Brother Jeff Phillips Message

April 18, 2021


Do you remember that song from when we were children, Be Careful Little Eyes What You See? It went like this: Oh be careful little eyes what you see. Oh be careful little eyes what you see. For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see. The second verse is ears what you hear. After that is hands what you do, feet where you go and finally mouth what you say. Whoever wrote this song scripturally nailed it. You see all the roads we go down begin with our eyes. Robert Frost wrote about a fork in the road and choosing the road less travelled, but ultimately he made his choice because of what he saw. We need to guard our eyes. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The wide and easy way is often tempting even if it is more crowded. It appeals to our sense of acceptability because we reason, “How could it be wrong if so many people are doing it?” This verse says a lot about following the crowd. We need to be careful who and what we follow. Interestingly, many forms of social media give the option of following or being a follower. What floods your news feed or inbox is determined by what you choose to follow or be a part of. Jesus said “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23). We cannot continue to fill our eyes with just a “little bit” of sin and expect it will not affect us in any way simply because we recognize a behavior as wrong. Paul went so far as to ask the Romans, “How can we who have died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:1)? Paul was not insinuating we pull out of society and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world, he was asking how we can continue to put ourselves in the path of sin when we have declared to live in the light. How can we continue to allow sin to go unchallenged in our lives? Let’s pick on movies for an example. They have a rating system to tell us how much sin is each one and most of us still go in spite of the ratings. We can block the sin out and still get a good message from the movie right? If the message was good then why can’t it be delivered without sin? Why do we have to accept sin in our lives? Admittedly, there are times when we are exposed to sin against our will; all the more reason to be careful with our eyes when we have the power to choose.

 


April 11, 2021


You have most likely heard the claim, “If you tell someone a lie long enough, it will be hard for them to believe the truth they only hear once” or some similar phrase. Certainly the media has proven this point time and time again. Nearly always, there is a negative connotation to the utterance of this phrase, just as there is when we talk about peer pressure. Rarely do we talk about the positive influences of peer pressure and truth but in a book I am reading, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Aibileen Clark, the maid and care giver for the Leefolts, employs a different strategy. Set in the sixties, in Jackson Mississippi, the fictional book points out some uncomfortable truths about some lifestyles in our history. Caught up in social expectations of the time, Elizabeth Leefolt, a stay-at-home mom, largely ignores her baby girl leaving her in the care of Aibileen, her hired help. Aibileen decides to tell little Mae Mobley, the Leefolt’s daughter every day, multiple times a day, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important. ”Some of Baby Girl’s first words are, “I is kind, I is smart, I is important. ”This is clearly Aibileen’s effort to build and maintain little Mae Mobley’s confidence and self-esteem preparing her for a world that may not be so nice. I see kids every day, on my bus, in front of the school and at church and I cannot help but wonder how many ever hear, “You are kind, you are smart, you are important. ”To be sure, it takes more than just saying it, we have to mean it too. Empty compliments are picked up quickly by children. We need to remind and tell our children every day they are kind, because they were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and he is kind (Psalm 117:2; 63:3).We must tell them they are smart. This does not mean they won’t do dumb things. The beginning of knowledge is fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) and we must teach them and speak of Him often (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).They will hear believing in God is foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18) but we know it is not and must be prepared to combat this untruth by bringing our children up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We must remind them always, they are important; important enough that God sent his only Son so they might be saved. We must let them know over and over of their value in our lives, and in the kingdom. As we tell them we must also show them. We show them the kindness God instilled in us all by being kind –to everyone, regardless of their exterior image. We continue in our own studies to learn more of God and His will, demonstrating His importance in our lives. We illustrate their importance by stopping long enough to listen and love. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How much more should we show our own children?

 


April 4, 2021


It was Sunday morning, so boxer shorts, a hoodie and my crocs were really all I would need to move the goats from their pen to the kudzu patch I am keeping at bay with their voracious, non-selective diets. No one was up yet and the rains from Saturday night ensured I wouldn’t cross paths with anyone to question or be surprised by my pre-church attire. I couldn’t very well complete the task in my suit and tie.1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." For the record, my rooster is the same way. He came out from behind the stump with his neck feathers flared, his wing tips down and that side ways walk he does when he’s feeling frisky. He stopped five feet away and blinked for the first time as if to say “fill your hands!" Far off I could hear the theme music from Clint Eastwood’s 1966 film, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. When he came I had nothing to fill my hands with and my first kick was a miss. My right croc went sailing through the air. The left footed swing that followed was weaker but connected but I lost the other croc. I dare not try to retrieve either for risk of putting myself in a tactically weak position. Now bare footed, in the mud and on a slight slope, I was at a serious disadvantage. If I slipped and fell, it would be over. I was vaguely aware the rest of the flock was moving closer to witness the showdown. I feinted with left kick. He took the bait and I connected with a solid, barefoot right launching him over the stump and temporarily out of sight. Not waiting for him to gather his wits for another charge, I gathered my scattered footwear and made for the house. Breathing hard, I entered the kitchen relieved to see there were no witnesses to my heroic, yet somewhat embarrassing actions. This was not our first showdown and likely will not be our last. He is normally a very good rooster - except when he is not. Be prepared and never show weakness or fear. When in doubt, choose another route, but do it before he can challenge you.


Satan really is a lot like this rooster. You know he is around, waiting on you to drop your guard. He will not attack when you are ready, but in a moment of weakness he approaches. He came to Jesus after forty days fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) thinking he may be unprepared. He didn’t have the courage to face Job until he’d taken almost everything from him (Job 1:7-12). When he “sifted Peter like wheat” (Luke 22:31) it was in a moment of confusion and pain. To avoid Satan all together is best. "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).

-jeff          

 


March 28, 2021


Last Saturday Jedidiah and I took our dogs to Bruce, MS to run what I thought might be our last hunt test together for a while. As I watched Jedidiah and Duke expertly run through the test a lot of memories came to mind. It was a great day witnessing the two of them work through the test together, each feeding off the other. Duke is Jedidiah’s second dog. His first, Jedidiah’s Dark Stormy Knight (Stormy), was lost too soon in a tragic accident shortly after they got their first title. Not long after that horrible night, we had the opportunity to purchase Duke. Jedidiah had pick of the litter and it didn’t take him long to choose the biggest rollie pollie, black fur ball in the bunch. They got along great, spending many hours together through the puppy stage. Jedidiah did a great job with basic obedience and I helped him with his force fetch training. As training progressed, I began to notice Jedidiah pulling away from Duke a bit. It seemed training was forced and no longer fun. One day we were training in the big field in front of Austin Peay Elementary School. The session wasn’t going well for the two of them and I felt it was mostly Jedidiah’s fault. So I just asked him, probably not nicely, “Son, do you even want the dog? ”I know I was in the midst of more comments about the dog’s potential and how much he cost and ... then I saw him not moving, just standing with his back to me and I knew he was crying. I felt so stupid. As I walked over and just hugged him, he sobbed, “Dad, he’s not Stormy.” It was the first mention of Stormy since the night he died. We stood in the field and cried together for some time as Duke came and stood by his man and waited patiently and quietly. I told Jedidiah, “No son, he is not Stormy. He is Duke. He may never be as good and he may be better, but he will be neither if we keep treating him as something he is clearly not. We have to let Stormy go and let Duke be Duke.” As I watched them run Saturday, I recalled the scene as though it were yesterday. Maybe the words didn’t come out exactly like I’ve written, but the thought I was trying to convey is spot on. When we left the field that day, Jedidiah and Duke started to become the team they were meant to be. Interestingly, Stormy remains a part of their story and their success is no dishonor to his memory. Their success began by letting go of the past and moving forward. Holding on to the past in our lives often prevents us from achieving what we were intended to achieve. Whether it is a loved one, a career or even past mistakes or sins: Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), and we cannot -until we accept forgiveness and move on.

 


March 21, 2021


The type of bus I drive on my route is known as a front engine transit bus. It is one of those flat fronted buses where the driver actually sits beside the motor and in front of the front tires. There are pros and cons to this design. The pros include great visibility, especially for kids passing in front of the bus, and more seating in a shorter bus. The biggest con for me is that in the unfortunate event of an accident, I am likely to be the first one there! I drive carefully so that particular con never comes into play. I also take advantage of the engine cove necessarily placed inside the bus. I use it as a reward. If you ride the way you are supposed to ride while we leave the school and travel down the highway, when we get into your neighborhood and very close to your house, you may come sit on the cowling for the last few feet of your journey home. Most of the older kids could care less, but the younger ones love it. One in particular. Every time I tell her she can’t sit on the engine because she didn’t sit in her seat, she promises she will ‘not ever, never ride my bus again’, to which I simply say, “OK.”“I mean it this time, Bus Driver! ”“OK Sweetie,” I respond as we pull up to her stop. I stick out my fist for the special hand shake and as we work through it, I say, “See you tomorrow?” and she replies, “Yep, see you tomorrow! ”On the better days when she gets to ride the cover, I have her announce the two stops before her house. I told her it was practice for when she becomes a flight attendant and flies all over the world. She says into the PA, “Eddie, we have arrived at your destination. ”As Eddie leaves the bus, she smiles and says, “Thank you for riding with us today, I hope you enjoyed your trip.”

As I hear her little kindergarten voice say, “We have arrived at you destination,” I can’t help but smile and think about my destination. I have no idea when I’ll get there but I cannot wait to hear my Savior say, “Welcome, you have arrived at your destination.” To quote the song, “What a day, glorious day that will be!” I think of another song we sing in the youth group: “Who’s that walkin’ down the road, carryin’ such heavy load? Sinner lay your burden down, ‘cause you’re walkin’ down Heaven’s road!” Jesus says, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), but not if we lose focus or perspective. Your destination is just ahead. Don’t give up. Stay the course. Cast your cares upon Him. We are almost there.

 


March 14, 2021


This past weekend was pretty awesome and I hope you were able to attend the Gospel meeting. Robby Eversole did an outstanding job. If you missed any of the lessons, you can go to the church’s Facebook page and catch up. Additionally, you can go to the church website (https://www.covingtoncofc.com), scroll down and click on ‘church media’, then click on click on “online sermons’ and take your pick. It’s pretty clear Robby has preached a few sermons before, has a talent and passion for sharing the Gospel, and loves to share God’s word with anyone who will listen. As Mike and I shared lunch with him on Saturday, he shared with us a story about when his son was around nine and they were at a Gospel meeting. At the end of the meeting, his son went up to the preacher, shook his hand and said something along the lines of, “That was a fine lesson and I enjoyed hearing it. ”Without hesitation, the preacher looked at young Robby Jr. and said, “Thank you, and I hope I live long enough to hear you preach one day too. ”It impressed Robby so much, he often repeats the same phrase to young men today and even some of us older guys. He believes strongly we should be encouraging our young men to preach the Gospel. I agree. Paul agreed too as he quoted the prophet Isaiah saying, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:14-15) By the way, Robby Jr. is now a preacher of Gospel! He was not always a preacher, in fact he has a very captivating story of how he decided to preach. Maybe one day you can hear him tell it. Suffice it to say, “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). Your opportunity to encourage our young people will come on Saturday, April 3, as we have our first ever “at home mini-convention” for Lads to Leaders. You may recall last year’s convention was cancelled and this year’s convention is so limited, most families have decided not to attend. We still support and believe in Lads to Leaders as a tool to help young people develop their talents for the Lord. In order to not miss two years in a row, we will hold our own “convention”. Please take the opportunity to encourage young people to participate and plan on coming to hear them read from God’s word, sing song of praise to His name and hone their skills in speaking to others about Him.

Mark your calendars: April 3, 2021 @ 2:00! 

-jeff         




 March 7, 2021


Last Saturday I ran my dog Fly in her first hunt test. It was a pretty basic, entry level test consisting of two single marks on land and two in the water. Simply put, this means a bird was thrown and she had to go get it and bring it back. Then we’d swing at least 90 degrees to the right where another bird would be thrown for her to retrieve. If she was successful with those two marks on land, later in the morning, we’d try the same thing in the water. For a retriever you’d think this was pretty easy. Additionally, knowing exactly what is expected of her, she was completely prepared - so I thought. After the judges of the test explained and demonstrated the test, we were ready to start. There were over thirty dogs like Fly running the test today and the only problem was no one to throw the birds. I had to go last because Fly was coming out of a heat cycle (this can be very distracting for male dogs), so I volunteered to throw so we could “get the show on the road”. As I sat behind the hide and watched dog after dog struggle to find and pick up the bird then take it back to their handler, I began to have doubts. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were prepared enough. By the time my turn came to step to the line, my confidence in Fly had waned. It was still high, but not like earlier in the morning. I’d seen too many dogs with sub-par performances. I was thinking of all the negative things she might do. I was wondering if I had trained enough. Reflecting, I was surprised at how the failure of others had so quickly challenged my confidence. Several scriptures came to mind, “train up a child” in Proverbs 22:6 was first. We need to remember our training. Life is full of “tests”, in fact James said to consider it all joy when we encounter them (James 1:2-4) and we are equipped to handle them. Sure, our trials may be hard and others may fail, but we need to retrain to focus on three things. First, God promises to go with us (Hebrews 13:5) and gave a spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7) with which we can successfully navigate life. Second, we have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1-3). Instead of being limited by others who have little or no training and therefore fail, we need to focus on those who have succeeded because we can too. Finally, in the words of Jimmy McMahan, “There is no lesson like a bought lesson.” Failure is costly, but also valuable if we refuse to wallow in self-pity. Get up, retrain, refocus and get ready for the next test. Ultimately, we are His and nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:38-39)

 


February 28, 2021


I love the snow, especially big snow. I know there are a lot of folks that hate it, but not me, I even pray for it! Some of my fondest memories ever are because of and in the snow. I remember walking with my dad down the empty street to go get milk at the 7-11, not because there was a run on milk but because we were out and needed some. We’d make that walk when it wasn’t snowing too but when it snows, I remember those quiet, surreal walks. I remember Fred and I going all over the city in search of the fastest hill. The one by the Raleigh church of Christ was always one of the best. Later, I remember going to Kenneth and Brenda’s and sledding into the night where the dryer ran constantly, the hot chocolate and cookies were endless and laughter reigned supreme. No matter how many times the boys wanted to go again, Mr. Kenneth was ready and willing. When Beau called me Saturday night at 7:30 and said, “Dad, you gotta come try this run Jedidiah and I made in the pasture!” I put on my coat and boots and headed for the door. How could I not? Earlier in the week, we shared the hill with Wes Henson and his family. Wes is Brenda’s nephew and has two girls. I’d left my gloves in the truck in my haste to get to the hill. In making the trek back, I followed Wes’ tracks to the driveway. Beside and a little behind his massive footprint there was the imprint of a tiny snow boot; the one on his youngest daughter’s foot. I could tell Clara was follow along taking three steps to his one as I observed the footprints. Smiling, I could almost hear her excited chatter as they left prints together in the deep snow. Eventually she figured out it was easier to walk if she utilized, when possible, her daddy’s prints. While she couldn’t match them step for step, as often as she could, her print was found inside of his. The impact of fatherhood was profoundly illustrated in these two sets of footprints. Fathers lead children. Daddies, our kids will walk the way we walk, talk the way we talk, and go the direction we lead them. I know there are exceptions, but the next time you see tracks, remember you are making tracks too. “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children—how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.” (Deuteronomy4:9-10).

 


February 21, 2021


The Psalmist David spoke volumes when he said, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Not only are we fearfully and wonderfully made, we are made different. The process of our getting here is essentially the same, yet the product is necessarily different. Some of us come out darker than others, some taller and some shorter. These are just physical characteristics, when we look at our emotional differences, our preferences and our spirituality, the differences are even greater. It is not breaking news to find out we are all different, but even with these differences, we are called to unity. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind ...” (1 Peter 3:8). With all of our differences, how can unity be possible? Paul highlights our differences in 1 Corinthians 12, comparing each one of us to different parts of the body, thereby illustrating the necessity of our differences and giving us a clue to maintaining unity. John Simpson once asked, “What is wrong if you turn on your headlights and they cast a shadow, or if you honk your horn and it sucks instead of blows?” The answer is simple –you have your battery hooked up backwards. The problem with unity is very similar; we are looking at unity backwards. Often we see differences as weakness instead of strength -even in ourselves (although most don’t really like to focus on how we are different). Unity is not everyone doing the exact same thing. Yet we expect others to be at our spiritual level, with no tolerance for differences. This lack of compassion and understanding is in direct conflict with Paul’s words to the Romans in 15:1. We have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak (ESV). Do not misunderstand, “there is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). The issue here is not the oneness of God, but the failure to recognize His presence in our lives; “over all and through all and in all.” From the beginning we were made in His image (Genesis 1:26). We need to dig deep and find the compassion He placed within us, using the diversity He gave us to spread the word of His kingdom rather than allow fear and jealousy to destroy us from within.

 


February 14, 2021


After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, it must have been exciting to finally cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. It was no doubt an impressive and exciting event as all of Israel crossed the river on dry ground. Included in the “parade” were 40,000 who crossed over in “battle array” and “equipped for war” (Joshua 3;4:12-13). All the kings of the Amorites and Canaanites heard of this great crossing and lost all hope. Without a doubt the God coming with Israel would ensure the king’s defeat (Joshua 5:1).

The first city on the list to conquer, Jericho. Shut up tight against the sons of Israel, Jericho was surrounded by wall. I can only imagine what the reaction of the leaders of Israel were when they assembled to go over the battle plan. It must have seemed ridiculous to come in ready to fight and conquer in the name of the Lord only to be told to walk quietly around the city for seven days. On the heels of a forty year consequence for doubting and then walking across the Jordan on dry ground, everyone complied with the directions and on day seven, after following the directions of the Lord, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down!“ Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:21).

The next city slated for defeat was Ai. Spies came back reporting Ai would fall easily and there was no need to send everyone, a couple thousand would do. After all, when the Lord is with us, we have nothing to fear, right? As the small contingency of soldiers went up to capture Ai, they were driven back and 36 killed (Joshua 7:4,5). How could so great a victory be accomplished at Jericho only to be followed by so great a defeat at Ai? As Joshua rent his clothes and petitioned the Lord, God answered him saying essentially, “Look Joshua, if you do what I say, I am with you. If you don’t, I am not. Most of you are obedient but one of you is not” (Joshua 7:10-12). How then are we to expect the same God to be with us when we are not trying to eliminate all sin from our lives? The guilty party turns out to be Achan. He spied a fancy garment and some silver and gold. He could not resist taking them and hiding them in his home. Who would know? Secret sin. After all, in the grand scheme of things, it was just a little bit and no one would even miss it. I can’t imagine what he reasoned but surely at some point he justified himself thinking God would want me to be happy. What God really wants is obedience based in love. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Since we love Him, let us make every effort to eliminate every sin form our lives!

 


February 7, 2021


Sunday, January 24, was national compliment day. The youth group celebrated by having compliment “duels”. We concluded it’s a whole lot easier to insult someone than compliment them. There are lots of reasons. We also discovered compliments are hard for some people to take. No matter what the situation some manage to deflect the compliment and minimize their role. On the other hand, there are those who seek so diligently for a compliment no one dares utter one -even in their general direction. We are told to encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), implying we are to not only give compliments and encouragement but accept them as well.

I have a study guide that starts with, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:28). When I turned to Luke to read further, it appeared at first Jesus was shirking a compliment. However, Jesus had just given a small speech full of wisdom and discernment when a woman from the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed!” Jesus’ response was not shirking the compliment or playing it down. He was emphatically showing how this woman had missed the point. One can almost hear his frustration as he essentially explains, “No, no, no! This is not about Me or My wisdom it is about God and doing what He says!” How many of us have missed the point? By all means praise Jesus. Certainly, we are saved by the blood of Christ. Undoubtedly, we cannot earn salvation. God has exalted Him and given Him a name above all names (Philippians 2:9) and we should praise, honor and love Him but we cannot miss the point. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

Let’s not miss the point. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above ... Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth ...Put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Do not lie to one another....Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another ... forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:1-16).

 


January 31, 2021


Hunting public ground is not always easy. Most public ground limits access by all-terrain vehicles to law enforcement, forestry and the handicapped hunters. Decoys, blinds and other equipment usually cannot be left each day meaning walking also includes carrying. The first hundred and fifty yards will often make you re-think the gear weighing you down and quickly reorder priorities! Competition from and sometime just the presence of other hunters might be the worst part of hunting on public property. Some are ill-trained in manners, etiquette, woodsmanship, sportsmanship and possess almost no common sense. Fortunately, these rude hunters are still in the minority. Even so, after all your preparation and scouting, hunting public ground is still “first come, first serve.” There is a bright side though, the best spots are often the toughest to access and this eliminates almost all competition. There is one spot, when the water is right, I love to go, but it is not easy to get to. Even having gone hundreds of times, there are some mornings I struggle to find it, lengthening both time and distance of the already grueling trek to glory. If you have ever walked in the woods at night, you know everything within the cone of light looks pretty much the same. We don’t mark the trail, because markers would lead others straight to “the honey hole”! The trip back is always shorter because we can see exactly where we are going. Though shorter, walking out is tougher because we are usually wet, cold, hungry and the anticipation of a great hunt has been replaced with the extra weight of a successful hunt or occasionally, the disappointment of an unsuccessful venture. On the trail there is a huge tree that grows straight for the first ten feet, then angles about 30 degrees out over the trail. The angle is the result of another tree falling into it years ago. The fallen tree is long gone but the angle tree still remains growing and healthy. Located about 200 yards off the main road, around a slight bend in the trail, it is almost impossible to see the angle tree from the road. On the other hand, I have learned to pick it out easily on the way back to the truck. In fact, I long to see it on the journey back. It stands as a leaning beacon of hope. When I see it, I know the truck, relief from my burden, a heater and rest are only a couple hundred yards further. It’s all I need to finish. You probably know where this is going; “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross” when I see its image, it’s all I need to keep going. Jesus never said it would be easy  to  follow  him.In  fact,  He  said  just  the  opposite (Matthew 8:18-22, Luke 10:3, Mark 8:34). He did promise a wonderful place for those who endure to the end (Matthew10:22, 24:13,John 14:2-3). Don’t quit, keep your eyes on the cross – John 3:17.



January 24, 2021


When I started across the field towards the first of my traps, I missed my mark a little, looking right for the trap instead of left. Quickly realizing I’d driven by my first set, I turned to see I’d caught something! It was, I figured, lying there curled up and sleeping basking in the warm sun after spending a cold night on the edge of the field. With the coon “sleeping”, I went to check my other traps. Empty. I am not a very good trapper –yet. After swinging by the truck to get what I needed to reset the trap and take the coon, I drove straight to the set this time. This is when I figured out the coon was not sleeping as I first assumed, he’d been hiding. He watched me as I crossed the field, probably much like the first time, and I turned towards him, he quickly tucked his head and got really still; “sleeping” again. I said, “I can still see you. ”I really hate it when people personify animals because most of the time, they get it so wrong. It also makes it a little more difficult to do what has to be done. None the less, I could not help but hear a little raccoon voice in my head stutter, “N-No, you can’t see me, b-be-because I c-can’t see you!” Resisting the urge to argue and retort, “Yes, I can see you,” I instead thought of how sin, particularly when we are caught in it, can cause us to do some pretty silly things like cover our eyes so no one can see us; or lie when clearly lying only makes things worse; or stupidly reject all truth and walk away; or blame others. The list could go on and on! It’s impossible to predict exactly how we will react when someone rides up and sees us trapped. We can play it like the coon did; hiding, faking sleep hoping our discoverer would simply leave and not notice our struggle. Or maybe we exude that false bravado, I’m here because I want to be. I can leave anytime. I’m in complete control. Yeah, yeah, we can see from the circle of destruction surrounding you and the vice you are caught in. (I chose the term vice on purpose, because it is so much like a vise, the thing used to hold something firmly while you work it over. Only difference is we hold on to a vice as it works us over). Regardless of how we handle it, the truth is we are stuck and it is really more obvious than we’d like to admit. Here is another truth, not everyone who finds us is there to take our hide. In fact, the majority just want to help us get out of the trap. It’s not easy either but we are told, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Be watchful. Satan is seeking someone to devour.



January 17, 2021


Remission is the state of absence of disease activity in patients with known chronic illness. In a book I listened to recently, the main character said about her fiancé, “... the doctor proclaimed he is in remission; and now we all are.” Some of us have experienced the joy of hearing these words from doctors and almost all of us have prayed these words would come to a loved one. The phrase “and now we all are” struck me as significant. While cancer may only live in one, how greatly it affects the friends and family that surround that one. Cancer is an ugly word, often referred to as the big “C” because no one wants to hear it. We go to the ends of the earth to find a cure or hear the word “remission”. Similarly, we have gone to great extremes to avoid the COVID, another big “C”, but given a choice, I’ll take COVID over cancer any day. It seems we have quit living to keep from dying and the truth is we will all die anyway. In fact, the Bible says so, “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). I should not be amazed at the number of people who will lower a mask to smoke a cigarette, but I am. Interestingly, both the FDA and CDC claim more than 480,000 people per year die from smoking related illness while only 14% of Americans smoke. Seems a bit ridiculous right; people so willingly participating in something proven to harm the body? On the flip side, the measures taken to prevent the contraction of a disease with a 99% cure rate are just as astounding. I looked today again at the stats. In the United States, if you can trust the CDC to count, 352,464 people have succumbed to the virus https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases).With a population of 330.79 million ( https://www.census.gov/popclock/ ), the total death rate is .1%; that’s right, one tenth of one percent. For those who have lost loved ones to COVID, percentages do not matter, I understand that and I am sorry for your loss. While this article points out some hard truths that are not being told, the truth I am most concerned with is actually the last part of Hebrews 9:27. The verse concludes by saying “then comes the judgement”. You may “get away with” smoking. You may “get away with” not wearing a mask. You will not avoid judgement. This article is not to knock anyone’s attempt to preserve life and its quality while on earth, rather to challenge us all into thinking about what is sure to come and put just as much preparation into the promised afterlife as we put into our current life status. Matthew 6:19, 25-33 and Matthew 10:28 all come to mind. I know we cannot work or earn our way into heaven, but Jesus said “only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom” (Matthew 7:21, emphasis mine), but we must do something. What are you doing to prepare for your meeting with God?



January 10, 2021


What is the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner? Every hypocrite is a sinner but is every sinner a hypocrite? I hope you understand this article is written with the idea in mind that we are talking about Christians who sin. Further, these words are meant to make each of us look inward not outward thereby removing first the mote from our own eyes before trying to see the speck in the eyes of others (Matthew7:5). I am asked occasionally about people who come to church but don’t act like Christians away from church. This is hypocrisy defined or rather applied. Webster’s says a hypocrite is a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion or a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. A sinner is one who transgresses the law of God. Obviously, as Christians we believe sin is wrong and to tolerate it in our lives is yet another sin. Further, to say we have no sin means the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Therefore if we have sin in our lives, and we believe it is wrong, can we rightly say we are not hypocrites? To say yes contradicts the definition of hypocrite. Further investigation into the word hypocrite reveals words like secrecy, conceal and pretend. These words give us deeper insight to the meaning of the term and maybe shift our focus to another word – sinner. A sinner is lost but a penitent sinner is one who is sorry for and repents of sin. What is on the inside? Only God sees the inside and knows when we are pretending and when we are real. You know the saying, “... you can fool some people all the time ...” God is never fooled. To be called a hypocrite is a grave insult. As with all insults, we need to examine the validity of the charge before we “defend our honor.” There is a difference in a hypocrite and a penitent sinner. It’s found in attitude. The penitent sinner is humble recognizing always the inability to attain salvation without Christ. The hypocrite is prideful and focuses more on the failings of others than the failings of self. The penitent sinner is concerned with God’s way, the hypocrite more concerned with his way. The hypocrite justifies, the penitent sinner rectifies. We must ask, “Am I a penitent sinner or a hypocrite?” The answer requires a healthy dose of introspection and honesty for it has eternal consequences.  

   


January 3, 2021


In 2 Timothy 4 beginning in verse 9, we see Paul writing of some “personal concerns” and speaking very candidly about some people he and Timothy know. As he gives instruction to Timothy and encourages him to come see him, he tells him in verse 10 to pick up Mark and bring him with him for he (Mark) is “very useful” to him (Paul). Turns out, this is the same Mark who is also called “John” (Acts 12:12) and you may have heard him called “John Mark”. This is the Mark that penned, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Mark. While there are many lessons to learn from studying Paul and Mark’s relationship, I think we can learn much from the reactions of both men. First, we understand at one point in Mark’s growth, Paul and Mark had some sort of falling out. In Acts 13 we read that Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. However, something occurred and Mark departed the group at Perga of Pamphylia. We are not told why but later, at the start of the second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39) over Mark being added to the mission team. The disagreement resulted in Paul going with Silas and Barnabas taking Mark in another direction. Illustrated in their relationship are the two sides of forgiveness. On the one hand Paul was able to let go of a previous bad experience with Mark and eventually see him as a valuable partner in spreading the Gospel, hence his request for Timothy to bring Mark with him. It is easy to write off people who let us down, offend or hurt us. Clearly, at some point, Paul was able to give Mark a second chance. Secondly, Mark did not let the rift between them compromise his faith or his service to the Lord and His church. In other words, Mark did not quit even though he was rejected by Paul early on. We do not know what happened that caused Mark to go home early but we know Paul wanted nothing of him going on the second trip. If Mark had chosen to let this discouragement rule his life; if he’d begrudged Paul or let this disagreement stop his growth, maybe the Gospel according to Mark is never written. Worse still, maybe Mark leaves the faith. We are not told what caused Mark to go home and surely if we were told we’d have some folks agreeing with Mark and some folks siding with Paul. What we see in the end is two men of God who clearly worked past their differences to spread the Gospel. As 2021 approaches and new goals are set, let us resolve to move forward with the Gospel message together “holding fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).

 

I heard someone ask, “If there is someone between you and God, who is closer?” Let’s make sure there is no one person, place or thing standing between us and God. Happy New Year.



December 27, 2020


As I continue to study and read on the do’s and don’ts of trapping, one author cautioned, you must be ready to finish the job. He said if you can’t finish the job, do not start trapping. None of the videos I watched (except for the one with the skunk) showed exactly how the trappers dispatched their catch, but several showed snippets of animals caught in the traps. Trap technology has been advanced through the years to make traps as humane as possible. Those designed to hold, hold firmly but do not permanently harm the animal caught. Seeing the trapped animals reminded me of a time when my father and I were walking in the Mark Twain National Forest near my grandparent’s farm. One of Grandpa’s dogs trailing us began howling and yelping. He’d found a leg trap – with his leg. This has been over forty years ago and I am pretty sure some of the more painless advancements in trapping were still being developed but had not been implemented on this particular trap. I am certain there was at least a little pain, and it was exacerbated by his attempts to jerk free from the jaws of the double long spring trap holding his leg. I would imagine there was some embarrassment from actually getting caught - mostly because I would be embarrassed about falling for what was in hindsight an obvious error in judgement. There was panic and fear; a result of the suddenness of his predicament and the realization he was stuck with no way of escape far from the safety of Grandpa’s house. I don’t remember how long it took to free the dog, but it was a while; not because the process is difficult, with a double long spring trap you simply have to compress the two long springs and viola, the trap is open. Getting to the springs with a dog whose heightened emotional state, large teeth and complete mistrust for the two humans in front of him took several attempts and lots of calm, smooth talking. It took some time to convince this canine to let us get close enough to help. He growled, barked, clawed and snapped as we tried to get close enough to release him from the trap all the while intensifying his pain.

 

Interestingly, humans who are caught in sin often react similarly. They lash out, say ugly things and try to hurt the very people who are trying to ease their pain. We need to remember, often their meanness and irrational behaviors are the result of their pain, embarrassment and confusion - not our willingness to help. James wrote, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). We can’t give up; even when there is a chance of getting bit. A soul is at stake. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).



December 20, 2020


When the boys began to fill the shed with deer this fall, I decided to try my hand at tanning. I have three deer hides I am working on. I tanned a piece of coyote fur and a mole I caught obliterating my yard. There is a little work involved, especially on the fleshing beam but it has been fun so I am considering trying my hand at a little trapping. As I began reading and watching about the things I would need and the methods employed in catching the fur bearers, a familiar scripture keeps coming to mind, James 1:14, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The key to successful trapping appears to be in first knowing the behaviors of your quarry and then using those behaviors and desires to draw the animal into the trap you have set. Put simply, it’s hard to catch a coyote by setting a trap in a place coyotes never go with enticements that are not enticing. Similarly, since Satan is the hunter and we are the hunted (1 Peter 5:8), we must remember he is not likely to set a trap for us in places we do not frequent. This means he, Satan, could set a trap within the assembly of the Saints! Yes, Satan, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, could easily entrap us while we think we are being righteous. False prophets and teachings can be a trap but the Lord also warns of quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder as Paul did with the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20). As we walk through this life, we need to be aware that while Satan cannot see into our hearts as does the Lord, he can observe our behaviors and habits and will set his enticements in the places we often think are safe because of their normalcy. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and selfcontrol with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Peter goes on to say, “If you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). When we are intentional in our Christian walk, we are more likely to recognize Satan’s efforts before we succumb to them. I learned effective sets all had certain things in common. Through careful placement of sticks, old bones, rocks and even grass, effective trappers subtly guided their victims toward the trap. While individually these “guides” are normal, collectively, they are an obvious red flag – to those for whom the trap was not set. This makes it tough to understand when we see others caught in a trap because to us the trap was so evident. But alas, “each one is tempted by his own desire”. We must also remember, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). It is my prayer we all see the traps before we step in them.



December 13, 2020


“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors … For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (excerpts from James 2:1-13). James is talking about prejudice. Specifically, in this case the preconceived notion that the rich deserve better treatment than the poor. While some still struggle with the rich vs poor thing, we are more familiar with racism; wherein preconceived thoughts were/are placed on someone because of their skin color. Paul says in Christ, we are all one. There is no Jew nor Greek, no slave no free; he even says we are not male or female – when we are in Christ (Galatians 3:28). God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11) at least to those who do His will, they will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21) regardless of their outward appearance. Since God is looking at the heart of man (1 Samuel 16:7) it behooves us to work harder to see past the outer shell too. It’s easy to cast aspersions on those who look different. It’s easy to draw conclusions about what they are thinking and even make predictions about what kind of person they are based on how different they are. “Well, you know people like that are just …” The truth of the matter is this, people like that are just human, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) for Him and by Him (Colossians 1:16). Therefore, it is our duty to love them, not pass unrighteous judgement on them based on their outward appearance. “Oh but it is clear by their appearance they are an unloving sort, if they loved they would …” Be careful! Remember, the measure by which you judge someone will be the measure by which you are judged (Mathew 7:2). While we are to make some judgements, they must not be based on outward appearance, but on the “fruit of our labors” (John 7:24). In talking of false prophets Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Interestingly, the only love shown by some is their outward appearance. In fact, if it weren’t for some folks telling you how much they loved humanity, you’d never know! May something so vile never be said about members of the Lord’s church! Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).



December 6, 2020


For the last couple of weeks, the house has generally smelled exceptionally good. Jennifer cooks a lot but this time of year she spends a little more time in and around the kitchen preparing for the various celebrations and gatherings associated with the holiday season. Having been blessed with a mother, aunts and grandmothers who spent a lot of time in the kitchen, she developed a love for cooking and as my girth will attest, is quite talented. Much of what she makes, she makes from scratch. We don’t hear the term “made from scratch” very often. It means, in the kitchen, to start with the most basic ingredients. Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines and Pillsbury have made baking cakes and brownies easy and Aunt Jemima makes pancakes a breeze; just add water and stir. The term has its roots in foot racing according to Miriam Webster. A race typically begins with all the runners behind a line scratched in the dirt, hence the term starting from scratch with no one getting a head start. Truth be told, we don’t do much from scratch anymore in the kitchen or anywhere else. The hardware store is filled with gadgets and jigs to make life easier and work more efficient. For almost everything there is an app you can load to your cell phone or computer to solve or help with life’s most challenging tasks. Even spiritually, life has been made relatively easy for most people. Like Timothy, parents and grandparents have paved the way to faith for many of us (2 Timothy 1:5). One might even argue the existence of denominations is the result of simplifying the “recipe” for salvation, providing all the necessary ingredients in one handy package; just add water – or not – or sprinkle it on – or maybe just hold the box you don’t actually have to make it; just hold on to the box – or maybe just keep it in the pantry on the shelf – but put it in the front so people who happen to look will see you know how to cook - I mean that you’re a Christian. Nevermind. Maybe we need to go back to the scratch line every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, head starts and shortcuts are nice. However, more and more I meet people who are spiritually starting from scratch and handing them a “boxed religion” is simply not the answer. We need to develop an understanding for how the ingredients work together to make something that’s not just palatable but something truly remarkable and scrumptious. Made from scratch is not always better. In a perfect world, absolutely - but in reality, salt and sugar look the same and there is a measured difference in “T” and “t”. One taste and it is obvious what is missing or what there is too much of. One taste and we can see what needs to be corrected. Starting from scratch spiritually means starting with the Bible. As we approach the new year, let’s commit to working harder in the spiritual kitchen.



November 29, 2020


Class began with John poking his head in the door to share with us an interesting and deep question he posed to the middle schoolers when one of them declined participation in a questionable activity taking place in the youth room before class, based on the fact he was “wearing church clothes”. Overhearing the conversation, John asked the young men, “If the church is the people (it is by the way, see Acts, 2:47; 1 Peter 2:5), then aren’t we always wearing church clothes?” I think this is the type of question that spawned one of the less brilliant phrases recently popular in today’s vernacular, “Wait! What?” That’s right. He said, “If we are the church, every time we get dressed, we are wearing “church clothes.” Clearly the statement, “I’m wearing church clothes” was taken out of context, none the less, a valid point has been made. We need to dress in a manner worthy of the body of Christ – always (Colossians 3:17). Don’t get me wrong, no matter how well you dress, your mouth and actions will reveal the truth (Luke 6:45), the inside is way more important than the outside, but that does not mean the outside is totally unimportant. I had a baseball coach in high school who insisted we maintain a “look” both on and off the field saying, “We will win some games when we get off the bus.” In essence he was saying the way we look will show other teams we are a quality, well trained, focused team who means business – even if we are none of those things at the time. “Church clothes” typically applies to our finest. We put on our best as we go before the throne of God. We don’t change the oil in church clothes. We have play clothes for the purpose of dirty work. Still, so ingrained in the psyche is our outward appearance, many offer as an excuse for their absence, in any religious assembly, their lack of appropriate clothes. It’s a poor and sad excuse. It’s poor because we know God looks at the heart. It’s sad because at some time, someone made them feel unwelcome because of what they wore and despite our best efforts, they still feel out of place today. It’s also sad because some of them realize more than we who attend every service, the importance of, the significance of and respect due to the creator of the universe. They have just forgotten how much He loves them. That is where we come in. The church, through our love for God and our neighbors (Mark 12:28-31), through our love for one another (John 13:34-35), demonstrates the love of God and creates an opportunity to share the Gospel, the Good News that God loves the world so much he sent his only son; not to condemn but to save (John 3:16-17). However, if there is no discernable difference between the body of Christ, on the inside or the outside, how will we ever convince the lost there is hope? Furthermore, if there is no difference in the saved and the lost, are the saved really saved?



November 22, 2020


Line manners is the term in retriever training referring to how the dog behaves while going to the line where the test begins, how the dog acts “on the line” during the test, and how the dog exits the test. In short, line manners deal with the most basic element of training – obedience. I have a dog who, in her last test, performed every task the judges asked of her but she didn’t walk beside me well. She didn’t sit still at all while the birds were being thrown and when the test was over instead of leaving with me, she wanted desperately to stay and do more. In spite of demonstrating excellent skills in the majority of the test, she failed the whole test because of her “line manners”. It reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, which says in a nutshell, if you can do anything and everything and do it better than everybody else, but you don’t have the most basic thing, which is love - you really haven’t accomplished much. By basic I am not referring to simple but foundational. Love must be the foundation of our Christian lives. Read Matthew 22:34-40 to confirm the foundational necessity of love.

 

I remember a long time ago Jimmy McMahan told me while training my dog to, “Decide now, at the beginning what your standard of obedience will be.” What he meant was decide now what I was willing to let slide and what I would correct. Does the command to “heel” mean right here at my side or does it mean somewhere in the vicinity of my side or maybe just look my way and acknowledge I said something? Does the command to sit mean when I say it the first time, the second time or the third time, and how long should the sit command be in effect? Believe it or not, dogs are very good at telling time and learning standards. When you attend a hunt test, you realize quickly, every trainer has just a little difference in their standards. However, we are all judged by the same standard set forth in the guidebook for judges and trainers.

 

Spiritually speaking, we need to decide now what our basic standard of love will be. As Jimmy once again advised me, “Does our love go only to our closest friends and family or does it extend to the guy in Walmart who just dropped all his groceries? Will you get down on your knees to help him pick up his stuff?” Just like at the hunt test, we are not judged by our own standards but by the standards set forth in the Good Book. Jesus said, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:47-48).



November 15, 2020


At Camp Tahkodah this weekend, we talked about forgiveness. We didn’t really talk about the giving of forgiveness or how many times or when we should forgive. We took a look at being forgiven. Truthfully, most of us don’t have a problem forgiving others and moving on. Who’s got time to hold on to hurt and hate? However, many Christians have a much more difficult time being forgiven and letting go of guilt. We have a hard time moving forward. We talked about David; in particular his sin with Bathsheba. The best part of the devo was the location. We travelled down to the side of the creek via Indian Slide. The “slide” is a steep, rock strewn descent through a deep cut in the rock requiring careful foot placement and the use of a large steel cable to navigate several nearly sheer drops. We took our time and worked together to get the whole group down to a large collection of boulders on the edge of the creek. Anxiety, doubt and fear were thick as many in the group wondered if we would have to go up the way we came down. I chose the location not just because of its beauty, but also because of how hard it was to get in and out. Some of the group jumped right in and began the trek, others approached the trail with much caution, realizing the dangers. Left to themselves would have likely stayed at the top. There is a comparison to sin here; how we approach it and the low places in life we often find ourselves. Sometimes we approach sin and sinful behaviors with nonchalance forgetting sin separates us from God. Sometimes we are helped or encouraged by those around us. Often, we are not worried because we can handle it. Eventually, we get to the bottom. Some faster than others. Some a little worse for the wear. Some never realize they are at the bottom, captivated by their apparent “escape” or survival. The wise man built his house on the rock but it wasn’t the one we were on at the bottom. When the rains come here, this rock is under 20 feet of raging water and swept clean of anything and everything on it. The flood comes too fast to react - just as the Deceiver planned. Just as most do not reach the bottom without help, most will not climb up from its depths without help either. In His wisdom, He built the church. With Christ as the head, the different parts of the body work together to bring the whole to the top, closer to God, through the storms; above the floods. “Riding drag”, I stood leaning against a tree at the bottom to make sure everyone was out. I watched as the group struggled against the physical and mental challenges of getting back to high ground. They worked hard, encouraging one another, pulling, pushing, exhorting and admonishing all the way to the top. It’s amazing what we can do when we let go of the past, move toward the future and have help along the way.



November 8, 2020


I open a lot of car doors each morning and with each door I open I am given a small view into the lives of students and how they live. Realizing it is just thirty seconds, I try hard not to make too broad assumptions about what I see, hear and sometimes smell. However, this morning I witnessed something that made me think back to previous mornings with this family and while this morning was not out of character for them, it was over the top and gave me pause. I am making assumptions now about this family based on what I have witnessed. This morning when I opened the door, it was not billowing cigarette smoke, too loud music or a cascade of garbage. What greeted me was what can only be described as raucous, tear filled laughter! I couldn’t help but laugh as the two boys exited the car holding their stomachs, wiping tears and trying to tell their similarly afflicted mother they loved her, would see her later and have a nice day. I have no idea what they were laughing at, the boys couldn’t explain. As they went through the door clapping one another on the back, I could help but think, that is not normal. It’s not that it shouldn’t be normal, it’s just not normal. As I reflected, on these two, I realized this morning is not much different than other mornings. I recall a few mornings when one of the boys was not happy or even a little mad. I remember when the mother was clearly sticking to her guns and the boys were just as clearly aware of her resoluteness and their indiscretion. Mostly though, as I think about this family, I characterize them as happy. Frankly, I would not be surprised if they were members of the Lord’s church. Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34- 35). They clearly love one another and enjoy one another’s company. It made me wonder, what do others see in the way I live? When others see me, those who are familiar with God’s word, are they reminded of a scripture like John 13:34-35 or maybe the first part of Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine”?

 

I realize you can’t look at one piece of a puzzle and figure out the picture, but as more pieces are collected, the picture can begin to take shape. I also realize it is easy to fake it and give people a false impression. Strip that away and look into your own heart. Are you generally happy? If not why? Jesus says out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and is where our intentions lie (Matthew 15:18-19). What’s in your heart?



November 1, 2020


Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” I try to make a habit of seeing not only His presence everywhere I look, but I also look for things in nature, people and life in general that relate to the scriptures; kind of like little living parables to help me understand and/or explain His word better. It’s often easy to get caught up in what is seen or experienced and miss what can be learned. Please don’t let that happen when you read the inspiration for this thought. The sign on the closed door said, “Masks Required.” The concept is not new and most thoughtlessly comply, grab the handle and walk in. The person who walks in without a mask is often tolerated, sometimes ostracized but never really accepted as a compliant member of society. The maskless represent that wacko fringe that always suspect something and just cannot get along. The mask is immediately noticeable and wearing it releases you from judgement. For just a moment though consider this. As you grab the door handle, do you consider the hundreds of hands that touched it before you? And, if you are at a school, do you consider what those little hands have touched? Ew! Sorry, let’s not think about that too deeply. Here is the thought I really want us to think about. As I observe people’s comings and goings, it dawns on me, for many, wearing a mask is like going to church. If you go every Sunday, you avoid the judgement of skipping, the guilt of missing and having to explain to your mother why you just don’t think church is important enough to make it a priority in your life. The mask will not help protect anyone if other healthy lifestyle changes are not made in accompaniment with it. Church won’t help either if all your going to do is attend. This is the concept Jesus chastised the Pharisees about in Matthew 23:25-26 and Luke 11:39. Church attendance can be the outside of the cup. Church attendance is not about the maintenance of our appearance it is about worshipping – giving honor and glory to the God we love; it is about building and encouraging the body of Christ, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). The fact is, you can assemble with the church and do neither worship or encourage. Don’t get caught up in the mask analogy, I don’t care if you wear one or not. I do care if you wash your hands – and your heart. “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33), church attendance is not fruit but we can be fruitful when we are with the church.



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.”