Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Old Soldier Still Marched...

Having procured his merchandise, the old timer shuffled away from the cashier, behind his WalMart cart.  I didn't pay Him much mind as I turned to grab one of the empty carts and he headed my direction.

As the old gentleman neared though, the writing on his hat seized my attention, and I straightened up in a gesture of respect...and reflection. "WWII VETERAN" his hat announced proudly, and I stepped aside quietly out of appreciation for his duty to our country as he slowly made his way toward me.

No doubt my own father’s service in World War II makes me even more appreciative of this fading generation of heroes. I felt a lump 
in my throat as the man passed by, thinking of dad, now gone these past ten years. But I was quickly jolted from my moment of sentiment as the man raised up in a moment of realization that something was amiss in his shopping cart.

Like the proud soldier he once was, the old vet did an about-face
and marched directly back to the cash register. Suddenly those once shuffling feet began to lift, right-left-right, in a straight line that would make Gen. Patton proud. I stood and curiously watched, then meandered over where I could hear what could have riled up the man so. I surmised that he must’ve realized that he been overcharged, or perhaps been short-changed.

I saw him reach down in his cart and pick up his cane and begin waving it at the cashier, though I still wasn’t close enough to hear what he was saying. He was obviously distressed over something, and honestly, I thought I might have to come to the cashier’s rescue...

Proverbs 2:7 tells us:
                   He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
                   He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
Integrity might be a dying characteristic in the world we live in today, but I’m thankful when I see integrity put into action, as I did that day in WalMart...

"No, ma’am, I don’t think you did," I heard the old vet say with a strong voice to the cashier, handing her his receipt with one hand, the partially raised cane in the other. 

The young woman's eyes quickly scanned the receipt. Giving it a thorough once over, she looked up from the paper, with a sense of realization of her own...

"Yes sir, you’re right.   I didn’t charge you for your new cane." Then, jokingly she added, "But you coulda just kept going, no one would’ve even known!"

"No, ma’am...I would’ve known," the old veteran replied, "And that just wouldn’t set well with me."

I walked on into the store and smiled to myself, grateful to have witnessed that simple act of integrity...I smiled again as I passed the $7.95 canes on display just beyond the cashier’s line.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nothing New About New Age

For some time, there has been in our midst a movement commonly known as New Age. It is a conglomeration of several beliefs that have stemmed from mankind’s desire to reach ultimate oneness with the Almighty, circumventing truths espoused by traditional beliefs, namely Christianity. It’s far from harmless, as the movement leads directly away from Christ and to the ultimately destructive belief that salvation is achievable through eclectic means.

According to New Agers, man is divine by nature. Thus, as divine or god-like in nature, one can create his own version of reality. In other words, you can be like God. Further, you have the capacity to be your own god.

Now, New Agers have tolerance for nearly every belief under the sun, with the exception of Christianity. Christians know that we are sinners, saved only by the Blood of Christ shed on the Cross of Calvary. And, as Roman 10:13 plainly states, "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Salvation is gifted through God’s grace and only God’s grace. New Age believers can’t tolerate this simple doctrine because they refuse to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. What’s ironic about New Age thinking is there’s nothing "new" about it at all. It’s a deception that has its roots in the beginning.

In the garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit with these words:

" For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and
you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Genesis 3:5 - (emphasis mine)

You will be like God, the serpent said. And here we are, so many centuries later with a "new"
movement that will be like God.

Lest you think this cult movement isn’t gaining traction, last week in Portland, Oregon an evangelical Christian organization came under fire from a group of organized parents called Protect Portland Children. They speak out against the evangelical group’s message and influence parents not to allow their children to attend its events. The message they found so offensive? Each person is a sinner in need of the Savior. Protect Portland’s Children uses a poster of a sweet looking, pig-tailed girl holding up a sign stating, "I am not a sinner."

Let’s face it, if we’re not sinners, we have no need for a Savior...we can save will be like God New Age thinking reminds one of another passage of scripture, from Ecclesiastes 1: 9...

"...there is nothing new under the sun."
(emphasis mine)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Noah's Moment

Over the past few years, on mission trips in several countries, and in our own country, I've seen people come to Christ in a variety of ways. They’re often wrapped in emotion or thoughtful reflection. Many have been under conviction and they're submitting to what they know to be a Truth, that "Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures … he was buried. . . . The third day he rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures . . . and he appeared (1 Cor. 15:3-6)". By that and only that are we delivered from our sin, as "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21)."

That is the Gospel, pure and true. But out of the hundreds of people that I've witnessed receive Jesus, perhaps none have struck me as profoundly as a young man in our church's Vacation Bible School program last week. His innocence and simple words reflected his young age. But they also served as a template for every lost sinner needing to come to Christ.

I sat down with eight-year-old Noah in our empty sanctuary, after his mother had relayed some of the questions that he’d been asking concerning salvation. She was of the mind that he was ready to come to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior. No truer words has a mother ever spoken of her child. With the permission of his parents, I’d like to share my conversation with Noah:

"Hey Noah, how’s it going?"

"Pretty good."

Earlier in the week, Noah had his appendix removed at a local hospital, so I used that as a sort of ice breaker:

"So, you’ve had a pretty busy week, huh? Having to go to the hospital and everything?"

"Yeah. It wasn’t too fun, but it’s ok now."

Noah smiled a bit, but for the most part, he maintained a seriousness that 

contradicted his young age. I wasn’t sure if he was intimidated by the moment or perhaps uncomfortable speaking one-on-one with an adult that he wasn’t that familiar with, so I nosed forward carefully...

"So, what else’s been going on in your life, Noah," I asked, hoping to draw him out a bit more. His immediate response will stay with me forever...

‘Well, I know you’re a pastor or something..."

I started to correct him that I fell more on the side of a something, but Noah was starting to roll...

"...and I’ve been wanting to talk to somebody about getting saved."

"What about getting saved, Noah?"

"I need to."

"Really? Why do you need to get saved?"

At that point, eight-year-old Noah looked me dead in the eye and stated his situation:

"Cause I got sin in my life, and Jesus died for sin. So I need to become a Christian so my sins are paid for...but I don’t know how to do that"

Noah’s attitude demonstrated a near-desperate situation of turmoil churning inside him. But it’s a situation that all without Christ are in, but many don’t comprehend. My own Pastor said recently, "The problem lost people have is, they don’t know they’re lost. It’s up to us to show them..." Undoubtedly, through his parents, his Sunday school teachers, and others, Noah had correctly accessed his situation and wanted to rectify it, and rectify it now...

After receiving the salvation through Christ that he’d desperately sought, Noah called his mom into the room and announced with a great deal of pride and relief, "I’m a Christian now, mom." They shared the kind of embrace that only a mother and child can experience. The moment was accentuated with a mother’s joyful tears. I just may have wiped away a couple myself...

I’m thankful to a loving God that gave His only begotten Son to die for my sins. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to share this Truth with people all over the world...none more so than Noah.   

Monday, March 10, 2014

Our Ride Home

That 5x7 card taped in the ticket booth window told us all we needed to know. The time was written boldly with a black marker, easily read by passing parents dropping off their kids for a night of movie magic. My dad was always quick to declare the time written on the card out loud, for all to hear.

“10:35, okay, I’ll be here to pick you up at 10:35!”

With that, I’d hop out of the car, joining my friends, who were acting out similar scenarios in their own family sedans and station wagons. We’d all fall in line for our tickets, making one last mental note of the time posted in the window. Up close, you could see the card completely, with the words “Show Ends” written in small letters just above the large time filling up the majority of the card.

You see, that card served as our insurance of keeping in good graces with our folks. My dad was going to be lined up with other parents on Main Street, between Second and First Streets, to pick me up at the time announced on that card...and I’d better be standing outside that Fox Theater.

Now, it really wouldn’t have been a problem at all, and it wasn’t, on the nights we actually stayed for the movies. But those nights that we got adventurous and took off for, say, the roller rink four blocks over and two blocks up, or down to Boone’s for some curly fries and a Cherry Coke...those were the nights that the time written on that card was so vital to our well being.

The Bible isn’t as clear as that little card in the window of my hometown theater was...there’s no posted time when Christ shall return for His church. But in Luke’s Gospel we are warned:

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.” (Luke 21:34, NKJV)

I suppose if there were a time and date posted for the Lord’s return, the human nature of many would simply put off living a Godly life for Christ until such time came to pass. But I don’t think that’s why God hasn’t revealed more on the subject.

I believe the Father wants in us a constant abidance, a steady readiness, simply out of love for Him. In the Bible, expressions of love on God’s part are usually followed by an action. For instance, John 3:16 tells us that because God so loved the world, He gave. We are to follow God’s example. For instance, after His resurrection, Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him. After Peter states adamantly his love for Christ, Jesus tells him to feed His sheep. Love, followed by action.

Our lives are to be lived out in reflection of the great love God has shone down upon us. We can’t possibly repay the amount of love that we’ve received. But, we can stay in God’s walk for our lives, better than I stayed in that movie theater of my youth, and stay ready for the Savior to come pick us up.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Short End of the Stick

"Oh, man, here he goes again, with that cockamamie pleading he does every Sunday,” Greg leaned over and whispered to his wife. Carla’s brow creased with concerned annoyance as she shot a glance at her husband of 29 years.

Pastor Burns continued with his urgent plea of invitation. Greg’s eyes rolled upward, as his lips moved with the Pastor’s familiar lines...

“Repent of your sin.”

“Ask Jesus into your heart!”

“Don’t wait! Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Today is the day of Salvation!”

There was a day when that last song was a real struggle for Greg. Oftentimes, he’d slipped out of the sanctuary, excusing himself to use the restroom, or something, anything, to avoid the unexplainable pressure he’d felt. But, over the years, he’d learned to overcome the Pastor’s coercing, using the same resistance he would apply to annoying salesmen.

Oh, he was no atheist, mind you. But he’d always tried to keep God in perspective. Carla and his now grown children had all succumbed to the convincing of the Pastor, and he never interfered with their spirituality, as long as it didn’t cause conflicts with his life. He’d regularly brought the family to church. Heck, he even helped take up the offering and such, whenever called upon.

Greg’s mind drifted toward his new fiery red convertible sitting out the church parking lot. Man, did he love that thing. Stick shift in hand, Greg felt a power surge his middle-aged life had been lacking...and the attention it brought from the female population was an option the salesman hadn’t mentioned. Maybe that brunette in accounting would finally turn her pretty head his way when he passed by...

“We’ll sing one more verse, one last chance to give your heart to Christ.

 Won’t you surrender to Him today?”

Pastor Burns’ final plea jerked Greg back out his bucket seat. His knuckles had whitened, gripping the back of the pew, mentally shifting from second to third gear. Just then, he noticed Bernard Myers, slowly heading up the aisle, tears streaming down his face.
"Oh, geez. This’ll slow the procedure," Greg grimaced
 to himself. "Myers has always been a little
 weak in the knees."

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Martha Myers weeping uncontrollably as her husband embraced Pastor Burns.   Greg’s feet shuffled back and forth. An old familiar twinge bit into his chest.                                      
Turning away from the proceedings, he gazed out into the parking lot. He thought he’d heard some rumbling earlier in the service. Probably from that old pipe organ the church had treasured for
 years, but maybe it was thunder...

“I need to go check and make sure the top’s up,” Greg blurted out to Carla. “Meet you in the car.”

Carla's eyes followed as her husband scurried to get out of the pew, practically knocking over dear, old Opal Whitney sitting in her customary seat at the end. He nearly bolted out the back of the sanctuary, almost as if the place was on fire.

Carla took her place in line to congratulate her new brother in Christ, Bernard Myers. The line inched along slowly. While she knew Greg would be impatiently waiting, this was such a precious moment for Bernard and her good friend and coworker, Martha. She'd prayed with Martha many times in the nurse’s lounge for this moment. It would be worth whatever squawk Greg would put up...

“See you next Sunday,” Carla shouted joyously at Millie Carpenter as she lifted the handle on the passenger side door. But Greg hadn’t unlocked the door, so she pecked on the window a couple of times to get his attention.

Getting no response, Carla leaned over and started to rap on the window again. She stopped and screeched out loud.

“What is it, Carla??” Millie called out.

Staring into the car, Carla saw her husband of 29 years slumped over the wheel of his pride and joy. Those piercing blue eyes that once had captured her heart, were now transfixed in a stare - a lifeless stare that she’d seen all too often at work.

People began racing all about, shouting, screaming for help, but Carla stood frozen, hypnotized by the situation. Her eyes darted, capturing mental images...the tinge of gray at Greg’s temples that she’d previously somehow looked past, a slight paunch that she’d never really seen, and several brown age spots on the back of his right hand...a hand still firmly gripping the stick shift of his fiery red convertible.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2014...Yes Lord!

Jeremiah 29:11 has been a household verse in our home for a long time. For your reminder it says:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to
 prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

It’s been on our refrigerator, on our bathroom mirrors, anywhere and everywhere we could put it as a reminder that God indeed has a plan for us, that we aren’t just floundering about aimlessly, though at times it might seem so...for me, one of those times was August, 1994. Our situation was this:

We were being transferred to work near Alexandria, Louisiana, and after several hurdles, we had one week to find suitable housing for ourselves and three teenagers. School was starting in one week, and without a street address, the schools would not enroll them. We had scoured the city looking for a house in our price range, and we basically down to our last day to find something. By one o’clock, we’d found one rental home that was realistically out of our budget range, but we were desperate.

I entered yet another real estate office, with absolutely no hope, thinking that I’d seen everything the city had to offer. I used the phone at the real estate office (pre-cell phone days!) to call the landlady of the expensive rental only to find out it was already rented to someone else...complete despair set in. The realtor I’d made an appointment with was a lady named Leona. I remember thinking that I was wasting my time even going into her office.

But out of nowhere, she asked me if I was a Christian, and had we found a church home. Before she showed me the first listing, Miss Leona was showing me materials about her church, youth activities for our kids to get involved in...."I know the plans I have for you." By 2:00 that afternoon, Miss Leona was showing us the house in which we would raise our kids through high school...."plans to give you hope and a future."

Now,  I’d like to tell you that I had all the confidence in the world that God was going to take care of us that day, but I can’t say that. I did not have the faith in August of 1994, that God had a plan for us, a plan for our future, and certainly not a plan for us to prosper. 

Practically on a daily basis, we deal with monumental issues. A list of common experiences that we deal with are:

**Financial problems
**Marital Issues
**Work Issues
**Family health problems
**Children-related issues
**Death in the family

I think it’s safe to say that you have dealt with one or more of these issues, most likely in the past 12 months. 2014 is likely to be more of the same...that's life.   God never promised us a perfectly paved road once we became Christians. He does tell us we’re to rely on Him in dealing with the potholes life can create. Faith, after all, is

"...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

But what does it mean to have real faith? Faith comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the faith that the chair you’re sitting in will hold you. If I don’t get back to my diet and exercising, that faith will be waning. Then there’s the faith that the trained meteorologist will give you accurate information to tell you how to dress in the morning or that the diploma on your doctor’s wall is valid. Also, there’s the faith that the miracles in the Bible are true. God said it, so I believe it type faith...
But I think the type of faith that God ultimately wants from us is the faith that says "Not only do I trust you with my salvation, Lord, but I’ll trust you with all aspects my life. Not only do I believe the in the miracles you’ve performed in the Bible, but I believe nothing in my life is too big for you, as well.
Reminds me of the guy who after falling off a cliff, managed to grab a limb on the way down. Hanging from the limb, he called out "Is anyone up there?" A voice call back, "Let go of the limb, and I’ll catch you!" The man said, "Who is that," to which he got the reply, "It’s the Lord." Contemplating it for a minute, the man asked, "Is there anyone else up there??" God wants us to let go of the limbs of control we cling to and let Him catch us, and keep us. That requires the faith that He desires of us. How do we put that sort of faith in action?

Read Matthew 9:27 - 30:
               27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, have mercy                on us, Son of David!"
              28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do                you believe that I am able to do this?"
              "Yes, Lord," they replied.
              29 Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be          
             done to you"; 
             30 and their sight was restored....

Did you catch those magnificent words of faith? The Bible records they said... "Yes, Lord." Not, I hope so, Lord, like we often "hope and pray" for things. Not, I’ll turn it over to you God, but I’ll also stay up all night worrying about it, because, I’m not sure I can really count on you, Lord. Prayer and worry are not compatible, but oh how often we combine them... Just, "Yes, Lord." So often it all comes down to saying, and meaning, "Yes, Lord."
In 2014, I resolve to say more often, "Yes, Lord."  How about you?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Robertson...

Interesting how someone as seemingly harmless as Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson can get people so riled up. He says a few words of his personal beliefs in GQ magazine and a fire of controversy is ignited. Funny, I thought GQ concerned itself mostly with sideburn length, cufflinks, and lapel width, but, then again, I must profess to not having picked up an issue in recent memory...or longer.

Enough has certainly been written or said about Robertson’s views, and I’ve read and heard much of it. Robertson spoke coarsely and crudely, that much can’t be denied. My pastor spoke in defense of Robertson yesterday in church, but chose not to use Phil’s raw illustrations in doing so.

As Christians, we can all use a reminder that sin is still sin, no matter what our society accepts and oftentimes legislates. The Bible clearly points out that lust, greed, murder, lying, adultery, and, yes, homosexuality, are all sinful behaviors. In his GQ interview, Phil Robertson named several of these, but it was his anti-gay comments that brought down so much controversy upon him. Why? Because our society has decided once again ignore the teachings of scripture in view of popular opinion.  As long as enough people have a leaning in whatever direction, any behavior can be rationalized.   Those that hold to scriptural truths are considered backward and out of touch.  That's a part of the process, to shout down those that still call sin sin....Phil Robertson the latest case in point. 

But the current wave of support toward the acceptance of the gay agenda merely reflects a path of rebellion toward God that has ushered in abortion, illegality of school prayer, and several other issues in recent years.  Robertson’s opinions would have been welcomed and agreed with forty or fifty years ago. Some would claim that’s how far we’ve progressed, but it’s really an indicator of how far we’ve fallen... and, as our nation turns more and more from the Almighty, we can expect less and less of the blessings we once enjoyed.