A Storm of Blessing is Approaching!

P.U.S.H. Pray Until Something Happens.

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The prophet Elijah had just singlehandedly vanquished the Nation of Israel of 450 false prophets, demonstrating the power of God could be trusted over the fear of man, which ushered in a revival. Standing on Mount Carmel, like a tall cedar that had weathered the storm-full of faith and power-before the vile king of Israel Ahab, he looked to the sky for rain. With blood still dripping from his sword, a reminder of how quickly God responded to those who feared Him, he remembered God’s promise; that rain would break the drought that had plagued the land for three years. Elijah prayed to God for rain, then sent his servant to a clearing to look for the storm clouds only to have him back, reporting the skies were clear. Elijah had mocked and verbally berated Baal’s false prophets just a few hours prior when they cried a request to their gods only to be met with silence; now, he is experiencing the same thing. So, Elijah prayed and sent his servant out again, only to have him return with the same discouraging news; no clouds. This routine continued four more times with the same results; Elijah would petition God for rain, send out his servant, who would report clear skies with no rain in sight.

How would King Ahab interpret this period of perceived silence from God in response to Elijah’s prayer? Would the wicked King Ahab think that the past victory was a fluke, a flash in the pan event, and become empowered enough to boldly attack his now weakened adversary? What did the Nation of Israel think of this silence of God? Perhaps God was done with Elijah, moving on to someone stronger, younger, better equipped to lead them, and closer to God to advise them? What about Elijah’s servant? Could he start to doubt Elijah’s power, or even worse, consider that God Himself might be asleep, overworked, or too busy to care about His people anymore? Most importantly, what was going through the mind and heart of Elijah? In his past, Elijah would call out to God with immediate results; the dead were raised, food was supplied, fire came down from heaven, but now, nothing. But, Elijah did something that many would not; he continued to trust God and pray anyway. After he prayed for the seventh time, he sent his servant out, who came back with some great news, a storm cloud could be seen on the horizon, rain was coming! The draught would soon be over; crops would again grow, livestock would be saved, the spread of disease slow, and hope would be restored. The storm of blessing had arrived!

I may be stepping out on presumption a little, but I would guess there have been times in your life when God responded to your prayer request with a sense of urgency; you prayed, and God moved. There can be no better example of this than when you prayed for salvation; you asked God to forgive you and be the Lord of your life, and instantly your burden was lifted, and you were adopted! Conversely, I am confident there have been times in your life when you have prayed only to be met with silence; no clouds appearing on the horizon. If we can learn anything from this story recorded in the book of Kings, it is this; faith that is strong enough to persevere is a faith that will see an end to the lengthy draught of God’s blessings. A faith that trusts the storms of blessings will break over the horizon one day is a faith that continues to believe enough to pray until something happens.

Scripture: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” -Psm. 37:7, ESV

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” -Psm. 27:14, ESV

Question: Have you ever given up praying for something? Would you be willing to admit that perhaps you gave up too soon in light of our story?

Nugget: Elijah’s prayer was answered on the seventh request. The number seven in scripture represents completion; in other words, God’s timing was perfect!

Prayer: Father, I never want to give up on you. Please help me recognize that the voices around me are the loudest during the seasons of silence, encouraging me to quit; that you are too busy, have moved on, or are dead. Please give me the faith to believe, the strength to continue, the attention to focus, and the boldness to walk in a dark culture that doubts you. May I learn to dance in the rain before it arrives, enjoying your presence while I wait for an answer. Thank you for knowing what is best for me and holding out for the perfect time to send your showers of blessings. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Our Father’s World

You are not just in God’s world; you are God’s world.

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When things were no longer working out living in my parent’s home, my Grandparents decided to drive from New Jersey to Boston, pick me up, move me to Florida, and raise me as their own. At that point in my life, self-esteem was not even a blip on the radar of my life; thus, this twelve-year-old boy never made eye contact with anyone, and my head remained down, even while walking. While others around me perceived such behavior as rude, my Grandmother saw through the outward appearances; knowing my story, she attributed my behavior to years of being emotionally broken down. From teachers to police officers and guidance counselors to Cub Scout leaders, I had been rejected for years, with some adult influences in my life even prophesying about my worthless future. The result? I believed it all; I was no good, a bad seed, a worthless piece of garbage that no one wanted, and one that would never amount to anything good.

One day that all changed. After my Grandmother and I had passed a few cheerful walkers on the golf cart trail, people I never looked up to greet; she had enough. Her brisk walk came to an abrupt halt, I bumped into her backside, and she wrapped her hands around my face, lifted my head to make eye contact, and shared her heart with words new to my ears. “Tom,” she started, with tears in her eyes, “I love you. Your Grandfather and I uprooted our entire lives for you, left our home, and traveled far because we care about you. No matter what you have been told in the past, it is time for you to hear the truth; you are special and are loved”. With that, her voice turned stern, and she admonished me with, “So, knowing you are special, pick your head up, put your chest out, and walk with pride, you are loved!”. While I don’t think her words had the full effect that day, I know it was the turning point that inspired me on my journey of worth.

Nine years later, at the age of 21, I sat in the back row of a church, searching for something missing in my life. To this day, I don’t remember the sermon or the songs, but the message was clear, there was a God, and He loved me. Yet, as I surveyed my life, full of sin and rebellion, I wrestled to believe that God could truly love someone like me, yet, when the sermon was over, I made my way down to the altar, hoping it could be true. That 30-40-foot journey passed as in slow motion as I cried out to God, “My father left me, my mom didn’t want me, inside I am angry, hurting, and lonely; I am falling apart, could you God, love someone like me.” I was interrupted, when, like my Grandmother years before, God stopped me abruptly and had some words of His own. Speaking to my heart, He said something like, “I love you. I uprooted my entire life, left my home, and traveled far because I care about you. No matter what you have been told in the past, it is time for you to hear the truth; you are special and are loved”. Upon my arrival at the altar, my tears of pain turned to tears of praise as I celebrated a Father that loved, adopted, and promised never to leave me; I have been enjoying that love ever since. Everything changes when we realize that we don’t just live in God’s world; we are His world.

Scripture: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” -Jeremiah 1:5a, ESV

Scripture: “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” -Luke 12:7b, ESV

Scripture: “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” -Psalm 139:13, ESV

Scripture: “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” -Isaiah 43:4a, ESV

Scripture: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” -Zephaniah 3:17

Question: When was the last time you thought about the love that God has for you? Have you ever surrendered to that love by actively pursuing Christ in your life? The last question, I promise, will you be willing to read each of the above scripture and talk to God about how they make you feel today?

Prayer: Father, there are times that I become so overwhelmed with the voices around me, even those from within, that I start to believe them. Times when I feel my best days are behind me, that I am alone, unloved, and forgotten. Please place your loving arms around me, reminding me of your love. May the message of what you did in demonstrating your love toward me never get old but encourage my heart every moment of every day. Thank you that I don’t just live in your world, but am your world, undeserving, but grateful. Thank you for changing me through your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Love, Exciting and New

When we fall in love with the love of God, everything changes for the better.

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People and things have come and gone from favorite cars to good friends and loving pets to the hair on my head throughout my life. The other day as I took stock of my current circumstances, it dawned on me afresh and new something that has never left, that had remained even when I didn’t deserve its presence in my life; the love of God. 

So, in my attempt to articulate this love and its persistent presence in my undeserving life, I decided to write a poem or Christian rap if you want to have someone lay down a beat while you read aloud. Here we go;

The Love of God
 
It’s a love that takes you higher than a kite 
Because its origin is supernatural might
 
Goes deeper than our woes and the bruises from enemies blows
It’s a love that covers our very scars and delivers us from the Friday night bars
 
That reaches down to our sin and feeble frame and removes all our guilt and even our shame
It’s a love that speaks to our heart even when we are falling apart 
 
It’s a love that when cancer is fresh in our sight that shouts to our hearts, it will be alright
It’s a love that hears our cries from the valley to the alley, under the spire, or in the mire
It’s a love that stays put when we are left, let go, let down, let loose, and spun around
It’s a love that overcomes, overtakes, overwhelms, and remakes
It’s a love that fills in the cuts, covers the scars, heals the hurt, and catches our tears in jars
 
And, it is this love that will never fail, never bail, designed to eternally sail
Into our minds, our hearts, our dreams through our smiles, and our screams
Breaking our chains, changing our names, busting us out, replacing our doubt, countering the devils lie that we are lost and will die because this love will propel us like wings as we launch into the sky to be with our Lord and Savior in our mansion on high
 
As I wrap this thing up like Jared in a Subway store, please consider the reason for this spiritual esprit de corps: that it is you, through it all, that God chose, so let His love cover you from your head to your toes
 
With a warning for those that may reject because they think they are too smart; this love doesn’t come from a book in a nook but from the throne of God’s own heart
 
So, when your life feels like a salad tossed, think back to this message and consider the cross

Scripture: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” -I Cor. 13:8-13, ESV

Question: Do you ever find yourself spending more time focused on what you don’t have instead of what you do?

Prayer: Father, help me see how, through it all, your love has prevailed in my life. Even when I mess up or purposefully walk paths that lead away from you, your love remains an active force in my life. Your love freely gives patience, longsuffering, kindness, grace, and mercy. Thank you for the life-changing love that rescued my very soul from a deserving separation and continues to inspire me to be better. Help me spend time rejoicing in this supernatural love, and may I allow that love to excite my life and propel me to be more for you. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Chariot of Fire

Overcoming depression by remembering the presence of God.

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Standing like a giant sequoia in a forest of ferns, the Old Testament prophet Elijah’s faith and power were unlike anything the Nation of Israel had experienced, both seen in chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of I Kings. In chapter 18, we find God sending Elijah to a widow’s home to rest for a few days. While there, it was discovered the widow and her son had no food and were preparing their final meal before succumbing to death. Elijah delivered a miracle of an endless supply of olive oil and flour with but a whisper of a prayer. A few days later, that widow’s son fell in sickness and died, leaving the widow thinking her sins had caught up with her, and God’s hand of judgment would strike her down next. Elijah brought the boy to his room, laid him on the bed, said a prayer, and the boy was raised from the dead.  There was no doubt to Elijah that God was with him and that with God nothing was impossible.

After leaving the widow’s home, God directed Elijah to confront the most wicked and vile leadership Israel had known, King Ahab. Elijah commanded the king to have Israel meet him by an abandoned altar of God on Mount Carmel with the 850 false prophets that had been leading God’s people astray. Once assembled, Elijah instructed 450 prophets of Baal to construct an altar, sacrifice a bull, and call their god to bring fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. Hour after hour, these false prophets called to their God with no response, even cutting their flesh with swords and spears, dancing and shouting with nothing but silence. After hours of this vain foolishness, Elijah called them over to the abandoned altar of God. He had them watch as he repaired it, used 12 stones to construct a new altar, dug a trench around it, cut the bull into pieces which he laid on the wood, and had some of them fill the trench with water three times, enough to run down the altar filling the entire trench. Elijah then called to God and asked for the sacrifice to be consumed by fire. With that, fire came down from heaven, consumed the sacrifice, wood, stones, and even licked up all of the water. Then Elijah took the false prophets down to the valley and had them executed.

Elijah single-handedly cleansed the Nation of Israel of false prophets, put an evil king in his place, ushered in a revival, and then called for rain to bring an end to the famine! Yet, just days later, we find Elijah under a broom tree asking God to, “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (I Kings 19:4, ESV). How can such a strong man of faith who had consistently demonstrated power from God, go from victory to “woe is me” faster than a baptist to a buffet line after church on Sunday? The answer seems to be in a letter Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab, sent to Elijah when she heard her false prophets had been slain. In that letter, she promised that in 24 hours, Elijah would suffer the same fate as her prophets, death by sword. Could one woman’s words bring such a man of God from mountain to valley? Could one critic change the course and direction of a prophet of God? Or, could there be other reasons for Elijah’s shift from hero to zero?


Perhaps he did allow the voice of opposition to strike fear into his heart. Maybe he was just worn, weary, and weak from years of labor, thus spiritually fragile. Perhaps he considered his best days behind him; after all, how could he top a Mount Carmel experience? Maybe he was just so discouraged and done with a hateful and hurtful world that continually rejected God? While we don’t have a definitive answer, we do know that it was not much longer after this that God replaced Elijah with another prophet, Elisha, and took him home to heaven. 

While many commentators focus on the negative, Elijah allowed his discouragement to transition him out of ministry, I have a different take; perhaps God allowed Elijah to enter into His rest as a reward for years of faithful service. To know that God is intimately involved in our everyday, routine, mundane lives should bring us comfort. Elijah served a God that knew how much he could handle, how strong he was, and when it was time to call his son in from the storm. In II Kings, Elijah is walking with his successor Elisha when a chariot of fire, pulled by horses of fire, swept him off his feet; transporting him to heaven in a whirlwind (II Kings 2). I don’t see a God that is angry with him for not being strong enough but a God that knew the heart of his child and gave him the rest he so desperately needed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not endorsing or condoning you to isolate and insulate yourself from this world, allowing depression to set in, and asking God to end your life; what I am suggesting is that God knows you and in His time will give you the rest you so desperately need. If you are going through a valley today, please remember that God has not taken the eyes of His love off of you, and He knows how much you can take and will give you the rest you long for at just the right time. So, hold on, keep the faith, don’t let go, and one day, your chariot of fire will sweep you off your feet and take you home.

Scripture: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” -I Cor. 10:13, ESV

Question: Are you tired of the hurts and pains associated with this life? Do you feel ready to go home, that your work on this earth is done? Are you about to collapse under the weight of a heavy burden?

Prayer: Father, there are times that I feel trapped in a world of pain with no way out, times when the sins of this world are about to overtake me and overcome my faith. Please remind me that life is full of mountains and valleys and that your presence is sufficient for me to endure. Father, I want to be faithful till the end. Please grant me the faith to believe, the strength to continue, and a glimpse of the finish line when I will be able to rest, with you, forever. Thank you for knowing and promising to take care of me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen. 

Cloud of Witnesses

Those we allow into our lives can either help or hinder our walk with God.

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Sweat pouring from my forehead, mouth dry with anticipation, every muscle in my body tensed up, I bent over with my tennis racquet in hand, ready to return an incoming serve from my opponent. The bleachers were full of fans, including my Grandparents, but on that day, my attention was on just one person in attendance, someone I had never even met, a scout for Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. And my opponent was none other than Jim Courier, a powerful server and net rusher that would later hold the number one position in the world. Jim had a personal trainer and private court, while I had practiced for two years using community courts and the outer walls of buildings. Jim had also been accepted into the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and was our high school’s number one seed on the boy’s tennis team. So, when Jim threw that tennis ball up into the air for that first service, I was overwhelmed, gave into my fear and intimidation, and when that ball came to my side, I missed it completely. That first game, I managed only a few good volleys and only put a few points on the board. As we switched sides to continue our set, I looked over at the bleachers to the scout-someone that could determine my future in tennis-to see his reaction; indeed, he could no longer be interested in my game.

Then I heard my Grandmother, my friends, and my girlfriend all shouting words of affirmation and encouragement; for a moment, I had forgotten they were even there, that those bleachers were full of people who believed in me. As I dribbled my ball on the ground in preparation for my serve, the cheers from the crowd impacted me; I remember thinking back to all of the 10-hour training days, the sacrifices I made to get this far, the past tournaments I had won, and the investment others had made in my life. I tossed that ball into the air, watched the cow gut strings make contact with the felt on the ball, and then charged the net with confidence, ready to return. That was one of the best serves I ever had; that ball barely cleared the net and landed surgically in the right corner, and while Jim made contact, his ball went out of bounds, and I won that point. The crowds went nuts; I will never forget how loud and excited they were; I felt like Rocky on his second wind against Ivan Drago. Back and forth we went, for well over two hours, I eventually lost to Jim with the first set 4-6 and the second 3-6, but I played my best. And while I ended up sharing the first seed position on my team with Jim and was accepted into the tennis academy, God had a different path for my life in serving my country through military service, and eventually full-time ministry.

While my tennis career never took off, my Christian walk certainly has, and I have found the same elements in my success on the tennis court apply to the victories I have had in my faith. While you may never be facing a professional tennis player on the other side of your court, there are times when obstacles and circumstances can cause the same feelings of anxiety, insecurity, fear, and intimidation. Times when you feel the devil is winning out, you’re in over your head and have been struggling to stay afloat for so long eventually, you will drown.

Those around you can encourage the One above you to demonstrate power through you during these challenging times, if you are willing. As a Christian, there have been trials I have endured and yielded to the temptation of believing the devils lie that I was all alone; and the lack of calls, visits, and outreach, seemed to confirm that very sentiment. Yet, when I focused on the voices of those real friends that had invested in my life, demonstrated their love for me over the years, and remained in my room when everyone else had departed, my faith was restored, and I was able to claim victory. This is what makes choosing your circle of influence so crucial to your spiritual growth and vital to the success of your walk of faith. 

The next time you find yourself facing an opponent or obstacle, remember to listen to those voices of encouragement, cheering you on, praying for your success, and ready to celebrate your victory. While your bleachers may seem to be populated more by your enemies, I can assure you; you’re not alone.

Scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Question: Are you tired of the fight, weary of the race, and exhausted by the heavy burdens you’re forced to carry? Do you ever want just to give up, feeling like you are all alone in the battle of life?

Prayer: Father, I don’t know how much more I can take, the days are getting longer, and the trials seem to be more frequent and challenging. There are times I feel like the prophet Elijah as if I am all alone with no one around that understands or cares. Please give me the faith to believe, the ears to hear, and the eyes to see, that you have placed people in my life to encourage and spur me on. May I be more focused on those encouraging me than those that rise against me, and may you use my encouragers to bring you glory through my life of victory. Thank you, Father, for the people in my life that love me, and may I find someone in this life to invest in and encourage as well. May the voices of encouragement help refocus my attention on my Hope, your Son, Jesus Christ. In His name, I pray. Amen.

Departing Is Such Sweet Sorrow.

Death is but a Door.

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As I write this, our country is entering the 37th week since the Coronavirus invaded our culture, impacting us fiscally, vocationally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. In my 25 years of ministry, I cannot remember when Christians were so focused on their future residence; Heaven, panting for either the clouds to break open and usher in the rapture or through the sweet kiss of death. Persecution has a way of refocusing us, a springboard to reprioritizing our lives, and there is no better example than the Apostle Paul who went through such a transition to arrive at a place where he could declare with integrity, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21, ESV).

It is a matter of balance; to not be so focused on the next life that you render yourself useless in this life. Conversely, we must not be so focused on this life that we neglect storing up treasures in the next life through our service to God. In our text for today’s devotion, Paul uses the word “depart” when referring to a believer’s death, an interesting Greek word that conveys several thoughts.

Firstly, “depart” in the original Greek can speak of medicine; a pill, for example, while unable to do something in one form, can in another. No wonder Paul viewed death in such a way; he knew, as we do, our bodies to be weak, fallible, and restricting; there are many things we are unable to do while on earth. But, in Heaven, we will be released from any such restrictions and will be free to worship and serve our Father without the distractions and disruptions we face daily in this life. Free from disease and disabilities, trials, tribulations, and even temptations; free to simply enjoy and love our Father forever.

Secondly, “depart” can also speak of an ox retiring from a day’s labor. Indeed, the Apostle Paul knew what hard work was; he was tired; therefore, he looked forward to the land on the other side of death’s door; a land of rest. Paul gives us a picture of a farm with an ox bearing a heavy workload under the hand of its master; pulling heavy loads, carrying heavy burdens yet at the end of the day, was led to the stable, had its yoke removed, given food to eat and hay on which to sleep. There are many in our world that can relate to Paul in that they are tired, weary, and worn, ready for Jesus to greet them on the other side with, “enter into my rest” (Heb. 4:3).

Third, this word “depart” was used in the Greek culture to speak of the lifting of tent stakes, packing up, and moving on. In the Old Testament, the Israelites would travel in tents. Once they reached a place to stop, they would set up camp, allow their livestock to partake of the fields, dig a well, and wait until God would move them on. When a trumpet was blown, the tent stakes were lifted from the ground; everyone would pack up and head to a better, more fertile land. When Paul spoke of death as a “departing,” his audience knew the powerful imagery he was laying out for Heaven. They knew what it was like to live in a dry and desolate land, a harsh country, that lacked any mercy, one led by religiously intolerant and oppressive dictators. Paul spoke to those longing for the trumpet to blow so they could move onto a better land. Of course, the better land that Paul was speaking of is Heaven. How wonderful to know that one day, either through the clouds or caskets, we will be called to pick up our tent stakes, pack up, and move on to a better country that was not made with human hands but the love of God!

Lastly, the word for death employed by Paul could speak of a ship headed to its final port. In my 14-year military career, I spent my first year onboard a vessel in Alaska, scrubbing barnacles off buoys in the Bearing Sea. That entire year, I didn’t have time to take pictures of the glaciers, fish in the streams, hunt in the forests, or paint the Aurora Borealis; no, I labored away my entire year waiting for my stint to be over. That day came when my new orders were received, and I was told I had but one more month left onboard, that when we ported in Oregon, I would be able to attend school in sunny California. Just knowing I only had 30 days left made that month go by much faster and even seemed more pleasant. Paul was saying to his readers that while this life can be challenging, it will not be long as we have boarded that great ship of salvation and are headed home; our next port is Glory!

As you read this, I am sure you have burdens beyond your resources, trials that have captured your tears, hidden pain that refuses to go away, nights marked with tossing and turning, and anger over the state of our sin celebrating culture. But please know this, “death has been swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:54, KJV), and very soon, we will walk through that door and be home, a better land where there is freedom, rest, and eternal victory. Hold on just a bit longer; I promise you this, one day you will be able to declare with a heart of integrity; it was worth the wait!

Scripture: “I am hard-pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” -Philippians 1:23-24

Question: Have you been so entrenched with life lately that you’ve taken your eyes off the prize?

Prayer: Father, I am weak, weary, and worn. Please give me the strength to endure, the faith to regroup, and the vision to see the future you have planned for me. As I navigate in this harsh world full of sin, sickness, and sadness, may I rejoice in the future I have with you. As I think on that glorious day when I enter your presence, may it be enough to revive my heart that I may remain faithful in this life until the end. May your words of my future home be sufficient that I count it all joy no matter the circumstance knowing I am headed to a better land. Thank you for loving me now and for wanting to be with me forever. I love you. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen 

Working for Heaven?

There is an eternal difference between doing good and being good.

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Like many people, I grew up in an environment of work-based relationships, which led to years of being disillusioned, dissatisfied, and dysfunctional. I was frustrated and hopeless. When I was four years old, my dad had an affair that ultimately led to my parents getting divorced. Although I did not have the maturity to articulate my feelings, I can tell you that I believed that I was at fault even at that young age. I thought that perhaps if I were a better kid, my dad would not have walked out of my life to start another family.

A few years later, my mom started dating a new man. I am told the first time her boyfriend came over to meet me, I rushed to the door, hugged his legs, and asked, “Are you going to be my new daddy?” From that point on, I was determined to do everything in my power to please him, to work so hard that he would never have a reason to leave me as my biological dad did.

Eventually, my mom married this man, and I quickly discovered that he was the smartest, strongest, and most talented man in my world. The bar was set high in this work-based relationship! My new dad was a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, so I decided to earn his love by taking karate lessons. Unfortunately, I was the clumsiest kid in the world—the one who often fell putting on his pants and occasionally fell going up the stairs! During one karate lesson, I attempted to do a roundhouse kick that I had seen in a movie, only to face-plant on the mat in front of all my classmates. I was so embarrassed that I quit studying karate.

My stepdad was also an Eagle Scout, so I joined the Cub Scouts and decided to work my way through Boy Scouts to achieve the same rank. After a few months, our Cubmaster called my parents for a meeting to discuss my poor behavior. That put an end to my Scouting career.

My stepdad was also a bicycle racer—at one point, he was even sponsored by 7-Eleven. One day, I visited his bike workshop and asked if he would train me. As I waited with the group for the horn to blow at my first race, I proudly looked to the sidelines to see my mom and stepdad cheering me on. I think I made it one mile into the five-mile race before I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned my bike against a tree, struggling to catch my breath. I will never forget that old Chevrolet Chevet pulling over, my stepdad loading my bike on the rack, and the three of us driving home in complete silence as I sat in the back seat, defeated once again.

In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.

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Since my stepdad held a master’s degree from Penn State University in acoustical consulting, my last effort was to excel academically. No matter how hard I tried, report card after report card was sent home with consistent D’s and the occasional C, which were met with constant groundings and reprimands. After a fifth-grade parent-teacher conference confirmed to me that I was worthless, I gave up on that path as well. I realized I would never work hard enough to win my stepdad’s approval, acceptance, or applause.

Things didn’t get any better. Over the years, counselors lamented that I would never amount to anything. Teachers reviewed my work and declared that I was no good. Adults discounted me as worthless, and other children shunned me as damaged goods. In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.

I wasted many years of my life trying to do good to please those around me: my parents, family, counselors, teachers, bosses, and friends. All of these folks came at me from different directions and perspectives, their well-intentioned voices echoing the same sentiment: “Tom, do good!” And for many years, I felt like a failure for not living up to that expectation. I never dreamed that one day I could be good.

I have learned a valuable lesson over the years; if you are trying to do good without being good first, you will always come up short and fail. We simply lack the desire and power (Rom. 7). That is the fundamental problem with every religion, save one. They all tell you to “just do good” as if anyone is capable of meeting such high expectations. You will always fail because you will never be good enough, strong enough, ethical enough, or moral enough to complete the wheel of Buddha, keep the laws of Judaism, erect the five pillars of Islam, or follow the tenants of Hinduism. Every religion is a works-based relationship; you do good, and the god or goddess of that religion will be pleased with and possibly even love you. However, when you fail, that same deity will exact vengeance, and their anger will be kindled against you. This is where Christianity rises above them all; while it is a works-based relationship, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did all of the works for us; He took our place on the cross where the winds of God’s wrath blew so that we can have acceptance and love from God through Him. We just need to receive His sacrifice and love. And, when we surrender to His love for us, He fills us with the desire and power to be good, so that doing good just happens (II Cor. 5:17).

Scripture: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” -Psalm 37:3, ESV

Question: Do you find yourself believing that your works determine your admittance to or rejection from Heaven? As a follower of Jesus Christ, do you ever try to work harder to receive more love from God?

Prayer: Father, please help me to see there is nothing I can do that would compel you to have a greater love for me, and nothing I can do that would ever separate me from your amazing love. Thank you for loving me where I am and thank you for a love that never leaves me there. Instead of trying to prove my love for you, or earn my place in heaven, may I just bask in presence and enjoy your company. Thank you for loving me and may I learn to enjoy, and be grateful for, what I have not earned. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

The Story of a Hairnet

Your motives will determine your reward.

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From stocking ice cream in a refrigerated tanker at the age of 14 to sanding columns and pillars by hand at 17, I have been a hard worker all of my life. While I never regretted my history of employment, especially my 14 years of military service, I had always wondered how things would change if I were a college graduate. Sitting in a stewardship committee of a church I pastored when I was 30; I gave some input on the topic being discussed. I will never forget the response from the committee chairman, who said, “Pastor, do you have a college degree in business?” “no, sir,” was my reply, “then please let us handle this matter without your input.” I was stunned, angry, and, most of all, embarrassed. Three years later, I hung two degrees on my wall; an Associates and a Bachelor’s, both in business. It was shortly after that God called me to start a new church. Not wanting to burden or distract any new members, I decided to refuse any financial compensation for the first year, took my bachelor’s degree, and started teaching for a local school district. I never stopped my education, as the day I had my bachelor’s degree conferred, I started my first class toward a master’s degree.

Two years after receiving my undergraduate degree, my family and friends cheered from the bleachers as I had my first master’s degree conferred. A few months after graduation, I received a call from the school district with a job offer, a special needs adult student who required one-on-one instruction at his job site. This position would allow more flexibility with my schedule, which would help our new church grow, so I thanked God and accepted. This student worked at the Virginia Veteran’s Care Center (VVCC), doing different janitorial and laundry service tasks. My job was to provide two hours of tutoring in the morning on his job site before he started his workday, shadow him as he completed his tasks-providing practical instruction-and then resume schoolwork during his breaks; for a total of six hours each day. I was thoroughly enjoying my new assignment and praising God for such an opportunity for my family and our church. Until…

As usual, I reported to the front desk of the VVCC to sign in and find out where my student would be assigned so that I could start our morning instruction. That morning was a first, my student had been assigned to the kitchen, and I had the dining hall as my classroom for the initial two hours. When my two-hour instructional period had ended, my student’s supervisor for the day came over to introduce himself and lead my student to his work area in the kitchen. As required, I followed along to shadow my student. As I approached the entrance to the kitchen, the supervisor, a young 20-something, placed his hand on my chest and condescendingly declared, “You can’t come in here until you suit up with a bib, gloves, and a hairnet. This is my kitchen, and you will follow my rules.” I replied, “I don’t think you understand. I will not be working in the kitchen; I am here to supervise my student, document his progress, and ensure he is given all accommodations in his contract. I won’t get near the food preparation area; I will hang back and observe”, to which he replied, “My kitchen, my rules. Suite up with a bib, gloves, and a hairnet, or I won’t let you in, no matter who you are!” I took the high road that day, suited up, and did my job-even washing dishes as instructed by the kitchen supervisor-with a subtle, passive-aggressive attitude, birthed out of pride. As soon as the clock revealed my day was over, I threw my bib in the laundry, flung my gloves in the trash, and stomped angrily to my car. 

Plopping down in the seat, after slamming my door, I looked in the mirror to see that hairnet still on my head. Ripping it off and flinging it on the passenger seat, I had a conversation with myself. “I am a grown man! I have a teaching license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia! I have a master’s degree in education! I will not let a 20-year-old, pimply-faced kid with an attitude boss me around; I don’t work for him! I have worked too hard to be here; I am better than this!” It was that last statement that God decided to interrupt my conversation with a scripture, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I. Cor. 10:31, ESV).

My pride turned to humility, my anger to peace, and my sin was no longer justified but confessed. At that moment, in that car, on that day, I realized what it meant to do everything for the glory of God. The reason I had such an attitude was that I had been doing that job for all of the wrong people; the school district, my congregation, my family, and even that arrogant kitchen supervisor. The truth is, if Jesus Christ had asked me to put on a hairnet and wash dishes, I would have considered it an honor and done so with joy. For me, when we change “who” we are doing things for, everything changes, even our attitudes. The next day forward, that kitchen supervisor and I got along famously; he saw a man, old enough to be his father, willing to submit to his authority with joy and work harder than anyone else in that kitchen. That assignment only lasted three months, but the lessons I learned have lasted over 15 years.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” -Col. 3:17, ESV

Question: Do you ever find yourself working begrudgingly? How about complaining about your job or seemingly insignificant tasks you’ve been assigned? Do you ever feel you could be in a better position, one where you would have more respect for your experience or education?

Prayer: Father, there are times I allow pride to hinder my work and affect my attitude. May your words take root in my mind and heart so that I intentionally purpose to do everything for you and your glory. Thank you for giving me the health and strength to rise each day to serve you, no matter what you have me doing. Please help me recognize that you have a plan for my life that includes my work, and may you see a faithful, hardworking, and cheerful servant each day I report. Please help me recognize that my attitude and work ethic is a reflection of my relationship with you. Father, may I show you my gratitude today by what I do in your name. Thank you for your patience with me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

David and Goliath; A story that didn’t have to be?

Fear of man always diverts the godly to paths of dishonor.

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The stage was set for one of the greatest battles of all time. On one hill, the Army of God, and on the other, the Philistines gathered, both surveying a great valley dividing the two. The Philistines sent out their champion, Goliath, to challenge Israel’s greatest soldier. Every morning for forty days, Goliath would leave his camp, stand in the valley facing the Army of God, and shout, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other”, with only silence birthed from shame as the response. While the Philistines stood firm, as if the victory was already theirs, the Army of God, led by the spiritually embattled King Saul, remained frozen on the opposing hill “dismayed and terrified” (I Sam. 17:11, ESV).  

Four miles away, a young David had been called in from his shepherding duties, by his father, to pack and deliver food for his three older brothers who were serving in King Saul’s army.  Upon arriving at the Israelite camp, David overheard Goliath’s daily challenge. Filled with confusion and anger, David said to his brothers, and all in earshot, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

I am sure you know the rest of this story, but let’s rewind a bit because I don’t believe this was a battle that ever should have happened. Every single commentary, Bible lesson, and sermon I have ever read, studied, or heard, overlooks verses one and two of this account and immediately rushes to the David and Goliath encounter. What if God has another nugget to be mined revealing a more powerful treasure?

According to I Sam. 17:1-2, “Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines.” King Saul had been abandoned by the prophet Samuel for his rebellion against the will of God. Probably hearing this news, the Philistines-one of the oldest enemies of the Nation of God-decided to take advantage of this weakness by launching an attack. Yet Saul seemed to regroup, and with courage marched to meet the Philistine army and “drew up in line of battle,” ready and willing for war.

Picture if you will a Civil War depiction of the battlefield; both armies facing off, ready for the trumpet to blow, calling soldiers to arms as they charged to meet their opponent. A much different picture than what we see by the time we get to verse 11, where King Saul and his entire army were marked with fear, cowering in the shadows with no hope. What happened? One large man with a loud voice of opposition. That’s it. One person struck so much fear into the hearts of God’s people; they even chose to follow his commands and change their direction. Just when King Saul was about to give the order to “charge,” Goliath shouts, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” Why didn’t King Saul shout “charge” anyway? Why did he listen to this smelly, large, blasphemous giant, instead of saying, “Who do you think you are?! Step aside or be trampled upon, God is on our side, and He never loses a battle!” I believe if King Saul and his army had the same attitude as young David, the Army of God might never have even known the name Goliath; as the moment he stepped out of the Philistine ranks, an arrow would have dropped him followed by the feet of a thousand soldiers stomping his flesh to the ground. 

We must not be quick to judge, though; we also struggle with the same temptation that faced King Saul, having a fear of man over trust in God. And, frequently, it is usually only one loud voice of opposition that strikes fear into our hearts, ultimately crippling and rendering us useless in the Army of God. It happened with Elijah when Jezebel sent a letter. It happened when a few families filed a lawsuit to stop prayer in public schools in 1962. Or a year later, in 1963, when one parent complained about the Bible being read in the classroom. How many times in our history have the voices of a few struck fear into hearts that conformed to their commands?

I wonder what would have happened on the battlefield that day if Saul would have trusted in God more than he feared a man. I indeed wonder where we would be as a country today if more of us would have trusted God over our fear of man. Would we still be enjoying the Bible-based curriculum in our schools? Would our children still stand and say the pledge of allegiance followed by morning prayer in our classrooms? Perhaps we are struggling as a nation because we remain on a hill defeated in fear instead of in the valley fighting in the name of God. 

Scripture: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” -Proverbs 29:25, ESV, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” -Psalm 118:6, ESV

Question: Have you allowed fear of man to dictate your actions or justify your inactions? 

Prayer: Father, please open my eyes to your power. There are so many in our current culture that opposes you, your Word, and your people. They are attacking our beliefs, disputing the truth, and persecuting your children. Please give me the strength to stand firm in my faith, no matter how loud the opposition is or how strong they may be. May I rise every morning ready to put on the armor of righteousness and prepare for a battle that you have already won. Father, I want to be a faithful soldier that never cowers or retreats, but one that trusts your promises, relies on your power, and remains in your presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Fourth Lung

Understanding the Word of God is a matter of life and death.

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Recently my wife Laurie and I took a five-mile trail hike in a state park in Southwest Virginia. Laurie and youngest dog, two-year-old Harvey, led the way by about 10 yards most of the trek. Of course, I blamed having our oldest dog, a fourteen-year-old miniature Dachshund named Jake, but the truth is, I am out of shape! Every once in a while, one of us would yell to the other, pointing out a nice view, colorful flora, or even some wildlife.

Toward the end of the trip, after marching along for about two hours, Laurie yelled back, “Norse hung.” That made no sense to me, so I yelled back for her to say again, to which she replied, “Fort Mung.” Not wanting to aggravate her by asking for another repeat, I kept my head down and tried to figure it out myself. Finally, I landed on forth lung, figuring she was tired and out of breath like I was and desired another set of lungs to complete the trip. Right, when I was about to yell back, “How about a second heart? Mine’s about to explode”, my left foot sunk in something. Looking down, I realized what my wife had been shouting, horse-dung; she was warning me that horse dung was on the trail so that I would avoid it.  That made a lot more sense than “fourth lung”, and as I picked away the unwanted matter from my shoe, it dawned on me how important clarity and understanding can be.

Soldiers must understand all commands given in the military, as their lives often depend on it. For example, trained as a Radioman in the United States Coast Guard, I was taught to use the phrase “say again” if ever I needed something restated over the radio for clarity instead of the word “repeat.” Why? The term “repeat” can also be interpreted to recommence a firing pattern; therefore, instead of merely saying something again, the recipient of that command might start firing their weapon!

Even more so with the Word of God. This is most evident in the diversity of interpretation with the title “Christian”. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, over 70% of American’s identify as Christian. The problem is highlighted in the diversity of that 70%, consisting of Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even some New Agers. And while many may identify as Christian, the Bible is very clear, only followers of Jesus; those who surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God are true Christian, and they are in the minority. There are so many interpretations of what Christianity is, how we can approach God, who can access heaven, and must we believe Jesus to be the only way to salvation. Therefore, many remain confused, and some even taking temporal solace in false hope. 

Who is right? With over 4,000 religions in our current world, with almost as many paths of life and answers about death, it is paramount that we all are clear in our understanding; it is a matter of life and death. 

Scripture: “And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” -Mark 4:11-12, ESV

Question: If you are not 100% sure that your sins are forgiven, and heaven is your home, would you be willing to test your beliefs with the Bible? 

Prayer: Father, I don’t want to blindly trust what others say but want to be sure that I am right in my relationship with you. Please help me to understand the truths in your Word. Please give me eyes to see, ears to hear, an open heart, and the faith to believe what you have to say in your Word. Please reveal any false information I may have been taught and replace them with your Words of truth. Father, may I be willing to cast aside my feelings and emotions so that your Word would penetrate my heart and bring real joy to my life. Please give me the faith to believe your Word over everyone else, and may your Word be all that I seek, desire, long for, and live by. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.