Love, Exciting and New

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

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Nicolas Becker on Pexels.com

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. 

Departing Is Such Sweet Sorrow.

Death is but a Door.

Photo by Cliford Mervil on Pexels.com

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 

The Story of a Hairnet

Your motives will determine your reward.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

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.

A Better View

Knowing this present life will not be our best gives us hope worth dying for.

Photo by Shayla on Pexels.com

Excited about my newfound faith in Jesus Christ, I couldn’t wait to sit down and talk with a pastor; I had so many questions. My then-girlfriend Laurie and I traveled to her hometown in Southwest Virginia to speak with her childhood pastor to answer my questions and talk about baptism. Pastor Chuck loomed over his office desk, a large and stately man in his 50’s that had transitioned out of the coal mines of Virginia to follow the calling into ministry.

To say that I was intimidated from the moment I entered his office would be an understatement. From his large hands that swallowed mine when we shook to his booming bass voice that welcomed me in, Pastor Chuck communicated conviction, faith, and power by his words and body language; this was a man marked with confidence that inspired others to believe. Sitting in a chair facing his desk, I told Pastor Chuck about my recent salvation and my desire to be baptized; even sharing my testimony caused me to be filled with excitement all over again. After planning out my future baptism service; I moved on to my most pressing question, “Pastor Chuck, I know forgiveness, joy, and love like never before. If all of these blessings are evident this early in my walk of faith, what can I look forward to with a life in Christ?”. Pastor Chuck leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, and looking at me as a doctor with a terminal diagnosis would look at a patient just before relaying the bad news. I will never forget his next words, “Brother Tom, you are now an enemy of the devil, this world, and your flesh. You must be prepared. In your life, you will experience a trial by fire; a circumstance the likes of which you’ve never had to endure before.” I left the office that day a little discouraged, with “trial by fire” resonating in my head like a ghostly voice echoing the halls of a house in a bad horror flick.

Thirty years later, I realize his words to be valid. Yet, Jesus didn’t leave us unprepared; he told believers often that this world is full of pain and sorrow, our flesh is at constant war with the Spirit, and Satan and his legion of demons are now targeting us to destroy our testimony, weaken our influence, and hurt the very heart of God (Ecc. 2:23, I Pet. 5:8, Mt. 26:41, Eph. 4:30).

I have gone through some severe trials in my life, and there are many more around the corner, of that I am confident. However, my faith is stronger than ever because my hope is anchored to the throne of God. I believe attitude has much to do with the victories we claim over such times of hardships. Our choir director used to lead our adult congregation with the words, “this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me…the world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away”. What a wonderful reminder that every good and perfect gift is from above and protected by the Father of Lights (James 1:17).

I am confident that you have endured some great times of trial and tribulation, times when you didn’t think any more tears could be produced; like your very heart had been ripped out from your chest. Let me remind you that while we are told in this life, we will have tribulation, this life is short, and the next life will be more extraordinary forever (John 16:33, Ja. 4:14, Mt. 6:19-20). 

Please consider Chrysostom’s following historical account, a man who would have told a young, newly saved and excited, Tom McCracken, the same thing Pastor Chuck did. 

Chrysostom was “a godly leader in the fourth-century church, who preached so strongly against sin that he offended the unscrupulous Empress Eudoxia as well as many church officials. When summoned before Emperor Arcadius, Chrysostom was threatened with banishment if he did not cease his uncompromising preaching.

His response was, “Sire, you cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” “Then I will slay you,” Arcadius said. “Nay, but you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” came the answer. “Your treasures will be confiscated,” was the next threat, to which John replied, “Sire, that cannot be, either. My treasures are in heaven, where none can break through and steal.” “Then I will drive you from man, and you will have no friends left!” was the final, desperate warning. “That you cannot do, either,” answered John, “for I have a Friend in heaven who has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”

John was indeed banished, first to Armenia, and then farther away to Pityus on the Black Sea, to which he never arrived because he died on the way. But neither the banishment nor his death disproved or diminished his claims. The things that he valued most highly not even an emperor could take from him.”

MacArthur, John. Matthew 1–28.In MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody Publishers, 1989.

Scripture: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39, ESV

Question: Have you allowed circumstances to disrupt your life instead of serving as a reminder of the hope you have in Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Father, I am weak. There are times when I feel that everything around me is collapsing and falling apart. Please help me remember that all of the blessings you have freely given can’t be touched by Satan or circumstance. Thank you for the firm foundation of your love; the peace that passes understanding, the strength to endure, the faith to believe, and a future worthy of high expectation. Please help me during the seasons of trials to remember that you have a plan. Please help me see that no matter how trying my life may get, there is coming a day when you will wipe away every tear, still every mind, change every body, fix everything broken, right every wrong, and make all things new. Thank you for loving me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

A Crack in Time

Fearful over death? Are you anxious about when that day will be?

Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

Another day in bed, unshaven, unshowered, and unwilling to move, I seemed to enjoy this depressed and discouraged state; it became a safe place for me to curl up in the blanket of my misery and misfortune. This dark place had been the spiritual and mental prison I checked myself into for about two weeks in 2009, a place of no prayer or hope.

About two weeks prior, the emergency room doctor admitted me to the hospital for a herniated disk, yet the doctors also found a surprising side diagnosis; polycystic kidney disease; a non-treatable and incurable condition where the kidneys and liver are covered with innumerable cysts that will eventually cause them to shut down, requiring dialysis or a transplant. An ambulance had transported me to the hospital for a back injury, a reward for trying to lift a large speaker, by myself, for an upcoming church service.  During the imaging on my back, the technician saw thousands of cysts covering my kidneys and several dozen stones inside them. Once discharged, all I could seem to dwell on were dark and daunting questions that challenged my faith, haunted my mind, and attacked the foundation of my worldview. Questions like; “Who will take care of my children?”, “Will, my wife, find a man that will love her more?”, “What will become of the church I started?”, and most striking, “Where is God?”. I could not help but think about everything that potentially could fall apart if I were to die so early in life; I had just turned 40 and felt like I had so much left undone both personally and professionally. So, I remained in bed, surrendered to the darkness of my pity, resigned to the fact that death was upon me.

My phone rang; it was either the first time in a week that someone had called or the first time I paid attention to it; either way, I listened to the message once I received my voicemail notification.  One of our church members was in the hospital, and the diagnosis was potentially life-threatening. At first, my flesh shouted, “you are hurting as well; why are people not reaching out to you?” but within minutes, I started to pray and cry out to God for this dear saint I had come to love. Then it hit me, I would leave my house, for the first time in over two weeks, so that I could visit and pray over this church member. Pain marked that entire ride, physically-as I was still recovering from a herniated disk, and spiritually-for the thought of my death continued to consume me. Parking in the clergy space at the local hospital, I remained in my car for what seemed an hour or more; praying for the courage to be around people, the strength to focus on someone besides myself, and the faith to put aside my focus on death, even if just long enough to pray over someone. 

Every step on the sidewalk leading up to the hospital entrance received the drops of my tears; I couldn’t stop thinking past me, my death. “God,” I cried out in an audible burst, uncaring of the audience and crowds, “please help me; I need you.” And God responded. A scripture I had given in counseling and through prayer to many others over the years shot in my mind and found a home in the fertile fields of my hopeless heart; “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27, ESV). That word, “appointed” hit me like never before as my foot landed on a crack in the pavement; God has a date set on his calendar for my death. Time seemed to freeze as I stood there, foot on that crack, contemplating that verse and praying for its roots to take hold in my heart; hoping for a fast-growing tree whose cover would bring relief from the torching fire of my fears. It was there, on that crack, the joy of my salvation was restored because of the message received; God was not done with me yet! My death is on God’s calendar, not mine. And, until that day comes, medical diagnosis or not, I am bulletproof. I can show you that crack to this very day; it is my Crack in Time, the place where God reminded me of His sovereignty and where I recommitted my life of service to God. 

Walking into that hospital was one of the best days of my life; I could not wait to enter that hospital room and share the hope that was within me with the struggling church member. Once beside her bed, she told me the diagnosis was cancer, and the doctors didn’t give much hope. We prayed. Back in my truck, I prayed again, with confidence, “Father, if this is not the time on your calendar for your daughter, please give her the joy that has overwhelmed me in this very place” I then drove to my office, ready for a day of service to my Father with a focus on others. Oh, the sweet lady the doctors didn’t give much of a chance to live but another few weeks in 2009? I texted her the other day; she is doing well and remains a beacon of joy in this hopeless world.

Scripture: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV)

Question: Do you fear death? 

Prayer: Father, I have struggled with the issue of dying, of leaving my family behind, wondering what will happen to those around me when I am gone, worried things might fall apart, and the people I love might need me. Please help me see that because of your Son, death is no longer something woeful to fear, but something too wonderful to face. Remind me that until you call me home, here is where I will remain, and when that day comes, you will take care of everyone I leave behind just as you have taken care of me throughout my life. Thank you for overcoming death and making it the door that ushers your children into our forever home. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

A Bridge Over Troubled Spiritual Waters

Will we see our pets in the next life?

Photo by La Miko on Pexels.com

“You got a dog?” exclaimed one of my daughters as we pulled back a small blanket from my wife’s lap to reveal a new puppy, a miniature Dachshund we named Rachel. For almost 17 years, Rachel would prove to be a source of joy and comfort for our family, especially through some challenging seasons; a job loss, a scary medical diagnosis, and an empty nest, to name a few. A few years ago, Rachel became blind, developed a heart condition, and suffered severe digestive issues. And while many encouraged us to “put her down,” she was family, and we counted it a joy to make the necessary accommodations of love. 

As I pulled back a small blanket from my lap to reveal Rachel to the veterinarian a few weeks ago, there was no joy in the room, for her body was shutting down, and we were preparing to say goodbye to our strong little girl. As she closed her eyes for the last time, the memories flowed as freely as the tears. Behind the wheel that afternoon, I struggled silently with a theological question that had haunted me for many years, will we see Rachel again?

Some argue we will be reunited with our pets, as presented in the famous poem, Rainbow Bridge (in part):

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.  Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. 

But what does the Bible say? It would appear there is much more scriptural support against seeing our pets again. One of my favorite theologians and church leaders, Thomas Aquinas, believed that to keep animals as pets was cruel and that they should be able to run in the fields and fly in the air unhindered by leash or cage; therefore, God would not honor such forced relationships on earth through a reuniting in heaven. We have many scriptures that reveal humans are the only part of God’s creation standing as uniquely eternal, which is what goes on in the next life (Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 32:9, Psalm 49:12).

Yet, some scriptures imply we will see our pets again. Take Isaiah 11:6-9, a prophetic scripture giving us a detailed peek into the window of the new heaven and new earth. In this picture of peace and unity we find;

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
  and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea”

Did you notice how many animals God lists in this picture of our future? Ten! One is tempted to ask, why is it important for God to have animals in heaven? We also can’t neglect the most popular and powerful of all animals’ stories in the Bible; Noah’s Ark. Interesting that God saved, or redeemed, all of the animals through the flood with Noah and his family.

As all of these scriptures and thoughts rushed into my grieving mind on the way home from the veterinarian that day, I still was not convinced either way. Until I remembered I Corinthians 13:4-8a; 

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." 

As I dug the hole in our backyard for Rachel, I smiled, through tears, because of the hope that we will see her again. The love we had for Rachel for 17 years will never die. Is it too much to believe that God will allow that undying love to walk beside us on our way to that mansion on the hilltop? We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Scripture: “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. 13:12, ESV

Question: Do I recognize that all gifts, including our pets, are from God who should be praised for His love?

Prayer: Father, thank you for allowing pets to be used as tools of comfort and joy. May I never praise or worship your creation more than you as the Creator. And, while I want to see my beloved pets again, may the source of my comfort and joy always be found in you.

He Knows

Having Someone above you, that knows what’s going on inside you, makes all the difference.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“If you really want to quit, give me 15 minutes, and I will lay out a plan guaranteed to work”, said my fellow shipmate in response to my struggle with trying to lay down a two-pack a day smoking habit. My wife Laurie and I had been transferred to Guam and were now caring for two young children through the foster care program, and Laurie did not want me smoking in the house, and in that tropical environment, I didn’t want to smoke outside! So, I set out to stop something I had been doing since high school. So, there I sat, listening to John confidently lay out his 15-minute plan, with hopeful expectation. John’s plan was well presented, even included a diagram on a piece of copy paper, and when he was finished, I asked the million-dollar question, “John, how long has it been since you’ve been free of this habit?”, “Well,” he replied, “I’ll have you know I never smoked a day in my life; I take care of my body.” Here was this man, giving out advice on stopping something he never struggled over. Needless to say, I threw that cartoonish diagram in the trashcan and went my way.

Was his advice sound? Perhaps. Would that advice, if taken at full value, have worked? Maybe. But what I could not get over was that he did not know what it was like to be huddled on all fours in the kitchen the night before crying out to God for the strength to stay home and not rush out to the store for more cigarettes. John didn’t personally know the struggle and had never experienced the personal pain, and for me, that was a deal-breaker. No wonder he made it sound so easy to simply stop something that had its roots in me for years, something that had provided comfort, made me feel good, and had been with me through some tough times; he was on the outside looking in. I did end up finding Someone that understood, offered advice, and gave me the power to overcome that obstacle, Jesus Christ.

Writing to a group of Christians who had endured suffering and faced even more, the author of the book of Hebrews writes, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” The author may have had some good advice on how they should respond when their loved ones were dragged out of the home, beaten, and thrown into an arena where wild animals would tear the flesh from their bones. Or how they should keep the faith when thrown in prison, scheduled for execution, and separated from their children. But what the author could not say with integrity was, “I know how you feel” therefore, he pointed them to Who could say that very thing, Jesus. While we all can appreciate the sentiment when someone uses “I know how you feel” as a springboard to giving advice, it often falls on deaf ears since it’s spoken from the outside looking in. But with Jesus, He has been there and done that and knows how we feel in every situation or struggle. He always speaks from the inside; therefore, He speaks with authority, credibility, confidence, and power.

Whatever you are going through, there is one true thing; no one around you knows how you feel. There is, however, One above you that does know how you feel. Before you shed that tear, God knows why. Before you open your mouth, He knows the request. And, knowing that God knows makes all the difference. Perhaps today, you would be willing to consider this all-knowing, all-loving, and all-caring Father that went through the ultimate suffering so that He could be with you today not only to hear you but help you. 

Scripture: “You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” -Psalm 139:3-4 ESV

Question: Do you feel like you are walking a trail of trials alone? Would you be willing to call out to Jesus today to find hope in a God with inexhaustible resources?

Prayer: Father, I am going through a trial and feel so alone, like no one understands how I feel. Please remind me that you are with me, you care about me, and you know how I feel. Remind me today that I am not alone. Please draw close to me, and may I find comfort and strength through your presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.