Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Look Both Ways

When we were young, our parents had simple rules to abide by. Say please and thank you. Don’t touch. Don’t talk to strangers...that sort of thing. Another one of the classic parenting lines is "look both ways." We were taught early in life that when we cross a street to look for danger in the form of oncoming traffic from either direction. Sound advice, indeed.
This week has always seemed to be a rather odd week to me, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. One holiday ending and another one right around the corner. The end of one year and the beginning of another. The media will be full of "year in reviews" for various subjects, i.e. news, sports, movies. There will be touching tributes to celebrities that passed away in 2011. In general, the week will be partly a look back on the year that was. But there will also be a great deal of this week invested in the practice of looking ahead...predictions for the upcoming year. These generally take the form of financial forecasts, political prognostications, and even some wacky predictions for the year. That’s what makes the last week of December unique. It’s the only week all year that we stop and "look both ways."

Spiritually we should always be looking both ways. One way, looking back at the many blessings that God has already bestowed upon us. For me personally, 2011's spiritual highlight was Teri and my trip to Lima, Peru with the International Commission. It was a fantastic experience as we shared the Gospel through various evangelical efforts. Below is a link to a video reflecting our ten days in Peru. Looking forward, I eagerly anticipate returning to Peru in July, 2012, for another mission trip. No doubt it will be just as meaningful, just as uplifting as this year’s trip. That’s how God works. His blessings just keep pouring down upon us. We should always look both ways, never forgetting what He’s already done for us, while having faith that He will continue to provide for us our daily bread, and more.

I think the past is something we can over-glorify at times. We like to call them the "good old days." We tend to think of things of long ago as somewhat better than the present. Truth of the matter is, while it’s nice to reminisce about pleasant memories, it’s also important to remember times, when, through God’s strength, we overcame struggles in our life. It’s those times that God shaped us, sharpened us, and shored up our faith. Any of these difficulties visit your home in the past 12 months?

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

If you’re like most of us, you dealt with at least one of these troubles in 2011. I have news for you: 2012 probably won’t be much different. Take the time to reflect on the blessings that you received when God carried you through these situations and let that reflection give you the faith to quickly turn to God when life strikes again in the coming year. That’s spiritually looking both ways.

I have been truly blessed throughout the past year. My wonderful wife suggested that I begin this blog in June, and through it I have heard from many Christian brothers and sisters, some from my past and some, no doubt a part of my future. I thank God for all of you and pray God’s blessings upon you in the coming year.

Our trip to Peru - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OhWaN98Kw4

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Truth about Christmas...

I must have been eight or nine years old. It was Christmas 1967 or ‘68. I was the youngest in my family by 6 years, so naturally when my recently married sister and her husband came home for their first Christmas as husband and wife, I had to give up my room. Being at the bottom of the pecking order meant you were the first one to sleep on the couch when relatives arrived.

My mom got out some sheets, blankets, and a pillow to make me a bed on the living room sofa. The silver aluminum Christmas tree was right across from me, turning red, green, and blue from the tri-colored light wheel shining upon it. You remember those, don’t you?

I laid awake watching the tree glisten and listening to the conversations coming from the nearby family room. Then at some point my father, in his deep, rich voice that I so miss hearing these days said, "Well, it’s Christmas Eve, we’d better be getting to bed if we’re going to get up early in the morning." Someone slipped into the living room and turned off the tree light. Everyone went upstairs to the bedrooms and I found myself laying in the dark stillness of our living room.  

I suddenly came to the realization that I was in the perfect place and time to discover truth that children had wondered about in the depths of their minds for generations: the truth about Santa Claus. The way I figured, if there truly was a Santa, he’d have to reveal himself to me that night as I carefully lay watching our Christmas tree. I was going to stay awake all night if I had to and find out once and for all the truth about Christmas...

I think is it’s safe to assume that Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday, at least in our country. Both the religious and secular world have Christmas celebrations. Back in my working days, planning for yearly vacation time started with the Christmas season. There are Christmas lights, Christmas parades, Christmas parties, Christmas sales, the day after Christmas sales...the list is virtually endless, I suppose. This worldly emphasis on the yule season makes it quite easy to lose our focus on the real truth about Christmas.

 Back in 1965, Peanuts creator Charles Shultz had to fight network executives for the scene where Linus, under a spotlight, quotes the second chapter of Luke, verses 8 through 14:

"8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"

"...And that's what Christmas is all about,  Charlie Brown."

It's a good thing that the show has become such a holiday tradition, because political correctness would never allow Linus to air his speech today, I’m afraid. But Linus was right. Christmas is about shepherds and angels. And Christmas is about a young couple, faithfully carrying out what God had instructed them to do, despite what the world around them must have thought. It was the single most important birth in history, God setting into action the perfect plan for the world which He so loved...

Christmas is about remembering. Remembering the sound of your father’s voice as a small child laying in wait of Santa. Remembering waking up the next morning, having fallen asleep and still not sure about Santa Claus. But mostly, Christmas is about remembering that God came to earth in the form of a babe in a manger, with a tiny, precious heart beating the blood that would someday stain a Roman cross, providing us with the most magnificent of gifts...our salvation.

As Bro. Linus would say, glory to God in the highest!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coincidentally Speaking?

When it comes to chance occurrences, with which belief are you more closely aligned? Are you a believer that "everything happens for a reason?" Or do you believe in occurrences being "pure coincidence?" Let me state up front, I’m not in the first group, thinking there is a some reason, beyond the obvious, that all things happen. Some things just happen. That said, I am of the belief that God can use all things for His good. That’s an easy thing to believe because the Bible tells me so. Romans 8:28 states, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." Coincidences do occur, and God often takes them beyond merely being coincidental to what we might think are divine appointments. Let me share an example...

We were at a crowded amusement park a week or so ago, waiting for the highly anticipated Christmas light show parade, one of the primary reasons we’d gone. Seating was at a premium, as there were literally thousands crowded along the parade route, waiting for the show to begin. We’d staked out a park bench, where Teri sat holding our spot while I went to fetch us much needed food and drink. Upon returning with the refreshments, I found Teri sitting on the bench with another couple, with whom she was now sharing our bench. She was deeply engrossed in conversation with the woman, each sharing stories about having long distance grandchildren relationships, that sort of thing. I was introduced to the couple, then sat down on the end of the bench enjoying my cheeseburger, eagerly watching for the parade. As I overheard Teri’s conversation with the woman, I began to hear tidbits of familiarity. They were from a town that I was familiar with, retiring from 50 years in the ministry. I listened more closely. Other facts began to ring more bells. Then, it occurred to me that I’d read a feature story about this very couple in a local newspaper about 6 weeks prior, and now, here we were, sharing this park bench amongst a throng of people, any of whom could have shared that spot. Coincidence? I think not. Having known their story, I had an instant respect and yearning to hear more. During the course of the next hour or so, we visited with them and heard them chronicle the various aspects of their 50 years in service to our Lord. It was inspiring. We exchanged email addresses, and we’ve already made two or three contacts with each other. Sheer chance meeting? I doubt it. While I don’t think everything happens for a reason, I do believe God puts people in our lives for a reason. This Christian brother and sister didn’t just plop down coincidentally on that park bench that night. And, if they came along just for the inspiration of that moment, then that was reason enough.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Closer Look at Jonah...

You all know the story of Jonah, probably by heart...Jonah is called to go to Nineveh, a city full of wickedness. Jonah decides to jump on a ship headed for Tarshish in disobedience to God’s calling. The ship is tossed about in a wild turbulent storm, while Jonah lays sleeping in the bottom of the ship. The sailors on the ship awaken Jonah, who tells them that his disobedience to God is the cause of the great storm and they should throw him overboard. They eventually do, and the storm immediately ceases. Jonah is swallowed by a great fish where he spends three days and three nights reevaluating his spiritual relationship and repenting. The fish spits Jonah up on shore where he eventually does go to Nineveh to do what God commanded of him...That’s a brief summary of the four chapters that make up the Old Testament book of Jonah. This is probably the short version of the story you heard back in Sunday School, as a child. But a closer look at the book of Jonah reveals a few lessons about our own lives.
First, if you look at a map, by heading for Tarshish, Jonah is going the exact opposite direction that he was instructed to go. This map illustrates this:

Jonah did what we so often do in our lives. Knowing God’s will for our lives, we often do just the opposite. I spent years leading my own life, my own way. Many times I felt just like Jonah did, aboard a ship sailing into a violent storm of my own creation. Added to the problems of our self-created storms is, like Jonah, we can often put others in peril by our own disobedience to God. Now, don’t mistake me for saying that all problems come from disobeying God because that isn’t my point. I do know, however, that God will continue to pursue and discipline His wayward children.
Another lesson we can glean from Jonah is in the actions of the sailors. Jonah tells them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." (Jonah 1:12) But look at their actions in the next verse: "Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before." (Jonah 1:13) Isn’t that just what we often do in the middle of life’s storms, try solving the problem ourselves. The men no doubt rowed even harder than they did before, all to no avail, as the Bible tells us the storm worsened. I can think of so many times in when, in the middle of life’s storm, I just kept rowing harder and harder, instead of turning the ship over to God. What storms are you facing in your life right now? Are you continuing to struggle as you row harder and harder, yet getting nowhere? Let God take the helm.
What was God’s solution in Jonah’s predicament? After he was tossed overboard, two things happened. Jonah 1: 15-16 tells us firstly the sailors "...took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him."(Jonah 1:15-16) The storms calmed and the sailors believed in the one true God after previously calling out to an assortment of false gods. Acting out of faith will calm the storms in your life and, like these sailors, your faith will grow. The second thing that happened after Jonah was tossed overboard was "...the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah..." (Jonah 1:17) Scientists have long debated the possibility of a man surviving inside the belly of a fish. But with a closer look at that statement, it’s easier to, well, swallow. The key word is provided. The LORD provided a great fish.

It was the perfect solution, provided just when Jonah needed it. And though your life might at times seem stormy and turbulent, He will always provide you with just what you need, just when you need it.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Locked Out

A few years back I found myself in a situation that maybe you have found yourself in at some time in your life. I can’t remember exactly how the circumstance came about, but I found myself locked out of my own house. My keys were inside the house. I was outside. All windows and doors to the structure were locked up tighter than Fort Knox. I tried every possible avenue of entry, short of doing structural damage, and I couldn’t find a way in. Other than giving me some home security assurance, I sat frustrated at my situation. I did have my cell phone on me, though, and was able to contact my wife, who was about 15 miles away. She agreed to come home immediately and let me in. I had no remedy for my situation, but Teri could provide one. None of the strangers I watched driving up and down my street could help me either, only she had access to the house.

The situation I found myself in that day is similar to the situation mankind has been in since Adam and Eve fell before Satan’s trap in the garden. By allowing sin into the world through their disobedience to God, the original couple brought on a situation of which we can provide no remedy. Thus, we read in Romans 6:23 "...the wages of sin is death..." I might have been able to break into my house or pay a locksmith to open my doors, but no amount money or good deeds can access heaven’s gates as Ephesians 2:8-9 makes clear by saying "by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works..." When Jesus said in John 14:6 that "No one comes to the Father except through me," He meant it quite literally.

I just read somewhere that 92% of Americans believe in God...92%. That’s a start, but I’ve also read that more than half of those people believe in some form of works based salvation, i.e., getting to heaven by being good. I believe it to be the biggest web of deceit Satan weaves today, that somehow you can earn your way to heaven. If that were so, Jesus’ death on the cross would be meaningless because we could circumvent it through our good deeds. The flipside of thinking that good people go to heaven is the thought that only people who end up in eternal damnation, i.e. hell, are those we consider "bad" people, the Hitlers and Timothy McVeighs of the world. Even Christians can fall into this way of thinking. We think that there’s no questioning the salvation of the Mother Teresa(s) of the world, as if the gates of heaven have never swung open wider. Mother Teresa entered heaven based solely on her calling on the name of the Lord, period. Christians are often accused of being intolerant of other beliefs, but pursuing salvation through any means but Calvary’s cross is as hopeless as I was sitting on my front porch, locked out of my own house.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Come Home this Thanksgiving

My college basketball career was nothing to write home about. My freshman year I played for a small college in Salina, Kansas. I have few memories of that year. We traveled from school to school, playing other small schools in Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. One prevailing memory that came out of those games...I wasn’t home. I missed the cheer of the hometown crowd. These were meaningless games played in front of, to me, meaningless people. I longed for the times when my parents and friends were cheering me on. I realized I needed to go home.

The next year, I did just that. I signed a scholarship offer to play for Fort Scott Junior College, my hometown school. Now, at the time, I didn’t really realize the significance of what I’d done. You see, I was the only one on that team from Fort Scott. We played our games in the same gym where I’d played my high school games. The rest of the team was from places like North Carolina and Florida. Much like my freshman year, they were playing in front of strangers. But these were my people, my surroundings. That first game at home there was a fairly large crowd in attendance.

I started the game on the bench, being the team’s sixth man, or first substitute. About five minutes into the game, the coach called for me to enter the game. What happened next was the highlight of an otherwise forgettable college career. When the horn blew and I walked out on my home court, a rather large ovation came from the stands. I looked up in the crowd and many were standing, clapping. I have to admit, initially I had no idea what the commotion was about. But then, a tinge of emotion came over me as I realized the crowd was telling me "welcome home."

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of you will no doubt go to a place you call home. Maybe it’s a house you grew up in. Or perhaps it’s just going to be with the people that mean the most to you, wherever they might be. Quite possibly, like at our house this year, those people will be coming to see you. Home is not the structure you live in. A house provides shelter. A home provides warmth, love, togetherness. You could go to any house on Thanksgiving and sit down, eat, watch football, etc., but if it doesn’t feel like home, it will be a rather hollow experience. We tell new comers to our house to "make yourself at home," wanting them to feel welcome, a part of something.

In the Matthew 11:28, Jesus said "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Thanksgiving gives us that opportunity to come home. Come home to the loving arms of family, yes, but also come home to Jesus, refocusing on a spiritual relationship that perhaps we’ve disregarded lately. Take time to realize all the many things that we should truly feel thankful for...the bountiful life that God has provided...the riches of having loved ones gather near. And most importantly, recognize the incredible Love that provided our salvation...warmth beyond comparison.

Whether you are going somewhere else or staying where you live this Thanksgiving, may you feel the warmth of home.

Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling O sinner, come home.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

To Our Veterans...

My father served our country in World War II, stationed in Guam, the Philippines, and Japan. I have a few old photos he took during his wartime service, but I have few, if any wartime stories from him. Like many of his generation, it wasn’t something that he talked about much. I do know that the day after Pearl Harbor, he and a friend drove directly to Kansas City to enlist in the military. There was a huge influx of enlistees after December 7, 1941, much like we experienced after September 11, 2001. Patriotic spirit never dies in our country, but incidents like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 rekindle our American resolve for freedom and justice.

One liberty that we enjoy is the freedom to worship in whatever manner we like. Our founding fathers thought it important enough to include it in our Bill of Rights, sort of the Ten Commandments of our nation. Veterans from the Revolutionary War on have fought and died for my right to openly go to church and worship God. It’s something that I take for granted much too much.

Just a quick search of the word worship in any Bible website will garner dozens of results of how we are to worship God. Here are just a few from Psalms:

Psalm 66:4 
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.

Psalm 95:6-7
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

Psalm 99:5
Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Praise, bow down, exalt. I really wonder if we do enough of any of those. I know I don’t. Worship time should be, well, worshipful. Full of excitement. I heard a preacher once say he sees far more excitement at a football game than he does for God, and it’s true. How often do we mark that big game on our mental calendar, make every preparation in the world, invite friends over to share the experience of our team taking the field against a hated rival. Maybe we should approach worship in a similar fashion. We should prepare for worship as if it’s a big event because, well, it is. Jesus told us plainly in Matthew 18:20, "...where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Encountering the Spirit of God IS a big deal, but we sometimes forget what our worship is all about.

There are many places in the world that Christians aren’t free to worship. On October 29, six Algerian Christians were arrested before their morning prayer service in an apartment not authorized as a legal place of worship. We can’t imagine this, yet this is a comparatively mild form of persecution. Emeal Zwayne, executive vice president of Living Waters, said that few Christians in the U.S. are even aware "that an estimated 176,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs from mid-2008 to mid-2009." You could say that it’s due to our own ignorance of the facts, or perhaps a lack of media reporting these atrocities, and you’d have a point. But you can’t ignore the fact that we have a wonderful freedom that has been defended with the service and often the lives of many an American Veteran and we all too often take that for granted.

At my father’s funeral, many touching things were said and done. But one of the most meaningful gestures was carried out by his Veterans of Foreign War colleagues. Dozens of veterans from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Gulf War stepped up one by one and saluted my father as he lay in repose. Remembering that simple act of respect and appreciation still moves me greatly. As we commemorate Veteran’s Day this Friday, may we always show our respect and appreciation for the men and women who’ve allowed us to keep our many freedoms, not the least of which, the wonderful freedom we have to worship our Almighty Father in a manner that He is worthy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What a Deal!

One day while crawling around in the attic of my house, I spotted a box that I didn’t recognize. The flaps of the cardboard box were folded shut so I couldn’t readily see its contents. From the amount of dust on the box, it was obvious the box had been up in the attic for years, many more years than I’d owned the house. My imagination immediately began to go into overdrive. What did the box contain? Some rare relic a past owner of my house had overlooked when he moved out? Maybe it would be like some of the treasures I’d seen people bring one of those shows like "Antiques Roadshow," and an expert would someday tell me it was worth a fortune. But then, what if it were a hidden treasure, could I keep it? Even if it was mine legally, would it be ethical to keep it or try to find its rightful owner?? There was only one thing to do...OPEN THE BOX! My heart skipped a beat or two as I blew some of the years of dust off the box. I opened the flaps of the box with one hand and held my flashlight with the other. Getting the box open, I slowly looked over the edge and saw a box nearly full of...old wallpaper. In fact, it was extra rolls of the same old dated wallpaper that my dear wife meticulously and mercifully tore off the walls when we moved in back in 2005. Wallpaper. I wouldn’t be visiting the Antiques Roadshow team anytime soon...

We all like the concept of hidden treasures. My father used to give me a dollar to buy a couple of Hot Wheels cars when I was a boy. Some of those same cars from the late 60's are worth hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Who would have thought it? I go to a lot of antique stores and flea markets, and I’m always seeing things that I remember from my childhood. Some are items that I owned at one time, now worth a small fortune. Now, I have to admit, when I go to an antique store or flea market, I’m a treasure hunter. I like to find the hidden gem. For instance, a month or so ago, I landed a practically new vacuum for a mere $15, and it was the famous eight-pound variety that Mr. Oreck is so proud of. I search and dig for bargains, more often than not finding something I happily take home, thinking I have a use for.

According to Webster, one of the definitions of the word bargain is "an advantageous purchase,"or getting something for less than its true value. 1 Corinthians 6:20 tells us that as Christians, we were "... bought at a price." And in Acts 20:28, we’re instructed to "...Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." Several other biblical references make it clear that Jesus bought and paid for our salvation with his death on the cross. Did Jesus get a bargain? No, but he wasn’t looking for a good buy, either. He was looking to do the will of his Father. He was looking to express his undeniable love for us. We are the ones that got the deal of a lifetime. For the price of saying yes to Christ, we receive an all-expense paid pathway to eternity with God. Have you claimed your treasure yet? What are you waiting for? The price has been paid, and this bargain can’t be beat.

I welcome your comments or questions at allterp@yahoo.com.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Going My Way?

At a funeral once, I heard a Frank Sinatra ballad played that was an effort to sum up the deceased’s life. You’ve heard the song, no doubt. The first stanza or so goes:

  And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.
  My friends, I'll say it clear; I'll state my case of which I'm certain.
  I've lived a life that's full - I've traveled each and every highway.
  And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

Let me first say that this isn’t a critique of what is a American standard in popular music. It does, however reflect an attitude of self dependence that we admire, perhaps too much. Oh, we love to watch John Wayne single handedly whipping the bad guy, Clint Eastwood sticking it to the man, or Rocky Balboa lifting himself up from mediocrity to incredible heights. But in reality, those are characters of fiction not fact. While part of us likes to think of ourselves as self-made men and women, in reality, we’ve all relied heavily and continue to need the help others. To think otherwise is just plainly and simply a matter of pride. More importantly, we should always seek out and lean heavily on God in our daily walk. To do otherwise is not only foolish, but sinful as well.

The Bible is full of passages that tell us of our need for God’s support in our lives. Here are several:

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you....(Deuteronomy 31:8)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11: 28)

I certainly have had times, in fact years, when I conducted my life as I saw fit, ignoring God’s avenues of guidance at every opportunity. Those are the times that I experienced the most turmoil in my life, the times when I made emergency calls to God for assistance. He’s a loving God, though. He never reacted with the attitude that I’d gotten myself in the mess, so He’d just let me get myself out. No, it was always with His incredible love that He’d lift me up again, dust me off from life’s travails, and set me off on the right course.

What page in life’s hymn book are you turned to? What tune is playing in your head as you walk through life? Could it be I Did It My Way? Take my advice and change the song to Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Most Special Place

There are places in our country that I’ve had the privilege to visit that are considered hallowed ground. For instance, on a couple of occasions I have witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

The unbelievable precision, dignity, and respect shown at the Tomb is without comparison. The sentinels on duty 24/7 have a creed which states in part:
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection...
Anyone who’s ever witnessed this will agree they meet their stated standard....Another place considered revered by all who visit is the USS Arizona Memorial, located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Look closely, and you can see the memorial is built over the top of the sunken Arizona,which still entombs the remains of 1102 of her crew. As the shuttle boat takes its passengers out to the Arizona, a reverent stillness falls over you and not a word above a whisper is spoken as you walk the memorial, over the hull of the great ship. To this day, oil can still be seen rising from the wreckage to the surface of the water. The oil seeping is sometimes referred to as "the tears of the Arizona." It can not help but move you...

On a more personal level, every Memorial Day weekend, I take my annual journey through the back roads of Kansas, decorating the grave sites of the likes of 4great-grandfather Isaac Povenmire along with several other Povenmire ancestors in Trading Post cemetery, great grandparents John and America Mae Povenmire and many others in Centerville cemetery, and on and on until reaching the Fort Scott National Cemetery, where I lay yellow roses at the grave of my father, John Dean Povenmire, who passed away in 2004.  At Dad’s grave I stop and reflect upon a man I’ll always hold in the greatest regard.

You know these places. Places that have such special meaning, that the mere thought of them can stir you emotionally....While we hold the aforementioned sites in high esteem, for Christians, they still pale in comparison to a place where we must bow with our utmost reverence. Webster’s defines reverence as a "profound adoring." It is only at the foot of the cross that we find reason for this type of reaction. But I’m afraid the cross sometimes loses its significance. In 1Corinthians 1: 18 we read:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The cross represents the very essence of the Father’s love for us. Our salvation was nailed to it. Galatians 6:14 tells us:
"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

Boast means to "glorify oneself in speech." and with the cross, we have license to shout from the rooftops how magnificent the cross is in our lives. Wear it proudly, telling everyone around you THIS is what God has done for me...and will do for you. While being covered by the shadow of the cross, we can truly say we have something the world does not have nor can it manufacture for itself. With that in mind, Paul warns us in Philippians 3:18:
"For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ."

 It’s still true today. As the theology of tolerance becomes more and more prevalent in our world, the cross becomes more and more threatening to those outside its shadow. They are the enemies of the cross today, those who would deny its unique significance of salvation....The cross represents the helplessness of man converging with the eternal hope of grace. Without it our worship would be meaningless, our doctrine hollow, and eternity out of our reach.

What a simple but complete plan God has for the salvation of His children. The perfect Sacrifice for the imperfect world...all done on a cross.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Unlovable

A warm puppy, snuggling up on your lap. The rich aroma of bacon frying in the morning. The warm embrace of an old friend. The cool crispness of an autumn morning, with the trees brilliantly colored in reds and oranges. Things that we love. It’s easy to love some things, some people. There are individuals in our lives that we readily say we’d "do anything in the world" for. But then there are just the opposite - the unlovable. Those folks that seem to have a natural ability to rub us the wrong way. That person whose very presence elevates your blood pressure. The guy at work that no one can get along with. The neighbor who you’d swear has his picture next to "jerk" in the dictionary. How do they fit into our Christian walk? More often than not, they don’t at all.

Jesus seemed to seek out the unlovable, the despised. Levy was a tax collector, a Jew who worked for the Roman government by cheating his fellow Jews out of their money under the guise of collecting taxes. A traitor to his own people. But Jesus saw him as disciple material, one worthy of being loved. We know him as Matthew, the author of the first book of the New Testament. Jesus sat down in the heat of the day once with a woman who apparently was so despised by the Samaritan public that she had to come to the community well to draw her water during the heat of the day, when no one else was present. She’d been married and divorced five times and was living in sin with the current man in her life. Samaritans were alienated people to begin with and she was despised among the despicable. But Jesus showed her compassion and shared with her the Truth of who He was. He saw something in her the world had not seen - worth. Scripture tells: "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony" (John 4:39). Not bad for a woman no one wanted anything to do with, huh. Time after time, the Gospels tell of Jesus encountering those that others shunned. Lepers, the blind, a woman caught in adultery, the demon possessed. The outcasts of society in the world’s view, but treated with love and respect by our Lord. We need to take note.

It’s hard to show love to some. They just don’t make themselves receptive to it. So we narrow our field of vision to not include them. They just don’t count in our world. We’ve deemed them undeserving of our love. But scripture tells us we are to be Christ-like, sanctified. In Romans 8:29 we read that God has "predestined [His people] to be conformed to the image of his Son." Jesus is the example, the pattern we are to follow. How He treated the unloved is how we are to treat them. I know I often fall short in this area...how about you?

One last thought on the subject comes from the Last Supper. Jesus, in the role of a servant, washes the disciples feet. John 13 records:

"2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him...12 when he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place."

In one last example of loving others as you love yourself, Jesus assumed the role of servant and washed the feet of His disciples. He washed the feet of Peter, of John, of Matthew. He washed Andrew’s feet, the feet of Simon the Zealot and all the rest of the disciples...including the feet of the man He knew would betray him, Judas Iscariot. A man whose very name has become synonymous with treachery. In one of his last acts on earth, Jesus showed love to the unlovable, washing the feet of Judas. But come to think of it, in His very last act, he did it again, by dying on the cross for the unlovable - us.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good, Better, and Best

I’m not sure Sears or JC Penney even publishes a catalog any more. At least I can’t remember the last time I saw one. The aspect of online shopping has pretty much ended such antiquated practices, I suppose. Back in the day, those catalogs arriving at the house had quite a bit of significance. One would pour through their pages, picking out all kinds of things you thought you’d need or want. The Penney’s Christmas catalog was especially neat for a kid, because it contained an entire section on toys, games, and sporting goods. I would mentally make out a wish list that I knew was unattainable, but it was fun to dream. Now the Sears catalog utilized a three-level method of rating the quality its goods. For various items, Sears would offer Good, Better, and Best quality selections. Quite naturally, the prices of the merchandise reflected their rating quality. As we go through our daily walk with God, He’s given us at least three forms of communication with Him that we can look at as Good, Better, and Best.

Good: Circumstances

Circumstances can often be God’s external guide, the way He moves us. Many times we hear that "everything happens for a reason." I’m not sure I buy into that completely, but I do believe if we seek Him out, we can find God in every circumstance, and then they can happen for a reason. For instance, Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit and sold him off to slavery. He found himself in a heck of a circumstance, but God used his situation for His glory. Whatever your circumstances are right now, take a step back and see what God might be up to in your life.

Better: The Holy Spirit

Isaiah 30:21 tells us:

21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

Are you hearing that still, small voice? Children of God learn to recognize God’s voice. In Biblical times, shepherds would put their sheep into a holding pen with other shepherd’s sheep. Perhaps several flocks would be held together in the same common pen. But each herd recognized their own shepherd’s voice and when he called them out, only his herd would leave the pen. I list the Holy Spirit as only "better" not because of God’s ineffectiveness, but because of our own failure at times to be tuned in to our Good Shepherd’s voice. If we would ever truly start praying without ceasing, keeping a constant ear out for God’s voice, our lives wouldn’t be as muddied as we sometimes make them.

Best: The Bible

God’s infallible word remains as our best source of guidance. Psalms 119:105 tells us clearly that: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.   How often do we fail to turn that lamp on and thus, stumble.

In Italy, there is a harbor that's full of treacherous rocks. Many boats have met their doom trying to navigate their own way through. On shore there are three lights that serve as navigational guides. The key is to line the lights up, and then follow that path to safe harbor. For Christians, circumstances, the Holy Spirit, and God’s Word can act as our safe passage through life’s pitfalls.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One in the Spirit

It was the summer before 8th grade and I was attending the first funeral of my young life.   A classmate of mine had died tragically in a mini-bike accident.  It was jolting news for a 13 year old to absorb.   But it was her funeral that really opened my eyes to reality.   I remember her gray and white coffin being brought in to the sanctuary in somber procession as her family sadly followed in behind. I saw grief on their faces. Her parents clutched each other closely as they followed their daughter’s casket down the middle aisle of the church.   As they filed in, I could hear the sobbing throughout the sanctuary.   I’m certain at my young age, I’d never witnessed such heartbreak.   And yet, it was in this setting, God spoke to me in a very real way.  

From a choir loft of that beautifully ornate Catholic church, a group of youth sang a song that I heard for the first time that day.   I was reminded of that moment this past Sunday, as we sang the song in church.  The song is an old standard now, but in the summer of 1972, it was fairly new song. Its first verse goes:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

In this setting of incredible sadness, the song spoke to me directly, mostly because I didn’t understand the meaning of the words.   Oh, I had been raised in church, no doubt had many opportunities to hear the Gospel of Christ.   But at the time I heard that song, I had no idea what being "one in the spirit" meant.   To what Spirit were the singers referring?   And why would anyone know Christians by their love??   Somehow, my young mind comprehended one thing with perfect accuracy: they were singing about someone else, not me.

Ephesians 4:4 tells us: There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--

And in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–

Christian are linked by that one Spirit.   We are one in the Spirit, one body of Christ. Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and others alike are bonded by that one Spirit - the very Spirit of God, through their declaration of Jesus as Lord for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."(Romans 10:13).   It’s one of our basic Christian concepts.

I didn’t have that understanding, mourning the loss of my classmate that day. An old adage states, "To wonder is to begin to understand."   Through that song, God was making me begin to wonder.   It was the beginning of a process that eventually led to my accepting Christ, becoming one in that sweet Spirit.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Work Zone...

In the 6 years we’ve lived in our home in Kansas City, our house has gone through a complete transformation. Every bit of flooring has been recarpeted or retiled, some of it twice. The walls have all been repainted, some after old dated wallpaper was torn off. We’ve put in four new ceiling fans and replaced the kitchen countertops. Two bathrooms have been completely remodeled. On the outside, we’ve refinished the deck, replaced the chain link fence with a new white vinyl fence, and done a great deal of mostly successful landscaping. Tomorrow, a maple tree is being delivered and planted in the back yard. I doubt the former owners would recognize the place.

In Ephesians 4:20 - 24, we read:
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Like our house, which had a former life with another owner and family, God transforms us from the old lives we once lived. We once belonged to the world, and followed the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31), but God paid our mortgage in full at Calvary. Throughout our life, God is constantly in the remodeling business, knocking down walls of our old self that brought Him no glory. He wants go beyond redecorating. God is in the complete renovation business.

We’re happy in our house. With the improvements we’ve put into place, we feel like we made a house our home. We plan on being here for years to come, and no doubt there will be upkeep on the property. If we’ve allowed it, God has made major improvements in our lives. I’ve met old friends from years ago that God has changed to the point that I hardly recognize them. I hope the same could be said for me from those who knew my old self.   If so, the Master Builder deserves all the credit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blessed Assurance!

1 Timothy 3:13
Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Assurance is a quality that we take lightly at times. Maybe we lack the faith necessary to fully appreciate true assurance. Notice how in the passage above from Hebrews, the writer points out that our relationship to God is made stronger with "full assurance." I suppose it’s like a good marriage made rich with the assurance of trust and faithfulness. Without those elements, the relationship is greatly damaged. But assurance from the Father can take many forms, and come from many avenues to reach us. One Sunday morning a few years ago, assurance came to me in a most unexpected way.

We live less than five minutes from our church. On this particular Sunday morning we arrived at the church building only to discover we’d left the grocery contribution we were donating for the newly hired pastor and his family. I dropped my wife off at the front door and headed back for the sack of canned goods, still having plenty of time to get to our Sunday School class. I went in the house, retrieved the bag and headed back for the church.

As I neared a stop sign to turn right toward our church, I witnessed a car veering off the four lane road I was approaching. Given that the car was completely off the road and heading straight for a small grove of trees and brush, it was traveling extremely fast. The car slammed into the cluster of trees and came to an immediate halt. Several drivers and I immediately jumped from our vehicles and ran up to the wrecked car. Inside we saw a middle aged woman, and from her dilated, fixed eyes, she was, to the untrained eye, dead. There was the slightest moment of pause as we looked upon the poor woman, no doubt shock at what we’d witnessed, then someone said, "We have to get her out of there."

Her car doors being locked, we broke the back seat window behind her with a tire tool, reached in and unlocked her door. Several of us pulled her limp body from the wreckage onto the ground. Instinctively, we administered CPR and within minutes, paramedics arrived. Neither our efforts nor theirs could revive the woman. Police officers were quickly on the scene, taking statements from several of the witnesses.

I stood beside her car, feeling empty inside, wondering who this woman was. I thought about her loved ones, of the news they had awaiting them. I hurt for them as well as her. Then, out of the blue a police officer standing next to me looking inside her car, said to me, "Stupid airbags didn’t even deploy!" It was the kind of thing that he was probably trained to look for, but I really hadn’t noticed.

But his statement served a different purpose for me. When he said it, I naturally looked into the vehicle. On the front seat, alongside the woman was her Bible. I looked closer at it laying there and it was evident that it was a well worn Bible. I looked back at the woman and noticed for the first time a tiny gold cross hanging around her neck. It dawned on me then that like me, she was on her way to her own church, that this was a sister in Christ. A peaceful assurance came over me, with the knowledge that she was now in the loving arms of Jesus. That police officer’s comment was meant to bring me to that assurance.

I can’t tell you the make, model, or color of that woman’s car that morning. Nor could I identify any of the other witnesses, police officers, or paramedics. I couldn’t describe the weather that day, or tell you anything that was said, sung, or preached in church later that morning. But there is one memory I took away from that whole ordeal. I remember exactly what that well worn Bible looked like laying there in the front seat. I can describe it to a tee. But more importantly, I remember the Blessed Assurance it delivered.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Taking Any Calls?

Having escorted sin into a previously perfect world, Adam found himself in the ridiculous position of hiding from God. Yes, we see in Genesis 3:8 and 9, the Lord "walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze," calling out to Adam, "Where are you?" But are we to believe that the omnipresent Lord God Almighty doesn’t know Adam’s location amongst the trees and bushes? Had Adam discovered a some secretive place that God couldn’t reach? Of course not.

Jonah got on a boat, headed for Tarshish - the opposite direction of Nineveh, the place God had instructed him to go. On the boat, he went to down below to the very bowels of the ship, no doubt in an effort, like Adam, to hide himself from God.

How foolish we are to think that we can run or hide from God. Often we think only pastors or preachers have callings, but I think we all have a calling to pursue. It might be a temporary calling, like Jonah’s call to preach at Nineveh, or a life calling as Moses discovered in front of a burning bush. But we’re all subject to callings on our lives. God’s call on our lives is consistent. Notice in Jonah 1:2, God’s calling for Jonah is to: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." After fleeing on the boat, being thrown overboard, being swallowed by a great fish in which he spent three days inside its belly, and vomited up on shore, Jonah’s instructions from God in Jonah 3:2 are to: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." Notice the change of game plan before the first and second message from God? Neither do I, because there is none. Like Jonah, we can’t outrun the consistency and the persistency of God’s calling on our lives.

Now, you might say I really don’t know God’s calling for me, and you’re probably right. One reason for this is a simple one: we fail to ask. Another reason is we cloud ourselves so much with the comings and goings of the world, we fail to develop the type of relationship necessary to know exactly what God has in mind for us. Walkie talkies are useful instruments, but if only one unit is turned on, they’re worthless. Or, if there’s so much noise going on around us that we can’t hear them, again they’re not of much use. Through prayer and God’s word, leave your receiver on and eliminate a lot of the needless noise of the world. God’s calling will be consistent and persistent.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Need Directions?

Gabby has become a significant part of our family. She assists my wife and me in getting around the metro area of Kansas City. She’s traveled with us from coast to coast. Like an American Express card, we never leave home without her. She rarely makes mistakes. She exudes confidence, always telling us exactly what we should do, and when we should do it. You probably have a Gabby of your own. Gabby is our pet name for our GPS. GPS devices are pretty standard equipment these days. I suppose if Gabby ever konks out on us, we’ll immediately replace her. I’m not sure we could do without her. 

Just like driving from place to place, we need guidance in our lives. Proverbs 3: 5-6 tells us to:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

There’s been way too many times I’ve done exactly the opposite of this passage, too many times I’ve relied on my own understanding. I didn’t stop and ask God for directions. I didn’t pull out His road map for my life, the Bible. I didn’t stop and listen for the Holy Spirit to whisper directional counsel, like my GPS telling me "turn right" or "turn left." Instead, I made my own decisions, my way. I wonder how many times God had to reroute the plan He had for me because I’d plowed forward on my own, not acknowledging Him, thus allowing Him to make my paths straight.

Another thing Gabby does is display the route we’re on, but she only shows the portion of the trip we’re on at the time, not the entire route all at once. God is sort of like that, too. We often ask, "What’s God’s will for my life?" That might too big of a question. I hope to live another 30 years or so. I don’t think I can take all that in at once. Maybe we should narrow our question down to "What’s God’s will for me next month or next year?" Maybe we should change the question altogether. Instead of focusing on God’s will for us, a better question might be "What’s God’s will?" He’s already at work in the world around us. All we really need to do is get in the car and listen for His guidance. He’ll always take us exactly where He needs us to be.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Thoughts

We came together as a staff of federal employees that day following what we now commonly refer to as 9/11. We met in the chapel of the federal prison where Teri and I were working. I was asked by the Chaplain if I would select a passage from the Bible to read and reflect upon. Others sang hymns, and patriotic songs. Funny thing was, there we were, federal employees, on government time being allowed to pray to God for our country.  Earlier that same year, some of us had requested to have a prayer group before work and we were strictly instructed to make sure we ended any prayer sessions before our shift began, as the government could not accommodate any sort of religious activity on government time.

But this day was different. Our nation turned to God during that time period, much like we did after Pearl Harbor or John F. Kennedy’s assassination. We realized a need for His presence in our world that now seemed to be turning on end.

Several days later, I watched via television a service held at the National Cathedral in Washington. All the living ex-Presidents joined President Bush and other national leaders in praying for our nation after the tragedy of 9/11. I watched as religious leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths took their turns at the podium, expressing their desire for unity, for healing as a nation.

Then, a frail Billy Graham was led up the steps to the pulpit where he did what he had done for the past sixty years or so - proclaim the Gospel of Christ. I was moved that he did not take a politically correct approach in light of the other religious representatives’ presence. He preached Jesus, saying:

"Here in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us symbols of the cross. For the Christian -- I'm speaking for the Christian now -- the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering. For He took upon himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, our sins and our suffering."

There’s no arguing the fact that we have changed as a nation due to the events of 9/11. Our vocabulary is filled with new terms like Homeland Security and threat levels. Our young men and women are being asked to serve in areas and against enemies that we’d never heard of prior to that day.

But, as we look back on that fateful time 10 years ago, may we be mindful that God’s presence is needed not only during the difficult times, but in all times, in all areas of our lives. And may we have the courage and conviction to always proclaim the Gospel of Christ to a world needing it just as much now as it did 9/11/01.

Friday, September 9, 2011

She Made Change - In Me

It was a pretty ordinary week of Vacation Bible School, but there was a moment that I won’t forget. Typically on the last night of VBS, parents are invited to come watch some of the programming, music, etc., their children have been involved in during the week. This particular week was no different. Parents, grandparents, and other relatives filed into the sanctuary, witnessing an upbeat program accompanied by uplifting testimony. Then, the moment happened...

Helping take up an offering,  I finished with the back row and headed up the middle aisle of the church, offering plate in hand. As I neared the front of the sanctuary, I heard a woman’s voice behind me. I turned and saw a small, frail looking woman pursuing me up the aisle, with money in her hand. Still nothing that unusual, I’m thinking. Somehow, we just missed her.

I didn’t recognize the woman; she wasn’t a regular in our church. She was middle-aged, maybe in her 50's, and wasn’t particular well dressed. Since we were standing at the front of the sanctuary, with nothing else going on, no doubt the majority of the audience witnessed what occurred next.

The woman approached me with her bill in hand and I held out the plate to accommodate her. I couldn’t help but notice her place a twenty dollar bill on top of the pile of bills already in the plate. I started to turn toward the altar, and she quietly, but firmly said, "Please wait." I looked at her as she proceeded to rifle through the bills in the plate, looking for change for the twenty she’d placed in the plate.

It was sort of a surreal moment, someone making change in the offering plate. I heard a few muffled whispers throughout the sanctuary. I awkwardly waited as she finished her transaction and turned quickly to return to her seat. I put the plate in its appointed place and walked away, still somewhat confounded by what I’d witnessed.

But, after the moment had passed further, this lasting thought came to my mind: the woman didn’t have to give anything at all. She had the appearance of one who didn’t have much to give, but she gave anyway. She could have stayed seated, saving herself the pointed attention of coming up the aisle. Maybe that twenty dollars represented a great amount to her and her giving a portion of it was really a big deal. It might have been a bigger sacrifice than any of us who initially scoffed at her actions realized.

In the Gospel of Mark 12: 41 - 44, we read:

41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. 43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” (NKJV)

Every time I’ve read that passage, I’ve thought of that woman walking up the aisle with her offering. Her humility left a lasting impression on me. Honestly, I’m afraid I would have been too prideful to carry out her act. She’s just one of dozens of nameless people God has used to teach me something I needed.  I’m grateful for her lesson.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I Have a Hammer...

If you looked at the tools hanging in the corner of my garage where I have a little workshop set up, you’d never know the significance of a particular old hammer. I’d bought two of the same hammers before I made my first international mission trip, a construction trip to Honduras in the mid-1990's. One hammer I planned on keeping at home, and the other I figured I’d leave in Honduras, with the rest of the tools I’d brought, to be used by the locals. Our assignment that week was to work on a cement block church building that another previous mission team had begun. In the following weeks, several other teams followed us, and eventually the community had a simple, but functional church, where there previously had been none.

Many wonderful memories are etched in my mind from the trip. We toiled in temperatures in the 90's all week, and I returned home with a rare January farmer’s tan! By then end of the week, we’d begun to see the forming of the church we were erecting. Many in the community stopped by to watch and offer their gratitude for what God was doing through us. Most of us were unskilled laborers, doing whatever the experienced carpenters, some American, some Honduran, told us to do. We were paired with same carpenters all week, effectively becoming teams of builders. My assignment during the week was to assist a Honduran brick layer named Marco. Marco was about 30 years old and spoke no English, but could lay block like a master. I fetched water, mortar, blocks, and whatever Marco needed to build the walls of that church. We bonded not only as a team of laborers, but also like a pair of brothers. You see Marco was not only a master bricklayer, he also was a follower of the Master...

One night after a hard day’s work, we held a little worship service under a lean-to next to the work site. I was giving testimony and I jokingly said "Before I start, Marco and I are going to sing a duet..." Marco immediately jumped out of his seat and started to the front. I had to stop him before I was forced to reveal why no one has ever asked me to be in the church choir. Marco just wanted the opportunity to praise God.  It was the type of attitude Marco had throughout the week. He just quietly went about his business, always wanting to please the Lord.

It’s been 13 or 14 years since I spent that week with Marco, but not a week passes that I don’t think of him. Thoughts that inevitably lead me to fulfilling a promise that Marco and I made to each other. You see, at the end of that mission trip, I gave Marco the hammer I’d brought from home. I told him I had one exactly like it at my house. We made a pact that whenever he used that hammer, he’d pray for me and my family and I would pray for him and his family whenever I used the matching one at home. I have a lot of tools, most of which I’m not very proficient with, but that yellow and black hammer hanging in my shop never fails its job of reminding me to pray for Marco. I don’t suppose you could buy it from me for any amount of money. Proverbs 27:17 tells us: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another," and I can attest that Marco sharpened me that week, a honing that continues to this day.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why worry?

In Job 42:2, Job tells God: "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted..." It’s the beginning of a great statement of faith that Job delivers after realizing just who God is. It’s a statement that most of us would readily agree with, without much thought at all. God had convinced Job that his power was unlimited. Let me ask you this: Are you convinced that God’s power is unlimited? Really???? "I know that you can do all things..." He’s God, of course He can do all things. We believe that...don’t we?

Worry is one those areas of sinfulness that we don’t often think about. When is the last time you asked forgiveness for excessive worry? I’m not talking about normal concern about the everyday comings and goings of life. I mean those times when, after praying about something, we obsessively worry about it, too. Ever laid in bed at night, unable to sleep over something you’ve prayed about? Probably so. What’s the message we’re sending God? When we let worry consume us, aren’t we really saying God this is so big and so important to me that, yes, I’ll pray about it, but I’m really not sure you can handle it..so I better stress over it, too. We’re really saying one of three things:
1. I don’t trust you God, to do what You say.
2. I don’t believe you God, that you can do what You say.
3. Or, I don’t love you God, enough to hand it over to you.

But when we acknowledge the Unlimited Power of God, we’re saying YOU ARE GOD, and I AM NOT. I love when science tries to prove or disprove miracles in the Bible. Television shows like "Mysteries of the Bible" or "Miracles of the Bible Explained" always try to put scientific reasoning into Biblical occurrences.  But they usually miss the point....they usually leave out the only real factor: God.

I’ve heard meteorology people debate scientifically whether or not any weather phenomena could cause the Red Sea to part – but Exodus 17 says "the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land and the waters were divided," It was a God thing...

Science debates whether a man could possibly live in the belly of a fish for three days, but Jonah 1:17 says "But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah," the Lord provided...See, it was a God thing...

Astronomers have long debated what star, if any, shone so brightly in the East guiding the Magi, ignoring that Genesis 1:16 tells who the creator of the stars is...It was a God thing.

And the greatest provision God has made for us. John 3:16 tells us that He loved us to the point that he PROVIDED His only son, "that whosoever should believe..."It’s a God thing...

Let me to ask you this...What impossibilities are you facing? What worries are eating you up? What are you lying in bed at night worrying about? What do you have that God can’t handle? You make it a God thing...make it a GOD thing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


You can find just about anything on the internet these days. To this point, I Googled "building a hang glider," just to see if I could find basic instructions on how to build my own apparatus for soaring high in the air. Sure enough, I found enough information that I feel quite confident that in the little corner workshop of my garage I can build a hang glider, suitable for flight. Only problem is, I’m not too crazy about being up high, so I’m looking for a test pilot that would be willing to try out my new hang glider. My house is pretty tall, and has the proper pitch facing the west, from where the prevailing Kansas winds usually come, so take off from my roof should be, well, a breeze! Like I said, I’m quite confident that with the information I’ve found on the ‘net and some basic flying instructions, one of you will be soaring off the top of my house in no time. All I need is a volunteer...anyone?

Now, if anyone of you are considering my offer, please drop me a line so I can immediately contact your closest relative. Obviously they need to take you somewhere for some serious evaluation!

I John 5:12 makes a statement in which we should have the utmost confidence. It says:
"Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."

There is no wiggle room here. Christians are often called out for being intolerant, having the audacity to believe that we have the only avenue to God, to heaven. It’s as if Jesus said something like "No one comes to the Father except through me." Oh wait, He did (John 14:6). We can have the greatest confidence in these words of Truth.

One of the greatest myths Satan has spun is the concept that Hell is only for the most despicable of people. Whenever a Timothy McVeigh or Sadam Hussein dies, the world instantly feels something like "well, now they’re getting their just due." With anybody else, "they’re in a better place." The problem with that way of thinking is it leaves Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross out of the equation. Satan has a majority of the world thinking in terms of "earning" salvation. Even Christians can fall for this notion. I was teaching a Bible study once and discussing Mother Teresa. I asked the group of believers how many of them thought Mother Teresa was in heaven today, and they instantly raised their hands in unison. Then I asked, "Why is she in heaven?" Immediately I started hearing about the wonderful works she had performed while living on this earth, and how compassionate and loving a person she was...all true attributes to her character, but none of which got Mother Teresa one inch closer to heaven. No, Mother Teresa is in heaven today only because of her acceptance of Jesus as Lord of her life, her Savior. Romans 10:13 tells us plainly, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," another concrete statement we can put our full confidence in.

How about you today? Have you taken that step, the only step that will gain you access to the Father, accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior? Don’t fall for the notion that somehow you’re living a pretty good life, so you’re probably going to be okay in the end. That’s like meeting me on the roof with my homemade hang glider...it just won’t fly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Following at a Distance?

In Luke 22: 54-62 we read:
54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."  
57 But he denied it. "Woman, I don’t know him," he said.
58 A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."
"Man, I am not!" Peter replied.
59 About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."
60 Peter replied, "Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

This passage is often referred to as Peter’s denial. Two things jump out at me here. Verse 61 says Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter. Jesus looked him straight in the eye. Was this the all time case of conviction, or what! Only hours earlier, Peter vowed to follow Jesus, "even unto death," and at his first opportunity to make good on his vow, he fails miserably. And yet, I have so many times failed in my efforts to serve Christ. And, like Peter, God can look us dead in the eye, holding us accountable for those failures. But as we later find with Peter, God redeems us, forgives us, and give us more opportunities to feed His sheep.

The other aspect of this passage I find telling is at the end of verse 54, "...Peter followed at a distance." Simon Peter was at his most courageous, impetuous self when he was in Christ's immediate presence, wasn’t he. When Jesus came walking on water toward the boat full of disciples, it was only Peter who:"... got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:29)

When Jesus was arrested in the garden, we see:
Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; (John 18:10)

And finally, it was our friend Peter, who boldly and correctly answers Jesus’ question of identity with the statement of statements:"...Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

Much like ourselves, when Peter followed "at a distance," his demeanor changed. His boldness weakened. We have to be careful not to follow Christ at a distance. When we put other activities or events ahead of serving or worshiping Christ, we’re guilty of following Christ at a distance. When we hear the Lord’s name used inappropriately and remain silent, we’re guilty of following Christ at a distance. We wouldn’t tolerate someone speaking about a family member in the same manner we tolerate the use of profanity with the Lord’s name, now would we. And finally, when we put other things or relationships ahead of our relationship with Christ, we’re guilty of following Christ at a distance. Our relationship with our Lord and Savior is to be the number one relationship we have. Jesus tells us plainly to:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)

Christ proclaimed that the greatest commandment of all...How's your relationship measuring out these days? Close by Christ, or following at a distance?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Titus2:7 instructs us " in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine..." and 1Timothy 4:12 tells us to " Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe."

How many of you would think of yourself as a powerful person? Most of you probably would say "not really," but stop and consider real power. Power can be demonstrated through the examples we set for others to see. Most of us don’t consider the true power we possess. One book I read years ago gave a great illustration of how we sometimes don’t realize the power that we possess. If Clark Kent woke up one morning and forgot he was really Superman, just think of the damage he would cause, ripping doors off the hinges, breaking bones as he shook someone’s hand, etc. He had to constantly remember his physical power and keep from doing utter destruction during his everyday walk. We’re not that different. Everyone of us holds an unrealized amount of power or influence on someone else. That power is much more potent than we realize. Let me give you an example of what I mean:

Many years ago in Alexandria, Louisiana, I had the great pleasure of leading an early morning men’s Bible study and prayer group. Men from all age groups would stumble in at 6:00AM on a weekly basis, and share needs, discuss issues, and pray for each other. It was a wonderful time of fellowship. One of the regular attendees of the group was a 85 year old, retired preacher we lovingly called Brother Kelly. Brother Kelly was as godly a man as I’ve ever known, having served God from the time he was a teenager as a pastor. When he was in his mid 80's, Brother Kelly would go to the senior center every day where they served lunch, not to eat himself, but to help with the "old folks," serving meals, cleaning tables, etc. Oh by the way, whenever he got the chance, Bro. Kelly would sit down himself, and tell one of those "old folks" about Jesus...One morning during our Bible study, we were discussing our fathers, and the influence they’d had on our lives. Bro. Kelly told a story that I’ll never forget:

"When I was about 10 years old, the little town I grew up in was forming a baseball team. I really wanted to be on that team, but I had no ball glove. I was in the local general store with my father and there was a ball glove in there for $4.00. We were very poor, and it might as well have been $400. My father worked long hours, but we barely had the means to feed our family, and oftentimes did not. I looked longingly at the glove, but knew better than to ask. We left the store and the prospect of being on that baseball team was vanishing. Over the course of the next week or so, my father was never present for the evening meal. In fact, I went to bed every night without seeing him, and when I got up early the next day, he was already gone. The first night I saw my father again, he walked into the house with a package under his arm. He handed me the package, which I unwrapped to find that $4.00 ball glove inside. You see, my father had been working before and after his regular job, chopping wood and any other odd job he could find for a quarter, a dime, or whatever, because he loved me and wanted me to have that glove..."

Bro. Kelly’s voice trailed off and we looked up to see an 85 year old man openly weeping as he remembered an incredible act of love of a father, 75 years prior....now that’s real power. As an example to others, I’m not sure I’ve always been on target, but I’ll never forget what real power a person can possess after that morning with Bro. Kelly.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This and That - Lima, Peru

A few thoughts about our recent mission trip to Lima, Peru...
Several years ago, I made four mission trips to Honduras. I remember the exact same feeling of understanding that I felt last week in Lima, Peru...God is truly omnipresent. His Holy Presence fills every square inch of our world, and beyond.
In Psalm 139:7-12 David wrote,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Sometimes you have to go to what seems like the ends of the earth to fully appreciate that. In Lima, we worked with Pastor Javier Francisco Severino Huaman, a true servant of Christ, if there ever was one. Pastor Javier oversaw three different church operations, very effectively. He and his wife Dewanna had two wonderful adult children, both serving Christ. The Spirit of God was all over that family and that marvelous church. We didn’t pack the Holy Spirit up and deliver it to the people of Peru. They were already basking in the Light...and God was with us when we left, and stayed with those folks as well....omnipresently.

Another aspect I took away from Lima is people are spiritually hungry for the Truth. We spent days going door to door, shack to shack at times, and not once did I encounter a person not interested in hearing our message. They had a yearning for something more than this world has to offer and God used us to deliver it. I’m sorry to say, in our country, we’re not as hungry for the Truth. Maybe it’s because we feel we have everything we need. In Mark 10:17, a man we familiarly know as the rich young ruler came running up to Jesus, fell on his knees, saying, "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Here was one who had all the world had to offer, but he lacked something. He had a void in his life that money and power couldn’t fill. In Peru, we didn’t encounter the rich and powerful, just the opposite. But they felt the same need for Christ as the rich young ruler. No matter which end of the spectrum you more closely relate to, the need is the same.

One last thought I have about the mission trip concerns the one that got away...When I was a senior in high school, our basketball team won the state championship. We had many moments that I remember with a great deal of fondness. But there was that one game that got away as I missed a shot at the buzzer that would’ve won the game. As the ball left my hand, I was sure I’d made it, only to see it fall off the rim. That, too, is etched in my basketball memory banks...In Lima, there was a young man named Carlos. Carlos, despite our efforts, clung to his mixture of Buddhism, Jehovah Witness, stirred in with some Christianity. He admitted he had no idea where he would be if he should die, but he enjoyed exploring lots of beliefs. My crusade partner and I talked to him for over an hour, pleading the case for Christ, to no avail. Carlos is still lost and while there were nearly 1700 commitments to Christ during our crusade, Carlos is like that shot that fell off the rim so many years ago, etched in my mind. Carlos is a reminder that there’s still work to do. And the Holy Spirit will never let me stop praying for Carlos...and all the other Carlos’s of the world.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Note from Peru

My wife and I have been on a mission trip in Lima, Peru for the past week...The other day, during a visit to a blind man, he mentioned that Jesus Loves me was his favorite song as a child.  My wife, who's never been asked to sing in the church choir, for the same good reason as I, immediately sang to him in Spanish, Jesus Loves Me.  Did I mention, Teri also doesn't speak Spanish?  I looked over at her in stunned amazement while she sang.  She had learned the lyrics from teaching years of VBS...later that evening, at the invitation during the worship service, the blind man was led up the aisle, wanting to give his heart to Jesus....  

Cristo me ama,
Cristo me ama,
Cristo me ama,
La Biblia dice así


Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Plate

Whether it’s a super seafood buffet, an all-you-can-eat pizza restaurant, or a good ol’ dinner on the grounds Baptist Sunday, we love us some eating. One of my major downfalls is Shoney’s breakfast buffets...just can’t be around all that unguarded bacon. All those settings are similar in that there’s usually a stack of plates, and silverware at the head of the serving table. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve anxiously grabbed a plate(or two), filled it up, and hurried to sit down and devour my overfilled plate, only to find that I’d completely forgotten any spoon, knife, or fork, so eager was I to fill my plate. Another aspect about the smorgasbord settings is small children have to have their plates filled for them. Conscientious parents lead their little ones through the process, making sure some semblance of nutrition is attained. Otherwise they’d probably head straight to the dessert offerings!

Christians, when asked to serve in this capacity or that, like to use the phrase, "my plate’s pretty full already," in an effort to avoid the requested servitude. The question we need to ask ourselves periodically is this: who filled your plate? Who put all those items on your schedule, now limiting how you think you can serve God? Were you like me at the buffet line, piling on everything that looked delicious, while avoiding things that I perceived I wouldn’t like? There are certainly some areas of service that I enjoy more than others, so those are what I’d like on my plate...

In Luke 18:17, Jesus says:
"Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"

While we usually think of this passage in terms of turning our lives over to Christ, being childlike in what service we involve ourselves in should also be in order. We need to be like the child at the buffet line, allowing the Father to fill our plates with what He’d want us to have. Along with filling our plates ourselves with the things we’d like to do, oftentimes we allow others to fill our plates. We accept responsibilities for the wrong reasons: peer pressure, guilt, or trying to prove our worth as Christians. God’s desire is for us to have a loving relationship with Him. As such, we should hand Him our plates, let him both place on it what He desires for our lives, and remove from it what’s cluttering up our ability to serve Him completely.

So, the next time you’re thinking or saying "my plate’s full," assess the situation completely... who filled your plate?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Ball!

I was 8 years old and I suddenly found the weight of the world on my shoulders. The bases were loaded with two outs and I was the batter, facing a 10 year old pitcher that had struck me out every time I’d batted against him. I’d hit 34 home runs the year before in the 6 and 7 year old Midget League, but when facing the 10 year old pitchers, I was pretty mediocre. My brother was yelling at me to not strike out "again," while my mother was rooting me on from her lawn chair directly behind home plate. The self-perceived huge crowd was on the edge of their seats. I tell you, Mickey Mantle never faced the pressure in Yankee Stadium that I felt that day dragging my bat to the plate. Then above all the commotion going on inside and outside my head, I heard the voice of my father coming from the third base coach’s box, telling me to do something that I’d been told to do since I was old enough to pick up a ball bat. "Keep your eye on the ball," he instructed, and right then and there it dawned on me. I’d forgotten that simple concept. I’d been swinging and hoping the bat would somehow make contact with the ball. Thus, I’d been striking out regularly all year. "Keep your eye on the ball." Baseball at its very core! But when forgotten, or ignored, the results can be futile.

Christianity is like that. Sometimes we forget what we’re really here for or who we’re really serving. I heard a speaker once say that the "work of the church around me began to kill the work of God within me." Sometimes we can become so busy we forget the Christian basics. Things like the pure wonderment of John 3:16:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

It’s easy to lose focus on how amazing God’s love for us is because we tend to humanize God, limiting Him, by seeing Him with our capabilities, not His. Like Job states in Job 42: 1-5, we can sometimes lose focus on who exactly God is:
1 Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."

Job had to come to that realization that we all sometimes have to: You’re God and I’m not. I oftentimes find myself needing to step back and let God. Let God work, let God lead, let God use me in His way. Let God.

That’s Christianity at its very core. When we forget or ignore these concepts though, we can swing and miss in our worship, and on our real purpose in life, to share Jesus with the world around us. Staying focused gives our lives "grand slam" meaning...even bigger than the grand slam I hit that memorable day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's So Easy

2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

This familiar passage from John 8 speaks volumes about ourselves. This poor woman, dragged from her adulterous affair, thrown down in the midst of what was essentially a church service with Jesus preaching the sermon...Can you imagine? It would be like being in church one Sunday morning and up on the screen where music lyrics usually are projected, suddenly appears a secret video of you in your worst behavior...EVER....for the whole world to watch. The humiliation of this woman is incomprehensible. Yet, it is in this setting that Jesus teaches us some of our greatest lessons about ourselves.

First, it’s so easy to be critical of other people.  Criticism of others is almost a natural instinct. We thrive on it, probably in an effort to bring others down to our level, or to elevate ourselves above the level we’re at. "I might be bad, but at least I’m not as bad as so and so." Criticism can be our weak attempt to justify ourselves. In this case, the woman was easily condemned by the crowd. She was caught in sin, they were found in church. It also reminds us that it’s so easy to forget our own sins. In order to be so adamant about stoning the woman for her sin, the would-be rock throwers had to forget their own shortcomings. They had be "holier than thou." A New England businessman well known for his self-righteousness once told Mark Twain, "Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top." Twain replied, "I have a better idea. You could stay in Boston and just try keeping them." But oftentimes it’s so easy to forget from whence we came - our lives before God got a hold of us.

The Pharisees were like religious bullies, slinging this woman down and saying essentially, "Watcha gonna do about it, Jesus??" Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say so little and elicit such a powerful response. He starts by completely ignoring them. But bullies are persistent: " So when they continued asking Him..." I know from personal childhood experience, that bullies have to be stood up to. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."

As He so often does, Jesus cuts quickly to the heart of the matter...the real wickedness is not this poor sinner laying on the ground before him, but rather, the wickedness in these men’s hearts. Isaiah 57:21 says:  "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."

And Numbers 32:23 reminds us  "... you may be sure that your sin will find you out."

These men’s sins had indeed found them out and the clinched grips they held on their rocks were quickly loosened.  Suddenly, the shame they had thrown upon this woman was thrust upon them. They had no right condemning anyone...and neither do we.  Ironically, the only one qualified to throw the first stone was the one setting the standard...Jesus. He was without sin, but you don’t see Him reaching for a rock. Instead, He reaches out to the woman.

10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

In this short conversation with her, Jesus does three things for this woman and He does the same three things for us:

First, He redeemed her. Notice what He calls her: "woman" - a term of endearment, honor - like calling someone today "a lady." Jesus used the same term while hanging on the cross, as he addressed His mother. No doubt, no one had referred to this woman with honor for sometime. But that’s exactly what Jesus has done for our lives. He’s redeemed us from the "filthy rags" that we once were.
Secondly, Jesus offered her forgiveness. He lifts her up from the dirt and says "neither do I condemn you."  He’s opening the door to forgiveness - just like He’s opened the door to forgiveness to you and I.  Through His death on the cross, Jesus has paved the way for our forgiveness, that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Romans 5:)

And finally Jesus held her accountable. While payment for our sin cost Jesus the ultimate price, He reminds us that with forgiveness comes responsibility: He told the woman, "Go and sin, no more." Leave behind the life you once led, and follow me.

It’s the same pattern that He offers us:
1. He redeems us
2. He offers us forgiveness.
3. He holds us accountable.

Won’t you take Jesus up on His offer today? It’s so easy.