people had fun mocking Vice-President Pence about the lifestyle decision made by Pence and his wife to secure a happy marriage. They were following God’s commands to create guidelines for their marriage. Mentioning God brought tons of criticism. Trying to stay married for life brought criticism. Shying away from temptation was seen as a “you” problem. Immediately, women wanted to interview him. Alone.

On Being Proactive

One parent is now teaching his children to watch television with an eye to catch anything that goes against their faith. It isn’t difficult. I was watching a popular program and the man said, “Since we are not getting married, we should take the next logical step and move in together.” Many of you reading this (Christians and non-Christians alike) will say, “What is wrong with that?” That is how far we have moved away from God. Sex is a wonderful gift from God, but it is intended to be for a husband and a wife. It should never be outside the bonds of marriage and it should never be casual.

What did Chesterton see that led him to the conclusion that one day truth will be subjective. What did he see that told him that subjective truth will become our religion?

The Age of Reason. Man stopped looking toward God and started looking toward self. This has been the battle since time began. Man has always wanted to be God, but with the emergence of oneself becoming the center of the universe, man has become his own God. He creates his own truth. He creates his own value. He creates his own rules and then breaks them by changing his own truth again.

It All Comes Back to Worship

Man wants to worship something, and when that something is us, we cannot be wrong in what we believe. You cannot challenge my truth. When you do, we go to war. You cannot disagree with me today. Previous generations cannot disagree with me yesterday. You will be cancelled. They will be cancelled. They will be cancelled because they have not lived a perfect life. No one has. Well, only One. The reality of it all is that God alone has the power to cancel anyone.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe God’s truth or not. He still exists. His truth still exists. One day we all will know that. For now, don’t back down. Do not allow those who speak of relative truth win the day. Jesus has not returned so our work is not finished. This world is not lost.

There have been dark times in the past. Nazi Germany must have been without hope. Communist Russian must have been without hope. Communist China must feel without hope. But God is still here, and in Him we have our hope. He is coming again, but until then, what will you do to advance Truth?

Rebellion

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Man is in, and has been in, a state of rebellion since the fall. Why are we surprised that Judas rebelled against Jesus, when we rebel against Him every day?

In Matthew 26:24 Jesus says, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.”

A Rebel

I can remember watching the movie, Rebel Without a Cause. I have even jokingly referred to myself as being, “A rebel without a clue.” Sometimes we rebel because we are searching for a purpose. We want to make a difference and the best way to do that is to rebel against whoever is in power at the time.

I can recall being a young man and thinking that my generation could do things much better than the generations that had come before me. I didn’t understand the sacrifices those before me had made. I didn’t understand the many different perspectives surrounding a decision. Things I saw clearly, were seldom as clear as they seemed at first glance. Soon, my generation came into power. I discovered my contemporaries could make the same, and even more serious mistakes, than those who came before us.

Original Sin

Since the original sin we have been living in a state of rebellion. We simply want to be in control of our own destiny. We want to make our own decisions independent of God. We want to be God in our lives. Isn’t that what happened with Adam and Eve’s first sin? They wanted to be like God. They wanted to know what God knows. They wanted to be God.

Those problems were just as valid in the first century as they are in the twenty-first century. The faithful Jews were looking for the Messiah. Rome was looking for complete world domination. The Jews were looking for freedom. Rome was maintaining control and quelling any rebellious action. We see politicians declaring the evils of capitalism and the benefits of socialism while all along, ignoring the sins of the past.

Judas

Enter Judas Iscariot. Iscariot could refer to a Zealot, the deliverer, the false one, or from a place such as Jerusalem. We are not completely sure of the meaning of Iscariot.

I tend to lean toward Judas as a Zealot. This gives Judas a motive to betray Jesus that goes beyond his lack of faith and gives some rational explanation of why he betrayed Jesus. Judas held to the traditional view of the Messiah. A Messiah that would lead Israel in an overthrow of Rome and reestablish Israel as a free nation. But Jesus was to do much more than restore the nation of Israel.

Imagine the disappointment of Judas as he forced Jesus’ hand to be the expected Messiah. Jesus did not suddenly transform into the leader that would overthrow Rome. He instead went to a sham trial, fueled by Sanhedrin hate, that ended in His crucifixion. Judas’ plan failed and ended in Judas’ suicide.

Perhaps I have given Judas too much credit. Perhaps he simply hated Jesus for being the Son of God and wanted to destroy Him. Perhaps Judas killed himself because Satan revealed to him the depth of his betrayal. He couldn’t live with himself. Satan’s possession would end once Judas no longer had value.

Nothing above is certain. We know Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. We know he returned the silver. We know he committed suicide. We know his own identity is forever tied to the fact that he handed Jesus over to be crucified. He is not remembered as being a member of the inner circle, but as the one who betrayed the Son of God.

Judas abandoned Jesus, but didn’t the other disciples do the same? They ran when he was taken, and Peter, who stood by him, denied knowing him. After His death, the disciples hid in a room. But Jesus was there to save them, just not in the way they expected. His plan was much bigger than they could have ever understood before His resurrection.  

Judas was a rebel. Even though he was possessed by Satan, it was his own choice that made him betray Jesus. He knew Jesus better than most and yet, he chose to betray Him. He was at the meal in the upper room, and even though he knew what was going to happen, he stayed at the meal with Jesus. He was a rebel and a hypocrite.

Who We Are

We are rebels. We are hypocrites. We are betrayers. We betray Christ by ignoring His gift of life. We betray Christ by rejecting His love. We betray God by calling Him a myth, ignoring his creative power, declaring Him dead, questioning His authority, and His justness. We try to take from God everything that is His. We claim ownership of the earth. We decide who lives and dies or is even born. We declare God’s definition of sin to be antiquated, insensitive, or simply without merit.

Just like Judas, our cause is misguided, but unlike Judas, we are not looking for the wrong Messiah. We rebel against the idea of a Messiah. We don’t need one. We are without wrong. We play the role of God in our own lives. We use scientific theory to prove our existence and the existence of the universe. We twist science to justify our views of abortion and gender. We use psychology to justify our view of sexual attraction. We use philosophy to justify our view of relative truth and marriage. Our knowledge is sufficient without God.

We lack wisdom and simply act the role of the rebel. We rebel against all things God. Why? We are blind to the truth. Our hearts are hard. We are lost in a dark world. We believe that ignoring the obvious outcome will prevent it from happening. We are in love with the idea of being a rebel with a great a cause, when in fact, we are rebels without a clue.

The Other Empty Tombs

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Matthew’s account of the torn veil, the split open tombs, and the risen saints walking around Jerusalem bring a very different resurrection day to mind.

Matthew 27: 51-53 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after his resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.

The Curtain

As Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two. For the first time since the law of Exodus, man could have total access to God. A priest, a pastor, a minister was no longer needed to come to the Father. Jesus, in his death, had opened a door for all of us to come to God.

We can reach Him through prayer. Spending time in communion with the Father is of the upmost importance to the Christian. Without prayer, the Christian is powerless. Prayer doesn’t tax God. Prayer doesn’t bother God, even if the same issues of sin or the same petitions of need keep coming up in prayer. God is happy to hear our prayers and give us answers. Prayer is the way God teaches us to depend on Him. It is the way he empowers us to build His kingdom. It is the way we help those in need when all we can offer is prayer. It is the way we give a sacrifice of praise, and a gift of thankfulness for all He has done. It is the essential component of worship, and when we sing together in corporate worship, we are praying to God together.

The Empty Tomb

The torn curtain was not enough. It symbolized our personal access to God, but it was the empty tomb, the resurrection, that defeated death and allowed us to have our sins forever forgiven. It was the defeat of death that gave us the victory that we experience through Jesus Christ. It is our faith in Him and our belief that He is who He says He is, that gives us a bridge to the Father. He is our way home. He is the second Adam. Where the first Adam sinned and removed our access to God, the second Adam did not sin, and bridged the chasm that lay between us. Christ defeated death and left behind a borrowed tomb, an empty tomb, a hole in the rock, that in an incredible way, healed the hole in our heart. 

Other Tombs

Notice that Matthew writes that other tombs were cracked open, and after Jesus’ resurrection, the bodies of the saints who had died, arose, and were seen by many.

I remember the first time I realized this had happened. I was at a friend’s house on Easter, and we were watching an Easter story on TV. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I said to my friend, “That’s not in the bible! Jesus alone was resurrected. No one else.”

My friend grabbed his bible and we read Matthew 27. I couldn’t believe it! I had read over that passage time-and-time again, but I had never realized what I was reading. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, raised other saints from the dead as well. And they walked around the town and were seen by many. But they were not raised until Jesus was raised. I assume they were also healed. They were not zombie-like people walking around the town, but with Jesus’ resurrection, they were made whole. They may have been like Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones come alive and reanimated with flesh. They were not given a glorified body, for like Lazarus, they eventually died again. Only Jesus ascended into Heaven.

Can you imagine the impact on those who saw the curtain torn in two, the darkening of the sky at Jesus’ death, the earthquakes splitting rocks and opening tombs, and the dead raised to life? Could the impact have been enough to make those who crucified Him fall to their knees in shame and beg for forgiveness? I am sure it was for some. I am sure it wasn’t enough for others.

The Power!

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, created the world. I imagine that creative power is still creating. It just goes on and on and on. Let there be….. and it never stops. Jesus was the first-born of the dead. He was the first to be raised and forever live. We experience that same power when we believe. We are raised from the dead in the same way He was, and we too will live forever.

We accept Christ as Lord and Savior. We willingly submit to Him. We are born again as a new creation. Have you ever noticed how someone was one way before they accepted Christ and then they were completely different after they accepted? They became a new creation. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were given a promise. Eternity with Jesus. This makes the believer bold. They are willing to put themselves in danger to share Christ. They are willing to die for what they know is the truth. They understand that it is a mystery until another accepts Christ and is able to see.

In John 11 we read the account of Lazarus. What if Jesus had said “Come out!” instead of “Lazarus, come out!” Would everyone be raised from the dead? I dare not place limits on the power of Jesus. But Jesus was specific. He is specific with us as well. He calls us to Him. He doesn’t make us come. He allows us to come, but we must come in faith, in belief, in surrender.

Look at the picture below. From the empty tomb we see the cross and the terrible price that was paid there. Our freedom from death has already been bought. The curtain is torn, and access has been granted. The tomb has been cracked open. The chasm has been bridged. The curse of the first Adam has been lifted by the second Adam. He calls to each of us, “Come out!” Will you come?

Water to Wine

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So often we view Jesus’ first miracle as a glorified party trick. It was so much more.

The First Miracle

In a sermon from 2014, Mark Batterson states that the miracle of turning water into wine took 100 different chemical reactions. But to put it on a grander scale we must understand that the six stone jars would have produced 757 bottles of wine. This would have taken over 2 tons of grapes had it been done the natural way.

Water Jars similar to those used by Jesus.

Scientists can take different chemicals and create wine or something that resembles wine. They need to add the chemicals like a recipe, and when they are finished, they have a small amount of wine. Jesus made 757 bottles of wine with a word. He changed water into wine, and He did so in great amounts.

With His word, He can change our hearts from cold, lifeless stone into hearts of love. Love for Him. Love for our fellow man. Love for others as we love ourselves. This is not a one-person transformation, but a transformation for all who will believe. It could be everyone on earth if everyone on earth would but submit to Him.

Jesus is the Vine

I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. John 15:5

Jesus is the vine. Believers are the branches. I didn’t say church members or church goers or even church leaders. There are many who do not believe but continue to attend church out of tradition, or for family, or for business connections, or to build a reputation. Believing in Jesus and submitting to Him as Lord is a requirement for many evangelical churches, but it is an unenforceable rule. I cannot say who is and who is not a believer. I can make a good guess, but I cannot know for sure. No one can. Only God sees the condition of our heart. Only God can judge. Only God can heal.

A Vineyard in the Middle East.

Remember, man is broken from the fall. Before we come to know Jesus as Lord, we are by nature, rejectors of all things God. We reject His account of creation and choose to believe in our own limited knowledge. We reject His moral laws and claim we can do simply fine by ourselves. We reject the gift of Jesus Christ and claim there is absolutely no need for a Savior.

The Decision

When Jesus spoke in Jerusalem, he said that He is the bread of life and has come down from Heaven. John 6:35-40 shows how Jesus explained the He is the Christ and that He is the only way to Heaven. It was at this point that many of his disciples left. They turned away from Him. They rejected the Word, the Son of God.

They followed Him but didn’t believe in Him. They were willing to accept Him as a man who had great power and could do wonderful miracles. This required little of them. They didn’t have to change to follow this type of man. They could follow and reap the benefits of being near Him. Nothing about their lives had to change.

Isn’t this what we say today? Jesus was a great teacher! Jesus had incredible influence! He was a good man! In The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ, Chris Haley looks at Jesus’ ministry as a man who is using humor and wit to create a following in order to destroy those in power. He was the organizer of a mass movement. He doesn’t see Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t see Jesus as God. He doesn’t see Jesus as coming to save the world. We are no different. We see Jesus as a good man, a wise man, and a rebel leader. The only thing that changes that view is to accept Him as Lord and Savior.

Wine or Water?

Those in Jerusalem who rejected Jesus were not wine. They were water. They had not experienced the change that Jesus brings to the believer. They only viewed Jesus as a talented, wise, and moral leader. Once Jesus explained who He truly was and what he had come to do, they abandoned Him.

I am not talking about doubt. Satan uses doubt all the time to make us fall away. When we doubt, we allow the voice of the world to drown out the voice of our faith. We ponder the “science” that may not be science at all, but theory presented as fact. We listen to “common sense” that goes against God’s word. We follow society’s majority whose beliefs are not based on God, but on fleshly desire, or job security, or social acceptance. We focus on the natural and ignore the supernatural. We feel guilt by hurting the feelings of those who call God a myth or declare Him as unjust.

I am talking about concessions. I am talking about rejection. I am talking about the branch that is thrown into the fire. When the branch is separated from the vine, it dies. We are born in separation. We make choices that further drive us away from God. We ignore the sacrifice made by Christ or worse, we make fun of the sacrifice and reject the gift. We stand in the crowd in Jerusalem. Will we turn and walk away, or will we finally realize who Jesus really is? Will we cling to the vine and grow, or will we fall away and be cast into the fire? It is my prayer that God will open the eyes of those rejecting Jesus, for when your eyes are fully opened, this becomes the easiest decision you will ever make. Are you ready to be wine today?

The Border

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A border is necessary for a country to be a country, but should it be open to everyone or should there be a process?

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

COVID

As I come to the end of my mandatory two-week COVID hiatus, I have had quite a bit of time to reflect. Between low-grade fevers, body aches, a persistent cough, and a never-ending cycle of naps, I have watched the news and become especially interested in the crises at the border. No mater your views of amnesty, or whether the border should be more secure or more porous, the bottom line is that people want to come to the United States.

Why Do They Come?

Some come because they love us. They want what we have, be that money, medical insurance, housing, work, freedom of religion, a better quality of life, or the right to elect representatives. They want the same opportunities and freedoms we too often take for granted. Some come to escape persecution. They simply want to live their lives with the rights God has given to us all.

Some want to come here because they hate us. They want to make easy money, break our laws, and take advantage of our citizens. Some come here because they hate what this country stands for and want to bring it to an end. We represent what they can never be. They view our wealth as debauchery. They view our freedoms as excess. Our freedom of religion threatens what they believe so, we too, are a threat. Our freedom of speech allows different views to be expressed that are contrary to what they want to be said. Some spread lies about us to control us or to destroy us. Some believe the lies they spread and view us as evil. No one is made to come here.

Border Crisis

There is a crisis at the border. Can we vet the people who are coming? Can we test them to make sure they are not advancing the pandemic? Can we make sure their motives are pure and they are not coming to prey on our citizens? Can we support them with jobs and help if they need it? Can we offer support and protection to those who are escaping persecution?

A caravan coming to the United States.

I have a friend in El Salvador who would love to come to the United States. She is a schoolteacher and has lots to offer the U.S. if she could come. She can’t. You see, in El Salvador, schoolteachers are in demand. El Salvador will not allow her to come, and the United States will not allow legal entrance without the proper documents. Coming illegally is her only choice.

The crisis at the border is complex and can very easily bring out the best and the worst in ourselves. Few want to abandon those in need, but few want to support those who create the problems for those trying to escape. Everyone knows we have problems. Our country is not perfect. We are sometimes selfish. We are sometimes self-absorbed. We want to be best, and we want to be first, and sometimes that brings out our most undesirable characteristics. And still, no one is made to come here, but many want to.

I wish I had answers to these questions. I wish I could solve the crisis at the border. I wish I could figure out a way for my friend to come. I can’t. I can certainly see both sides of the argument. And I can see something else as well. There is another border that is free to cross.

No one is forced to become a Christian.

Some people love us. They see how we put others before ourselves. They see how we are often the first on the front lines of natural disasters. They see how the Southern Baptist are there with Disaster Relief feeding the hungry and helping to clean up after hurricanes, fires, and other disasters. They see the instant hospitals erected by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. They receive a shoebox at Christmas that open the door for a relationship with Christ. They come to our churches for financial assistance when they need help keeping the lights on or the water running. They see us love them when our churches buy medical debt so they will not be laden with a huge hospital bill. They visit our food pantries when they don’t have enough money to feed the kids.

Samaritan’s Purse mobile hospital.

Some people want what we have. They see how strong we are as we sit beside a loved one as they die in the hospital. They see us pray and claim God’s promise of eternal life. They see the peace we have when we face a crisis. They see the congregation and the pastor vow to reopen after a gunman kills believers in a worship service. They see the church rally after having to close after a COVID outbreak. They see us forgive our leaders when they fall to sin and prove they too are a work in progress.

Some will come to a worship service to find what we have. Some will listen at a Celebrate Recovery meeting and finally break the shackles of addiction by becoming a slave to Christ. Some will listen to the message at a revival or read the words in the Gideon Bible that will lead them to Jesus. Some will watch us pray before a meal at a restaurant or watch us pray as an athlete lies in pain on the field of competition. But no one is forced to become a Christian.

Some hate us. They are disgusted by our prayers. They feel we are praying at them instead of praying to God. They hate our songs because they feel convicted at the attitude of worship. They feel uncomfortable or even angry when they live in a way that is contrary to what our God says. They want to force us to place a badge of acceptance, or even celebration, on their lifestyle even though we wish them no ill will.

Of course, we are not perfect. We make mistakes. We say things that are hurtful. We sometimes react in anger or fear when we are told to react in love. We allow ourselves to become self-absorbed and find ourselves living in our own little world with no realization of how our words or actions can be offensive. We fight back because we think we are being rejected when it is really our God who is being rejected.

Everyone is Welcome

Sometimes we think we can decide who can be a Christian and who cannot. We want to close off God’s borders and say, “you can’t cross over.” We somehow think we have been chosen because we are better than others and we justify their anger by acting the way they expect.

The fact remains, no one is forced to become a Christian. No one is forced to believe in Christ or to follow God’s commands. Everyone is welcome. We even desire for them to come. There are no border walls. In fact, there are no borders. But there are rules. You cannot come to Christ without believing in him. The Bible is not a salad bar where you pick and choose your way to Jesus. You come the way you are. You come broken, poor, helpless, looking for a home, searching for peace and for strength. You come looking for a better way of life, for fulfillment. No one forces you to come. You just come. No one says you can’t, Jesus died for each of us. He opened the border. With Him, there is no border crisis.

Apology and Forgiveness

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Is there anything more difficult than saying, “I’m sorry?” Sometimes it is just as hard to say, “You’re forgiven.”

Romans 12:18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I’m Sorry

The hardest words to say are “I’m sorry.” The Christian must come to a place of regret and repentance. He must set up an Ebenezer and change direction. The path of wrong must be abandoned, and it cannot be to save face, or win favor, but to make right a wrong that has been committed.

Equally hard is “I forgive you.” The person who has been wronged must be willing to forgive. This is difficult. Jesus said to forgive 70 times 7. But often, we need time to process. We need time to go to God and pray. We need time for our heart to be healed.

I had a dear friend who hurt not only me, but the entire church with his actions. I wanted to forgive. He needed to be forgiven. But everyone needed time. Time to process, pray, and heal. There was a point that I thought I was ready to forgive, only to find that the wounds were deeper than I had ever realized, and the flood of pain washed over me just as it had when I had first been hurt. It took much longer to forgive than I had ever imagined. It took a long time to heal.

How We Hurt Others

Sometimes we hurt others with our words or attitudes. Sometimes we hurt others on purpose. Sometimes, it is accidental. Sometimes, we are totally unaware that we have hurt or are hurting someone with our attitude, words, and actions.

I experienced that this week.

No. I was not the one on the receiving end. I was on the offensive.

I have unconsciously had a bad attitude toward a friend for over a year now. I know that because my attention was drawn to it. My friend challenged my attitude and rhetoric. I began to reflect on all of our conversations over the past year, or so, and as they slowly replayed in my head, I could hear the bitterness in my tone. I could see how my words had been hurtful.

I was embarrassed. I was apologetic. I had been petty.

I could have offered excuses in an effort to justify my behavior. COVID has been hard on all of us. It is difficult pastoring an absent church. There is a lot of stress in my house, at church, in the world. Zoom meetings got old quickly.

Prayer

Instead, I began by asking God for forgiveness.

In Psalm 51, David says that he had sinned against God and God alone. He had cheated with Bathsheba and then, after she was discovered to be pregnant, had Uriah sent to the front lines where he was certain to be killed. He murdered her husband.

As God was taking his child from him, he was confessing his sin to God and asking for forgiveness. He was laying himself bare before God and begging to be restored.

I started by asking God to forgive me before I asked my friend to forgive. Neither was easy. Both were essential.

I had been in a bad place and I had allowed my bitterness to bleed into my relationship with my friend. Why? I had stopped reflecting Jesus. Why? I had wandered away from God’s will, not in everything, but certainly regarding this relationship.

There were two difficult things that had to be done.

I had to apologize and show my friend that I was truly sorry. I could not just say “I’m sorry” with words. Those words had to be accompanied by action. I had to show true repentance.

My friend is in a bad place right now. My friend’s job is a difficult one and is not without real danger. The stress is immense.

I must be patient. I must wait until my friend is ready to forgive. The process cannot be rushed. Just as I had taken to time to forgive my dear friend years ago, this friend needed time to process, pray, and forgive me.

God Tells Us to Forgive

But my friend must forgive. I sometimes think forgiving is more difficult than asking for forgiveness. So many times, we want to hold onto the hurt. We want to wallow in it and have a pity party. We want to make the offensive party “pay” for the hurt they have caused.

But God tells us to forgive.

God is a master of forgiveness. He not only forgives, but He then forgets.

Look what He did with David. He forgave his sin with Bathsheba. He restored David to his throne and was with him as he did great things. He used another child from Bathsheba, Solomon, to rebuild the temple and continue David’s rule. He called David, “A man after my own heart.” He not only forgave David’s sin, but forgot his sin as well.  

God is a master at forgiveness. I am not. Most of us are not.

If someone makes me angry, I can go historical on them. I don’t mean hysterical. I really do mean historical. I can list everything they have ever done to me. My memory is still pretty good when it comes to petty things. I can make them pay, not only for the immediate transgression, but for all of the other transgression all over again. Fortunately, my wife is pretty good at playing this game as well, and can bring it to an end pretty quickly.

No. God wants us to forgive. We have been forgiven and we need to forgive as well. We must show mercy. They may not deserve mercy, but if they deserved it, it would not be called mercy.

I couldn’t punish those who put me in a bad place so I punished those I could. It was wrong. It was petty. It was hurtful to me and to them.

Refusing to forgive is also hurtful. Not to the one asking for forgiveness but to the one refusing to forgive. It is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. It makes us sick.

Restored Relationship with God

Why did it take so long to know I was hurting someone? If I had made it a point to stay more grounded in God’s will, I would have seen it earlier. It is so easy to wander away. God never leaves, but we leave Him. We do it in baby steps. One concession here, and another there, and before we know it, we are miles away from our godly home.

Process what has been done. Understand what happened. Pray. Talk with God and listen to His reply. Heal. Allow God to heal your hurt and draw you home to Him. Set up an Ebenezer and mark this as the place you have chosen to follow God. As you turn back to follow the Father, He will run to you, and embrace you as the son who has returned home.

Restored Relaonship witRestoh

Where is Your Trust?

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There will be many times that you’ll be required to trust others. Is there one person in whom you can always place your trust and never be disappointed?

Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name trust in you because you have not abandoned those who seek you, Lord.”

Welcome to 2021 and the government of the left. For a while, at least, the government of the right has been put on hold. I have been told by many after the latest presidential election that God is on the throne. It is a reminder that God is sovereign and that His will is being done. The funny thing is this, I was told the same thing after the 2016 election. It seems many of my friends are trying to make their will God’s will instead of the other way around. It as is though we say, “If my party wins, it is God’s will, and if my party loses, then God is still sovereign, and can accomplish His will regardless of who is in power.”

Does God care?

I am not saying that God doesn’t care who our leaders are, but he does accomplish His will no matter who is in office. His abilities are not dependent on political parties, or governments, or nations, or any other man-made construct. An attribute of God is omnipresence. Part of God being omnipresent is having the ability to accomplish His will anywhere.

For the Christian, this is a comforting thought. Everywhere you go, God is with you. For the unbeliever, this is equally discomforting. There is no place you can go where God cannot find you.

I remember a story of two pastors watching a tennis match. Both players were excellent players. Just before the match started, both players walked to the bench and bowed their heads in prayer. One pastor looked at the other and said, “Who do you think will win?” The other pastor replied, “The one with the best back-hand.”

I doubt God cares much about who wins a game or receives a medal, but I imagine those involved in the games believe very much that God empowers them to train, work-out, and win. I may not see God moving in their lives, but I am sure they can see Him clearly. A senator or representative may not be able to restrict God’s will, but I am sure God can use them to accomplish His will whether they want to be used or not.

Even though I believe God uses both believers and unbelievers to accomplish His will, I still will not put my trust in that leader. But if I were going to put my trust in government, it would be necessary to understand that powers change. Leaders change, ideas change, and in today’s thought, morals, and truth change. Not everyone will agree with my views, and while government may satisfy for a moment, it will eventually fail my expectations.

I may put my trust in family.

I know we like to think our families will always be honorable, faithful, and loving but I know of very few families that exist without “family squabbles.” In some families fighting is the rule rather than the exception. When the matriarch or patriarch of the family dies and the glue that holds the family together is now gone, we sometimes see betrayal and fighting in the family. Without that one person the family falls apart. Blood is no longer thicker than water. 

Trust in church leaders, educators, doctors, all have the same thing in common. They are human and fallible. They will fail and they will fail you. They cannot help it. They are not perfect.  Even the best of us fail and we are judged for it.  In fact, those who live a moral standard far above the others, are judged most harshly. They have the greatest distance to fall and the world takes delight in watching them crash-and-burn.

Trust in God.

Those who know God, find comfort in Him. They find comfort during persecution. He is their refuge. He is their strength. They have experienced God change their lives and change their hearts. Those who do not know Him cannot see what He has done and have no experiences to draw from. To them, He simply doesn’t exist, and short of the movement of the Holy Spirit, they will never see Him for who He is. The Christian can see that He never fails and never leaves. To others, He was never there. 

You do not have to be persecuted or poor to know God. The rich and powerful can know Him too, but they must refuse to put their faith in any other or anything. Like all Christians, they must make God first in their lives and trust Him. They cannot trust money or power. For many of us, this is not an issue. Just like the children’s song says, we lean on Him because, “We are weak and He is strong.”

We trust God.

We trust God because He is righteous, and He is truth. He is never wrong and never deceitful. He judges fairly. We will all be judged, but those who believe and trust Him now, are already forgiven. Will the unbeliever be found guilty? Yes. Will the believer be found guilty? Yes. The difference is the believer has already been forgiven of his debt.

For all sin there is consequence. Sin may be forgiven but the consequence remains. God will forgive us for murder, but we may still have to go to prison. God will forgive us for infidelity, but our family may fall apart. God will forgive our sin, but we must trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. Government, education, money, power, family, church leaders, the voice of the majority, social media royalty, or God. Where are you placing your trust today?

Climate Change

What do you believe about climate change?

We Read in Psalm 47:7-8 Sing a song of wisdom, for God is King of the whole earth. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.

The Christian takes great comfort in knowing that God is sovereign. God is in control. God is never surprised, and God makes no mistakes. He is holy and He is wise.

I agree there is a degree of climate change in the world today. We must understand that climate doesn’t stay the same. It is always in a position of flux. Hot, cold, famine, abundance. Climate is constantly changing.

Climate may be somewhat predictable, but there always seems to be surprises. We simply do not know what is ahead. Charles Dudley Warner said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

I am not talking about the weather or the temperature of the earth. I am talking about the religious climate of the United States.

We have had our moments of abundance. There was a time when it seemed like everyone attended a house of worship. In the little Virginia town where I grew up, almost everyone was protestant. In your town it may have been different. Your town may have been more Catholic or Jewish, but I imagine, there was a great degree of religious participation.

Things have certainly changed.

It is no longer “we all go to church,” or even, “we don’t go to church,” but now it is becoming “you are evil because you go to church.” To the liberal or atheist or agnostic, God stands for the oppression of individual freedom. What I see as freedom in Christ, many see as roadblocks to their way of life.

To some extent this is true. What the world wants to do, flies in the face of what God commands us to avoid. The Jewish and Christian faiths are rooted in the Bible. Some believe this makes us bigoted or homophobic or even racist. Our beliefs give the world the “right” to attack those who believe like us. We believe in the bible and this makes us evil in their eyes.

We cannot criticize or argue against. Those actions alone bring condemnation. But so too, does silence. Nothing short of celebrating “sin” will be sufficient. Most Christians refuse to call “sin” good.

I am reminded of what my mother used to say to me, “Sin loves company.” When we refuse to behave in the same way as those who call “sin” good, we are condemning their actions by our actions. This too is criticism and brings condemnation on us.

The climate has changed. I don’t know if it is fixable in my lifetime. I hope it is, but I do know what Psalm 47 says, “God is seated on His holy throne.” He is sovereign. He is in control. And I know how the story ends. God wins. This means that I win and so do those who believe in His word. We will not be silent, not to win the argument, but to proclaim the truth even when we are told there is no truth.

We are not to attack because we are attacked. We are not to strike out because we have been struck. We are not to condemn for we do not have that right. That right is God’s alone. We are to simply speak the truth in love and kindness. The words are not our words. They are the words of God. They are the words of Jesus. If the words are rejected, then it is God who is rejected, not us.

Climate change is real.

I can see it all around me. I pray we can reverse the damage that has already been done. Yet to lose is to win. Paul writes in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Even if things never return to the way they were, even if our country never again sees a favorable religious climate, we win.

Faith

Faith and hope and love.

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Faith!

What do you have faith in? Anything?

The goodness of man? The rightness of society? The honesty of government? Punxsutawney Phil?

I hope you are not placing your faith in any of the above.

Faith in God the Son, His word, His promises, His perfection, and His love. This is where I place my faith. There is nothing, and no one else, that I can place my entire faith.

We just passed Valentine’s Day. I love my wife, my children, my grandchildren, and my friends and family, but I do not put my faith in any of them.

Why?

They are not perfect. They are all flawed. I pray they do not put their faith in me. I am flawed as well. Imperfect! I love them, but my love is not a perfect love.

There is only One in whom we can place our faith. Jesus. Jesus never failed, never fails, and will never fail. We may not always like the direction He leads or the work He calls us to, but He is perfect in His desires for us. He knows where we will be most effective for His kingdom and for His glory.

Did I want to be a pastor? Nope! Am I happy I am doing His will? Yes!!

In Hebrews 11 we read of the Hall of Faith. This chapter is filled with men and women who trusted God with their lives. Not just how they lived their lives, but for many, their very lives. They trusted God with whether they would live or die.

They placed their faith in God. Some did so willingly. Some ran from God’s call. (I can relate.) Some found their call late in life. Others were called early. Enoch never died. Rahab found a new country, a new family, a new faith, and I assume, a new profession. All had their lives changed by their faith!

Faith is hope. We all need hope. We must have something to look forward to. We cannot just live in the present and we cannot live in the past. We must hope for the future. The brighter our future, the brighter our present.

By faith we live each day. We wait on the Lord and we do His will. By faith we live our lives, for without faith, we do not have hope. Without hope, we are lost. If we are lost, we can never find our way, and Heaven, that brightest of futures, is beyond our reach.

Powerless?

Do you feel powerless? There is power to change the world. You only need to the courage to claim it!

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. John 15:4

“Abide in Me and I in you.” Jesus tells us that we are to abide in Him. What does that mean? Do we actually live inside of Jesus? No. But we follow His commands, and read His words, and pray to Him, so we draw closer to Him each day.

In today’s political climate, I know many who have stopped watching the news. Why? It upsets them and makes it difficult for them to function. All they can think about is how society is moving further and further away from what they believe. For me, society is moving further and further away from God. For others, society is moving away from democracy, or from capitalism, or from freedom of speech. The talking heads on television say the same thing hour-after-hour and people with no power simply dwell on what is wrong with the world.

If I abide in Him, I am pulled closer to truth, peace, comfort, and promise. I find the courage to stand up to the world and even find that I am strong enough to make a difference in the world. I may run for office so I can have policy influence. I may lead a local organization to feed the hungry, march for life, have a day of prayer, bring in evangelists, help the homeless, or provide for those who are in nursing homes. Abiding in Him changes me and when I am changed, I can help change others.

But He also abides in me. He changes every aspect of my life. I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior at the age of 8. I was immediately different, but the change didn’t stop there. I can look back on every year I have lived, and I can see how I have been drawn closer to Him. I am constantly being made new.

When I abide in Him, I become more like Him. When He abides in me, I become more like Him. He doesn’t change. I do. He is perfect. I am not. I am the one suffering from sin, and though sin has been defeated through His resurrection, I still struggle with the fallen man. I still carry that dead man with me wherever I go. Look at what Paul says in Romans 7:24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” There is only one answer. Jesus!

Jesus is not only the answer to sin, but He is also the answer to this world. He can make us all new! He will when He returns, but until then, let us not give up on this world. We may be blocked on Facebook or kicked off Twitter. Our posts my be lost on the pages of our followers. But this does not mean we have no voice. Let us change policy. Let us lead and not be silent. Let us hold fast to morality. Let us recognize truth as real, and singular, and only found in Jesus. Let us make converts. Let us preach Truth! Let us be courageous! Let us bow our heads in prayer, for none of us is really powerless.

No Longer Blind

Listen to this blog at the Worshiping God Podcast

Being blind to the truth is the worst kind of blindness.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:18

On Being Blind

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be blind, but I do know what it feels like to be blind to knowledge. I simply may not have the education to understand. I know when my technicians begin talking about the digital soundboard at church, my eyes begin to glass over. You want to talk about pitch, tempo, rhythm, tone color, balance, or any of the other musical elements, then I am fine. Sound technology? Not so much. I have a degree in music but not in sound technology.

The artificial cornea reacts with the human body to work just like the original.

My 6-year-old grandson, Kash, was poked in the eye by his 4-year-old sister, Penny. We took him to the ER, but for three days he walked with his hand over his eye. He refused to open it. We began to wonder if he would ever open it again, even though the doctor assured us he would be ok. On day four, he opened the eye and used it as though nothing had ever happened. For three days he could not see things on his right side and consistently ran into walls, toys, door frames, and big people. He didn’t know because he couldn’t see.

Unknowingly Blind

The problem we have is that sometimes we do not know we are blind. Sometimes we think we understand, but we don’t. We think we see the truth, but we don’t, and it isn’t until we run into something big that we realize we can’t see.

After the transplant the man could read the eye chart from a distance.

In Israel, a 78-year-old man regained his sight after an artificial cornea transplant. “The KNet implant actually merges with natural human tissue, meaning it can integrate directly with the eye wall and replace scarred or damaged cornea through injury or disease.” Imagine being blind and having an artificial transplant that returns your sight! That is an incredible gift!

Living in darkness is hard to imagine. No light. No color. No shape. Now imagine you cannot see the truth. You can see choices, but you do not know which is true. This is the state of our world. It didn’t just happen, though it may be getting worse. It happened a long time ago with the fall. The introduction of sin. Sin makes us blind, but we do not know we are blind. We only realize how blind we are when we finally see the truth.

Imagine you cannot see the truth!

Every Christian has experienced this. Every Christian remembers what it was like to be blind and not be able to see Jesus for who He is. Then, just as in Ephesians 1:18, our eyes were opened, and the truth was obvious. Sometimes, we wonder what took us so long. It was right there all the while.

The eye is complex and so is the eye of the heart.

Of course, we need someone to tell us the truth. Right? This is why Jesus gave us the great commission of Acts 1:8. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus knew we needed someone to tell us. How else would we know about Him?

Paul said in Romans 1:20 that we have evidence of God right in front of us. All we have to do is look around. The world is full of God’s grand design. The delicate balance of the universe and the intricacies of life cannot be denied if one is honest with himself. All of this must have come from someone. We are without excuse.

It is easy to see God, but we need someone to tell us about Jesus. The Spirit will guide us and enable us to see and He will even take us where we need to be to hear the gospel. But each of us has a responsibility to share the good news with others.

Has the Spirit opened the eyes of your heart? Have you seen the truth and stopped falling for the lies? It is right there. In John 3:16 we get the gospel in a nutshell.

For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Pretty simple, huh? Believe in Jesus. Believing is like that artificial cornea transplant. It replaces all of the scars and disease with something perfect. You will be able to see. And everything becomes clear!

New Again

Didn’t see it. There’s still time!

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

While we were in lockdown, new species were being discovered. Imagine that! After all these years we are still discovering new things!

Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

There is nothing new in this world, but we still haven’t seen it all. I have walked on volcanic sand on black beaches in El Salvador, but I have never seen an active volcano. I have seen icebergs fall into the sea, but I have never walked on one. I have been out of the country, but I have never been to Europe. I have witnessed babies, puppies, cats, and calves being born, but I have never seen the birth of a star.

There is so much to marvel at in this world. The natural beauty of this world is truly something to behold. I would love to see and experience it all before I die, but I know I will not. There simply isn’t enough time or money to do it all.

Popa langur primate

Look at what Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” He was one of those blessed people who had the time and resources to do it all. What did it gain him? Nothing. Those experiences are great…..for a moment. They don’t last. The memories stay with us forever and with those we experienced them with, but even with pictures or videos, we can never fully share them with people who were not there.

What does last? A relationship with God. Loving and being loved by God gives our experiences meaning. We have a reason to live. We don’t just live for a picture or a memory. We live to be with, and to glorify, God. We share our story with others. We share the peace God has given us. We share the fulfilment we have in Jesus. We share our reason for living.

Birth of a star

Here is a plus. When we die we gain a new body. When Jesus comes again, our body is glorified, and we live for all eternity with Him. Where? Heaven on earth. We come and we go. We work and we play. We worship and serve God. And we are served by God. Wow! That last part is hard to understand, but God has been serving us since day one. He provides. He protects. He loves.

We have all eternity to experience the wonders of this world!

We have all eternity to experience the wonders of this world. Everyday is filled with discovery. It never gets old. There is always something new each day. And the best part? It is no longer marred by sin. It is perfect. Jesus died to restore us and to restore all of creation. We will get to go to those places we have never been and to see those sights we never got to see. Touch, taste, and smell the things we have never before experienced. And as we enjoy these things, we love the God who made it all. This is heaven. Worship, work, play, relax, relate, love, discover!

Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a game God never plays. He knows where we are at all times.

If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Do you hide your true identity? Do you pretend to be something you are not? Is there something about you that you never want anyone else to know?

I had a professor in seminary who said that it was easy to pretend to be a Christian. Learn the buzz words, act like you care, and pretend it is not about you but about Jesus.

The problem is that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can never fool God.

God the creator knows us like no one else. He knows our faults, our failures, and our fixations. He knows our temptations, our tests, and the traps we fall into. God knows us and we cannot hide from him. We may try and we may even convince ourselves that we are successful, but we are not. We are falling for our own lies. Liars have a tendency to fall for lies. We begin to believe what we say is true and we believe that God believes it too.

We often believe our own lies.

In 1 John 1:7 we find that if we walk in the light with Jesus, He will cleanse us from all sin. We find fellowship with others because we all believe and we all know where we have been. We have all been changed. We all know it is not about where we have been but where we are going.

The world has a hard time with this for they have not been changed. They do not have the experience of the Spirit. They know Jesus but the do not know Him. And in society today, a lie is not a lie if you believe it to be true because truth is subjective. What is true for me is not true for you. We try to manipulate God by changing truth. This is another game God does not play.

We try to manipulate God by changing truth.

I heard a story about a man who died and went to Heaven. Jesus said, “I never knew you” and denied him entry into Heaven. The man said, “But I identify as a Christian,” and Jesus answered, “We don’t play that game here.”

Stop playing games. God is not going to be fooled. Let others see who you are. Be changed by the Spirit and become who God wants you to be. It all begins by accepting the grace of Jesus and finding the only truth. The truth of Jesus. John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace said,

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”

Live Your Faith

I wear a mask not to hide who I am, but to show the world to whom I belong.

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Recently, the staff at Ramoth received masks with the Ramoth logo and the words Ramoth Baptist Church printed on the front. Ramoth was one of the six cities of refuge in the Old Testatment. Shannon Gallagher made the masks, and they are wonderful. The pastors and staff have become walking advertisements for our church ever since. I jokingly call my mask my COVID Billboard.

Here’s the thing. What if you had the mark of Jesus on you 24-7? What if people could identify you as a Christian from what you wear? What would that do to your attitude, your behavior, your intention to share the Gospel with those you meet?

Well, the moment you forget you are wearing the mask, someone will say something about the mask or something related to it. You then begin a quick rewind. “Did I say or do something to damage my witness?” “Did I tell someone about Jesus or offer an encouraging word?”

Last night at Kohl’s, the lady at the check-out said, “My parents attend Ramoth.” She said this after my wife had said, “Thank you. Remember, God loves you!” Carol tells every clerk, waitress, waiter, or anyone she meets in a service area that God loves them. But the lady mentioned Ramoth because I was wearing my mask. As soon as we were told that her parents attend Ramoth, I began to talk about our church. Would I have done this without the mask? I hope so, but without the mask it is up to me to initialize the conversation.

Have you ever seen those fish or cross symbols on the back of people’s cars? What do you think of those people if they are speeding or driving in a reckless manner? It doesn’t matter if you are speeding, it only matters if they are, because they are testifying that they believe in, trust in, and follow Jesus. Being a Christian is not just about claiming to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is also about following Him. Maybe you post something on social media. It is not illegal, or dirty, or rude, or immoral, but someone calls you out for your post because it wasn’t what the world expects a Christian to act like. The world may not know what a Christian is, but they know what a Christian isn’t.

The world may not know what a Christian is, but they know what a Christian isn’t!

We must live our faith. We must live our faith every moment of every day and when we fail, we must ask for forgiveness and start anew. We can put a fish on our car, but then don’t be surprised if someone expects us to act like what we say we are. We can wear a Christian T-shirt, but then we must be the person our shirt claims us to be. I can wear a Ramoth mask, but I must be pastor every moment of every day. Claiming your faith takes courage. One must be courageous to live a Christian life.

I know a pastor that said to me about another pastor, “That pastor never takes off his pastor’s face!” Oh, Lord, let it be said of me that I never take off my pastor’s face, for it is the only one I own! This year, let’s live our faith every day.

Christmas Night 2020

The busy Christmas morning is always followed by a silent Christmas night and reflection on the day just past.

Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:7

As Christmas day 2020 comes to  a close, the tree that sat upon a mountain of presents, now resembles the tree that went up the day after Thanksgiving. It has beautiful lights, ornaments that hold a million memories, and is surrounded by an empty tree skirt decorated with cardinals and pine cones that have been hidden for about a month. The ornate wrapping paper is now on the back deck in trash bags and empty boxes designed to catch the buyers eye is the wrapping paper’s only companion.

Penny and the Hite Christmas tree 2020

A Christmas meal has been devoured. Christmas cookies and candies have been enjoyed. Coffee, egg nog, soft drinks, and hot cocoa have been drunk. We didn’t have a white Christmas but it did snow all day. The kids were disappointed it didn’t stick to the ground, but the adults were glad It didn’t create any driving hazards.

The Christmas story was read, Christmas Eve services were attended, and kids really did find it hard to sleep. Santa filled stockings and brought presents and everyone spent way too much money. Christmas movies were on the television, except when we opened presents, that time was filled with Christmas music.

Family visited, stories were told, and everyone wished everyone a Merry Christmas.

 Things are so much different now than when I was a kid. It is always more fun to give that to receive. I don’t think the kids understand that, though my oldest grandson gave presents for the first time. He realized how much fun it was to watch as some opened gifts he had purchased all by himself.

A 60’s Christmas

I remember mom and dad working extra jobs to make enough money for us to have a good Christmas. In some ways it was like living that movie, “The Christmas Story,” except I was in the south. Dad spent hours working his extra job so we could have a GI Joe or a bike with butterfly handlebars and a banana seat. It would be years before I saw how much they sacrificed and how much they enjoyed giving us things they had never had.

God the Son sacrificed everything to be born as Jesus. He gave up His throne, His glory, His life, so we could be reconciled with God the Father. The stain of sin was forever lifted for those who believe. The promise of eternal life the reward for the faithful.

We work so hard to give our children things we never had. We want their life to be better than the one we had, but the greatest gift we can give is showing them who Jesus is and what He did for us.

A new year approaches. It is a week away and many will make resolutions. To share the gospel is the best resolution we can make. Take advantage of every opportunity. Share with your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors, your friends, and the strangers you meet every day. You don’t have to wait for Christmas to read the gospel story, attend church, or change someone’s life.

Give the gift of Jesus to someone. Merry Christmas!

The Self-Help Book

The bottom line is, we all need help!

He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

Here we go again. It is a brand-new year with the same old problems. COVID-19 did not suddenly go away. Credit card bills grew over the Christmas holiday. Schools and restaurants did not magically reopen. We have the same old actors in Washington.

So, with all of the same problems, what are you going to do differently this year?

Michael Esmond, a Florida man, paid off utility bills for his neighbors for a second year in a row. In fact, he paid off $7600 in past due utility bills. In the midst of the pandemic, He had a boon year with his spa and pool business, and is now paying it forward

He has been called a good Samaritan. Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan told of a man who helped a stranger for no other reason than he needed help, but he wasn’t supposed to help others. He was the outcast. Maybe he knew what it felt like to be in need or neglected. Maybe that’s why he helped. Maybe he has been blessed with plenty and wanted to help those who didn’t have as much.

Esmond knows how it feels to be without. He tells a story of suffering in the winter with no gas because he chose to put food on the table. It was 6 degrees outside, and icicles were in the house with him, his wife and three small daughters. It was miserable.

I imagine you know what it feels like to struggle. Maybe you are struggling. We all need help sometimes. Look at the shelf at the local bookstore and see how many self-help books are there. It is amazing. 1.6 million books were published in 2018.

There is a problem with this. We can help ourselves out of some situations, but there are many things that discipline, generosity, sacrifice, and a positive attitude simply will not help. COVID falls into that category. You can do everything according to the rules and still get sick. Wear a mask, stay home, don’t touch anyone in any way, stay six feet apart, wash your hands until there are no oils left in your fingers, and don’t touch your face, EVER!……and still get sick.

You can read all the self-help books you can find, take all the financial classes, save every penny you make, and you can still find yourself poorer than a church mouse.

The bottom line is we sometimes need help. Maybe not from the government, that usually comes with a price, but from our family, friends and neighbors. And if you are not in need, you may be one of the family, friends and neighbors that are there to help.

Before the 60’s we lived in a “we society.” We thought about our neighbor and reached out to help. Now, we live in a “me society.” It is all about getting, not giving. We must leave the narcissism behind and think of others before we think of ourselves. That sounds a lot like the golden rule, doesn’t it?

It is a new year. Get more exercise. Eat better. Live cleaner. Be more compassionate. Love more and on a greater scale. Go to church. Worship God. Read His word and pray to Him. Follow Jesus. Give of your treasures so others will have what you have in Christ. Spend more time with family. (We may have been doing this already with COVID restrictions.) Have less “screen time” and love your neighbor as yourself. And, that self-help book? Its called the Bible.

The Cure for Our Disease

Every illness needs a cure. We search for a cure for cancer, diabetes, dementia, covid, etc. What about the disease we all have?

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

I read in article recently that the Oura Ring can make it possible to let us know we have a temperature before we know we have one. It can monitor our heart rate, respiration rate, and our rate of activity.

Oura Ring

The idea is to know what kind of shape we are in before we know what kind of shape we are in. In other words, it may be able to tell us we are sick before we know we are sick.

It could help head corona virus off at the pass. We would know we have it before we become symptomatic and begin spreading the disease.

This would have been great had it been available for my friend who just died of covid. He would have known he was sick before he became so sick, he could not recover.

This could help with covid, the flu, and countless other diseases and issues if the development continues as planned.  

Temperature Chart

Jesus talks about the issue of sin in John 3:6. “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He tells us that we are infected by sin from the moment of birth. We don’t have to sin to have the disease of sin. We inherit it, but it doesn’t take long before we are symptomatic. We show selfishness as children. We want what we want when we want it. We lie, steal, cheat, hurt, get angry, are jealous, are selfish, show pride, and demand power all before we reach kindergarten.

Sin is our disease and sins are our symptoms. Since we are broken, we behave as broken things do. So, God has isolated us. We cannot be in His perfect environment. We cannot come into His presence. We need a cure. It is too late for a vaccine.

The cure is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. This sounds silly if you do not believe in Him. I am sure wearing a ring that could predict illness sounds a little silly too, but the fact remains, God became man to die and rise again to bring us out of isolation and be reconciled with the Father. He came to die for our sin.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. In “Away in the Manger Forever Amen” there is a line that strikes home for me. Phil Wickham wrote, “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, the dawn of salvation beginning to break.”

The dawn of salvation beginning to break!

The dawn of salvation arrived with the birth of the Son incarnate. This is the beginning of the end of separation. And this cure for sin is forever. We don’t take it twice. We don’t have to be quarantined again. Even if we show sin symptoms, the cure is perfect. We are perfect in God’s eyes because of what Jesus did. This is the most incredible gift we could ever receive!

I pray you will see the dawn of your salvation this Christmas! Merry Christmas, Forever, Amen!

Do You Know the Rules?

There is a reason we have and follow rules.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

My first music composition professor gave me my very first writing assignment. He told me to write whatever I wanted. The piece could be any length, in any key, at any volume, with as many or as few instruments as I wanted, and in any style. It was the hardest assignment of my life. I didn’t know what to write. I simply had too many choices and nothing was off limits.

Terry Riley’s “In C”

My second assignment was to write for two instruments. I could write any volume, any tempo, any style, but I could only use one note. It was easy and it was fun.

Why?

There were no boundaries in the first assignment. There were strict boundaries in the second assignment. I found freedom in the constraints of that exercise. I have found freedom in the constraints of marriage. I have found freedom in following Jesus as Lord. He leads. I follow.

One of the things kids learn as they play together is to have fair rules. This allows everyone to have fun. No one can cheat. No one has an unfair advantage. The game is played on an even playing field.

Matthew 9:9

God’s rules are simple. To have a relationship with Him, we must love and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. We will be given the third person of the trinity as our guide. The Spirit leads us and the result is a closer relationship with God and a changed life. We become more like Jesus as we follow the Spirit in our walk with Him.

Many of us refuse to do this. Why? We like the no rules approach. We think this gives us an advantage, but what it really gives us is chaos. No one can endure chaos. The first thing we do with chaos is create rules.

Geroge Crumb’s “Makrocosmos”

My professor knew that if he gave me chaos then I would appreciate the rules. I did. Even as I worked my way into Aleatoric music, Avant-garde music, and Serialism, I still needed rules. There were freedoms in these types of music, but there were still rules. Even “free” music needed rules to make it work.

I am not legalistic. The law highlights error, but the grace of Jesus points to life. The rules are not a way to salvation but a result of it. I follow the Spirit and He draws me nearer to God.  

My relationship with Christ comes with rules. I follow Him, love the way He loves, live the way He instructs in His word, and share His message with others.

Are you ready to step out of the chaos?

Thank God

Do you? Thank God, I mean. Do you thank anyone?

And he told him, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” Luke 17:19

In Luke we read about the ten lepers who were healed. Jesus told them to go to the priests and be declared clean. As the men traveled, they were healed from their leprosy. One of the lepers returned to Jesus. I don’t know if he made it to the priests or not, but the point is, he returned to Jesus! Shouting praises to God for His blessing!

I love how the CSB version says, “Your faith has saved you.” Other versions say, “Your faith has made you well.” This one leper was not only healed, but he was also saved. He believed! He received the greatest gift of all. Salvation!

My granddaughter asked me how I got to be so old. I told her that I just kept breathing. She took a deep breath and said, “What happens when you stop breathing?” I told her that I would go to Heaven and live with Jesus. My four-year-old began to cry and tears began to trickle down her face. She asked, “Why would you want to live with Jesus?” I told her, “Jesus loves me. I am one of His children.” She looked at me and said, “I am one of your children” I hugged her and told her that as long as she believed in Jesus, she would one day live in Heaven with me and with Jesus. As I wiped away her tears, I told her that it would be many years before I went to Heaven and by that time, she would be a grown woman with children of her own. I hope I live that long.

Penny and Kash

The leper was given a blessing of healing, and then he came back to give thanks to the One who had blessed him. Just like me, he was given the promise of salvation. The others? I assume they were temporarily healed. I don’t mean that their leprosy would return, but that one day they would stop breathing. One day they would face judgement. Maybe they saw Jesus as the Messiah before that day came. Maybe they didn’t. The leper who returned to Jesus certainly did and was rewarded for it.

We are all blessed. Whether we love Christ or not, we have more blessings than we could ever count. But my point does not rest in the blessings. It is not about being healed. It is not about living pain-free or living long. It is not about any of the things we enjoy. It is about giving God thanks for the blessings we have. It is about recognizing Him as the source of our blessings.

How did I get to be so old, well, old to a four-year-old? I keep breathing. Each of those breaths, each of those heartbeats, is a blessing from God. They are those mundane miracles that we never think about until they are no longer there. One day that heart will stop beating and with that last heartbeat on earth, there will be a first heartbeat in Heaven.

Thank God for the mundane. Thank God for the miracles. Thank God for that gift of salvation and the promise of Heaven. Thank God for that little four-year-old. Thank God for the love you share with each family member or friend. Thank God who loves you and provides for you even when you don’t seem to notice. Thank God.

A Simple “Thank You”

We never know who we are influencing as we live this life.

I am a trumpet player. I am pretty good, but I am not good enough to be a professional recording artist. I am talented, but not so talented that my art is like breathing. Second nature.

I play trumpet because of my aunt Peggy. Peggy was my mom’s youngest sister. She traveled with my family on vacation, babysat me and my brothers and my sister at home, and put up with my annoyance when I went to her house to visit. Peggy played trumpet and she was pretty good. She won the John Phillip Sousa award for best band musician in high school. I won it some years later. I looked up to her and I loved her. She died from leukemia when I was a sophomore in high school. My heart still breaks when I think about her.

I became a band director largely due to her influence on my life and the way she lived. I became a pastor largely for how she died. Peggy faced death with the certainty of a future in Heaven. She planned her funeral, suffered valiantly, and to the best of my knowledge, never blamed God for her illness. She left behind a young son, a young husband, and a grieving family. I am thankful I had the chance to know her.

Why?

That is the question we all ask. Why? She was young, godly, faithful, talented, beautiful, and loving. She gave and gave and rarely took. So, why? God allowed her to suffer. I believe that. He didn’t cause her to suffer, but He allowed it to happen. I have often wondered over the years, why?

Why?

Here is the answer. Without her sphere of influence, I would not be who I am. I would not have been a musician. I would not have written worship songs for our church or led in worship. Without her death, I would have never seen the way a young Christian goes into eternity. I would have never become a pastor, for her voice is the one that rings in my head to follow God, be filled with His Spirit, and love Him without reservation. Her influence on my life was great, but greatest at her death.

I will see Peggy again when I make that trek into eternity. Her face will greet me into the presence of Christ Himself. She will be there with my dad and my grandparents as I bow in the presence of God. The brief moments we shared on earth will be a forever lifetime in Heaven.

I know you have loved ones you miss. I pray they are waiting on you in Heaven. In a couple of days, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We will give God thanks for His many blessings. I will be thanking Him for Peggy and all she did in my life, because of her love for Jesus. She lived Jesus for me.  Thanks, Peggy, for living your faith. Thank you for showing me how to live for Jesus.

What Are You Waiting For, Christmas?

Don’t say to your neighbor, “Go away! Come back later. I’ll give it tomorrow” — when it is there with you. Proverbs 3:28

When I was young and full of energy and short on wisdom and cash, I would play a game with my fuel tank. I would wait until the warning light came on the fuel gauge, and then I would see how much further I could drive before I ran out of gas.

The first time it happened, the light came on and I was a mile away from the gas station. The next time I drove a couple of miles before refilling the tank. Two became three. Three became four. The longer I did this, the smaller the steps became. I would go 4 miles then 4.1, then 4.2. I did this because money was tight. I did this because of the adrenaline rush of not knowing when the car would run out of gas. I did this because I was stupid.

One cold, wet, December day I was driving, and the light had yet to come on. I had this thought, “Man, I’m getting great gas mileage!” No sooner had I thought this than the car sputtered to a stop. Not only was I out of gas but I had also burned out my warning light. I never played that game again.

Sometimes we procrastinate because we are playing a game. Sometimes we are short on resources. Sometimes we simply hate doing what we must do. I was playing a game, but this isn’t the only game I’ve played. I’ve played the church game as well.

You know this game. You skip a Sunday just to see how it affects your life or you go online so you can stay in your pajamas with a cup of coffee. Pretty soon you are not going to church or watching it online. You don’t read your Bible because it is not your favorite thing and then you find yourself not reading it at all. You skip a tithe or an offering and then you find it has been a year since you have been faithful. You allow sharing opportunities to pass by because you are afraid of rejection or ridicule. In all of these things you say you will start up again tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes next week. Next week becomes next month or next year or maybe never.

What are you waiting for, Christmas?

Christmas is just around the corner. Watch any Hallmark Christmas movie and you will discover that Christmas is the time of year where everyone bakes cookies, decorates trees, goes ice skating, build snowmen, spends time with family, and find their true love. Well, maybe those are exaggerations, but it is a time of happiness and giving, and people really do change during the Christmas season. So, what are you waiting for, Christmas?

There is no better time to refuel. Special programs are happening at church and it is easy to get excited about different services. People are more open to giving and receiving. They are more open to hearing about Jesus and His birth. They are more kind and happier than at any other time of the year. It is a time for celebration, and looking toward the future, and let’s be honest, this year cannot come to an end a moment too soon. People want to hearing about good news!

If you are waiting for Christmas, it is almost here. People are putting up decorations weeks ahead of time because they are starving for good news and searching for reasons to celebrate. You have good news to share. Share love. Share good news. Share Jesus. Start a relationship with someone. Start a relationship with Jesus.  Refuel your tank, and this time, don’t wait for the light to come on. Fill up every day.  

Feeling Small?

It is easy to feel small when compared to the vastness of this world.

Protect me as the pupil of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalms 17:8

Feeling small?

Grand Canyon

I looked out over the ledge at the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon. Wow! It was so much deeper than it looked in pictures. It was so much wider! I could feel the wind blowing up from the canyon floor. It was amazing. A huge river that looked like a tiny stream from the ledge ran through the center of the canyon. As I looked over the edge, I had a feeling of smallness. My sense of how big the world is, was magnified in that moment.

Feeling small?

Alaskan Mountains

I have felt small before. Sitting in a boat in the ocean and not being able to see the shore in any direction makes one feel small. Flying in a plane above the mountains of Alaska makes one feel small. Standing at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto and watching the baseball players in the stadium below run about like ants makes one feel small.

I remember as a boy walking in my father’s footsteps as he delivered the mail in the snow. I jumped from one deep footprint to the next. I felt small, but I also felt protected. This big man was my dad! He would keep me safe.

I sometimes feel small when I think of God. He is the creator of this vast universe. He is the designer of all there is. How could He possibly know I exist? Yet, He does. How could he hear my voice? Yet, He does. How can He care for me, let alone love me? Yet, He does.

Feeling small?

My dad loved me. My God loves me. He is the good, good Father. Dad always kept me safe and my God loves me even more than my dad did. Feeling small? Sure, sometimes. Feeling lost? Alone? No. I have a God that is big enough to never lose me. He is the good, good Father and as David wrote, “You hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”

Success!

What exactly is success?

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! Matthew 25:21

You are a great success!

Books have been written about you. Songs have been written about you. You are the subject of documentaries and feature films.

Everyone knows you and wants to be like you. Street signs bear your name and parks are dedicated to you.

You are a great success!

You will be remembered for centuries after you are gone. You have more money than you could ever spend. You are the subject of courses taught in college and everyone tries to model your path to success.

You are a great success!

But are you really?

The most famous people of my lifetime are not recognized by my grandson. The richest people in the world die everyday and can no longer enjoy their riches. I drive down Leeland Road every morning and have no idea who or what Leeland is. I sit in parks and do not know the people they are named after.

Are you a great success?

I have read dozens of biographies and forget all but a few parts of them by the time I am finished. The impact is small. I see movies based on real-life situations and cannot remember the people honored in the movie a short time later. They have no real impact on me.

Are you a great success?

The Original Starbucks in Seattle

Off the top of my head I cannot remember the name of the CEO of Starbuck’s even though his company has benefited from a lot of my money. And even the famous people I do know have not made much of an impact on my life.

Of course, there are teachers, family members, pastors, and close friends who have influenced me or directed me as I have traveled this life. None of them are famous.

And then there is Jesus. He never traveled more than 30 miles away from his home, never wrote a book, wasn’t rich, never owned property, and died an embarrassing and horrific death. He was despised in his lifetime and yet, everyone recognizes His name. His influence has been far greater than that of any other person in history. Books, films, and songs have been written about him. Churches filled with millions of people worship Him as Lord. I am one of them.

I am a success!

In His eyes, I am a success. I don’t have much by the world’s standards, but I have Jesus. And He is all I need. He is my Lord.

I am a success! Are you?

Joy

We look for joy and settle for happiness until we find happiness fleeting and then we search for joy.

All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one. Psalms 14:3

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

You know, there is nothing wrong with a new TV, but it will not bring you joy. It may make you happy for a while, but it will not bring you joy.

God’s Joy in Us!

There is nothing wrong with a new car. There is nothing wrong with an old classic, but cars, new and old alike, will not bring you joy!

JOY!

It is great to have a fantastic job, a big house, a large family. All of those are blessings, but they do not bring joy. Joy, real joy, not happiness, comes from only one place.

God.

How do we get to God?

Through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “No one come to the Father but by me.” John 14:6.

Joy does not come from people. There are no good people. In Psalm 14:3 we read, “All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.”

Joy. That inner peace that brings comfort during difficult times, that lifts up praise to God for His many blessings, that shines on our faces when we see each other even if we are struggling with problems. Joy. It comes from His Spirit, through God the Son, and is a result of our renewed relationship with God.

God bless you, and give you peace, and rest, and joy.

I voted!

We have the right to vote, but we do not have the right to win, unless you believe in Jesus. Because of Him, we win!

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord —his throne is in heaven. His eyes watch; his gaze examines everyone. Psalms 11:4

It is the day after election day, or week, or month. Who knows how long this election process will take? Will the candidate I voted for win? Will I be victorious, or will I find myself among the minority?

It doesn’t matter. I know, it really doesn’t matter how this turns out. “The Lord is in His holy temple.” He is sovereign and no matter what I think or what you think, He is in charge!

We have the right to vote, but not the right to win!

I still voted. I feel I have the right and the duty to vote for the candidate I believe will serve the interest of my faith and my values. I have close friends who believe the absolute opposite of what I do. We may even claim to have the same values, but they see things differently. No matter, God is still in control. No matter, they are still my friends. They are still my family.

We don’t have to see things the same way. We can be united by our similarities rather than our differences. I will continue to work for what I believe in and they will do the same, but beyond politics, I will work to share Jesus with those who do not know Him.

God is sovereign!

Psalm 11:4 says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord —his throne is in heaven. His eyes watch; his gaze examines everyone.” God is not silent. He is not finished. He is still active in our world and I take great comfort that He is still on His throne.