Brother Jeff Phillips Message

October 25, 2020


As we left town and crossed the bridge I thought about Joe. I hadn't thought about him in many years. I met him my first year of teaching. He was a shy, lanky ninth grader who'd grown faster than his mom could keep him in pants. About four inches of white sock always showed between the top of his dirty, holey whitish shoes and a too short pair of jeans. His family was poorer than most. His lack of properly fitting apparel was likely not as much a case of growing too quickly as it was the lack of funds. His favorite shirt was a gray sweatshirt equally as short in the sleeves as his pants in the leg. Joe's strawberry blonde hair was never combed but matched his crooked toothed smile and freckled face perfectly. When their trailer burned, the fire took most of what little Joe's family had to begin with. His too short jeans made it, a raggedy shirt and Joe's ever-present smile. We had no boys clothes his size back then but others in the church and school did and they responded to the need. Joe finally got some clothes that fit. His smile was no bigger, his smile was no smaller it was just there, always. I sometimes wondered if he smiled because there was simply nothing else to do. He was the living picture of contentment. During the summer between my first and second years of teaching, Joe drowned in the Hatchie River while swimming with his family. He died without ever experiencing a tenth of the life I've known, my boys have known and the vast majority of my friends. He died without experiencing even a fraction of the love expressed among my family and my friends. I'm pretty sure but not certain he died without ever being told of Jesus Christ. What I remember most about Joe was his smile and his easy laugh. As I reflect on Joe this morning, I wonder why more of us aren't the picture of contentment. If your reading this you most likely have everything you need and most of what you want. For certain you have more than Joe, in life, in love and for sure in Jesus. Are you known for your ever-present smile and contentment? If someone wrote about you this morning would they remember your complaints or your contentment? As a people blessed so richly and more importantly a people who claim Christ as our Savior, we should be known for our contentment and our joy. I’m trying to do better and hope you will too. We should be remembered for the hope and joy within us. We should be remembered as being a happy and contented people in every circumstance.



October 18, 2020


We are all familiar with the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Seeds fall in various soil conditions and those conditions affect the progress and growth of the seeds. The explanation of the parable is in verses 18-23. Many sermons have been preached on these passages most often having to do with spreading the Gospel. Today however I saw something at Mt. Rushmore that made me think. It opened my eyes and I have seen it over and over. Frankly, it is not a strange phenomenon or rare event. I was walking by a boulder and there in the side of it grew a tree! As I looked closer, I saw not a crack, but just a small deformity in the rock allowing it to catch some leaf litter which broke down over time and made a very tiny pocket of soil where a seed landed and took root. The pine tree was about three inches in diameter and appeared to be healthy and growing. So, I reread the story because this tree had clearly been there for some time. Let’s take a closer look at verses 20 and 21, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Instead of looking from the sowers perspective, let’s look at it from the receiver’s perspective. Specifically, let’s look at the beginning of verse 21, “yet he has no root in himself.” I’ve always thought this whole lesson was on the soil and the fact that some soil is just not good for growing, but this little phrase changes things. It’s not just the soil, its also about the kind of people who accept the word. This guy had no root; no intestinal fortitude; no gumption; no courage. He lost focus and hope. The word in him didn’t die because the seed was bad or because it couldn’t grow where it fell. The word died because the receiver quit. There is no doubt his situation was not the best to start with, the fertile soil of the river valley is much more conducive for growth than a crack in a rock. God never said being a Christian would be easy, in fact he warns of temptation and persecution for those who live Godly lives (2 Timothy 3:12). Maintaining our commitment can be hard but always possible (1 Corinthians 10:13). I’m not much into trying to figure out the hearts of others but we can always examine our own. Are you still growing? Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11).



October 11, 2020


She called it “the Spurtle.” At close to twelve inches long, the wooden utensil was less than an inch and a half wide, flat on one side and rounded on the other, no one laughed or smiled when she said, “That’s it. I’m getting the Spurtle!” It hung on a finishing nail on then end of the fir down between the kitchen and living room in plain sight for all to see. It should have been named the Harmonizer, the Regulator or maybe the Retributioner because when held in her hand it had the power to change lives! I never saw it used for what it was actually created for. It showed up after Dad broke the Board of Education on my hind end one Wednesday night before church. I’m sure I was set up that night. None the less, the Spurtle was convincing. I think it had an ergonomic grip before ergonomics were even a thing; forged from Mom’s grip as her wrist flicked and taught us the difference between right and wrong. I actually figured that out pretty young but my little sister was hard of head. I think she hid the Spurtle once – but that is a different story that makes me smile now.

 

I thought of the Spurtle last night as I read from Matthew 5:19, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” I understand we are no longer under the Old Law (Hebrews 9:15-17), but the Old Law guided us to our faith in Christ and now we are sons of God through our faith (Galatians 3:24-25). James says faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26) and Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So, the Bible is a pretty good guide for living. Please know, you can follow the Bible and not be righteous, but you cannot be righteous and not follow the Bible. I thought of the Spurtle because Mom never relaxed in trying to teach us. In fact, the very presence of the Spurtle was a lesson in consequences. As long as it hung on the wall, we knew there was right and there was wrong. In conjunction with Matthew 5:19, I also thought of the words God told Moses to write in Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

 

I leave Proverbs 13:24 out intentionally, instead I remind you of Romans 10:14, “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” With or without a Spurtle, let us not relax in teaching our children of God.



October 4, 2020


“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Jesus’ statement comes on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the son of God. Although Jesus had just told them of His impending death and resurrection, the full meaning of His words here must have been at least a little confusing for he had not yet faced his final persecution. Knowing what we know now, having read or heard the rest of the story, the words of Jesus conjure an image of a man, beaten, bruised and tired, attempting to carry his cross up a hill where he would soon be nailed by his hands and his feet to hang for all to see until he died. None the less, the words must have meant something to the disciples or Jesus would not have told them, certainly death by the cross was not unknown to them and maybe those sentenced to die also had to carry their own cross. But what do these terms “deny himself” and “take up his cross” mean for the Christian today?

 

In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” If asked on the street, at work or school, or on social media, “Do you believe in Jesus?” the vast majority of those reading this article would reply adamantly if not incredulously, “Of course I do!” What a ridiculous question, right? But what about this self-denial Jesus talks about? What does it mean to deny self? Do I have to suffer? Can I not enjoy the good life God has blessed me with? Can’t I have fun? Well absolutely we as Christians can have fun! In fact, there are times when I think we might be a little too serious; we don’t smile and enjoy life even though we are heirs to the throne; sons and daughters of God! Of all people we should be the happiest. I think Paul describes this self-denial and cross carrying best when he wrote to the church at Galatia, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20) and again in Philippians 1:21, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Ultimately, self-denial and cross carrying is not so the world can see we are holy and be in awe of our piety, but living in such a way that we will endure anything – even death because of our confession and unshakeable belief; Jesus Christ is the son of the living God.



September 27, 2020


He rounded second and headed for third! Easily the fastest player on the field, it would take a perfect throw to prevent his 15th triple of the season, even in this small ball park. It was a perfect throw, and catch and tag. “You’re out, expletive” the third baseman arrogantly said only to be greeted with a bone crushing forearm to the nose from the sliding runner. When the ensuing melee was finally cleared, the game was suspended, the bleachers were emptied and the coaches told to send their teams home immediately. Sanctions and suspensions would surely follow. Calmly, coach asked the supposed instigator of the brawl what in the world possessed him to throw the first and most devastating blow of the fight. Fighting was way out of character for us as a team and him as an individual. The player humbly responded, “He called me a ______, coach, so I hit him. I’m sorry.” “He called you a ______?” coached stopped his pacing and looked at the young man. “Are you a ______?” “No sir” the player responded quickly. “Then why are you so mad? Clearly, he must have had someone else in mind. Clearly, he didn’t know what he was talking about, so there was no need to hit him.” Coach went on to explain to us all, we would be around people who made false accusations all our lives, but punching them in the nose was not the right response and he expected more of us. Someone asked, but what if he’d said yes? What if he’d said, “Yes coach, I am a ______? Then what?” The coach looked at us incredulously and responded, “Do you mean what if the kid was right and you were a ______? Then he told the truth! You can’t punch a guy out for telling the truth! Look men, the kid’s statement was either a lie or it was the truth. If it was a lie, he will have to deal with the consequences but if is the truth, then you must deal with the consequences. Either way, getting mad and losing our temper, fighting and all those things entail are not appropriate responses for the men we are trying to become.”

 

Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (1 Timothy 3:16). Reproof, correction and training often require someone to point out the error of our ways. We are commanded to look out for one another (Philippians 2:4; Hebrews 10:24; Galatians 6:1); especially the elders who have been given charge of the flock (Acts 20:28).



September 20, 2020


The past thirty days, for me, have seen a lot of death. While COVID-19 has not been the cause of any of the deaths directly affecting me, COVID-19 has played a role in how family and friends have been able to respond. The first was a friend who would have been 99 years old on her birthday in November. While sad, 98 years is a good long life. In fact, the Psalmist says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;” (Psalm 90:10). She outlived most of her generation! The next to pass was comparatively young at 78, and let’s face it, 78 is the new 50 for sure. “Gone too soon” could be heard whispered among the masked crowd and I couldn’t agree more. More recently, a brother passed away suddenly at 60. He walked into the hospital one day and three days later was rolled out of the hospital, into the waiting hearse! Sixty is getting close to home. If you use social media, you no doubt hear of those fighting cancer with their toddlers. You know of the car wrecks, accidents and crime indiscriminately taking life every day of all ages. All this at a time where the world seems to be going to great lengths to stop the spread of an evil virus causing certain death. Clearly, the numbers prove certain death is not synonymous with COVID19. However, it is important to note, short of the second coming, certain death is a part of life. I have no doubt this comes as a revelation to some. I envision someone pausing here, stunned, confused, angry and in denial, “This man is insane! He says we are all going to die!” It’s true though, the list is short containing those who went to the next life without dying. The scripture says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Furthermore, the Bible speaks to the uncertainty of life. The parable of the ten virgins concludes, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mathew 25:13). While this is about the second coming, death brings about the end of our chances to be prepared for judgment. Experience teaches us death can come suddenly; unexpected and indifferent. As Christians, we are prepared for, not scared of, death. Even in our deep sorrow over the loss of a loved one, we KNOW, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15), and “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

 

So, I have this question; are you prepared for the inevitable? Without making COVID-19 anything more than a catalyst for this conversation, honestly consider a few questions:

 

Are you as diligent about avoiding sin as you are about avoiding the virus? Do you share as much information about the day of judgment as you do about the transmission of viral particulates?

 

Clearly, we are convicted of the dangers of Covid-19. What will it take for us to approach sin with the same conviction?



September 13, 2020


His job was not so much to make the tackle but to turn the running back inside towards the rest of the defense. Making the tackle was a bonus. When the ball was snapped and the offensive player in front of him cut to his right, he saw clearly the pitch from the quarterback to the tailback and zeroed in on his target. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line–unless that line is bisected by something large, moving at a high rate of speed, known in football circles as a pulling guard. Visions of glory were replaced by little stars orbiting around his helmet and what appeared to be two little birds flitting in and out of his facemask. Adding insult to injury, the play resulted in a 35- yard gain for the offense and his coach calling a timeout so he could march out to the middle of the field and scream at the defense, mainly him, for losing focus and failing to do their job. I could not hear exactly what the coach said, but I caught enough to know he didn’t say, “Good job, you’re all invited over to my house for pizza and hot chocolate after the game.” He was angry and screamed for them to make changes in their game if they wanted to be a part of the team. It was a well-used timeout and the “speech” made a difference. The next two plays saw the defense “stuffed”, backed up almost 15 yards, making it third and long. The offense ran their little pitch play. This time, our boy worked his way upfield and turning the running back inside, he avoided the bone crushing intentions of the oncoming lineman and actually reached out to trip up the ball carrier as he turned and was met by the rest of the defense. No gain on the play. Lessons had been learned, adjustments had been made and the opposing team was kept from scoring. As I witnessed this sequence of events, several things popped into my mind, specifically how the coach talked to his players and their response. I really could not hear specific words and while I am pretty sure he did not use filthy, dirty words, his words cut deep and highlighted their failure. If a preacher, elder or other member had used the same tone (or any tone) with a brother or sister who continued to be slack in their Christian walk and allow Satan footholds to make 30 yard gains as we push toward eternity, said erring brother or sister would quit and never return to the fold. What is the difference? The player takes it because he wants to earn his spot, please his parents, and/or “win.” He doesn’t compare himself to others, he just does his job better than before with his focus on the “prize.” Paul said run to win, exercise discipline and self-control so we can receive the imperishable crown (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Don’t we want to win? Of course, we do! Let us then “press on towards the goal” (Phil. 3:12-16), encouraging and being encouraged! (Heb. 3:13; 10:24).



September 6, 2020


In 1966 Peter Scholte copyrighted the song We Are One in the Spirit. I remember singing the song as a youth it was always one of my favorites. I always thought of it as the Indian song because the tune conjures images of braves dancing around a campfire. While there are some repeating phrase 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). Furthermore, Jesus prayed for our unity, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). 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. As the church, we are all part of the same body and we will take care of ourselves because we are one (Ephesians 4:4). 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? Let’s conspire to show the world we walk in the light by continually encouraging one another to love and good works.  


August 30, 2020


Like it or not, social media has worked its way into our culture. I am always hearing references to and seeing pictures from posts, tweets and stories. In fact, count the number of conversations that begin with, “Did you see that post about . . .” or “I saw this post the other day . . ..” Not only has social media worked its way into our culture, in some respects it defines our culture and dominates our lives. Several different internet sources place the average daily time spent on social media at over 2 hours. Obviously, there are exceptions. Some individuals, maybe you, spend far less than two hours a day on social media – but some far more; maybe you. Technically, he’s not on social media, but I started following this guy a while back and some of his posts warrant repeating. Feel free to like, share, retweet, snap … or whatever you do. I am pretty sure he won’t mind. “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:10). “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:16-19). He said those things on the same day, but another time he said, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45). Ultimately, I think what he was trying to say is that folks can pretty much tell what kind of person you are, what you really believe in, and who or what is first in your life by your actions. A couple thousand years later Fred Barnard, an advertising executive, would say it another way, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

 

The words we speak come from the heart to be sure. If our actions then contradict our words, is it really an unjust judgement when someone concludes our heart is full of lies? This guy I follow also posted this, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” ( Matthew 12:36-37). I hope our words and our actions tell the same story.



August 23, 2020


I drove my bus route this morning and picked up exactly no one. Not one student stood at the end of the drive or at the corner stops. It wasn’t just my route either. This is what social distancing is about. Let me explain. A four-year old told me last year, “Bus driver, I hate white people.” I said, “Well that makes me sad.” When he asked me why, I told him I thought we were buddies, friends, and pals. He said, “Bus Driver, we ARE friends. I like you!” “But you said you didn’t like white people.” I replied. Then he said, quickly, “But Bus Driver, you ain’t white!”

 

For those who have never met me, if I choose to check a box when asked for my race, honesty demands I check the box beside the category “white” or “Caucasian”. Now this student is social distancing. He sees and experiences nothing to cause him to question the propaganda being spread by those in his world. Clearly, he didn’t come to his previous conclusion on his own. Entire neighborhoods and communities are now isolated and the only information they have is whatever the news media elects to present and they believe it because they have no other source of information.

 

Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13). What if the salt is still salty but the shaker never gets shaken? Salt has no bearing on the taste until it is sprinkled (or liberally poured as some are apt to do) onto food. The church is still here, Christians are still alive, but how are you flavoring the world? Jesus continued, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). We sing the song, “Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine!” Hide it under a bush - ‘OH NO!’ I’m gonna let it shine!” Maybe you’re out there riding your Christian route, shining that light brightly and conducting business as usual, but as fear maintains its grip on our community, folks are just hiding in the shadows. They refuse the salt and the light. I want to challenge you; if you need to get the light out from under the bush, do it. If you need to relight the flame, do it. If you are still shining brightly, keep on keeping on!

 

The media came up with a new term this week, ‘superspreaders’. Wouldn’t it be great if the church became known as super-spreaders? Spreaders of the Gospel; spreaders of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control! Spreaders of confidence, hope and salvation.

 

Ask yourself this, “What am I spreading?”



August 16, 2020


A reinforcement schedule is a rule in basic psychology stating when certain behaviors are to be reinforced. Reinforcement schedules can then be broken into two categories, continuous or partial. Operant conditioning can be further broken down within each category to train or encourage behavior. Extinction is the term applied to conditioning when the desired behavior is no longer happening. In other words, if the reward for a certain behavior takes too long, then the behavior will cease. The highest level of conditioning comes with variable ratio schedule because the reward could come at any time. In fact, the next action might result in the reward. This is the conditioning used with slot machines and the lottery and what makes people keep playing; the hope that the next scratch will be the big one. It’s also why I keep looking at Facebook. Every once in a while, the whole truth is presented in such a way as to really put things in perspective. I do not know who to give credit to for this but it is not mine and I am paraphrasing.

 

A woman went to the preacher and said, “Preacher, I quit! I am never coming back. When I get here folks are not listening, they are on their phones, gossiping - most of them ain’t even living right! I don’t want to be around those hypocrites anymore.” The preacher thought for a minute and said, “Before you make your final decision to leave, will you do me one favor? Will you fill a glass with water all the way to the top and walk around the church building two times?” She said, “Sure preacher, I can do that,” and she did. When she came back to the preacher, he asked, “While you were walking, did you see anyone on their cell phone? Did you hear anyone gossiping or notice anyone not living right?” She said, “Preacher, I was so focused on not spilling any of that water, I didn’t see anything but that glass and the water in it. I didn’t spill a drop, none of it fell out!” she finished proudly. He then said, “That is the kind of focus you need to come to worship with. You need to come so focused on God you don’t see anything else and fall out. That is why Jesus said ‘Follow me’ and not ‘Follow Christians’. Do not define your relationship with God by the way others relate to him.” Facebook provided this little nugget of golden perspective on worship and my relationship with God. No doubt I will keep looking at ignorant posts, hoping to find a great one – but not while I am in worship! I hope to see you all soon.



August 9, 2020


At the end of 1 Kings, we meet Ahaziah. The Bible tells us he walked in the way of his father and mother, another king who had caused Israel to sin, and he served Baal (1 Kings 22:52-53). 2 Kings begins with Ahaziah falling through a lattice in his upper chamber and became ill. Nothing is said about the specifics of his illness, but his injuries were severe enough, he quite naturally wondered if he would survive them. So, he gathered messengers and sent them to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, as to whether or not he would recover from the sickness. This angered the Lord and He sent Elijah to meet the messengers and give them a message for Ahaziah. Elijah met the messengers and gave them this message from the Lord, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die” (2 Kings 1:3-4). When the messengers returned sooner than expected, Ahaziah questioned them as to their early return and they relayed what the man on the road had told them. When they described the man they met, Ahaziah knew exactly who it was and sent a captain and fifty men to bring Elijah to the palace. Suffice it to say that didn’t work. It didn’t work the second time either. The third captain and his fifty men took a wholly different approach, asking rather than telling, and finally Elijah went to meet with the king, where he gave the exact same prophesy. Sure enough, Ahaziah never recovered and died. Read the entire story in 2 Kings 1. Ahaziah might have recovered had he sought help and information from God rather than a god. I cannot help but think of the troublesome times that come to man. Jesus tells his disciples temptations to sin will come (Luke 17:1), they are inevitable. When those times come, how do we respond? When trouble in the marriage arises, do we go to God or our coworkers for advice and counsel? Teenagers, when disagreements with parents arise, do we go to God for counsel or appeal to the infinite wisdom and experience of our teenage friends? Ahaziah’s question was legitimate. He simply sought the wrong counsel. I also noticed there is a way we need to approach the solution to our problems. The first two captains and their men were consumed, likely for the assumption they could order God into compliance. We need to remember God is God and our approach to His throne needs to reflect His righteousness, holiness and supremacy. We need to remember, He loves us (John 3:16), He wants us to come to Him (2 Peter 3:9). We need to remember he will never leave or forsake us. Before you go on with your day, take a moment to read Psalm 34. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! (Psalm 34:8)


August 2, 2020


Oxford dictionaries defines “standard” a couple ways. First, as “a level of quality or attainment” and secondly, “an idea or things used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations.” Like most things we see in nature, it seems standards devolve. We make exception after exception so we don’t ‘offend’ or ‘run someone off’. All the while our standards in both of the previously stated definitions, get lower and lower. While we could all cite a myriad of examples outside the church, it seems that even inside the church standards are being lowered to appease and placate rather than encourage others to rise up and be more. Hebrews 13:8 tells us, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” indicating His standards have remained the same and His standards are not the same as the world’s standards. I’d like to insert the entirety of Titus 2 here for your perusal and further study, but instead I encourage you to get out your Bible and read for yourself – the high moral standards of the Christian. In 1996, Coach John Scolinos spoke to a crowded room of baseball coaches at the ABCA’s 52nd annual convention. He took the stage with a fullsize home plate hanging around his neck. He spoke for 25 minutes before mentioning the obvious baggage he was carrying. Finally, he got to the plate and the point of his talk asking the crowd how wide home plate was. Home plate is 17 inches wide. He pointed out from Little League to the Major Leagues, the plate was the same – 17 inches. In a beautifully illustrated talk about standards, he concluded his speech with this, “If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard …there is but one thing to look forward to … We have dark days ahead!” Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He didn’t say, “If you love me, try to come close to doing what I say.” Paul would encourage the church at Rome saying “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1,2). There is a standard for Christians and it is different than the world’s standards. It’s interesting when attempts are made to raise standards how the raisers of the standard are villainized. They are attacked and accused of intolerance, being overly critical or a “goody two shoes”, unthoughtful and even hateful. This attitude is addressed in Proverbs 12:1 rather bluntly. The standard is the blood of Christ and it is high time we all examine ourselves and make sure we are up to par. You can read Coach Scolinos’ speech here: http://fgbt.org/Leadership-Principles/17-inches-by-johnscolinos.html



July 26, 2020


I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” Most are all familiar with the slogan first used by Life Call in the late eighties and early nineties. Despite its age (approaching 40 years old), it is still a fairly universally known saying in 2020 with jokes told and retold; memes developed, posted and reposted. Memes are those pictures on social media with different phrases meant to draw a laugh or make a point. (In the eighties we called them posters and you can still see them on the ceiling at many dentist offices.) Despite the humorous misuse of the phrase through the years, the marketing slogan points to a serious state of affairs - someone is down and cannot get up without assistance. Today I made the statement, “Our country has fallen and can’t get up.” Realizing Romans 13 tells us governments are of God and to some this means we are to quietly and submissively go as sheep to the slaughter, taking no part in the affairs of the world and government but only the affairs of the church, I tend to view my citizenship in these United States as a blessing; a talent if you will, as described in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Clearly, one of the main messages in this parable is that of stewardship. Just as clearly, many in the church have buried our freedom of religion and speech and failed to invest in it, guard it and use it for the benefit of the church. This is evidenced by our silence. Now, on the brink of losing this privilege, our country is in peril. The help our country needs to get back on its feet will not be found in any political party, certainly not in one that denounces and renounces God. The help our country needs is from the church. It is time we exercise our right to proclaim the Good News. It’s time for Christians to use it or lose it. Deliverance for the Lord’s people will arise from somewhere, just as Mordecai told Esther in Esther 4. I am certain the church will stand (Matthew 16:18) even as America struggles to get back up. Sadly, many of us are more American than Christian, conforming rather than transforming and failing to see one is temporal and the other eternal. The real question is what role will you fill in the recovery. Jesus describes us as the salt of the earth, and a light to the world (Matthew 5:13, 14) commanding us to shine so the Father can be glorified. Do you shine? Really? In what way? Are you speaking of God ‘when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise up?’ Are you prepared to defend the hope that is in you as commanded in 1 Peter 3:15? It’s time for the church to stand and lead the way, seeking the lost, speaking the truth in love, shining the light of Christ. It’s time we get out from under the basket and exercise the rights we have to shine and help raise the fallen.



July 19, 2020


COV or POV? That was the question. I didn’t even know the difference. I’d sent him to the supply house with a list of things we needed to complete the days objectives. The sooner we had the list filled the sooner we could get started and the sooner we’d get through. As I finished speaking to our boss on the phone, I was astonished, and a little put out, to see him patiently, if not absent mindedly, still standing there with the list in hand, looking at me expectantly. Not knowing what else to say, I said, “You back already? That was fast, where is the stuff?” He informed me he hadn’t actually left yet because I failed to tell him whether to go to the supply house in a COV or a POV. Running through a mental list of all the electrical terms I’d ever heard yielded nothing. Context clues didn’t help either. “Okay, I give up. What, pray tell, is a COV or a POV and why are you still here?” I asked trying, but failing, to conceal my frustration. Astonished that I didn’t know, he explained with an exasperated voice and hands on his hips, “A ‘COV’ is a Company Owned Vehicle and a ‘POV’ is a Personally Owned Vehicle and I just need to know which one you want me to take.” Seriously, this was his whole hang up. It may not be what you think either, he wasn’t looking to be compensated, he preferred to take his POV because it was easier to drive, fit in smaller places and the presets on the radio were all his but he would not go until he was told which vehicle to take. He wanted to “obey the letter of the law”. I took a deep breath, counted to 10 (six times I think), and as calmly as possible explained I did not care, or I would have specified. I would not have said POV or COV, but would have said, ‘your car’ or ‘service truck’ or something to help convey my express wishes. I simply said “Go”.

 

Sometimes it is easy to focus on the method or get lost in procedure and in doing so miss the point. While we sit around and argue the method or mode, but neglect the directive. Let’s make this personal. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Did he say walk, run, ride a horse, mule or donkey? Did he say don’t drive a chariot, car, plane or boat? No, he gave no instruction but to go and teach all that he had commanded. How we get there is up to us. What we teach is not our choice. We must teach what he commanded. We must teach from the Bible. We must GO. So, who are you telling about Jesus or are you still stuck in how to get there?



July 12, 2020


Shortly after feeding 9000 men, not including women and children, with a total of 12 loaves and a few small fish, yielding more leftovers than what they started with, a total of 19 baskets; Jesus’ disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread with them in Matthew 16 and began a little panic as they realized their mistake. Mark’s account said they had one loaf (Mark 8:14), which in light of the two recent events should have been less worrisome than having none. After all, it wasn’t like he had to turn the rocks into bread or something. He could just divide what they had between them and it would surely be more than enough. Yet, Jesus knowing their thoughts and capitalizing on the subject of bread, cautions them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Confused they began to discuss the absence of bread among themselves. Two things are of interest here. Jesus’ closest friends failed to see the compassion of Christ for those in need would apply to them as well as the crowds following them daily. Hence, Jesus asks, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember” (Mark 8:17-18)? How often do we, the church, the body of Christ, fail to remember God will take care of us? It is so easy to focus on the temporal and slowly but surely forget or lose sight of whose we are. Jedidiah showed me a t-shirt the other day quoting Psalm 23:4, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”, then it added, “because I am the toughest thing in the valley”. While I do not approve of the selfish arrogance portrayed in the graphic, the fact is, “for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” “If God is for us who can stand against us” (Romans 8:31)? It’s not us, it’s who we are with. Which leads us to the second point. The Pharisees and Sadducees both claimed to be religious. Both groups thought they were pleasing to God and yet Jesus points out the dangerous effects a minority can have on a majority. Paul would later write, “Do you not know a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (I Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9) Luke tells us the leaven of the Pharisee is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). We all understand hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense (lexico.com/en/definition/hypocrisy). The warning here is not so much against becoming a hypocrite, although certainly applicable. The warning is first, do not let hypocrisy become the norm and thus acceptable, but also how can one say, “God’s got this” but then won’t let it go. How can we say God is in control but we continue to pile up treasures where moth and rust destroy? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Is that really enough?

 

You can read of the two miracle feedings in Matthew 14:13-21 and Matthew 15:32-39.



July 5, 2020


Some would say our country is in trouble. It’s hard to argue the point. Debates arise as to the timing and origin of a strange sequence of events. Facts are hard to come by and sensationalism rules the day. One fact we know is that it is an election year. As such, church buildings will abound with sermons about the need for Godly men in government and the importance of voting; being good stewards of the blessing of growing up in the United States. Some will no doubt insist Christians have no business in politics. We will be encouraged to vote for the “most” Godly. We will often hear about having to choose between two bad candidates. We will justify our votes or our refusal to vote. We will cite the same scriptures. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1, 2); “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). We might even use Titus 3:1, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”

 

The truth of the matter is this: Washington does need Godly men. State capitals need Godly men. County seats need Godly men. But the jobs these men are elected to do will not change our country, at least not quickly. Change needs to happen among our leaders, but it also needs to happen among our followers. We can join in the outrage against the actions of evil men on all sides of the argument but marching and protesting, peacefully or otherwise, really won’t change anything; ranting on social media won’t either. To start real change, we need to start rebuilding families.

 

Godly men in government will help but Godly men in our homes is the real key. Given the responsibility to lead the family, we who profess to be men of God must rise up and “stand in the gap”, borrowing an idea from Nehemiah. We must build Godly homes, first mending our fences before fixing others (Matthew 7:3) but always ready to share the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). We must share the Word and now is the time.

 

We have been blessed to live in the USA and if we remain silent at this time, deliverance will arise from somewhere else but we will perish. For if God is with us, who can stand against us. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Who knows, maybe we were born in this great country for a time such as this (Esther 4:14, Romans 8:31, 37).



June 27, 2020


I have always enjoyed a good thunderstorm. In college, I found a hill just north and west of Searcy perfect for watching storms. It was a gravel road that broke through the trees and curved away from a valley at the top of the hill providing a spectacular overlook where I could see for miles and miles. When the storms rolled through at night, I headed for the hill to watch the lightening light up the night. Those storms were always beautiful, but my favorite storm is the one that pops up late in the afternoon. Typically, the storm is less violent, although brief high winds and hail sometimes occur. The best ones come late enough for the sun to have advanced far enough west so as not to reheat the atmosphere and humidity stays low. However, it is important the sun come back out. The storm seems to settle the dust and blow all the pollen and pollution away. As the sun reappears in the west, the colors in the east seem to explode against the dark gray backside of the recent squall. Sometimes there is even a rainbow. The beauty of God’s creation and promise is never more evident to me. Every time, I think of Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Usually, whether there is a rainbow or not, I think of Noah and God’s promise to never again destroy the earth with water (Genesis 9:8- 17). Have you ever thought about why God made the covenant with Noah and why it was the destruction caused by the flood was necessary? Ultimately it was the choice of mankind whose hearts were continually set on evil (Genesis 6:5-7). Have you ever thought about how much it pained God to destroy all but eight members of His greatest creation; the only thing he created in His own image?

 

When I think of the promise to Noah, I think of the promise He made to Abraham, Moses, Solomon and countless others, even us; if you will listen to me, walk in my ways, observe my statutes; if you will love me – I will build you a sure house. Nothing we do can separate us from His love but to gain His favor and reap the benefits of the promise, we must love Him first, then our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

 

Sometimes during the storm, it is difficult to see, comprehend and understand, but after it passes – it is then I can see most clearly. It is then I can almost hear Him say, “I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me” (Hebrews13:5b-6).



June 20, 2020


One of my favorite times of year is Day Camp. Monday, we had 44 of our youth group all playing and having fun. Day Camp is the place I reiterate the rules to older kids and introduce them for the first time to the younger kids. The truth is they are pretty good rules to live by, so I thought I would share them with you just in case you didn’t know them or have forgotten. These are the rules of the Covington church of Christ Youth Group:

 

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.

 

2. Love your neighbor as yourself. The truth is if you follow these two everything else is really easy.

 

3. NO whining

 

4. NO drama

 

These two are kind of hard for some of the younger kids. They have to learn I love them and I will lay down my life for them but “no” means “no” and sometimes things just don’t work out the way we’d planned but we will get through all things together.

 

Rule #5 always takes a little explaining. It originated back when we got the new bus. We were on a mission trip and the kids asked if they could bring their drinks on the bus. Kids, drinks and a new moving vehicle are the perfect recipe for spills. So, I made up rule 5; if you spill it, lick it up. Just so you know, over the years we have had very few spills because we are careful and mindful of the drinks we bring to the bus. Truthfully though, this rule is about more than spilling a drink. Nobody intends to spill a drink just like nobody intends to hurt others (I hope because that is a clear violation of rule #2). None the less, it still happens and when it does, we need to clean up the “spill.” Think about it. If you spill sweet tea in the bus, it will collect all sorts of nasty. The sticky will spread through the bus and before long the whole bus is affected. It is very important we clean it up quickly and move on. The “lick it up” portion of the rule emphasizes the seriousness of both the offense and the necessity of a quick clean up. An ill thought out word or action needs to be addressed quickly. It is rarely pleasant. Therefore, we need to be more intentional and thoughtful in our interactions so as to avoid as much as possible the inadvertent spill; physically and metaphorically. This year we added a sixth rule; Choose happy. This rule is not about depression or chemical imbalance; this rule is for the myriad of opportunities we have each day to be hurt, offended, angry – we can still choose to be happy with our response. We cannot control others, but we can control ourselves. That’s it. Six simple rules to help us all get along. Trouble only comes when we forget the rules. I hope you have a great week!



June 13, 2020


A long time ago I, as part of a writing assignment, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote, “I want to be a preacher when I grow up.” I think I was in second grade because the paper was the kind with the two solid lines on top and bottom and a dotted line in the middle. It was written in pencil, probably a fat one, and a couple years later, I found the document in a drawer where my mother saved all our important documents and precious artwork. However, things had changed. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a preacher, I am sure – but I wanted to be a professional baseball player more. At my earliest convenience, I snuck back to the drawer, erased “preacher” and tried to match my early handwriting skills and scrawled “baseball player” in the newly created blank space in the document. Despite my best efforts, the change was obvious and the graphite smudge left by the cheap and old eraser seemed to highlight the new words. A couple days later, while we were sitting at the table, she off handedly mentioned how she surely wished I still wanted to be a preacher. How my mother knew I’d changed it so soon, I will never know. None the less, my course of life seemed altered somewhat and I truly loved the game of baseball. It could be argued baseball became my God. I was still active at church but my dreams were to get paid to play! There could be no greater job in the world than to get paid to play a game. As I grew so did my love for the game but I also realized the end was coming and my time on the diamond was ending as well as my dream of getting paid to play. Fast forward to this past Sunday night. Darkness had fallen as we approached the bottom of the last inning with the home team down seven runs. As “all time pitcher,” I was entering my 7th complete inning. The game would end with laughter, shouts of joy and camaraderie, the score tied and prayer. As we stood together (foot to foot social distancing), and I thanked God for a perfect night of fellowship where we ate, studied His word, sang His praises and played hard together, I also realized I have a job where I get paid to play. I am thankful God was patient, long suffering even, as he waited for me to put Him first in my life. I thought of Jeremiah 29:11-14 and His promise to Israel even after they’d rejected Him. I thought of Romans 8:38-39, He never left me or gave up on me. It was a moment of clarity and if I could have seen his face as I stood in a circle surrounded by the kids I love, under the stars; I envision a smile and a wink that says I told you so.

 

May we all with confidence do the job He asks of us, and behold, He will be with us until the end of the age (Matthew 28:19).



June 7, 2020


I stopped to talk with an old friend yesterday and during our reminiscing he told me something I’d told him years ago, “When your only tool is a hammer, everything you see looks like a nail.” First of all, wow! That sounds pretty smart, but I don’t remember saying it. Secondly, I must have heard it somewhere but I don’t remember where, so naturally I googled it. To be sure it, didn’t originate with me. The quote is illustrative of how we can easily get stuck in a rut and how sometimes we apply old thoughts and solutions to everything. Technically, it is cognitive bias, officially it is called the Einstellung Effect; named after the guy that proved it. Einstellung provided a test group with three jars with capacities of 21, 127 and 3 units then asked them to fill a fourth jar with exactly 100 units as quickly as possible. The solution was to fill the 127 then pour out enough to fill the 3-unit canister twice and the 21-unit canister once leaving 100 units. Einstellung then repeated the project with the same group this time using jars of 18-, 48- and 4-unit capacities. The target for this test was 22 units. The group quickly adopted the same strategy of filling and dumping to arrive at the solution. The second test was also administered to another group who’d not participated in the first test and they very quickly filled the 18- and 4- unit to complete the challenge. Repeated tests prove we often stick with our same old ways because of familiarity in spite of new and better ways at our disposal. When it comes to spreading the Gospel, we need to step back occasionally and verify we are still on track and using the best tools at our disposal. It is important to understand, the job or task at hand is the same; to tell the complete story of God’s love and plan for salvation. Only the method of completion is modified. Have you ever tried to spread cold butter on fresh bread? It is difficult to do without tearing up the bread but if we wait and let the butter soften, it spreads easily. This is not to say we soften or change the word of God, clearly the message was delivered once for all time (Jude 3) and to change it by addition or subtraction is wrong. The point is this, the same butter is on the bread but the timing and application were different. Initially the disciples were sent out to the lost sheep of Israel, meaning God’s chosen (Matthew 10:6), but eventually the Gospel would be for all and Paul was sent to take the message (Galatians 1:16). He told the same story but because of his audience, his methods were different. As we proceed in taking the Gospel to all the world, we must keep in mind the world is changing. Our God is the same now and forever (Hebrews 13:8), so is the message of Christ. Let’s work to keep an eye on our methods so we can present the truth in the best possible way.


May 31, 2020


I have bird feeders outside my kitchen window and I love to watch the birds as they come feed, socialize and entertain me. I check frequently to see if there are any new visitors. The Indigo Bunting, Black Capped Chickadee, House Finch, Cardinal and Tufted Titmouse are all regular visitors to my feeders and the other day I noticed a Carolina Wren. I noticed the pair of wrens first not at the feeder but on the bumper and spare tire of the Bronco parked in the driveway. After two days, it dawned on me what was happening – the wrens were building a nest inside the spare tire! I went to check and sure enough, the nest was there, nearly complete but devoid of eggs – for the moment. There is a cover on the tire to protect it from the elements and it made the perfect place for the wrens to start their tiny family. Except there is a problem. I need to drive the Bronco occasionally. I am not sure they understood, this would be a mobile home.

 

I drove the Bronco Friday and I have not seen the wrens since. For those who may have worried, there are still no eggs. But this morning as I watched other birds, I couldn’t help but wonder what the birds thought when they came back to the driveway to find their home was gone. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds says Carolina Wrens may mate for life and spend the year together defending permanent territories, but how do you defend against the moving of the foundation of your home. I am not a fan of personifying animals, even though to some extent I have done it with these two wrens. But we must be careful with the personification of wildlife because clearly, they do not think as we do. I have no idea what they thought when they returned with more nesting material to find their homesite was gone, but in all likelihood, they found another homesite, continued building there and are still planning on laying eggs soon. To be sure they are not worrying and haven’t given up! Jesus points this fact out in Matthew 6:26 as he tries to encourage us not to worry and to stay focused. I encourage you to reread Matthew 6:25-34. Add to it another couple verses when Jesus referenced our little feathered friends in Matthew 10:29-31 and imprint in your mind the truth, “you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Recall a song we used to sing often, “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you. Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you!” While your singing, throw in this chorus, “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.” Don’t let go, don’t give up.

 

The next time you see a bird, I hope you remember, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, and “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 6:33; 10:31).



May 24, 2020


In the men’s prayer breakfast this morning (happens every Wednesday morning @ 6:00 AM) we were discussing Matthew 9 and I noticed something in verses 35 and 36 I’d never really paid attention to. Chapters 8 and 9 are filled with miracles. Demons are cast out. The blind gain sight. The lame walk. The dead come to life. Even the wind and seas obey Jesus. People are coming from everywhere to get something from Jesus. Some are skeptical for sure; some faithful; some watchful and many are simply hopeful. The crowds were huge and pressed in close. The woman with the bleeding condition of 12 years (Matthew 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43) just needed to touch Him and knew she would be healed. Mark and Luke’s accounts evidence the closeness of the crowds as His disciples inquire incredulously, “Really? Someone touched you and you ask who it was in this mass of people?” There were people everywhere from all over there just to see Jesus and all of them had expectations of Him. Matthew 9:35-36 say this, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” It dawned on me this morning, Jesus gave and gave and gave. He gave to those who asked (the centurion) as well as to those who didn’t (Peter’s mother). He gave to those of great faith (the bleeding woman) and to those of little faith (those in the boat). Some would follow, most would not. I picture it like this, Jesus and his disciples get to a small rise in the street or at the end of town, somewhere he can look around and see. From that vantage point, not only where he’s been, but how many are still there. There is a moment of reflection on what has been done as the reality of what is left weighs in and instead of caving in or bemoaning the work still left; instead of focusing on the unbelievers and doubters after all his work; instead of posting a humble brag on Papyrusbook; He thinks only of others never himself and has compassion on them. He feels for their confusion, misunderstanding and ultimate lostness. Instead of being weary and worn out, he only notices they are the ones weary and worn out.

 

It is easy to focus on self but that is not what the greatest man to ever walk the earth did. He focused on others – always. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). I pray you and I are counted among the laborers.



May 17, 2020


When J.K. Rowling released her first Harry Potter book, she had no way of knowing the popularity it would have. The series’ super villain, Lord Voldemort, is better know as YouKnow-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. In the book, the wizarding community was so appalled and stunned by his actions, not to mention afraid of his return, they refused to even utter the name - Voldemort. This is not a new concept and Voldemort is not the original He-Who-Must-Not-BeNamed. The one true and living God holds that distinction. When the Ten Commandments were handed down on Mount Sinai, you may recall one of them was “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Eventually, out of both respect and fear, Jews began to omit both the speaking and writing of the name of God. In Leviticus 24:16 the Lord instructed Moses to tell the people, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” The purpose of the omission was to avoid any possibility of the name of God being used incorrectly or, if written, to be defaced or altered in any way. It was not uncommon for writers to leave out a letter in referring to God so technically by not writing His whole name they couldn’t be guilty of misusing it. Even today you can still find it written “G-d”.

 

While never explicitly saying, “Do not speak my name,” the tradition among the Jews arose as a way to make sure they were in compliance with the commands of God. One could argue they went a little too far. On the other hand, modern humanity, including those who claim to be Christians, seem to have zero qualms about referencing God’s name in any and all situations. Even in casual conversation one can hear the name of God invoked without any conscious thought of the awesome power, might and love possessed by the creator of this world who will one day stand as judge (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus also warns, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36).

 

I am not suggesting we return to the tradition of refusing to even speak the name of God; we are told to proclaim the message throughout the world. However, the next time a cup of marinara sauce is dropped in your lap or you start to type OMG as a response to someone’s humble brag on social media, it would be a good idea to think about whether the exclamation is bringing glory and honor to God or simply a careless utterance and potential blasphemy. Even the demons know who God is and they shudder at the thought of Him (James 2:19).



May 10, 2020


I started my boys out with BB guns at an early age. I intentionally got guns with safeties on them and we had frequent “safety checks” as we went on walks together in the great outdoors with our BB guns. I would suddenly stop and say, “Check your safety. Is it on?” Generally, the answer, following a quick visual check was “Yes sir, safety on!” Occasionally I would get, “Umm, no but my gun is not cocked.” “My gun is not cocked is the BB gun equivalent to, “My gun is not loaded” in big guns. Most accidental shootings occur with guns thought to be unloaded or, in the case of BB guns, un-cocked. Gun safety is paramount and we are very intentional about creating safe habits around guns in our home. Still, accidents happen. I remember the day I was unintentionally shot in my pinky finger. We were working on a duck blind and I am pretty sure my pinky finger was covering my heart as I pulled on the rope trying to get a trailer unstuck. I heard the familiar “pumff” as one of the boys discharged his gun while walking in front of me with his gun angled back over his shoulder. Immediately, he froze when the gun discharged. In fact, I froze (I was counting to ten – three times), the birds quit singing and even the ripples in the water paused momentarily as my son turned nervously around to see what damage his accidental shot had incurred. “Daddy, I didn’t know it was cocked!” he cried. But it was cocked. Thankfully, I was the one shot in the pinky finger and not someone else in the eye (or me in the eye).

 

Last night that same son led us in nightly devotional and used Jeremiah 1:17, “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them,” as the basis for his thought. We are to be intentional and prepared for work in the kingdom. Peter says it like this, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13) In life we dress for, practice for and train for success. We intend and expect successfulness. We make plans based on our presumed success. Are we just as intentional with the spiritual, Godly side of our life? Do we view Christianity as integral to our life or is there a separation between our life and our spirituality? Are you intentional in your walk with Christ? Do you practice Christianity? Peter said, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). Clearly, accidents happen even when we are intentional. What might befall us when we are indifferent?



May 3, 2020


When I was a smaller kid (I’m a bigger kid now), there was a show on channel 10 kind of like Sesame Street and the Electric Company, only not as much, as I recall. The name of the show was ZOOM. It was basically middle schoolers doing different projects and challenges sent in by viewers. Originally airing in 1972, there was an attempt at revival in the 1990s that lasted 7 seasons. Today, Zoom has reentered the vernacular not as a TV show but as a video conferencing application. While it has been around since 2012, the recent ban on meeting face to face has provided a boost to its popularity and use. The youth group has been meeting on Tuesday nights and a children’s class has been conducted using the app on Sunday mornings. [If you are interested in either of these and have not figured out how to attend, call me.] I also have the privilege of joining another Zoom on Sunday evening for the last couple weeks that started with a group of baseball coaches and parents. It has grown well beyond the free capacity of Zoom and last Sunday night had over 200 participants listening in as former St. Louis Cardinal, Matt Holliday joined us to talk about keeping and growing a faith in God while playing Major League Baseball. Theologically, I am sure we would disagree on some issues but I couldn’t help notice even as a MLB player with a multi-million dollar contract (to play a game), he still had struggles and many were the very same struggles we have in our daily, not so high paying, shall we say “normal” lives where we get admonished or even fired for playing games! Matt gives a lot of the credit for his faith to the men he was drawn to and surrounded himself with. There are several reasons for this brief history lesson. First, while the things around us change, often drastically, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and “For while we were still weak, at the right time …while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6- 8). Our faith belongs in Christ, not things that come and go (Matthew 6:19-20). Secondly, all change is not bad. Since being forced to go to this temporary style of worship, we are getting views consistently above the 400 mark. Many of those views representative of two or more people, one could surmise attendance has gone up and/or people are seeking. Finally, regardless of income, social status or career, we all struggle. As more people seek to anchor to something solid, we need to be prepared to answer their questions and pull people from the shifting sands of humanism, globalism and materialism to the solid rock that is our God and King. We need to be ready to surround them with truth and love. We need to show, “He alone is our rock and our salvation, our fortress; we shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:2).



April 26, 2020


Like buzzards soaring and sniffing out the smell of death, the SARS-CoV-2 circles high above, unseen, yet waiting to swoop down and infect groups of 11, those who fail to maintain a safe 6-foot distance and the mask-less insubordinate who wander carelessly among us! It’s not that I don’t believe there is a novel strain of the corona virus being transmitted or that there are those who have died from it. It’s not that I don’t believe those deaths are sad and the new world order that prevents the comforting of loved ones during this time of loss is even sadder. Death is almost always sad and a difficult time for those who know and love the deceased. There is a virus being transmitted around the globe and it is, while not living up to its billing, taking lives. Particularly hard hit are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Over the past month I have heard some heart wrenching stories.

 

Still, there is something disturbing about the world’s response to the virus. What disturbs me most are the inconsistencies and ignorance. I see them everywhere from the recommendations on how to stop the spread to how people wear their masks and gloves. We allow big box stores to funnel us in and out (a measure to protect themselves, not us). We hoard supplies because others hoard supplies. We wear masks and gloves, touch everything everywhere and then adjust our mask with the gloved hands we just touched everything with! None the less, we are comfortable and feel safer because we wait in line to spend our money, wear masks and gloves and have plenty of toilet paper but true protection requires a change of personal habits. When you really think about it, there are many similarities between protecting ourselves from a virus and preparing ourselves for eternal life. When it comes to religion, there are many inconsistencies and much ignorance too. There is no excuse for ignorance – we have the Bible, “a lamp for our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105). When we live lives inconsistent with the truth of God’s Word, it is confusing, frustrating and possibly damning for those new to the Word of God and those whose knowledge of the Word is based on the words of those who “teach as doctrine the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), never actually looking to scripture for truth. You have surely heard it said, “You could be the only Bible another person ever reads.” How sad is that if we are simply mindless spiritual automatons simply doing what we are told and never asking why or searching the scriptures to “work out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let us resolve to shine and live consistent with the Word and bring glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16) so we may hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).



April 19, 2020


Left to it’s own devices, I have observed humanity, especially young people, untainted by prejudice, display levels of compassion and unmerited kind-heartedness exceeding by far the predictions and expectations of science and behavioralist; ultimately destroying any sort of evolutionary thought, theistic or otherwise. Evolution cannot explain altruistic behaviors. Altruistic behaviors are behaviors exhibited out of concern for others without regard for self or expectations of reciprocation. The ‘survival of the fittest’ mantra of natural selection leaves no room for this compassion and concern for the weak and/or unlucky. How does it benefit a young man to stop and help two old ladies with car trouble? What survival edge is gained from exposing oneself to harm when we visit the sick and infirmed? Ultimately, in evolution, it all comes down to who can survive to pass on genetic information. Learned behaviors can be impressive and complicated, but in evolution all behaviors lead to survival. I watched a starling open the flap of an unused dryer vent to take food to its young. There must be thousands of places to build a nest that do not require the massive energy expenditure just to get to the nest. The bird does a kind of a jump hover while opening a flap and clawing for the newly revealed edge so it can crawl inside. None of those other places ensure safety against the weather and predators. None of those places have a higher rate of survival than the dryer vent – at least when starlings began using the vents. This learned nesting behavior helps the survival of the species. Altruistic behaviors do not. In fact, altruism can be detrimental to survival, hence sayings like, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

 

So where does altruism come from? Let’s start with Genesis 1:26-27 where we learn we are created in the image of God. Our compassion, love and mercy are created within us. They are part of who we are and what sets us apart from the rest of God’s creation. Do not mistake a mother bear’s rage when she perceives her cubs to be threatened as love. Her actions are about preserving life in her species. How else can you explain the same mother bear ignoring, leaving behind or even shunning the cub born with a severe birth defect? Until recently, humanity would never walk away from babies with defects. Actually, the neonatal intensive care unit is all about saving babies who would otherwise die. Evolution cannot account for love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), indicating the ability exists within us and demonstrating love is also a learned behavior we must be taught and teach. Because love exists in all of us, it must be shaped. Paul warns of the love of money in 1 Timothy 6:10 and of selfishness in Philippians 2:3; examples of mis-trained love.

 

Since love is in us naturally Since love is in us naturally, but must be molded, the ultimate question is, with what love are we shaping the world around us?



April 12, 2020


Have you noticed what is going on? Spring has sprung! Color is bursting forth from the dull shades of winter. The bright yellows of the forsythia and buttercups have already begun to fade and be replaced with the white of the dogwoods and pink of the redbuds. Azaleas are exploding and the roses are filled with buds just waiting their turn. The trees are green again! All this of course means the grass, or more accurately, the weeds in the yard need cutting too. There are a few down sides that come with all this color; pollen counts are way high. If you have allergies, you may be suffering from itchy watery eyes, runny noses and frequent sneezing. Your car and everything else you see, is probably tinted with a yellowish green haze as well. Bugs are back too! Maybe you have noticed the reemergence of crane flies; harmless, but none the less disturbing when they fall on your neck while watching a movie with the lights out. While the birds have been at the feeder all winter, the males now appear a bit more colorful and they are certainly singing earlier, longer and louder as they try and attract a mate. At night the crickets are beginning to chirp and a myriad of frogs are vocalizing from the chorus frog that sounds like someone running their finger over a comb to the incessant “cheep-cheep” of the spring peepers as they all try and find a suitable mate. Did you know you can count the number of cricket chirps in 14 seconds then add 40 and get the exact temperature in degrees Fahrenheit? If your number doesn’t match the thermometer, check your math and make sure you are listening to a cricket and not a cricket frog!


It is easy to be distracted by all that is going on in the news and emergency declarations. It would be a shame if we didn’t notice one of the more glorious times of the year before the summer heat sets in. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20). Take a moment today to look out a window or step outside and just watch for a minute as life goes on and remember what is most important. “There is a God. He is alive. In Him we live and we survive.”