Jeff Phillips' Messages
(click on the month to view the messages for that month)
The Carpenter's Apprentice
Jeff Phillips' Messages
(click on the month to view the messages for that month)
March 19, 2023
I read an article the other day from a Facebook page called Archery Mental Mastery. No author was given, but within the article I found a quote, “There is no courage in showing defeat after a setback.” The context of the quote had to do with physical posture after a mistake; head down, shoulders slumped. Neither of these positions are conducive to good shooting. He pointed out, by showing defeat in this way, we actually set ourselves up for repeated failure that spirals downward as each successive failure drives us deeper and deeper into ourselves and further from success. Shooters who understand the importance of form and consistency immediately realize the truth of this revelation but there is a greater spiritual application even for those who don’t shoot. If we are truly trying to walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7), then how we respond to darkness creeping into our lives could ultimately determine how long we stay in darkness. Instead of excusing or even glorifying our shortcomings, as is often done on social media, acknowledging our mistakes, owning them and working towards correction, will give us a better chance of not repeating failure. Paul, talks of the struggle in Romans 7:20, “But if I do the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me.” So how do we stop. The simple answer is – just stop it. Don’t do it. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but the point is, sometimes our reaction to failure and disappointment can pave the way for a turnaround or continued distress. Head up, shoulders back, walk confidently in and towards the light.
David illustrates best how to pick ourselves up and move forward in 2 Samuel 12:15-23. After a particularly egregious run in some rather heinous sins including adultery and murder, David finds himself praying for a dying son. The answer from God was, “No.” Furthermore, all the blame lay squarely on David’s guilty shoulders. Still, David demonstrates how to move on from past mistakes and sin by cancelling the pity party, cleaning up and vowing to move forward living in such a way as to see his son in heaven with God. David essentially tells his people, there is no use crying over spilled milk. It seems even then there seemed to be some kind of social expectation of sorrow and/or guilt, but what is the expectation from God? Isn’t it repentance (2 Peter 3:9)? Running with endurance the race set before us can only happen if we put ourselves in position to run. There is no courage in showing defeat, so let us lift our eyes towards heaven, hold our heads high and walk confidently (not haughtily) through this life until He comes to take us home.
March 12, 2023
It started when she opened the refrigerator door. The egg, one of three left over from the previous dozen, had been stacked precariously atop the new dozen nestled in the slot perfectly made for one dozen eggs manufacturers had molded into the door. In slow motion, it fell from it’s perch in free fall until the tip of her fingers altered its trajectory, but not its future. As time resumed to normal she began to sob as she recalled the lines of the nursery rhyme, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall …” It was the straw that broke the camels back. There on the floor lay the perfect picture and representation of her new life. Tears mingled with the broken yolk as it spread yellow through the gooey egg white and shattered shell. There was no solution. There was no way back. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.” While I completely fabricated the events above, it very easily could have been true and most likely stirs memories from our lives or the lives of someone we know. Life is cruising along. All is well. In fact, life is better than ever. But sometimes - life just happens. In the blink of an eye, the plan crumbles before us and our whole life takes a punch right in the teeth. It’s possible we, or someone we love, are to blame. It’s also possible life turns upside down for no apparent reason. It happened to Job. In the span of seven verses (Job 1:13-19), Job was left with only his wife and four haggard messengers. He lost it all. How will your plan survive a punch in the face? I hope you never have to find out. We’ve been thinking about things we underestimate. When our plan takes a hit, let’s make sure we never underestimate the love of God. He has repeatedly said and demonstrated He will not leave us (Hebrews 13:5). He has said nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). As proof we have John 3:16, “For God so loved the world he sent his only son to die …” and Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Furthermore, Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again …” (John 14:2-3). “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Never underestimate His love and “let us run with endurance the race before us” (Hebrews 12:1), never giving up, knowing “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
March 5, 2023
Last week we looked at a quote by heavy weight boxer Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Ultimately, the quote is about underestimating our opponent and we began looking at things we underestimate, last week we looked at sin. This week we look at Satan. Initially, it is difficult to believe anyone would underestimate the Father of Lies (John 8:44) and yet it is one of Jesus’ closest friends who fell victim. In Luke 22:31, Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.” Peter’s response was, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” In other words, Peter says, I can handle it! Truth be told, maybe at that moment when he said it, Peter could have taken the onslaught of sifting. He stood there amongst the disciples and in the presence of Jesus. In that moment, Satan wouldn’t have stood a chance; precisely why he didn’t come. Peter says, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Lions do not attack when their foe is prepared and ready. In fact, a lion has to be in pretty dire straits to attack when his prey is fit and alert. His prowling is done in the shadows on the fringes. Ever watchful, he is looking for the old, the very young, the tired, the weak, the impaired, the unprotected, the careless, the distracted, one so caught up in his surroundings or what he’s doing, he’s forgotten the dangers. Possibly, he’s keeping his eye out for the one who’s overconfidence in himself leads him too close to the edge; the one who can handle it. But Satan waits. He patiently watches until we are alone “in the courtyard” surrounded by haters, outnumbered by accusers – then he comes. Resisting Satan might be less problematic if he were easy to spot; long tail, red suit, horns and the trademark pitchfork. But no, Paul cautions, “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He comes for us when we are weak and unrecognizable as himself. He comes with a plan, always scheming (Ephesians 6:10) and crafty in his approach (2 Corinthians 11:3), he comes with thousands of years of experience (Genesis 3:1-7). Given his track record, deceitfulness and disguise, how can we ever stand against him? Well, 2 Corinthians 11:3 also references the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Let us then draw nearer to God and he will draw near to us (James 4:8), where He can save us and make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Let us put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) and be alert, standing firm in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13) with perseverance (Hebrews 10:36), but never, ever assume we can handle Satan alone. Never the less, Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.
February 26, 2023
I would have never guessed I would be quoting Mike Tyson in a bulletin article, but I came across this, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I am not sure where I heard it or read it, but I wrote it down as one of my “nuggets” at some point. One of the hardest punchers of all time, “Iron” Mike was a dominant force in the ring until life outside the ring and bad decisions began to affect his fighting inside the ring. Ironically, this statement, deriding Evander Holyfield in the days before the fight, is exactly what cost him his career. The statement is similar to the old saying, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” and carries with it a great lesson about our lives as Christians. Admittedly, the statement is quite literally “in your face”, brutal and conjures up cringeworthy images some might consider too violent to be associated biblically to anything – as if Satan prowling around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour is less disturbing. Ultimately, we are talking about underestimating the enemy. Tyson’s punch was never measured but has been estimated at over 1,178 foot-pounds of force. That is like getting hit with a 220- pound anvil dropped from 5 feet! All the fighters think they can handle it – until the anvil drops. There are several things we often underestimate. This week we will take a look at underestimating sin. As Christians we often think we can handle just a little sin, after all we are not doing it, we are just around it. Or maybe we are doing it, but not as much as others and besides, we can handle it. Doesn’t the Bible say, everything in moderation and all things are lawful? Well, to be more accurate, Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men, the Lord is at hand” in the King James Version, which is nowhere near what we mean when we talking about moderation in all things, and both 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 say, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable” (ESV) Both passages conclude with the idea of doing all for the glory of God. Sin in moderation does not bring glory to God in any way, form or fashion. Holding hands with, flirting with or being in close proximity to sin doesn’t seem to fit the connotations of either of these passages nor does it coincide with “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), even in moderation. Christians who dabble in sin all think they can handle it, until they don’t. Finally, consider this, “if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26).
February 19, 2023
Last week I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine to whom I have not talked with, apparently, in well over a year. After catching up on life’s events, he said, “Ok, serious question, what are you doing to maintain and grow your spiritual life and focus?” After stumbling through some answers, it dawned on me, I didn’t really have a functional, viable plan. At the end of April, I intend to complete a Tough Mudder with a few of my friends. If you are not familiar with a Tough Mudder, it is an obstacle course race design to challenge both your mental and physical strength. The course consists of 25 obstacles spread out over 9+ miles of typically uneven and often muddy terrain. It sounds worse than it really is but we are pretty much guaranteed a little blood, a lot of sweat, maybe a few tears, a ton of laughs and stories of inspiration and herculean efforts we will talk about around dinner tables and campfires for years to come. I think it is safe to say we are all preparing for that day at the end of April. All of our training is not the same and some of it will be more effective than others, but we are growing towards completion of the race – with a plan. Schedules are adjusted and extra time is carved out of the day to strengthen cardio and do simple exercises to build the muscles we will use on this race. We get up early and stay up late to be more prepared for April 29. It's not always easy, but we are committed – “to run with endurance the race set before us.” If it is important to sacrifice and have a plan for something as frivolous as a race, a sport, education, a job or retirement, all of which will pass away, how is it we often fail to have a plan for our spiritual growth or find that plan relegated to the proverbial back burner? How is it we often find ourselves spending the least amount of time on the most important things and the most amount of time on the least important things? Could this be what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6:24? What truly controls our lives? Who do we really serve? A preacher once said, “Real faith always leaves real evidence.” What is the evidence of your faith? We look in the mirror or step on the scales to measure progress and growth, but how do we measure our spiritual growth? Do you know and understand more scripture today than this time last month? Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets ... you will know them by their fruits”
(Matthew 7:15-16). I think sometimes we assume the false prophets’ fruit to be rotten and clearly disgusting. Maybe though, it’s just not the right kind or maybe it’s the right kind but just not healthy. I guess the real question is, are we intentionally growing the “fruit of the Spirit?” What is your plan?
February 12, 2023
His form was great but his arrow groups were large. He’s as good as some, better than most and for a guy who only shoots twice a week, he actually shot well – for someone who didn’t really aim but just generally shot towards the target. When asked what he was aiming at, his response was, “The target.” Pushed on the specifics, he admitted he wasn’t really aiming, he just let go of the string when things felt right. While he almost never missed the target completely, he seldom hit the bull’s eye and since he couldn’t hit the bull’s eye twice in a row, hitting the ten ring could easily be considered an accident on the rare occasions when his arrow found center. Understand, his desire to put all his arrows in the center of the target and turn in a great score is unquestionable. In fact, frustration and defeat were creeping in to his psyche and thoughts of quitting were not far off because he couldn’t. Being a successful multi-sport athlete, he no doubt wondered why with all his talent and great form, he could not shoot as well as others on the team. Maybe archery was just not for him.
Improvement didn’t seem likely as his coach explained how to use the bow and the arrow to aim at a specific point. It didn’t make sense or even seem possible as they talked. To make matters worse, in his first attempt to “aim” specifically, his arrow missed the target all together. Missing the target hadn’t happened in a long time. He persevered. His continued efforts and his practice were awarded when finally, for the first time ever, he shot all five arrows in the yellow center of the target.
Sometimes we treat Christianity and being a disciple of Christ in the same way. In general, we live for Jesus. We are good people and no one is really surprised when we tell them we go to church and believe in God and His son Jesus. There are some things those who profess to be Christians don’t do and we are pretty good at not doing them. When it comes to religion, we are hitting the target somewhere, even if not the bull’s eye. It’s no surprise then, there might also be some of the same feelings of inadequacy and frustration with church and this so-called Christianity. Maybe the real problem is, we are just not living (aiming) specifically. Maybe we have convinced ourselves that just getting close is good enough. The Psalmist says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is death” (Proverbs 16:25). Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). If we use this verse to justify extensive training and private lessons to become better in our sports, classes or jobs, it seems we could use the same verse to explain why we work so hard to focus our efforts on glorifying God and growing in Christ.
February 5, 2023
Years ago, a friend of mine decided he wanted to be a long-range shooter and invested in a set of instructional CDs designed to teach him to build and shoot a long-range weapon. I remember one video in particular taught shooters how to practice. Before practice could begin though, the practice gun had to be sighted in in a vise to guarantee accuracy. The instructor was adamant about this; the shooter had to know the gun was perfectly zeroed. The only variable then, was the shooter. He looked into the camera and spoke directly to would be shooters, “You will never be a long-range shooter until you can admit the reason you miss is your fault and not the gun’s.” I have no idea what Rob paid for the set of videos, but that one statement was worth the price. The gun instructor’s words came back to me as I read Numbers 16:41, “But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’s people.”” The day before, the Lord had opened the ground and Korah, his family and all his possessions disappeared. Then fire came forth and consumed the 250 men who had followed him in challenging Moses’ right to lead. It wasn’t Moses who caused Korah and his men to die. It was jealousy and an absence of short-term memory! If I were making a list of words all children needed to learn soon in their lives, “consequences” would be in my top ten. It may not be as easy to say as “Ma-ma” or Da-da”, but pronouncing the word is not nearly as important as understanding the concept. What Israel failed to understand, or maybe refused to accept, was that their sin was their fault. We may not be a whole lot better. How often do we blame our poor decisions on others; or point out their bad decision happened first. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13). Consequences are there to teach us. We will never prosper if the consequences are taken away or if we never grasp the idea that we are in control of our choices. Israel wanted someone to blame for their sorrow, but the only ones to blame were themselves. Like Israel and long-range shooters, we will never reach our maximum potential until we learn to accept full responsibility for our errant shots. We may never be perfect, but we can always be better. Besides, if we mess up, we have an advocate with the father (1 John 2:1). You can’t hit what you’re not aiming at. If you mess up, own up and hit the target next time. Be strong and courageous – and shoot straight.
January 29, 2023
After a long hard day Jesus sent His disciples across the sea. He’d catch up but now he needed time to pray. After feeding the multitudes the disciples no doubt had questions but the questions could wait. The plan was to meet across the sea, apparently no one wondered how Jesus was to get there. The winds picked up and made life difficult, discouraging and uncertain for the men in the boat. They had been rowing all night. It was in the fourth watch when things changed. This is the last watch of the night so the dawn was approaching but when you are waiting on the light of dawn, it seems to never come. Through the strong wind and building waves He came. The Gospel of Mark tells us He was intending to pass them by (6:48). Imagine the looks, rowing all night, against the wind, making no headway and then He comes and not in a boat! They thought He was a ghost and were afraid (imagine that). He then spoke to them calmly, assuring them that He was real. Peter then spoke up verbalizing the doubts of many, “IF it be though, bid me come to thee upon the waters” (Matthew14:28). Of course it was Jesus, who else could accomplish such a feat with apparent nonchalance so He simply said, “Come.” To Peter’s credit he got out of the boat and amazingly it worked – for a moment. It was not the power of Christ that failed and caused him to sink but an inability to remain focused on the master. Our life is also filled with challenges, difficulties and times when we are discouraged because it appears we are making no headway. One step forward two steps back. In these times we can identify with the struggles of the disciples in the boat. Maybe there was grumbling and even a few prayers, sound familiar? Even when He came, they couldn’t believe what they saw - a Savior on so many levels. As witnesses to His awesome power and glory, they still could not believe. Believe. Look for Him. He is coming. In the midst of troublesome and frustrating times He is near, calming the sea and making possible what seems impossible. When the wind blows and the waves rise, more than ever we need to focus on God. He is our rock, our anchor, our strength. May your week be filled with much joy and happiness because of Him, even if the seas of life are stormy around you.
January 22, 2023
Did you know some scholars believe there are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus (jesusfilm.org)? Three hundred! The mathematical probabilities of even a few of these prophecies are staggering, much less all three hundred, and yet they were all fulfilled. The Jews of Jesus day would have certainly heard the prophecies and all been looking to some degree for the Messiah. When John the Baptist came along to prepare the way for Jesus (Mark 1:1-8), a prophecy in itself (Isaiah 40:3), there were some who took more notice than others. When John, while teaching, saw Jesus and pointed saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35), there were two who followed Jesus to confirm John’s claim. Imagine their excitement when they took the good news to their likeminded friends. Andrew went to his brother Peter first then Philip and Nathanael got the news. Nathanael, needing a little more proof, went to see Jesus who, upon seeing Nathanael approaching said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael then asked how Jesus knew him and Jesus proved to Nathanael, without a doubt, exactly who He was by describing the place under the fig tree, where he was when Philip brought him the good news, “We have found the Messiah”” (John 1:47- 49). Imagine just for a moment. Put yourself in Nathanael’s shoes. You are the one walking up to see Jesus; the man of whom the prophecies spoke. What would he say about you? I have no doubt, Nathanael was known among the people as one in whom there was no deceit, but Jesus, never having met or even seen him before, wouldn’t have known this. The statement was not a guess or the revealing of a secret. It was a well-known fact. While Jesus certainly has the ability to see into our heart, read our intentions and our very thoughts, both good and bad, I am not asking you to think of what Jesus would reveal about you that maybe you don’t want revealed. I am asking what is your reputation among the circles in which you run. I know what we all claim to be. We claim to be Christians; ambassadors of Christ; disciples of the Good Book not adding to or taking away from the Word of God. What is it people think of when they see us coming? Not being perfect, I am sure they remember of us “that time in the parking lot” or maybe even “those times,” but what do they see from us today? God “is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). What people remember is not nearly as important as what people see. In fact, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light,” maybe those who remember, will like God, forget, and be able to say, “’Behold, now there is a Christian who walks the walk.”
January 15, 2023
The phrase “me time” began to be a thing in the early 2000s. Health care officials even encouraged a national day. Used largely in the reference to women, the terminology was used to stress the importance of taking time out to recharge. As women increasingly work outside the home, the norm now, juggling the responsibilities of being wife, mother and employed outside the home can be taxing physically and emotionally. While men have been working outside the home forever, this is traditionally included in the expectations of their “responsibilities” as husband and father and somehow less stressful. Additionally, God created man and woman differently (Genesis 2:18- 25; 3:16-19) so it’s no surprise their needs would also be different. However, as more and more men act like women, the term “me time” and its expectations have begun to cross gender lines. Believe it or not, “me time” is Biblical, but not in the way it is normally defined today. Jesus took “me time” regularly and it is through His example we discover we all need this special time and how to spend it. In Matthew 14, Jesus has learned of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist and He is looking for a secluded place (Matthew 14:13) but it is not until sometime later we learn why. While searching for the place to get some “me time,” Jesus noticed the crowd following Him and seeing their need, put his desire on hold and began to heal the sick in the crowd. It was a large crowd, the Bible tells us 5000 men not including women and children (Matthew 14:21), so the healing went long and late and His disciples encouraged him to send the people home so they would still have time to get something to eat. Jesus would end up feeding the entire crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish before He’d get His “me-time.” When He was finally alone, He talked to God (Matthew 14:23). Later, on the night of His betrayal, we learn Jesus was no stranger to “me time.” Luke tells us He went to the Garden of Gethsemane “as was His custom” (Luke 22:39). Jesus routinely sought out “me time,” but it was not a time to get together with the boys and ignore the world, or sit in a bubble bath with the phone turned off, get a massage or immerse in a hobby. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with some of those things, they are not the “me time” Jesus demonstrated. If we are looking for the peace of mind Paul writes about in Philippians 4:7 as well as emotional stability and strength, “me time” is no longer a luxury but a necessity. We must spend Alone time with the Lord in prayer, in meditation and in the Word of God.
January 8, 2023
He went for the chicken, knowing the gathering would digress over time and he would have to leave. He had no idea how quickly things would fall apart – and left before the chicken was served, but for the moment he held the fresh rag over the bleeding nose of the party’s host. It was not the first rag and would not be the last. The amount of blood was staggering and the nose bleed was the result of too much Trenbolone, an anabolic steroid and too much alcohol, both known for raising blood pressure. Add in a hefty dose of rage brought on by a combination of steroid use and little man’s syndrome and boom, you have copious amount of red liquid streaming undaunted from the nose! Accepting the rag, the soldier applied pressure and with chemically impaired, hate filled eyes stared up and mumbled through the pinched nose and blood-soaked rag, “You judging me Phillips?” As he continued recounting the story, I thought to myself, how many times have I heard that question? Are you judging me? It always comes in the “hour of need” so to speak; sometimes in the heat of the moment and sometimes after, as things begin to calm down. The question is almost always rhetorical, the answer already presumed affirmative. I believe it comes from a guilty conscience and a broken heart, although neither would be acknowledged or accepted by the speaker and even if I were judging, my judgement would be far less than the judgement already self-imposed. My thought is always the same, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12) who am I to judge my neighbor? I wonder if those who Jesus helped thought the same. I think of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:10. The shepherd notices one sheep missing, leaves the herd and goes to find the wanderer. Finding the sheep, he rejoices and brings the lost home. We are not told where the sheep was found, the condition it was in when found or what it took to complete the rescue. We are only told of the rejoicing and the return. Similarly, in Luke 15, we are not privy to the actual conversation between the father and the son, but it’s clear from the conclusion, there was no judgement from the father. The facts in both cases are this, what once was lost, now is found. We know “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). We are sent to seek and save the lost, not by our skills and talents, but with the Gospel. Despite the ridiculousness, irrelevance and awkwardness of the question, hearing it means we are in position to make a difference. Be prepared (1 Peter 3:15) and be patient always looking for the right moment to share the story of God’s saving grace.
January 1, 2023
The first duck fell dead in the decoys and the second sailed, falling just as dead but just outside the decoys to the edge of the eddy we were hunting and was soon carried down river by the currents before the dog could swim to it. When his name was called, Duke headed for the long bird and last one to fall, without hesitation. His job was simple, go get the duck and bring it back. Marking the duck’s white belly moving away, he swam heartily, and no doubt would have eventually caught up with it. In fact, given enough time, I am certain he would have completed the retrieve, swimming back upstream – or died trying. There in lay the issue and the reason Austin blew the whistle to stop him. One blast from the whistle and Duke obediently turned around for instruction. Austin gave him a big left cast signaling him to leave the long duck and get the one in the decoys. After a look over his shoulder, Duke took the cast and picked up the close bird while I went and got the boat to retrieve the other. In response to a question about retriever training, a man said, “Going to a downed bird is desire, bringing the bird back to hand is obedience.” Walking to the boat, these words came back to me as I replayed in my mind with pride the way Duke handled himself in the last retrieve. His desire is unquestioned and his obedience, once again, proven trustworthy. I thought of what it took to get him to the point where his desire (to go to the bird) was overcome by his love for and loyalty to his handler (trust and obey). Trust me when I say he was not born this way! Yes, he was born with the tools, webbed feet, heavy fur coat, thick tail for steering and even an instinct to retrieve, he still had to be taught how to use the tools he was born with. He had to be taught to trust his master and to believe his best interest was considered in every command. His job has become obedience and you know what? He LOVES his job. Put on camo and open the door, he will head straight out to the truck – ready to go. There is much we can learn here, we too were created with a purpose and given all the tools we need for success. Created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) it was for freedom He set us free (Galatians 5:1) but we are not to use this freedom for our own desires but to serve one another (Galatians 5:13) tail for steering and even an instinct to retrieve, he still had to be and to obey the Master (John 14:15). It is our desire that gets us into trouble (James 1:14-15). We lack the perspective, the knowledge and wisdom of God (Isaiah 55:8-9), and simply need to work on our trust and obedience. Come when the Master says come, and go when and where the Master says go.
December 25, 2022
In Mark 3, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, angering the Pharisees who then began conspiring to figure out how to destroy him. Going down to the sea, a great multitude followed, so much so, he told his disciples to have a boat ready if needed, but in verse 13, he made his way to a mountain, calling to himself those whom “He Himself wanted” (Mark 3:13). While it is somewhat unclear if the twelve appointed were the only ones present or they were his choice out of a larger gathering, it is clear these twelve were specially chosen by Jesus to do more than the average disciple. These twelve would be known as the Apostles. While we are told how Peter, Andrew, James and John, fishermen, were called first out of a boat and Matthew was a tax collector, nothing is said about the other Apostles, except Simon was a Zealot (possibly a politician or revolutionary), and Judas - was a thief (John 12:6). Later in John 13:18 after washing his disciples’ feet, he quotes from Psalm 41:9. The actual Psalm reads, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Isn’t it interesting a thief and ultimately a traitor was chosen to be a part of the Twelve? It’s easy to say Judas was chosen to fulfill the prophecy, but I don’t think Jesus chose from among those who wished to follow Him, eleven good guys and one bad one. The scriptures tell us a number of people who “wanted” to follow Jesus were turned away or at the very least could not afford the costs of following Christ (Luke9:57-62), and yet Judas made the cut, was in Jesus’ inner circle and considered a close friend. He was not the only candidate for betrayal either. Matthew, the tax collector, was already considered a turncoat by his people possibly could have fulfilled the prophecy and certainly the Zealot, known and named for their desire to overthrow the powers that be could have been the traitor. In fact, such were the pressures Satan put on these righteous men, even Peter would deny knowing Christ three times in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Having left everything to follow Jesus, struggling to change at times (John 12:6b), Judas’ remorse and regret was evident. Out of his mind with grief and guilt, he saw only one recourse. Asking for and accepting forgiveness never entered his mind; he’d betrayed his friend. Among the lessons we can learn from Judas, two things stand out. First, God is not slack in His promise as some count slackness, but He is faithful, not wanting any to perish, but wanting all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Second, we must be alert, standing firm in our faith (1Corinthians 16:13) for if someone who walked with, talked with, ate with and knew all about Jesus, witnessing firsthand the great things He’d done, could fall away – what makes us so certain we won’t – or haven’t?
December 18, 2022
After a long hard day Jesus sent His disciples across the sea. He’d catch up but now he needed time to pray. After feeding the multitudes the disciples no doubt had questions but the questions could wait. The plan was to meet across the sea, apparently no one wondered how Jesus was to get there. The winds picked up and made life difficult, discouraging and uncertain for the men in the boat. They had been rowing all night. It was in the fourth watch when things changed. This is the last watch of the night so the dawn was approaching but when your waiting on the light of dawn, it seems to never come. Through the strong wind and building waves then He came. The Gospel of Mark tells us He was intending to pass them by (6:48). Imagine the looks, rowing all night, against the wind, making no headway and then He comes and not in a boat! They thought He was a ghost and were afraid (imagine that). He then spoke to them calmly, assuring them that He was real. Peter then spoke up verbalizing the doubts of many, “IF it be though, bid me come to thee upon the waters” Matthew14:28). Of course it was Jesus, who else could accomplish such a feat with apparent nonchalance so He simply said, “Come.” To Peter’s credit he got out of the boat and amazingly it worked – for a moment. It was not the power of Christ that failed and cause him to sink but an inability to remain focused on the master. Our life is also filled with challenges, difficulties and times when we are discouraged because it appears we are making no headway. One step forward two steps back. In these times we can identify with the struggles of the disciples in the boat. Maybe there was grumbling and even a few prayers, sound familiar? Even when He came, they couldn’t believe what they saw - a Savior on so many levels. As witnesses to His awesome power and glory, they still could not believe. Believe. Look for Him. He is coming. In the midst of troublesome and frustrating times He is near, calming the sea and making possible what seems impossible. When the wind blows and the waves rise, more than ever we need to focus on God. He is our rock, our anchor, our strength. May your week be filled with much joy and happiness because of Him, even if the seas of life are stormy around you.
December 11, 2022
This morning as the sun rose, the water was on the rise too as several heavy showers turned the curbsides into little raging rivers. With temperatures in the upper sixties, I really felt like getting some shorts and wading in! When I was a boy, rain like this would have pushed me into my father’s shop and the scrap pile to begin making boats to float in the run off from the rain. There is no telling how many little wooden sailboats I lost down the gutter on the street beside our home. Once the water quit flowing, there was always enough left over in a big puddle on the sidewalk. The depression for the puddle was created when a section of the sidewalk kind of sank to one side and it was perfect for riding bikes through as fast as we could. After watching Evel Knievel jump buses on his motorcycle, we went back to the scrap pile to build a ramp to jump the puddle. Soaring inches in the air, missing and making a big splash was more fun than making the jump. Forty-five years later, I still feel the pull of a good rain puddle and far be it from me to complain about rain in December; everybody knows ducks like the water! While too much rain certainly has its drawbacks and any rain can be an inconvenience, the biggest issue with rain, maybe the only issue, is the clouds. The clouds hide the sun. Did you know there are studies out there demonstrating how sunlight improves your sleep, reduces stress, maintains strong bones, helps keep the weight off, strengthens your immune system, fights off depression and can give you a longer life? Not to mention, sunlight is a good source of vitamin D. I guess it is no wonder some folks really don’t like rainy days. This morning amidst the rush and inconvenience of a raining day, parents jockeying for position, honking and practicing sign language in the car line, I opened the door for one of my favorite students. As she looked up, the hood on her jacket hid the top three quarters of her face but left her sweet smile for me to see as she said cheerily, “Good morning Mr. Jeff! It’s raining!” I responded, Hello Sunshine! Yes, it is.” I thought, Jeffrey, what if you are the only sunshine anyone sees today ...“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
December 4, 2022
A friend recently asked a small group if anyone had noticed in Genesis 3:11 when Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt,” God’s reply was simply, “I will be with you.” If you are not familiar with the story of “Moses and the Burning Bush,” you should go back and re-read Genesis 3. Moses goes on to offer up to the Almighty a host of excuses as to why he is really insufficient for the job. As a reader and observer of the story, I just want to shout to the pages, “Really Moses! You’re standing barefoot in front of a bush that is on fire but not being consumed by the flames and on top of it all, there is a voice coming from the bush talking to you! How do you not see and understand!? God chose you! The creator of all the earth chose you to lead His people. You should be honored. You should be humbled. You should be grateful. You should GO!” It is easy to question and pass judgement on Moses’ reluctance to accept the task given him by God. Solomon rightly said in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun”; and sure enough, we often look at our metaphorical “burning bush” and offer up the exact same sentiment, “But, but, but God! Who am I? Can’t someone else do this?”
I do not believe in signs, nor predestination but I believe we were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16). I believe the Gospel is for all (Luke 5:32, 2 Peter 3:9) and as such I believe the Word of God calls us all into His service. I believe we are all chosen. I believe we were chosen when God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). I know there are those who ignore the call all together refusing to acknowledge Him as Creator and never approach the “bush” to marvel at it or listen to it much less obey it. I also know there are those who come to the “bush” often. They “take off their shoes” and stand before Him every week and then after the appropriate time before Him is logged, they turn around, put their shoes on and walk away. I understand there are many reasons and excuses for our behavior and you can be sure the Creator who can count the hairs of your head (Luke 12:7) knows them too. Someone else once asked, “How big is your “but” (one “t,” not two)?” As with Moses, God doesn’t ask for our excuses, He simply says, “I will be with you.”
November 27, 2022
I went to meet God this morning. To be honest it was not exactly what I had expected but I am pretty sure it was me, not Him. He didn’t say anything, although several times I recalled scriptures like Isaiah 55:8-9, 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” I’d asked Him for clarity on a couple things I just didn’t understand, things we’ve talked about before and I thought I had been clear on what I wanted, well, I mean, my requests. I also remembered His words to the apostles, in Matthew 28:20, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I told Him sometimes when His answer was “no” it left me feeling like He wasn’t there after all. I thought of the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I talked about spiritual warfare, like that mentioned in Ephesians 6 and some, well, many of the things in this world that try to draw my attention away from Him. I was always grateful in my tone and tried desperately to remember all the ways He has blessed my life, but I am sure I left some things out. I talked about my family, my friends, and His church. When I got ready to go, I did. I just kind of said goodbye, or rather amen, and I left. I felt good, well, at least better as I began the things I “had” to do. A little while later, as I listened to graduation speakers, one of them said, “I remember when you first came to the Academy and today, I am standing here looking at, literally, a new version of you.” The realization hit pretty hard as I recalled my earlier meeting with the Creator of the universe, and I wondered if I’d come out of the meeting a new version of me or just the same old guy. It got me thinking, how can I come into the presence of the Almighty and leave without being a new version of me? 1 John 1:7 says, “but 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.” The only way to leave a meeting with the Father and not walk away a new version of ourselves, one that is cleansed and forgiven, is to hold too tightly to the identity of self; to walk in the shadows or even darkness and refuse to change. “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), always endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), always adjusting our course to make sure we run in the light of the cross.
November 20, 2022
While not miraculous, the things Jesus did at the Passover between what are considered to be His first two miracles (John 2:11; 4:54), were none the less impressive because so many who observed them believed in His name (John 2:23). Turning water to wine and overturning the tables of the money changers were likely not enough to cause Nicodemus to come to Him under the cover of darkness to discuss His identity. The two events may have been enough to spark a conversation during “regular business hours,” but the secret meeting indicates Nicodemus clearly saw there was something more. Enquiring minds naturally ask if not miraculous, what kind of signs could Jesus have been doing to cause Nicodemus and others to take notice and believe. The Bible does not leave us in the dark here to speculate and assume. John 2:24 tells us Jesus “knew all men” and “what was in a man.” This is demonstrated in John 4 when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her to go get her husband and she said correctly told Him she didn’t have one (leaving out some of the details). He proceeded to tell her about the five previous husbands and, not surprisingly, she was duly amazed. When she went back to the city, she couldn’t keep silent and told others about Him asking them, “Could this be the Christ” (John 4:29)? I think sometimes we forget; Samaritans were initially the northern kingdom of Jews. Making no light of their decision to establish their own places of worship in Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:25ff), which was ultimately “adding to or taking from” what God had commanded; a clear violation of God’s law (Deuteronomy 4:2), or excusing their marriages to Assyrians in violation of God’s commands in Deuteronomy 7:3-5, it is interesting, this “sinner” and her Samaritan friends, outcasts from the Jewish community because of the sinful nature of their origin and worship beliefs, understood the prophecies of the coming Messiah, arguably better than the correct, accepted and self-ordained religious establishment of the day. It was on her word they made the journey outside the city to go and meet this Jesus (John 4:39, 40). John tells us many believed because of her testimony who later confessed it was no longer because of what she said, but because of what HE said that cemented their belief in Him saying, “we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Obviously, the days of miracles are over and we can’t do the signs and wonders Jesus did either, but the unconditional love we have for one another is certainly a signal to all we are followers of Christ (John 13:35) and it will also cause them to wonder why we are so different. Maybe when they see us we can point them to the Word and they too will believe. Be the tree. Lift others to see Jesus.
November 13, 2022
James warns us about favoritism and prejudice in James 2:1-12 and Paul minces no words saying, “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). The current climate of our country has us all hyper alert to racism and we are no strangers to the concept of prejudice and drawing conclusions on the basis of skin color. This week I was reminded of a young bus rider some years ago who informed me he hated white people. After a brief discussion, I told him I was very sad because I thought we were friends and good buddies. He was shocked by my implication that we weren’t. I reminded him he’d just said he hated white people and he was quickly relieved at my mistake and said, “Bus Driver, you ain’t white.” Many things rushed through my mind in that moment. Shame in the realization kids are still being taught skin color matters, clashed with the realization this one child saw me for who I was instead of what I was. More recently, it was not the color of my skin in question. A second grader was explaining to me that another kindergartener on the bus was actually her mother’s brother. Read that again if you need to, but I responded simply, “I know.” They were both surprised. The kindergartener asked how I knew and I told him I was smart. There was a moment of silence from the pair and maybe some whispered discussion; I don’t know it was otherwise loud on the bus. Then Kindergartener asked confusedly, “So, Bus Driver, you smart?” “I like to think so,” was my reply to the latest query. After being met with more silence, he said, “If you so smart, why you drive a bus?” I guess you had to be there, but his implication was not that I have to put up with a lot of loud, sloppy, sometimes disrespectful, rarely grateful, always emotional and usually entitled kids on a mostly overcrowded bus. His intonation was that he didn’t think bus drivers had to be smart. This little kindergartener, judged me based on my job! Again, my mind goes a lot of places, from laughing at his truthful statement, to wondering who planted the seed in his mind drivers were inferior to the rest of humanity.
Please trust me when I say I have spent more time laughing than being offended by this but also, I again had to ask myself, “Am I guilty of showing favoritism or passing judgement based on what I see, for example, the color of skin or the job someone holds or do I see souls for what they are; creations of God who he loved so much he sent his only son to die for?” Our charge is to go into all the world making disciples and baptizing, not picking and choosing what we believe to be the best candidates for the Lord’s church. Am I, are we, sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom, His love and His forgiveness?
November 6, 2022
A couple years ago I was fortunate to sit in on a zoom call with Matt Holiday, seven time all-star and member of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. During the Q&A portion of the meeting, one of the coaches in the meeting asked him how he dealt with a slump. The 14-year Major League Baseball veteran and winner of the 2007 National League batting title never hesitated when he answered, “Find somebody to help.” He went on to explain, focusing on someone else is the fastest and best way to get out of a slump. If you keep focusing on self, overthinking and self-doubt keep you struggling to hit the ball. Today, I witnessed how this concept works outside of baseball and hitting. I heard Kinder A before I saw him and asked the closest teacher if that was Kinder A already screaming. She affirmed my suspicions and told me he’d stolen crackers from one of the teachers. Consequently, he lost his afternoon snack. He arrived at the bus door still crying loudly, claiming fierce hunger and injustice while holding one shoe in his hand. I told Kinder A to hush up and get on the bus, sat him down on the engine cowling and began putting his shoe back on. As he began to whine, I cut him off and told him he shouldn’t steal crackers and then he would get a good snack. Meanwhile, Kinder B spotted the lunch box he’d left on the bus and decided now was a good time to retrieve it from behind my seat. While I tied Kinder A’s shoes, I informed Kinder B to just leave it, get in his seat and we’d get it when we got to his stop and to just get in his seat. Kinder B began crying. Kinder B cries four out of five days a week, mostly when he hears the word, “No.” Kinder A immediately calmed down and focused his concern away from self and snacks, and onto Kinder B. In minutes, I could hear Kinder A saying, “It’s OK. You can get yours lunch box when you get to yours house.” Turning slightly, I saw Kinder A with his arm around Kinder B’s shoulders doing his very best to console him. His screaming had stopped, and all his troubles seemed to be gone. When he got off the bus at the day care, he was happy, carefree and had totally forgotten his earlier woes. At least for the moment, he was out of his slump. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). See also Acts 20:35, John 15:12 and Matthew 22:37-40. Be the tree. Lift others to see Jesus.
October 30, 2022
I am sitting on the front porch this morning watching as multicolored leaves reluctantly release their grip on the limbs where they’ve spent the last eight months and float earthward, driven on by the same gusts of wind that coaxed them into letting go. Waiting on much needed rain, I can hear the more persistent comrades of the mesmerizing leaves I watch, rustling together, still attached, almost as if they are encouraging one another to hang on and warning those downwind of the impending temptation to give in. Closing my eyes, I can hear the noise of silent wind in the movement of objects influences. I can feel it tug at my shirt and I am forced to scratch my head as the hairs it moves tickle my scalp. My face and arms feel moisture carried on what I cannot see, even with my eyes open. I can follow its unpredictable and irregular paths across the yard by watching what is blown. When the rain finally comes, the wind drives it in irregular sheets across the lawn and down the street. It’s interesting how most of the time we don’t notice or pay attention to the wind except for when there is too much of it or, on the other side of the spectrum, almost none of it. Truthfully, we also notice when it blows, even if ever so slightly, in the wrong direction. Caused by the uneven heating of the earth by the sun and its own rotation, wind is the movement of air. Despite being unable to actually see or hold it, we can observe its effects and harness to some extent its power. We can feel and hear its presence, sense its power; even predict its results. In some respects, wind is not unlike God. Much of the time He goes unnoticed, only mentioned during His perceived absence or abundance. Certainly, He is noticed when what we want to do is contrary to what He wants us to do. His expectations of righteousness irritate like the smoke of a campfire when we don’t understand, try to live in Him and in the world, or simply don’t like what He said. We can’t see or hear Him, but we daily see His existence when we open our eyes (Romans 1:20). He speaks to us through his Word - if we are willing to listen. When we are open and honest, we see the effects of both His presence and His absence in our lives and the lives our friends, family and community, even in the church. Finally, though we don’t know the when, we can predict the how and what of His return. We have been forewarned of His expectations and what will happen to those who are prepared and – unprepared.
October 23, 2022
While not miraculous, the things Jesus did at the Passover between what are considered to be his first two miracles (John 2:11; 4:54), were none the less impressive because so many who observed them believed in His name (John 2:23). Turning water to wine and overturning the tables of the money changers were likely not enough to cause Nicodemus to come to him under the cover of darkness to discuss his identity. The two events may have been enough to spark a conversation during “regular business hours,” but the secret meeting indicates Nicodemus clearly saw there was something more. Enquiring minds naturally ask if not miraculous, what kind of signs could Jesus have been doing to cause Nicodemus and others to take notice and believe. The Bible does not leave us in the dark here to speculate and assume. John 2:24 tells us Jesus “knew all men” and “what was in a man.” This is demonstrated in John 4 when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her to go get her husband and she correctly told Him she didn’t have one (leaving out some of the details). He proceeded to tell her about the five previous husbands and, not surprisingly, she was duly amazed. When she went back to the city, she couldn’t keep silent and told others about him asking them, “Could this be the Christ” (John 4:29)? I think sometimes we forget; Samaritans were initially the northern kingdom of Jews. Making no light of their decision to establish their own places of worship in Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:25ff), which was ultimately “adding to or taking from” what God had commanded; a clear violation of God’s law (Deuteronomy 4:2), or excusing their marriages to Assyrians in violation of God’s commands in Deuteronomy 7:3-5, it is interesting, this “sinner” and her Samaritan friends, outcasts from the Jewish community because of the sinful nature of their origin and worship beliefs, understood the prophecies of the coming Messiah, arguably better than the correct, accepted and self-ordained religious establishment of the day. It was on her word they made the journey outside the city to go and meet this Jesus (John 4:39, 40). John tells us many believed because of her testimony who later confessed it was no longer because of what she said, but because of what HE said that cemented their belief in Him saying, “we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Obviously, the days of miracles are over and we can’t do the signs and wonders Jesus did either, but the unconditional love we have for one another is certainly a signal to all we are followers of Christ (John 13:35) and it will also cause them to wonder why we are so different. Maybe when they see us we can point them to the Word and they too will believe. Be the tree. Lift others to see Jesus.
October 16, 2022
Executed two years after he died, the story of Oliver Cromwell is interesting to say the least and there can be no doubt this Puritan reformer who believed in constitutional government had an influence on the development of the constitutional republic founded by our forefathers. Leading England through tumultuous times, Cromwell was either loved or hated depending on which side you were on. Known as a soldier and statesmen, his religious beliefs were fundamental to everything he did. Found in the front of the third volume of his pocket Bible was the phrase, “He who ceases to be prepared, ceases to be good.” Contextually, Cromwell emphasizes the importance of growing in the knowledge of the scripture. However, the idea is not really applicable to being good in terms of behavior, for example, being a good person. The statement is more directly applicable to being good at something. In order to be considered good, one only has to follow the rules. To be good at something, one must demonstrate proficiency in the task being considered. Proficiency requires both knowledge and skill, both of which can be attained through study and practice. Austin brought the quote to our attention in a devotional one night explaining how his instructor had repeated the phrase to encourage wardens to stay sharp in the various skills they were learning as a part of their preparation to do a job. Literally, lives, including their own, could depend on how good they are at any given moment. As Christians, working hard to be the best at what we do is Biblical. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Being the best at what we do is easy to strive for, so easy in fact, sometimes we focus so hard on what we do, we lose sight of who we are. If we forget who we are and where we are ultimately going, how can we be prepared for it much less any good at it? Maybe this is why Paul told Timothy to be diligent to present himself a worker before God (2 Timothy 2:15) and Peter counsels, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Peter says, in essence, be prepared (giving all diligence) and then goes on to tell us how to be prepared, ensuring that we are not only good, but good at being good.
October 9, 2022
Every morning, she runs down the street waving her hands as though I am not going to stop and pick her up. When she gets to the bus, she exclaims how out of breath she is or which bone is broken that day. I smile, tell her good morning and I am sure it will be healed by the time we get to school. She gives me a fist bump and says, “Oh, I hope so.” Recently, after missing a few days, she jumped onto the first step and loudly proclaimed with both hands held high in the air, “It’s okay! They treated the lice!” (Tell the truth, did you just scratch your head? My head itched for the next two hours.) I hoped she could not see the change in my expression as it went from genuine joy at having this kindergartener back on the bus to totally fake joy as the reason for her recent absence became instantly obvious. I couldn’t help but think of our recent study in James 2, specifically verses 2-4, “For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” Somewhat guiltily, I told her to move on to the back of the bus and have a seat – in the back – the way back, as I scratched my head with one hand and reluctantly bumped her fist with the other. I am fairly certain this was not the partiality James wrote about, but it still made me think. I also thought about Jesus approaching lepers and others who may have been contaminated or contagious. Additionally, I thought about the church at Covington and I said a prayer of thanksgiving. I am grateful we do not seem to be afflicted with the sin of partiality and I decided to write about something we are pretty good at to encourage us all to continue to be alert and on guard against this sin so it doesn’t creep in on us. Prejudice can have many forms and the Bible clearly tells us God is no “respecter of persons” (Romans 2:11) and he desires no one to perish (2 Peter 3:9). Let us continue to spread the good news to all who will listen and avoid the sin of partiality, for the “judgement will be merciless to the one who shows no mercy” (James 2:13).
October 2, 2022
This morning in front of Charger Academy, a comment was made about church and church attendance. There is a growing number of people who no longer feel church attendance is necessary. There has always been a contingency of believers who come only when they want to often claiming, I believe in error, Matthew 18:20 as defense for their position. Since Covid, it seems that number has grown. It’s true there’s no Biblical command to meet twice on Sunday or at any time during the week but the flip side of that argument is the authority of the elders, so again, we arrive at a stalemate of sorts where someone says, “You believe what you believe and I will believe what I believe” or maybe, “Judge not that you be not judged.” The Bible does give us some examples to examine and find direction. For instance, Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” It is very difficult for the church to fellowship when they are apart. While there is mention of meeting on the first day of the week to break bread in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1, Acts 2:46 goes on to say, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” It seems birds of a feather flocked together, to quote a very old proverb. What does it say about our love for God if we refuse to gather with his people? Paul asks the church at Corinth, “for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14)? He goes on in verse 16 to ask, “What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God?” I wonder what is it that draws us away from or comes before God and His people? Understanding the church is the body of Christ, we also must recognize ‘going to church’ is certainly meeting with His people, but more importantly, ‘going to church’ is worshiping the God who created us and celebrating with the saints the hope within us. If we don’t want to be together here on earth for a couple hours, what is it that makes us think heaven will be so great when we are together for eternity? James 1:14 says, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” What is it that draws us away from God and his people? The next time you are faced with the opportunity to miss gathering with the saints (not talking about when you are contagious!), please consider this, we all represent different parts of the body of Christ and when your part is missing, the rest of us are affected negatively. I hope to see you this Sunday!
September 25, 2022
There are three things Achan took from the spoils of Jericho. Two of them make perfect sense to us, but the third raises an eyebrow. Two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels we can all understand, but a coat. It seems odd a man would transgress the command of God for a garment and yet, Achan lists it first among the three items. Furthermore, the gold and silver could have been easily concealed under his garments, weighing only about 6 pounds together, but the cloak, while not necessarily heavy, would have been bulky and required some real thought and careful planning. Maybe he wore it under his own clothes to get it back to his tent. It appears to be a crime of opportunity, not one of premeditation. When he saw the garment, he knew it was from Shinar, a plain in Babylonia. He instantly recognized it for what it was. Achan spoke of it in terms suggesting Joshua would know exactly of the quality and value the garment carried and maybe understand why he took it. It wasn’t just any garment, it was from Shinar. There are many instances in the Bible giving us insight to how people valued their clothing. From the coat of many colors presented to Joseph in Genesis 37, to the thirty sets of clothes Samson promised to the Philistines if they solved his riddle, throughout the Bible we see the significance and value of clothing in Bible times. So when Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19), those he talked to on the mountain side knew very well the damage that could be done when the tiny larvae of the moth began feasting. Jesus highlighted in one sentence the futility of putting your faith in anything here on earth. While some only wear “brand names” and spend a lot on clothes, we do not seem to value clothes the way they did in Bible times. Many don’t even realize the holes in their suit came from moth larvae! We understand rust and thieves. Hopefully we understand the temporary nature of the things we possess. Hopefully our confidence, our hope, our faith, our identity, our life is not based on this temporary stuff. Hopefully, my confidence is in my redeemer, my hope floats in the cleansing power of His blood, my faith is in His return, my identity is in Christ and my life is lived walking in the light as He is in the light. Hopefully we are all storing our treasure in heaven where there is no rust and there are no thieves or moths.
September 18, 2022
In Genesis 26, Isaac, the son of Abraham, had settled in the city of Gerar along the southern border of Canaan among the Philistines. The Lord blessed him there and his herds and household grew to the point the Philistines not only envied him, but began to worry about his growing power. Fearing what might happen if he stayed, the Philistines asked him to leave. He did, moving into the valley of Gerar, which was apparently not far enough away for the Philistines. Isaac re-dug some of the wells his father Abraham had dug many years before when he had sojourned in the land. When the Philistines saw Isaac had a well flowing with water, they claimed the water to be theirs. The text tells us Isaac simply moved along and dug another well, which they wanted too, so he moved on and dug another. Finally, the Philistines left him alone and Isaac named it Rehoboth saying, “At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land” Genesis 26:22). Clearly noticing Isaac’s continued success and from whence it came, King Abimelech came to Isaac and offered a rather humorous offer of mutual peace. On the same day of the treaty, Isaac’s men came to inform him of another well successfully dug.
Isaac’s actions here remind me of several New Testament scriptures. Foremost is Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome also conclude this thought with, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). How justified would Isaac have been to fight for the wells? His father originally dug them. He then dug them out. He certainly had a claim to scream the word, “MINE!” I also thought of Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” Since the last command Jesus gave his disci- ples was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), Isaac’s example here is noteworthy. Finally, I thought of 1 Peter 2:12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Even those who persecute us can learn from our patience and faith in God if we pursue His righteousness.
September 11, 2022
Today, the parable of the Sower came to mind, with a whole new twist. I met a fellow who as it turns out, just wants to tell others about Jesus – maybe. After working through his belligerence, it seems he is concerned about the direction of our country. While unable to quote them or even reference them, he was trying to share verses like Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,” and 2 Chronicles 7:14, “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Regardless of political affiliation, those who claim a believe in God recognize and understand the truth of these verses. One may debate what “turning to God and seeking him” entails, but none can question the resulting blessing when God is found, trusted and obeyed. The man I met today, has decided to give his life to Christ. He is sold out and, on a mission, (unfortunately this mission appears to be saving this country not souls). He is committed, very passionate and sincere. The truth is, his decision, commitment, passion and sincerity don’t matter and his message will fall on deaf ears. Frankly, while his message is a skewed from the truth of God’s word, the message is not his biggest hurdle. His biggest problem is delivery. When we read Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13, we are given the image of a man who is broadcasting his seed. Specifically, I see a man with a cloth bag draped over his shoulder, reaching into the bag, withdrawing handfuls of seed which he casts artfully over an area he has prepared. It is due to the nature of his planting method some seed falls in places where it is unable to thrive and grow. It seems like a waste, but the waste is calculated and the practice widely used and understood by those of Jesus’ day. However, nowhere in the story Jesus tells does it appear the farmer is angry with the soil. He is not stomping or pounding the seed into its germination place. Logic tells us, if he did, the seed would be so damaged, it would never grow. Peter told Christians to be ready to tell others about Jesus and he further told them to do it with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). We must “rightfully divide” the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15), but we must also rightly deliver the message. Mike Mays used to say all the time, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Prospecting contacts is about showing others we care in preparation for the message we want to share. “Seeking the lost, yes, kindly entreating, wanderers on the mountain astray. “Come unto me,” His message repeating, words of the Master speaking today” (Seeking the Lost, W.A. Ogden).
September 4, 2022
Do you remember sitting on your dad’s lap and steering the truck down a gravel road? I am not sure how old I was, but I might have been standing in his lap instead of sitting because I was too short to see over the steering wheel. The first time, I am sure it was his idea, but every time after that I am sure it was mine! Looking back, it had to have been my first taste of freedom and control; my first real experience in being a grown up. The speed was never great because Dad still retained control of the gas and brake pedals. He could still grab the wheel in the event of an emergency, bad decision or if the turn was just too much for me.
I didn’t know it then and maybe he didn’t either, but it was the perfect way to show me how to live. I remember the encouragement to keep it in the middle and the feigned urgency and excitement in his voice if my then tiny arms were turning too slow. Constantly in my ear, he guided me down the road explaining how to navigate gravel, sharp turns and big bumps. The truth was, Daddy was carefully monitoring and controlling, as best he could, the world around me. He controlled the speed, but let me steer on my own, ready to jump in in an instant if conditions or my decisions took a dangerous turn. By the time I got old enough to reach the gas and brake pedals, I won’t say I had mastered steering, but I didn’t have to concentrate on it as much and could focus my attention to speed control. Little by little, Dad gave me what I could handle when I could handle it.
The Bible tells us we will not be tempted beyond what we can handle but with temptation God will provide a way of escape so we can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13), but it also teaches us God expectations of us are not greater than what we can accomplish. The “Parable of the Talents” demonstrates this concept when a man going on a journey distributed three different amounts to three different men, each according to their abilities (Matthew 25:14-15). Like a father teaching his son to drive, when he could steer, he let him steer. When he could reach the pedals, he let him sit in the driver’s seat by himself. When he demonstrated competence and trustworthiness, he let him drive the truck by himself. The son was never given more responsibility than he could handle, but in each situation, there was an expectation of results, an expectation of participation and performance.
Maybe the hand on my shoulder was so Dad could steady himself after a harrowing ride down a country road, but I took it as, “Well done, son.” The next opportunity to drive and please my father couldn’t come soon enough.
The Carpenter's Apprentice
I love driving the school bus. Last night, I was preparing a route sheet for my bus route just in case I need a substitute. The sub driver will know exactly where to stop and go to get all “my” kids to school. As I drove the route in my mind, I thought about the little bit I know about each student and I couldn’t help but reflect on how blessed I am. I need you to know, my kids are good kids. The vast majority of the time they do exactly what I ask them to do. I also want you to know I also have some kids with very awesome situations where someone meets them at the bus every day. I have parents who come out to make sure their kids are living up to the high standards and expectations they have. That being said, I also stop at two different hotels to pick up kids. One of my riders witnessed his mother’s murder. A couple have fathers serving lengthy sentences in jail. Several have no adult to see them off in the morning or to welcome them home in the afternoon. Some have no mothers; others have no fathers.
I know another kid who, week to week, is picked up in various places sometimes by a few different buses. For the most part, he is solid and causes no trouble He lives in Covington, but he “stays” in many different places. He has a specific and valid address; I also know he doesn’t stay there much. It appears he has no permanent dwelling place and sometimes I wonder if he even knows where he will be sleeping. Somehow, my thoughts ended up in Psalm 37 where the third verse reads, “Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (NASB). There is a footnote regarding the use of the translation, “cultivate faithfulness”. The footnote says, “Or feed securely or feed on His faithfulness.” The idea presented in the verse has to do with intentionality. Trust, do, live and grow in the Lord is the idea. We read about the parable of the Sower and apply it to evangelism and sharing the gospel, but it can apply to our own spiritual condition as well. Sometimes we need to focus on the seed with in us. We need to remove barriers to growth and keep the fields of our heart fertile so we do not lose sight of “home”; the truth. Do we live and dwell in the fertile, life giving pastures of God’s word or do we just stay somewhere generally close?
August 7, 2022
I learned John 8:32 a long time ago but it was not one of those verses like John 3:16 that is readily quoted by Christians. In fact, I know I’ve heard it quoted by some who claim no allegiance at all to Christ or the Bible. Maybe I hear it more now because it is the first scripture to be looked up when we begin a study using the Back to the Bible study guide. In a world where the truth is elusive, often shrouded in irrelevant narratives and the common man is treated as though he cannot handle the truth, it is not only a bold and fresh way to begin a study, but inviting and exciting as we are about to receive only the facts. “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus will later pray for his disciples asking God, “Sanctify them with truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). “Your word is truth.” Going back to John 8:32, you may have noticed the verse begins with the connecting word, “and.” Mostly when we quote the verse, we leave off the “and” and just start with “You shall know the truth.” If we do this enough, we could forget the previous verse, verse 31, qualifies and sets the stage for the truth we are to know and the freedom we can experience. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth ...” (John 8:31-32). In context, the stand-alone statement guaranteeing knowledge and freedom is the more accurately understood as the back part of an If-Then statement. Sure, John 8:32 works great by itself and gives hope. We already know knowledge is power; it opens doors and creates opportunities. As refreshing as it is to hear, the statement is not a new revelation. As Christians though, at some point we must understand the “If.” Jesus says, “If you abide in my word.” Abide is an action verb meaning much more than “to occasionally read” or “to carry to church on Sundays” or “to own and keep in my house or car.” Jesus is talking about living in His word; studying and applying it to our lives. Paul encouraged Timothy to do this very thing in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
The “If” statement qualifies two things. If you stay in the word then you are (1) truly his disciple and (2) you will know the truth. But what about if we are not in his word? What if we sometimes, occasionally or maybe even never read his word? Can we really claim discipleship? Do we only know some truth or occasionally get the gist of His words? Maybe another popular quote is more applicable, “Ignorance is bliss.” Maybe it is easier not knowing the truth because knowledge of the truth requires action from those who believe in it.
July 31, 2022
Why? The question asked for many years by many people old and young, rich and poor. The answer is all too often . . . because. Why him and not me? Because. Why no and not yes, or yes and not no? Because. Why this and not that? Because. It is a very simple answer to a not so simple question. Because is the answer when we really don’t know, we don’t care, we really don’t want to get into the next question (Mommy why are you going to have me a baby sister?), we don’t have enough time, or maybe we feel the question doesn’t even need to be asked. “Because” is the easy answer. The answer that all two year olds should know is final and yet they still respond, “But why?!” Why? Because. Because, the word, implies further explanation. Why did he break his arm? Because he fell out of the wagon.
“Because” is the beginning of a response. The refusal to finish the response must have a reason behind it. Either it is one of the reasons above or something else. Don’t get me wrong, “because” is one of my favorite answers. It usually comes right after “no.” While a simple “because” certainly has its place, some questions need more. Why do we go to church? Why are you called Christian? Why is baptism important? Why did He have to die on the cross? Why do you read that Bible all the time? Why don’t you read that Bible anytime? Why don’t you read me stories from that Bible? Why does it hurt? Why do you pray? Why do you believe in Him? Why doesn’t God hear me? If you don’t, why should I? Why do you still trust in Him? Wow, some of these questions are getting tough. So I finish with one that is a bit easier. Why do I love Him so? Because He loved me first, and borrowing a line form the Wizard of Oz, “Because, because, because, because, because—because of the wonderful things he does.” And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31). He made it all for me and you. He made it perfect. Man chose wrong and often still chooses wrong but He still loves me. Why? I do not know but I know He does. For God so loved the world . . . (John 3:16).
July 24, 2022
Get a pencil and paper and answer this question, “What do you have?” If you go to the bank they are certainly going to ask this question when you apply for a loan. The government asks a similar question when they decide how much of it they want to take. After you make this list, rank each item on a scale of 1-10 based on how much time you spend keeping, maintaining, upgrading or getting more of the things on your list. Now make another list answering this question, “What do you have when all your things are taken away?” Impossible you say, why waste time thinking on something that will never happen. Bearing in mind 1929 and the Great Depression, make your list and honestly rank it too. With the two lists side by side, underline the things that are most important to you. It was interesting to see how many of the most important things in my life cannot be easily taken away yet get the least amount of my time. Could it be that we need to reallocate our efforts spending more time keeping, maintaining and upgrading things like faith, family and friends? As I further looked at my lists I noticed the only things that could never be taken away, exist only within me such as faith, hope, and love as well as various skills or talents I might have developed. Still, while these things cannot be taken away, they can be lost if not carefully cultivated and protected - or used. There is one thing we all have that is in danger of being taken away or lost. It is our voice. The prophet Isaiah foretold of a voice crying in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3); the voice of John the Baptist proclaiming the Savior’ coming. All flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:6). He came in human form and lived among us for the sole purpose of dying for us; the ultimate expression of love and compassion. The time has come for us to again raise our voice to the multitudes sharing the message of God’s love, mercy and grace in the same manner demonstrated by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We have been too silent or in speaking left out compassion and empathy. A message of love is now accused of being one of hate. We say, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” but what if the messenger is relaying the wrong message? We must let our voices be heard. We cannot ignore works of the flesh but neither can we negate the fruit of the Spirit.
July 17, 2022
In Jeremiah 35 we read of the Rechabites. God uses the Rechabites to make a point to Jeremiah and thusly all of Israel. He commanded Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites into one of the chambers in the temple and place before them pots and cups full of wine then tell them they must drink. They refused. They explained the situation to Jeremiah; how Jonadab their forefather had commanded them, their wives and children to not drink wine. The Lord explained His little exercise to Jeremiah and told him to relay this message to the men of Judah, “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father's commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me” (Jeremiah 35:14-15). As I read this nineteen verse chapter, I thought of several ways Satan has fooled us and the rest of the world into ignoring or at the very least forgetting the words of God. Without diligence and commitment, it is easy to let other things come before God. On the one hand we quote Psalm 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” and on the other we do not spend time in His Word and often don’t even bring our “light” to church and Bible study. It might be different if we could quote more scripture, but if you take out John 3:16, 11:35, Philippians 4:13 and the first three verses of Psalm 23, how many scriptures do we actually know? Furthermore, for a people who died to self, buried with Christ and born again to walk in newness of life, how is it our commitment to a team or organization is more important or came before our commitment to God. How is it the commands of men supersede the commands of God? A parent points out, “My child is not a Christian yet.” Maybe not, but frankly, if we as parents don’t talk about, then demonstrate, the importance of putting God first - neither will our children. Because of their unwavering obedience to their father, God rewarded the Rechabites saying they would always have someone to stand before him (Jeremiah 35:19). Are we laying a foundation and teaching our children so we will always have someone standing up for God?
July 10, 2022
In 1966 Peter Scholte copyrighted the song We Are One in the Spirit. I remember singing the song as a youth and recently we began singing it again. The kids call it the Indian song because the tune conjures images of braves dancing around a campfire. While there are some repeating phrases the words are as follows:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
and we pray that our unity may one day be restored
and they’ll know we are Christians by our love
yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
and we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
and they’ll know we are Christians by our love
yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
and together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
I love the song and it has become a theme song of sorts for the youth group. Jesus says we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Additionally, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Paul encouraged the Ephesians to be unified saying there is one body and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). The song says we are one but it goes further to show that not only are we one, unified in the Spirit and in the Lord but we are praying that the world around us will join us in this unity and we are going together to tell the world about Jesus and His love. While some have problems with “protecting dignity and pride,” I see this verse as looking out for one another, lifting and building up. We know God loves and forgives; like the Good Samaritan, we will pick up, patch up, and protect a brother from the world until they can join us again in unity, walking down heaven’s road. Jesus said, “"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone . . .” (John 8:7). How will they know we love one another if we are constantly throwing rocks and tearing one another down?
July 3, 2022
In Judges 15:9-17 we find Samson camped at the cleft of the rock in Etam. He’d gone there after dealing the Philistines a mighty blow; the result of his anger with them for what they’d done to his wife and father-in-law. After the Philistines made a retaliatory raid on Lehi, 3,000 men of Judah came to get Samson and turn him over bound to the Philistines. Clearly his feats were already legendary because 3,000 of his own people went down to get him, no doubt hoping for safety in numbers. We are given a clue to Samson’s heart, his thoughts and possibly fears because he agreed to go peaceably if the men of Judah promised not to attack him. Upon the group’s arrival at Lehi, the Philistines came shouting. The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Samson; his bonds were melted. Nearby, Samson picked up the jawbone of a donkey and with it killed 1000 Philistines; so much for safety in numbers. Can you imagine Samson’s thoughts as these men approached and how they changed during the fight? I have the sneaking suspicion he was arrogant and cocky and defeat never crossed his mind but I feel certain a couple hundred Philistines into the battle, he’d found his stride and was supremely confident, not just in his own abilities but that God was with him and he would win. Samson knew he had powers; whether he understood completely from whence they came is debatable for his selfish wants and feelings make up most of what is recorded about him but he was a judge over Israel for 20 years. Interestingly, Joshua alluded to the feat of one man defeating a thousand in Joshua 23:10, “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you.” This statement is only part of his encouragement to Israelite leaders to essentially ‘keep the faith’, trust in God. The next verse in Joshua 23 says, “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” Do you love Him? Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, 21) but do you keep them out of fear or do you step out boldly with love and meet the challenges of the day with boldness and confidence living the life you were called to live Colossians 3:15), knowing God is with you and a place has been prepared for you? Surely this is why Paul wrote to Timothy about a spirit of power, love and self-control, not a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:6). Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid (Joshua 1:9) for if God is with you who then can be against you (Romans 8:31)?
June 26, 2022
The change in the atmosphere was noticeable and tension suddenly mounted as the security guard looked at me, with his hand now on his weapon and asked, “Sir, is this your backpack?” It was, and now both of us were wondering exactly what was in it. Apparently, no one has ever seen a hand carved door pull sitting beside a Go Pro camera before. He asked what was in it and I told him my sword. He did not think that was as clever an answer as did I, but nodded and said, “I see the Bible, what is beside it?” I was impressed and confessed to being in possession of the door pull and camera. In retrospect, I admit when packed together and viewed with the baggage scanner at the airport, the two items bore a striking resemblance to a pipe bomb and timer. I must also confess, referring to my Bible as my sword was ill timed, but still momentarily funny.
This was one of the memories I recalled as Austin read to us the first part of the Marine Corps’ Rifleman’s Creed with a few modifications. He replaced the word “rifle” with “Bible” and it read like this, “This is my Bible. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my Bible is useless. Without my Bible, I am useless.” I do not suggest we adopt a creed or speak a mantra, for we know the Bible is all we need in order to find, know and please God (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:3). I am suggesting we take our Bible more seriously as well as the spiritual battles we fight.
The rest of the creed can be modified as well but it takes a little more than just replacing one word, “This is my Bible. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without reading it, my Bible is useless. Without my Bible, I am useless. I must use my Bible accurately. I must know my Bible better than those who defy truth. I must be truthful. I will. My Bible and I know that what counts in spiritual war is not winning an argument or speaking eloquently, but in speaking truth in love. We know it is the truth that counts. We will be truthful.
My Bible, “the word of God, is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). I will know my Bible intimately and keep it ready, even as I am ready. We will become part of each other.
June 19, 2022
“And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die”” (Genesis 6:13-17). I have read the dimensions of the ark a number of times and even when you convert the cubits to feet, 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 high (assuming a cubit was 18 inches, the average length of a man’s forearm), it is hard to imagine the sheer size of the ark and how long it might have taken Noah and his sons to build it until you stand beside it. There is one in the Netherlands, built in 2007, a little shy of the 18-inch cubit and one in Grant County Kentucky completed in 2016 using the 20.4-inch cubit. For the last few days, metaphorically speaking, we have been working “in the shadow of the ark.” I am astounded by what we have found here. Granted I am only looking at a small portion of what is “in the shadow” and some measure of interpretation is required for my conclusions, but even within a few miles of a life size reproduction of Noah’s Ark, there are many, many who have no idea there is a God. There are still thousands upon thousands whose knowledge of God is almost non-existent and their offspring know even less; right here in the “shadow of the ark.” I checked to see how long it took Noah to build the original and while the Bible doesn’t say, many figure somewhere between 50 and 75 years. That’s a long time even for a 500-something year old! Those last few years before the rains came, I am sure there was plenty of talk about the massive structure. In spite of the talk, clearly there was very little belief and no repentance in the shadow of that ark either. Noah couldn’t go out and tell the world, “There is a God! There will be a judgement and it is coming soon! Repent! Change!” Noah was busy building an ark, just as he was commanded. All but eight perished in the flood; the judgement. We live a long time from the first ark and a long way from the replicas, but still we live “in the shadow” of the Bible and its promises. With judgement coming, I ask the question, “What are you building that prevents you from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ?” Nothing? Then who are you telling?
June 12, 2022
Well, summer is in full swing and VBS is just about over! Next comes the American Missions Campaign and I couldn’t be more excited.
Memorial Day Weekend, the youth group had the opportunity to go to the Germantown church of Christ to participate in the Ultimate Youth Rally. The theme for this year’s rally was Upside Down Kingdom and the scripture reference was Acts 17:6. Paul and Silas, fresh out of prison after converting the Philippian jailer were in Thessalonica preaching and teaching when the Jews who opposed any teaching of Christ, became jealous and sought to bring about an end to the heresy they perceived. Inciting a mob with the recruitment of evil men, they stormed the house of Jason, where Paul and Silas were reported to be staying. Not finding them, the mob pulled out Jason and some of the brethren stating, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7). The preaching of the Gospel of Christ was changing the world!
Many of you have wondered what American Missions Campaign is all about. Well, isn’t it about time for some change in our country? With all the bad news we see through social media and other outlets, isn’t it about time we all heard some GOOD NEWS? Next week we have the opportunity to beginning turning our city and county upside down. Sound scary? Sound impossible? I can’t change the fears we have fed and fostered into our psyche, but I can tell you “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). I can also tell you, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
We will be learning new strategies for “sowing the seeds” of the Gospel. We will be putting what we learned into practice. We will be hearing stories of those who want to know more about this King Jesus and yes, hopefully, there will be a few who accuse us of being those who turned this city upside down!
I hope you will join us. When it comes to gospel campaigns, there is no place like home!
June 5, 2022
May 29, 2022
Did you know there were approximately 8.7 million different species of animals on the earth? Furthermore, did you know scientists estimate over 90% of all known animals are now extinct! God surely made a lot of animals on day 6 of creation! The Bible tells us, “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air” (Genesis 2:19). It is apparent from the text (Genesis 1:28-30) God created the world and all in it for the benefit of man and still among these millions of animals God brought forth, none was found suitable for Adam. Seeing it was not good for His prize creation to be alone, God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam and from his rib, he formed something very special for Adam. It is notable God had, up to this point, brought forth his creation, including Adam from the ground (Genesis 2:7, 18), but Eve he would fashion from a part of Adam himself. Truly she was created to be something very special.
My imagination takes over as I envision Adam waking up, stretching a little, maybe rubbing his eyes and yawning. Maybe he noticed the scar or the place where God had taken a rib or maybe he didn’t, but as he gets ready to get back to the task of naming all these creatures, but Verse 22 says the Lord brought her to the man and verse 23 tells us his reaction when the Lord presented Eve for the first time. Quickly read verses 22-23. How did you read them? Did you read with the same inflection both verses? Did you pause to catch your breath or speak with wonder and amazement as you read the words Adam spoke aloud? If you read Adam’s words with nonchalance, I think you missed something! The King James Version records it like this, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). This is my interpretation of the verse, “Hubba-Hubba! Now this is what I am talking about! Finally! After looking at all the rest, this is the best and it came from me! Oh wow! Thank you, Lord! I will call her woman because she was taken out of me!” Have you ever thought, I don’t really know what I am looking for, but I am sure I’ll know it when I see it? He saw it all right and he loved her instantly. She was so perfectly made, there was no need for anything or anyone else. God said for this reason, because she was made for him, “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
It’s clear to me, the relationship between two so perfectly matched was intended to be wonderful and awesome. Let us strive to live with the joy, the fullest of God’s intentions and never take for granted any of His glorious gifts.
May 22, 2022
There are some verses in the Bible we should put a mental asterisk by, especially when applying them to life situations of those outside of Christ and those who refuse to walk in the light. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” What an encouraging verse for one trying to be a disciple of God! Yet the way of escape is not always easy. It is not always marked with a neon sign or flashing arrows and it may not even be recognizable as a way out. I think of Peter prior to Judas’ betrayal professing his undying commitment and love for Jesus only to hear Jesus say, “Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Three times that night, he was tempted to deny Christ. Three times he failed to see his way out. I think of Noah and Lot, the former having to build an ark and the latter told to, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away” (Genesis 19:17). Peter tells us if God can save Noah and Lot, then certainly he knows “how to rescue the godly from temptation” (2 Peter 2:9). This supports Paul’s words to the Corinthians about God making a way. The asterisk is needed because we often use this verse when we find ourselves or an acquaintance in the proverbial hole because they did NOT resist temptation in the first place. The context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 10 tells the church to quit making the same mistakes Israel made. This chapter directly references Numbers 25 where 23000 died because they refused to follow God; apparently only realizing the cause of their affliction when Phinehas rose and killed an unrepentant, blatantly disrespectful Israelite who pranced his unrighteous relationship in front of the whole assembly. It took this most drastic measure for them to see the way out was to turn back to God. We pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We quote, “He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters ...” But we live like, “Hey God, I said, let’s go this way!”
If we expect to find the ways to overcome temptation, we must first understand what temps us, recognize when temptations are coming and with eyes wide open, put on the whole armor of God, draw near to God and submit to His entire word. May we all say, “’Yea though I walk through the valley of death,’ but I walk with the King and I will not be afraid.”
May 15, 2022
Who is my neighbor? The question was asked of Jesus by a ‘certain lawyer desiring to justify himself’ (Luke 10:25, 29). After asking Jesus what needed to be done in order to inherit eternal life, the lawyer apparently felt a need to make right within himself conflicting thoughts, knowing the law and abiding by it representing two different concepts. So, Jesus told a story the lawyer could relate to in order to illustrate completely who is my neighbor. Read Luke 10:25-37. In a certain community the flood waters came. While experts told them it was not a flood plain, what usually happens when there is 20 inches of rain? They should have known or at least had insurance. Like the man from Jerusalem traveling a dangerous road alone, surely, they must bear part of the responsibility for their misfortune. The news crews arrived, taking pictures and video invoking pity and sorrow from the rest of the community. Surely the priest and the Levite felt many of the same emotions as they gazed at the beaten body lying by the road to Samaria. Maybe a wave of relief passed over them thinking, “Whew, that could’ve been me ... but it wasn’t, and he should’ve taken the proper precautions.” Or maybe it was early in the day when they passed and they’d heard some others talking of heading to Samaria that day. Surely someone else would stop and help. Besides, look at him, he’s on his way to that God forsaken Samaria and I ... well he might have AIDS or Hepatitis or Strep throat and I have things to do. Time and risk, two things I can’t afford to take. Let someone else handle this. Along comes the Samaritan – the scourge of society. He doesn’t live right, act right or do right yet he is the one who has compassion. His compassion compelled him to lay aside his life, his concerns even his money for a stranger. Yeah, I know, he was a Samaritan, he didn’t have much of a life, no concerns and probably stole the money he used to pay the inn keeper. Anyways, what is the big deal, the injured man got taken care of. Yes, the situation was handled, but Jesus asked ‘who proved to be a neighbor?' When the lawyer answered correctly the Samaritan, Jesus told him to go and do.
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
May 8, 2022
One of the most poignant moments in sports history happened at the summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain in the summer of 1992. Derek Redmond, represented Great Britain and was favored to win the 400m sprint. A record holder in Great Britain, he was favored to win and in the best shape of his life. In the semifinal his dreams were shattered with a torn hamstring a little more than half way through the race. Four years earlier in Seoul, an injury had kept him from starting and it appeared injury would keep him from finishing. Determined to finish the race, even if in last place; Redmond rose and began a painful hop/hobble towards the finish line. Ignoring medical help and track officials who had come to his aid he pushed on. It was then a man forced his way through security and onto the track. Jim Redmond then helped his son to the finish line. Close to the end, Jim let go and let his son cross the line on his own to a standing ovation of 65,000 fans. I mentioned this story as part of the invitation last week because I believe there are great lessons for the church in this story. When we put on Christ in baptism, washing away our sin and beginning a new walk in life, we were also added to the winning team. We are favored even expected to win. Life happens and Satan is a fierce competitor (and destined to lose); he cheats, he lies and he sabotages. On occasion, we face injury and we need help. We need someone to push through the crowd and run to our side, holding and helping until we can finish the race before us. We need to hear the encouragement of those around us, urging us to finish strong. This is one facet of the body of Christ; coming to, even rushing to the aid of those parts of the body in need.
Rubel Shelly, in his book Young People and Their Lord writes, “Not only does that church hold and support you within its fellowship, but it gives you an outlet for doing good and bringing glory to the one who has saved you” (p.12). He cites Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Derek Redmond didn’t ask for help – but he accepted it. Jim Redmond wasn’t asked to help but he came anyway.
So what are you doing to the Lord and his Church? Do you need help? Will you accept it? Do you know someone who is limping? Can they hear and feel your support? Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
May 1, 2022
She was smiling as she ran awkwardly across the street to get on the bus. Her tiny little chicken legs under the fluffy coat wearing a back pack, along with arms sticking straight ahead, flopping with every step looked more cartoonish than real. Out of breath, she climbed up the bus steps and said, “Can ... I ... show ... you ... what’s ... in ... my ... lunch box?” I suspected it had something to do with the new space I noticed between two of her bottom teeth and sure enough, she handed me a note from the tooth fairy. As I read the words, “I love you! Congratulations on losing your first tooth! TF” She jumped up and down shouting, “I lost my first tooth!” We tucked the note back in her lunch box and I heard her triumphantly say, “I told you she was real! I got five dollars.” No matter what anyone said about the true identity and existence of the tooth fairy, she had two items as evidence of tooth fairy’s existence; a note and a $5 dollar bill, proof positive, no changing her mind, facts are facts. I smiled with a tinge of sadness as I listened to her defend her beliefs fervently, realizing some of her detractors were more jealous than unbelieving. If there was a tooth fairy and the tooth fairy was good, why didn’t I get anything when I lost my tooth? Surely you have heard someone defend their belief in God and found their faith to be based on something other than the truth; evidence about as sketchy as a note and $5 bill. Sadly, you’ve likely met someone whose life experiences cause them to doubt God’s existence all together. Interestingly, the truth is not changed one bit by circumstance, misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The truth is still the truth and God’s word is truth (John 17:17). God exists (Genesis 1:1, Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1). He is light (1 John 1:5) and love (1 John 4:8). He is faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:3) and patient (2 Peter 3:9). He is unchanging (James 1:17). He is “gracious, righteous; and full of compassion” (Psalm 116:5). Our God is great, mighty and awesome (Deuteronomy 10:17). He is perfect (Psalm 18:30). God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1) and “our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves” (Psalm 68:19-20). These are the real facts and in time, all will know them (Romans 14:11). Unfortunately, for most, the day of belief will come one day too late (2 Corinthians 5:10). Here is another sobering fact, “The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
So, if we truly love those we know are lost in sin, wouldn’t we tell them? (Romans 10:17, 1 Peter 3:15, James 5:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:2)
April 24, 2022
Recent events in our county have revealed a great need for us to open our eyes, our hearts and our mouths. Suicide is difficult if not impossible to understand. When a suicide attempt is successful, the only one who could even remotely begin to answer why – cannot speak and yet there must be a reason the survival instinct was short circuited. In our struggle to comprehend, we tend to assign blame and make accusations in a rush to judgement while trying to make sense of the senseless. We can all agree, suicide is tragic but if our response is only to the initial, pain filled reactions, there is little chance we move effectively in the direction of prevention. Let me encourage you to do some research into what causes suicide and suicidal thoughts. I think you will be surprised at what you find. When it comes to suicide, we need to be proactive rather than reactive. While it’s fresh, and we are motivated, let’s get educated and be committed to watching out for one another and those around us. If you see something, say something. If you suspect something, do something. If you know something – get help.
Mordecai said to Esther, “If you keep quiet at this time, someone else will help and save the Jewish people, but you and your father's family will all die. And who knows, you may have been chosen queen for just such a time as this" (Esther 4:14). I cannot begin to explain God’s providence in our lives except to say He is still active. One may ask why didn’t someone else rise in this occasion and I would have to admit, I do not know and not knowing all the details, maybe someone did. Furthermore, God’s ways and thoughts are different than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), such that if He were to begin to explain them, we wouldn’t understand. What we know is this: God loves us enough to die for us (John 3:16). The invitation for eternal life with God extends to all men (1 Timothy 2:4) who would obey Him (Hebrews 5:9). We also know we are commanded to love one another (John 13:34-35) and this command extends beyond the family of God as Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and Paul encourages the church at Galatia, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Finally, Ezekiel 33:3-6 illustrates the “watchman principle,” speaking up, at the very least, removes personal doubts and guilt.
Suicide (both physical and spiritual) begins long before the moment the “trigger is pulled.” Let us make it a point to be the light for all we meet along the way. Let’s be intentional about showing the hope within us. Let’s make a difference, after all maybe we are where we are for a time such as this.
April 17, 2022
"Have you seen Jesus my Lord? He’s here in plain view. Take a look, open your eyes, He’ll show it to you.” Matthew 9:27-30 tells the story of two blind men who came to Jesus to be healed. Jesus asked if they believed He could do this. This question may seem a bit silly to the casual observer. After all, they had cried out to Him for mercy then followed Him inside. And now He asks, “Do you believe I am able to do this?” Comedian Bill Engvall made a lot of money with his response to silly questions, “Here’s your sign.” The blind men simply said “Yes Lord.” As Jesus touched their eyes He said, “According to your faith be it done to you.” Their eyes were opened. The Bible does not tell us how well they could see, but they apparently were pleased, they told everyone. They must have had faith. This brings to mind another question or series of questions. Can you have a little faith? Are there different levels of faith or is having faith like being pregnant, you either have it or you don’t? The blind men could see and one of the first things they saw was Jesus Christ the Son of God. Even when sternly told not to tell they could not keep from it. We claim God is everywhere, in plain view. He’s in the sky, in the trees and plants. He’s in the birth of a child, just open your eyes, you can’t miss Him. While that is our claim do we really see Him? Have we opened our eyes to allow God to reveal to us His will? Have we opened our hearts to accept Jesus? Would the blind men have seen if their faith had been like mine? Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15 tell us something different than what Jesus told the blind men. Jesus told them to tell no one. He tells us to tell everyone. The blind men received sight. We receive eternal life. They told everyone, “spreading His fame throughout the land.” Who have we told? Having sight changed these men. How has having sight changed me? Can I have sight; can I see Jesus and not tell the world? No amount of work can get us to heaven for we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), but James 2 tells us faith without works is dead. Have you seen Jesus my Lord? Is He really here in plain view? Have you taken a look? Have you opened your eyes? What has He shown you? Silly questions? Who did you tell?
April 10, 2022
“When You don't move the mountains, I'm needing You to move. When You don't part the waters, I wish I could walk through. When You don't give the answers as I cry out to You, I will trust in you.” These are the lyrics to the chorus of a song recorded by Lauren Daigle, a contemporary Christian singer. Another group, Praise and Harmony, covers the song acapella and as I heard the words, I thought of a scene from the movie Facing the Giants. It is possibly my favorite scene in any movie ever. The scene depicts coach Grant Taylor in the middle of a pecan grove reading in his Bible from Psalm 18. He went to the grove to talk to God. It was a rough time of life. His house was falling apart, his team and fan base were falling apart too, he and his wife had lost several babies to miscarriage and pregnancy was proving to be difficult. Everything he wanted most in life seemed just out of his grasp. He read, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies” (Psalms 18:2-3). The scene closes as his wife joins him beneath the trees and he asks her, “If He doesn’t give us children, will you still love Him?” Is our love for God dependent on the circumstances of life? While life is good, God is good but the minute bad news hits there are many who suddenly blame God or become angry with him. Such was the case with Jonah as he sat east of Nineveh to see what would happen to the city. Overnight, the Lord caused a plant to grow and shade him from the heat of the sun and the Bible says Jonah was “extremely happy” (Jonah 4:6). The next morning a worm caused it to wither and Jonah, so distraught, prayed for death!
So what about when your prayers aren’t answered in exactly the way you wanted, in the time frame you thought was appropriate? Do you still trust him? When the rains come, the flood waters rise and the wind slams against your life (Matthew 7:24) is our faith, our trust grounded in the rock of our salvation? Do we still trust that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)?
Later in the movie, my second favorite scene; set in the parking lot outside the women’s clinic after getting yet another negative pregnancy test, she looks to heaven and says, “I will still love you.” We must remember Paul’s words to the church at Rome, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Sin and suffering are here because of man but grace and peace are here because of God.
April 3, 2022
You haven’t really been scared until you have been “sore afraid”! Trust me when I say, that means you are really, really scared; so much so you “lose your wits”. In other words, you are so scared you lose your ability to reason and act (dictionary.com). You are not likely to hear or see the term outside the context of the King James Version of the Bible (or ASV). The KJV uses the term 14 times through out the Bible. 1 Samuel 31:4 and 1 Chronicles 10:4 are both about King Saul’s armor bearer and Matthew 17:6 and Mark 9:6 both use the term describing the disciples reaction to the voice of the Lord at the transfiguration of Jesus. The phrase is used in Luke 2:9 letting us know the initial reaction of the shepherds in the field when the angel of the Lord appeared to announce the birth of our Savior. It’s also used in Genesis 20:8 when Abimelech found out he’d unwittingly taken the wife of another man, Abraham. Fortunately, no adultery had taken place but his men were still terrified by the thought! Despite these and other occurrences, when I hear someone say, “sore afraid”, my mind goes to the valley of Elah where Israel was set in battle array against the Philistines and their champion, Goliath of Gath! The Israelites were sore afraid when the nine-foot nine-inch Philistine taunted them from across the valley in 1 Samuel 17 – except for David who held to his faith in the power of Almighty God. He told king Saul about tending sheep for his father and the lion and bear coming to take lambs from the flock and how he pursued them. David said, “Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them ...” (1 Samuel 17:36). What a faith! “He shall be as one of them” should be remembered along with statements like Mordecai’s when he reminded Esther she may have attained her position “for a time such as this” [emphasis added] (Esther 4:14) and Shadrach, Me- shach and Abednego’s response to Nebuchadnezzar saying our God can deliver us from you, “But if not [emphasis added], be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:18). Wade Webster, gospel preacher, stated at PTP in 2017, “God put giants in the Promised Land to keep the unbelievers out.” The entire army of the living God had been crippled by fear. What they saw and heard challenged their faith to its very core. This giant, Goliath, kept unbelievers stagnant and oppressed.
I am thinking it’s time for another “Youth Group Rule”. Rule number 7: No Fear. This is not to say we act senselessly throwing caution to the wind, but to acknowledge and accept there is nothing on this earth that will ever make us sore afraid, unable to reason and act in accordance with God’s word.
March 27, 2022
March 20, 2022
I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three young men who put God first on the plain of Dura while those around them went along with the crowd. They were called because they had attained leadership positions in their society. They had been in personal service to the king (Daniel 1:19) and at the time of their momentary affliction, they were administrators over the province of Babylon (Daniel 3:12). The scriptures do not tell us when during his reign Nebuchadnezzar erected his idol but outside documentation suggests the statue was erected in the 18th year of his reign. It makes sense that some time has passed between chapters 2 and 3 of Daniel because chapter 2 comes to a close with the king bowing before Daniel to proclaim, "Truly I know your God is the greatest of all gods, the Lord of all the kings ...” (Daniel 2:47), followed by issuing a promotion to Daniel which resulted in Daniel working in the King’s court and the Shadrach Meshach and Abednego being administrators over Babylon. For chapter 3 to begin with “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold” and never once mention Daniel would indicate not only Daniel’s absence but a significant passage of time. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are no longer young men as they were in chapter 1 when Nebuchadnezzar first took over Jerusalem. They had been in leadership positions for a while, making it notable they had much to lose even if life was spared by the king. As leaders though, they were expected to obey the king. They were expected to set an example, after all, they’d accepted the job. They had made a commitment. Besides, everyone knows you can bow down and act like you are worshipping you don’t really have to do it. In fact, can you really even call it worship if you are going to be killed if you don’t bow down. Who’s gonna’ know, right? I guess that is the real question, “Who’s gonna’ know?” Who’s gonna know you are His disciple if you bow with everyone else? Whose gonna’ know who has control of your heart? Who’s gonna’ know if you don’t stand up and be different? Three grown men chose God over all else that day. In the face of certain death, they chose God. When called out, embarrassed and ridiculed by jealous enemies, they chose God. They stood together, all alone on the plain of Dura and said to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves to you. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from the furnace. He will save us from your power, O king. But even if God does not save us, we want you, O king, to know this: We will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18). God comes first No matter what happens next, will God come first in your life – even if ...?
March 13, 2022
Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Behind every great man, there is a great woman”. It was apparently first written in February of 1946 by the Port Arthur News in a newspaper story about Meryll Frost, voted the most courageous athlete of 1945, who gave the credit for his ‘come back’ to his wife. "As he received his trophy, the plucky quarterback unfolded the story of how he 'came back'. He said, “They say behind every great man there's a woman. While I'm not a great man, there's a great woman behind me.” The quote was used extensively in the 70s and 80s as part of the feminist movement, but I am pretty sure Frost’s intent was to say thank you and wanted his wife and the world to know what she had done for him. The quote is deemed a proverb and obviously goes back further than 1946. Like all proverbs, it is true the vast majority of the time helping husbands is one of the roles of wives. When God created Eve, He created her to complete Adam and be a “help meet” (Genesis 2:18). Never intending for women to be slaves or servants to men, Adam captures God’s intent with his response to the one thing God created expressly for him. Imagine for a moment Adam awakening from this “deep sleep”, sleep different from before and after hours of seeing and naming all that God had created, recognizing the whole time - not one of those things looked even remotely like him. As he shakes the cobwebs of sedation, maybe he rubs his eyes as the Lord presents his latest creation. Adam doesn’t have to look down and see a scar or feel the pains of surgery and a missing rib, he knows. With a few notable differences, this creature is like him and he is grateful, no doubt relieved and in awe of what God has done for him. Maybe he walked in a circle around her as he said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). I bet he was thinking what Solomon would later say of his bride, “You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you” (Song of Songs 4:7).
March 6, 2022
“The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” These were the words the angel of the Lord spoke to Gideon in Judges 6 after the Israelites had been oppressed by Midian for seven years. Gideon’s response was very similar to the modern-day response of “Yeah right!” Make no mistake, Israel found themselves in this persecuted position because of their refusal to obey God (Judges 6:10), but now they wanted out. They wanted change. No doubt they had heard the stories of the greatness of God and the countless times he’d delivered His people, but Gideon asked the question, “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened?” (Judges 6:13). The Bible doesn’t tell us the name of the prophet sent in response to Israel’s cries but Isaiah has an answer for Gideon’s question in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” The change they sought would only come when change occurred in their hearts, and they turned back to a reliance on the one true and living God. These events occurred in a time when God spoke to the fathers in many different ways, now he speaks to us through His Son (Hebrews1:1 see also John 1:1, 14). Now that we have the complete, perfect word of God (1 Corinthians 13:10), handed down once for all time (Jude 3) in the form of the Bible, God no longer speaks directly to us or sends prophets. It is no longer necessary to send an enemy to “show us the error of our ways”. The Bible tells us all we need to know and gives us examples of what happens (Romans15:4) when we choose something other than God’s way. While He may not send an enemy, there are consequences for sin that complicate life. It is in these times we can still turn to God. While His communication with us has changed, the message has not. He is still with us (Matthew 28:20), listens to us (James 5:16) and has prepared a place for us (2 Timothy 4:8) who remain “valiant warriors” in the kingdom. Our fight is no longer against nations but against sin and Satan (Ephesians 6:10-18). We must continue the fight with truth and love (Matthew 28:19, 1 Peter 3:15 and John 17:17).
Certainly, there are times when we feel much like Gideon and feel as though God has abandoned us, but He has not and He will not and the Bible demonstrates this time and time again. We must “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
February 27, 2022
How important are qualifications and what makes you qualified? If you haven’t heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” then you probably have not been listening, nor have you been paying attention. It may seem as if this phrase eliminates the need for any qualifications but I don’t think that was the original intent. Connections are a reality. How well connected a person is can often be the difference in getting a position or being overlooked. “Who you know” can get a man hired before he meets the qualifications or at least get the qualifications changed so they fit the individual being hired. It sounds unfair, particularly from the point of view of someone who is over qualified and overlooked, but from another perspective, there is security in picking someone you know. I have heard horror stories about what the Human Resources people have to weed through to find someone telling the whole truth. Hiring a known entity is more comfortable than hiring an unknown. Truthfully, though, maybe we should change the phrase a little to, “It’s not what you know but who knows you.” If you’re a scoundrel, you’d have a better chance if no one knew you! The principle definitely has Biblical connections; certainly, on judgement day your “qualifications” will be of no consequence. Your eternal position will be all about who knows you (Matthew 7:23) and only one connection will matter. Still, the passage in Matthew talks about believers and despite “never knowing enough” or not being able to “earn a spot” in Glory with God for eternity, there are some qualifications and the first of those is to believe. Without a doubt, beliefs dictate actions and reactions. Paul tells of how belief affects actions (Romans 10:14) as does James who concludes chapter 2 with, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Still, you can do all the right “things” and not be a believer, but it is
impossible to be a believer and not at least try to follow and obey His Word. It is here we tend to offer the excuse, “but I am not qualified.” We just talked about connections. Doesn’t that depend on your connection and who knows you? I think of Peter and Andrew; two fishermen tending nets, going about their day. What qualified them? Was it Jesus’ call of “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”? I think what qualified them was that they went. They left their nets and followed. They were qualified because they took the job. Jesus promised he would give them the rest of what they needed. They weren’t perfect; they were willing. Are you willing? We have already established qualification by who we know. Do you know him? More importantly, does He know you?
February 20, 2022
She’s in preschool this year and sits very close to the front mostly because middle schoolers already know what is expected when they ride the bus. The young ones are in a large vehicle more than arms reach from the one adult in this vast new mobile playground where their voices echo and there are no seat belts; ultimate freedom for a 4- or 5- year-old. Yes, they can ride the bus that young and no, they apparently don’t have to be completely potty trained, but that is a different set of stories. Occupying a position near the aisle where she could be a better back seat driver, my new short rider saw the kitten sitting beside the garbage cans moments after I, a trained professional bus driver, had already spotted the potential road hazard and was prepared for whatever the feline might do. She said, “Aww, look bus driver! It’s a puppy cat!” The smile coming to my face froze abruptly as the voice telling me how to drive went from precious and toddlery to demonic and threatening as I heard her add, “YOU BETTER NOT HIT IT,” in accompaniment to a tiny slap on my shoulder. A quick glance into the mirror, and I saw I was staring over the extended index finger of a very serious, large-eyed little girl who loved puppy cats more than me. As our eyes met, her gaze went dreamy as she morphed back and said, “Wasn’t that puppy cat cute, bus driver?” As far as puppy cats go, that was probably a cute one but isn’t it interesting how kids can put experiences together and come up with their own ideas and descriptions. Young dogs are puppy dogs, so young cats must be puppy cats.
I can easily follow her thinking, but what must she and
others be thinking when they hear people talk about and
claim to know God and follow the Bible; profess to be a
Christians and in the church but see no difference in the people talking and the rest of the world? What confusions
might they draw about God, his word and his followers? There are plenty of scriptures encouraging Christians
to be different, starting with Romans 12 where we are instructed to be transformed from rather than conformed to
the world. The rest of the chapter goes on to give us a good
picture of how to be different, concluding with “do not be
overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans
12:21). As we are sent “into the world” (John 17:18), presumably following in His footsteps, “seeking to save the
lost” (Luke 19:10), our actions must coincide with our
words. If we preach love and grace, we must be loving and
forgiving. If we preach walking in the light, we must walk
in the light. The old adage is, “Practice what you
preach.” We want to leave no room for the redefinition of
terms or misunderstanding of the truth.
February 13, 2022
Riding my bike up, I had no idea as to the elevation of the switchback trail but I found out it was tall, steep and seemed to go on forever. My legs burned and my lungs were screaming for more oxygen. I was all in; done; I could go no further. I signaled the break rather than attempt to speak it. I needed all my breath and didn’t want to waste any of it on a word. Catching my breath, I sipped water and ate an orange and finally asked the dreaded question, “How much further?” “Maybe 100 yards,” was the reply. Pointing, he said “You can’t see it from where you are but the top is just right there. When you get here, you can see the flat. I’m sorry, I thought you knew it was close. You’d already stopped before I could tell you.” Seriously! Instead of being relieved or excited I was rather put out and angry with myself for quitting so close to the top. It really was right there. As I crested the hill, I confessed. “I quit. I didn’t think I could go on, but the truth is I could have. Please don’t let me ever quit again – no matter what.” Being beaten is different than quitting. I’d rather be beaten. Spiritually speaking, that goes double. In the introduction to 1 Peter, my Olive Tree Bible App says, “Peter’s primary message is to trust the Lord, live obediently no matter what your circumstances, and keep your hope fixed on God’s ultimate promise of deliverance. Suffering is to be expected, but it is temporary and yields great blessings for those who remain steadfast.” In other words, 1 Peter is telling us God promises will not fail, but we can’t quit. Peter reminds us, like a spiritual workout partner, we are “... born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven ...” (1 Peter 1:3-4). Peter concludes the book saying, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:8-10). DON’T QUIT! You are almost there.
Wouldn’t it be sad on judgement day, to look into the sad eyes of Christ and hear Him say, “You would have made it. You were so close – if you just hadn’t quit.”
I sure hope I see you Sunday!
February 6, 2022
Miriam Webster says the essential definition of anticipation is, “1: a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen 2: the act of preparing for something.” In the case of the predicted winter weather we are having, the feeling of excitement may not exactly be accurate for those above school age, but certainly the preparation part is applicable. The stores are crowded as people stock up on essentials from propane and non-electric heaters to staple food items. The highways are being salted and sanded while churches, businesses and schools try to decide if the weatherman is going to be right or not. It seems every conversation mentions snow or ice. Are you ready? Certainly, the media plays its part in making sure everyone has plenty of advance notice, giving just enough information at once to keep you tuned in to find out the rest. While on some level, they want us to be prepared for the worst, they also want to keep us watching their channel and their advertisements! Physical safety is paramount as cancellations are contemplated. In truth, liability issues are paramount as cancellations are contemplated. I understand both the safety and the liability but as we contemplate the possibility of coming winter storm, let us also contemplate the absolute certainty of the second coming of Christ.
Matthew 10:28 tells us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We spend an immense amount of time and effort in preparation for events in our lives but how much time do we spend on the eternal part. Are you ready to stand before God in judgment? You have your milk and bread for the winter storm but do you have the bread of life as talked about in John 6? Do you drink from the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14)? Are we as good about telling the lost about judgement day as the news is about getting us the weather forecast? What would be different if Christ impacted our lives each day the way the weather does?
The body is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19) and we should be good stewards of it as we use it to carry out the great commission of spreading the Gospel to all. Thank goodness no one forces us to run to stay in shape! As we anticipate; we need to consider whether we have spent far too much time worrying about what could happen and maybe not enough time considering what will happen. Are you filled with excitement about what will happen when the Lord comes again? Are you prepared?