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.”