The Little Coal That Could

We all need each other, but most of all, we need God.

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A late hour knock on the door interrupted the preacher from his position before the fire in his den. Unwinding himself from the blanket, he slipped into his moccasins and headed for the door. The gust of wind that hurried the visitor inside was a reminder of the fire’s need; it was a windy winter night in London. The visitor was not unknown; he had been a member of the church for years but had absented himself from the fellowship as of late. With both men warming before the fire, the man tried to explain his disassociation from the church. “Preacher, I have been a Christian and faithful member of the church for years, but at this point in my life, I just don’t see any valid reasons for attending anymore.” While listening, the preacher removed the fire poker from the cast iron holder and started to stoke the coals. The visitor continued, “I have just experienced more hurt than help. I’ve seen hypocrisy, I’ve been judged, I don’t feel like I am being fed from the sermons anymore, the music needs help, and someone a few months ago even had me move for I was in her seat.” While the visitor spoke and the preacher stoked, they both looked intently upon the fire. “I just feel that God can be worshiped from my home through prayer, bible study, and even song,” the visitor explained. While he talked, the preacher pushed one coal away from the rest with the poker. While the man continued presenting his excuses and justifying his unbiblical behavior, they both watched the isolated coal lose its heat and transition from red to grey. Then, without a word, the preacher pushed that coal back in the group, and instantly it regained its warmth and red color, thriving and contributing to the fire once again. The man, eyes filled with tears, looked at the preacher and simply said, “see you Sunday,” as he gathered his things and made his way to the door.

There are certainly times when we feel like this man; some even put action to those feelings and withdraw from fellowship. We could all fill a sheet of paper with our excuses and justifications, the music that doesn’t stir us, the sermons that don’t fill us, the deacon’s that don’t visit with us, and the members that don’t love us. Yet, we are commanded to crucify our feelings and act on truth alone (Proverbs 12:15 and 28:26). So, what does God say about church attendance? Could we not worship Him at home by watching a sermon online, joining a virtual choir, and spending time in prayer and study? According to the bible, Jesus loved the church enough to die for her (Eph. 5:25), has a desire to marry her (II Cor. 11:2), empowered her to advance His love (Mt. 16:18), and will usher her into His presence when this life is over (Phil. 3:20). So, anyone that intentionally separates themselves from a group so loved and used by God is purposefully positioning themselves as an enemy of the cross (I John 4:20).

In my 25 years of pastoral experience, I have mostly found those “Christians” that forgo weekly fellowship and choose to worship at home are the most gospel useless, immature, and selfish people I’ve ever met. When we refuse to submit to the will of God for our lives through our local church membership, we fail in the areas of fellowship, collective worship and prayer, stewardship, discipleship, and practical love (II Cor. 6:1, Mt. 9:37-38). God does not bless those who disregard His will for their life, choosing to make their own way (I Sam. 15:22, John 14:15).

There is a good chance that if you are on the sidelines of the faith, not an active member of a local congregation, you have excellent reasons. I am not trying to minimize your pain or hurt; the truth is, I have been where you are. I am hoping you will prayerfully consider the words in this devotion, read each scriptural reference, and seek God’s will for your life concerning the body of Christ.

Scripture: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Question: Will you be willing to evaluate your contributions as a member of the local church and, after prayer and reflection, ask God to use you in a greater capacity?

Prayer: Father, you know my heart and any reasons I have for either not being involved or not being used as much as you would desire through your church. I ask you to search my heart and reveal any sins of omission or commission that I may confess them all and be exposed to your grace and mercy. Please give me the mind to understand, the heart to desire, and the strength to follow through. May the primary goal of my life be to hear you say “well done“. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Worth Your Weight?

Christians should be the life of every party.

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When Jesus stood before the crowds gathered on the Mount of Beatitudes and spoke of them being the salt of the earth, they knew that in addition to delaying the decay as a preservative; it meant for them to live as spice in a bland world.

Salt is used as a spice; to enhance the natural flavors of food or add flavor to an otherwise bland meal. For food that was bland or even food that may not have tasted that great, leaving a bitter aftertaste, salt could be added to mask the bad taste or give that bland meal an extra boost. Christians should be fun. Christians should be joyful. A Christian should be able to walk into a room full of down, depressed, disappointed, discouraged, bland, bitter people and provide a blast of mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, joy, peace, and power.

The truth is, there are only two kinds of people in this world; thermometer people and thermostat people. A thermometer reflects the environment’s temperature; it merely reacts to what is going on in a particular room. On the other hand, a thermostat regulates the temperature of the environment; it controls what is going on in a room. Perhaps the reason we have hundreds of churches in this country and yet are seemingly unable to delay the decay is because the majority of those in attendance are thermometer Christians; they are blending into this world and have become gospel useless.  

God calling us salt, means that He has empowered us to be thermostat Christians; Christians that go against the current, oppose the culture, and regulate the environment.

Years ago, I had the privilege to meet a lady who was involved in a terrible car accident, an accident that took her husband, legs, car, dog, and with the medical bills, she also lost her home. The nursing staff at the rehabilitation center told me they moved her into another room almost every day to encourage those who were depressed and discouraged in their recovery from knee and hip surgeries. That was one salty lady! That is the kind of person that God needs to do what He wants to be done in this world.  

I recently read an account of another salty ladyt:

“A distinguished Christian lady was recently spending a few weeks at a hotel at Long Branch, and an attempt was made to induce her to attend a dance, in order that the affair might have prestige bestowed by her presence, as she stood high in society. She declined all the importunities of her friends. Finally, an honorable senator tried to persuade her to attend, saying, “Miss B., this is quite a harmless affair, and we want to have the exceptional honor of your presence.” “Senator,” said the lady, “I cannot do it. I am a Christian. I never do anything during my summer vacation, or wherever I go, that will injure the influence I have over the girls of my Sunday School class.” The senator bowed, and said, “I honor you; if there were more Christians like you, more men like myself would become Christians.” While we don’t have control over being the salt, we hold the shaker and have full control over how salty we remain.

Dr. George Pentecost

My Grandfather used to say he wanted me to grow up to be the kind of man worth his weight in salt.  That is a good question; in the eyes of God, are you worth your weight in salt?

Scripture: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” -Matthew 5:13-14, ESV

Question: If you do an honest evaluation of how you navigate this world, are you a thermostat or thermometer? 

Prayer: Father, please give me the strength to not be conformed to this world but transformed through the renewing of my mind. May I recognize that change to those around me will only come when I allow you to flow through me. Please help me decrease while you increase. Father, I want you to look at my life and say, “well done” may that goal be on my mind today. 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.

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 

Oh Deer!

When the sword of vengeance is unsheathed, blade and handle become infected, ultimately destroying those at both ends.

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Recently a reporter interviewed a lady hiker who happened upon an unusual sight in the woods; two deer, antlers locked, one with a broken neck, both dead. After the forestry department investigated, first believing poachers to be responsible, it was determined these two deer got into a fight. Both decided to kill the other; one was finally successful in breaking the other deer’s neck. Yet, because their antlers were locked, after a long and drawn-out skirmish, the “victorious” deer was unable to free himself, thus forced to succumb to the same fate as his opponent. Even though both deer fought their best, there was no winner.

At the age of 28, I accepted my first pastorate, a small church in North Carolina. Very early on, I was faced with two congregational members that had been bickering for years, with outbursts that increased in both frequency and severity. Because of my inexperience, attempts to reconcile these two proved to be in vain. After one particularly vocal conflict during the Sunday School hour between these two women, the deacon’s chairman had enough and gathered them together in one of the small classrooms. After telling them that their bickering was hurting them both and affecting the congregation, he told them they would not be allowed out of that room until they could apologize to each other, confess their sins to God, and move forward in grace. He then stepped into the hall, closed and locked the door, and watching through the window; he waited for them to reconcile. After the Sunday School hour was over, I made my way to the sanctuary and found this man outside the door. Once he brought me up to speed, I asked him to let them out, especially since one of them was our pianist, the other our choir director, and the church service was about to start! The chairman held his ground, and I nervously made my way to the sanctuary. Just a few minutes after I welcomed everyone to the service, the side door to the sanctuary opened up, and in came that chairman followed by the two ladies, each taking their positions, and the service began. It turns out, the unorthodox approach by the chairman of the deacons was just the wake-up call these two ladies needed as they both repented to God and reconciled with each other. The remainder of my tenure there was marked with love and unity. 

I am now in my 50’s, and while I celebrate victories like that, I must say they are rare; generally, feuds between people are taken to the grave. Two people, antlers locked, doing everything they can to have the last word and make the winning point. Even if one can pull off a victory by silencing their opponent, success remains elusive, with guilt, shame, and bitterness being the only trophies on display. The Bible is very clear on this topic; when Christians argue amongst each other, the watching world; desperately searching for hope, walks away unchanged with Christians now being the excuse they use not to attend church at best or reject Christ at worst (Proverbs 18:13, Titus 2:7-8, Hebrews 12:14).

Scripture: “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” -II Timothy 2:14, ESV

Question: Is there someone in your life standing as a reminder of an open argument? Would you be willing to be the biblical model in that relationship to make things right?

Prayer: Father, I struggle with being “right” in a situation yet remaining silent. Please help me to sacrifice my “right to be right” on your altar of love for the sake of unity that the message of hope would go forth unrestricted. Remind me that you see and hear everything and have promised to be my defense. And, remind me that vengeance is yours and yours alone. For those in my life where there remains strife, please open their hearts to you, that when I take that first step of reconciliation, they will greet me with the open arms of your love. Thank you for having patience with me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

It Hurts So Good

Forgiveness is a dish best served on the plate of love with a spoon of grace.

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As I rounded the corner of the hospital hall that day, I was not expecting who I would be faced with, an encounter I prayed would never again happen. At that very moment, as I rounded the corner, I went from joyful to angry with even my fists clenching as if they had a mind of their own. There he stood, the man that relentlessly hindered and criticized my leadership, allowed my family to be persecuted, chased my son out of town, and had nothing but a smirk of victory on his face when my three young daughters had their Christmas play parts taken away days before the performance. And, this all happened in a church I pastored where this man seemed to make it his goal in life to oust me from ministry with verbal challenges like, “Pastor, I’ve been here through many pastors, and will be here well after you leave.” From finding several want ads circled in red from the local paper on my desk to my children being the only ones not served communion during Children’s Church. These are but a few examples of what my family went through over my five-year tenure. But, that chapter of my life was over; God had released me from that culture and called me to start a new church, a place where my family found joy, peace, and purpose. I had been gone from that toxic church environment for over two years when I found myself in the hallway of that hospital facing the man I had never forgiven, with fists clenched, frozen in time. And there we stood, no words spoken for what seemed like minutes, resembling two cowboys in the old west waiting for the clock to strike high noon before drawing our weapons.

During one of my early counseling sessions in ministry, I addressed two church members that refused to forgive each other over a past argument. Time had done nothing but make matters worse with these members shunning each other, gossiping about one another, and even sitting as far from each other in the sanctuary as they could. The story I used to facilitate reconciliation was that of Corrie ten Boom, taken from her book, The Hiding Place:

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. “When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.…”

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence, collected their wraps, in silence left the room. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! [Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.] Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying, “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Chris-tian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,” again the hand came out—”will you forgive me?” And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that.

The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “… Help!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.

Corrie ten Boom

As I stood frozen in time, facing this man that had caused my family so much pain and suffering, God reminded me of this story of His power and love. So, I stretched out my hand in greeting, held my breath, and said a prayer. He never took my hand; he just walked around me without a word. Later that day in my office, I drafted a letter to him, asking his forgiveness for my part in our feud, and mailed it out. I never heard anything back. And, that was alright; my forgiving this man had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my stewardship of the forgiveness and love God had given me. 

Hanging from the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive the very ones that nailed Him there and that were gathered around mocking and hurting Him (Luke 23:34). Their repentant hearts didn’t precipitate his request, and it certainly didn’t compel them to seek reconciliation, yet Jesus held out both hands and offered it anyway.

If you have lived long enough, others have hurt you. And, if you have not forgiven them, truly and completely let it go, bitterness has marked your life. Please take it from me; it will consume you until you forgive them and do everything in your power to reconcile. Never forget that the forgiveness God has offered you is not yours to keep but His to give out. You not only have the command to forgive others, but God has given you the power through the Holy Spirit to do the seemingly impossible.

Scripture: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” -Colossians 3:13, ESV

Question: While you were reading today’s devotion, did a particular situation and person come to your mind? Are there still feelings of anger and bitterness?

Prayer: Father, it is hard to let some things go, especially when mistreated. Please help me remember that you are the only One qualified to be the judge and jury, and trust you even when I am hurt. I ask for the strength to forgive, the heart to love, and the faith to believe that you can work things out.  Please help me follow your Son’s example being slow to anger and quick to reconcile. May I be willing to face my fears today and, with your help, put this behind me once and for all. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

50 Shades of Brown

Jesus did not have blonde hair and blue eyes.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

Moving to Florida from Boston in the 9th grade was challenging for many reasons, but culturally is where I struggled the most. My new home was a 30-foot Airstream trailer beside an orange groove about 30 minutes south of Tampa. One summer afternoon, a few guys from my new school picked me up in their truck to take me to an “event”. Piled in the bed of that truck, with a few guns mounted to the back window, we took off to the center of town. Finding a parking space, we navigated the thick crowds and headed to the steps of the courthouse, the apparent source of the commotion, and the place where a man was shouting through a megaphone. Although I was still unable, through the crowds, to see the man speaking, his message shocked me. It turned out he was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and was spewing his message of hate to a large crowd that seemed to be energized by his ignorance and empowered by his racism. Once we finagled our way to the front of the group, I was even more shocked by this man’s appearance. This speaker of ignorance was in a suit, had a leather briefcase beside him, and looked like a respectable businessman or attorney; the message did not match the outward man. While I don’t remember the specifics of his message, I walked away stunned that in 1985 racism seemed to be thriving with no consequence, boldly proclaimed on the steps of the courthouse in the center of town. Of course, I still chuckle when I remember what did break up the hate and silence the message. That trophy was not awarded to someone in the crowd or even the police protecting these men; nope, it was a massive black man with a giant boom box on his shoulder playing Jungle Love by the Time. This man made his way to the very steps of the courthouse, stood shoulder to shoulder with the police, and then laid down that boombox with the speakers facing the KKK leader, turned it up even louder, and then just stood there until everyone went home.

To be honest, the only thing that has gotten better about racism since then is its ability to hide in the shadows of our seemingly unified country. We may not have “events” on the steps of the courthouse anymore, but make no mistake, racism is still thriving; it has just learned to be more subversive and subtle since being publicly removed from the light. And, tragically, the church is not exempt from this hate, for I have seen more acts of racism in the church than I did in my 14 years of military service. Fueled by our emotions, indoctrinated through tradition, and sustained by our lack of biblical knowledge, racism continues. So, what does the bible say? Did Jesus have blonde hair and blue eyes, making Him superior, hence worthy of cultural emulation?

In the book of Genesis, Moses records the account of our creation in chapter one, that we were all created in the image and likeness of God. A study of the original Hebrew word for “image” proves illuminating and a theological death blow to racism. The root word for “image” is to chisel, or chip away, as an artist does with a rock. But, there is another interpretation of this root word; it can mean “to become dark.” According to the Genesis account, God scooped up some dirt to create the first man, and we know dirt is brown. Science tells us that every human’s pigmentation is brown, just different shades; the lighter brown we call white and the darker brown we call black. While we have become quite proficient in classifying people, especially depending on their race, God says that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9, ESV). The message coming from Peter’s “boombox”; a message that should silence the voices of hate, is that in the economy of God, there is but ONE race.

So, we should be celebrating God’s creativity in the diversity of humanity, not using it to separate ourselves; therefore, silence the message of hope we were called to proclaim. It should be impossible to position ourselves above anyone else when we recognize we all come initially from dirt! As one southern evangelist used to shout from the pulpit, “there are no big shots, are no littles shots, just a bunch of us who ‘ought to have been shot had it not been for the grace of God!”.

Scripture: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

Question: Do you struggle with loving people that are not like you? Have you ever thought of yourself better than others because of the color of your skin?

Prayer: Father, please help me to see everyone as you see them, through the eyes of love. May I recognize today that everyone was created in your image and likeness, therefore worthy of your love. If there is any racism in my heart, please reveal it that I might confess it. Father, as I go about my day, may I celebrate the diversity in all of your creation, and may others see your love through me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

The Mulligan

In a merciless culture, God offers second chances.

Photo by Thomas Ward on

Confidently I stood, nine iron in hand, watching proudly as my golf ball landed on the green about 120 yards away and only inches from the hole. I spun around, in cocky teenage bravado, to face my only opponent, Ruth McCracken, and snickered, “beat that!”. My grandmother was a woman of intellect, strength, and a penchant for competitive golf with the talent to back it up. Even though I grew to be a pretty decent player, I never bested her on a course, which is why I was so thrilled that for once in my young life, I stood positioned to at least win a hole. Pulling her seven-iron out of her personalized bag attached to the back of the cart, she walked over to the tee, set her ball up, took a couple of practice strokes, addressed the ball, and whack. I watched with audible laughter as her ball hooked to the left and into the woods. I victoriously sunk my golf club into the bag and jumped into the passenger seat of the golf cart, waiting with baited anticipation for my grandmother to finish her walk of shame and meet me. As I privately gloated, about 25 feet from the tee, I heard another “whack,” and she proclaim, “well, look at that Tom, right next to you!”. Looking at the green, I saw that my ball now had a companion. “You can’t do that,” I said, “you’re not a cheater!” to which she replied, “Oh Tom, you have so much to learn about golf, that,” she said grimacing, “that, is called a mulligan.” My grandmother then hopped into the cart, driving in silence to the green, she walked over to her ball, putt in, and her record remained unscathed.

A mulligan in golf means a second chance. Usually, allowing a mulligan is discussed before the players tee off; nevertheless, my grandmother benefited from the game of golf’s only grace. I learned that day when a golfer has a horrible shot, leaving them in an unrecoverable position, they can call for a mulligan and reshoot-it is simply the adult version of the children’s “do-over.” In life, we don’t generally find such a concept. When we mess up, there never seems to be a lacking of people lined up to offer, “told you so,” or, “you made your bed, now lie in it.” Even in the house of grace, church folks have become quite proficient in judging, failing to remember that we all are in the same boat of sin, standing in need of a healing Savior

When I was 21 years old, I sat on the back pew in a church in Massachusetts overwhelmed with the regret, guilt, and shame brought on by a life of mistakes and bad choices, thinking back to when life seemed simpler, wishing I could just call for a “do-over”-a mulligan. I don’t remember what the preacher’s sermon was for that day. I can’t recall the hymns sung or even the name of that church. What I do remember was hearing of a God that gave out second chances freely; a God that took me as I was and didn’t want to leave me where He found me. A God that knew and approved the use of a mulligan. So, that day, I went to the altar and asked that God for another chance; I repented of my sin, and Jesus Christ became the Lord of my life. My salvation story in golf terms? I had one too many shots into the woods, but Jesus allowed me a mulligan, another chance to surrender to Him. And while I have made some pretty sorry shots since, I have found Him to be present and patient and still willing to say, “Tom, take another mulligan.”

Friend, in this world, you will not find grace or mercy (John 15:18-25, Matthew 10:22, Romans 1:29-30), but please do not be discouraged, for the Father of Mulligans has overcome the world (John 16:33)! In a culture void of mercy, Jesus rises above it all, reaching out with nail-scarred hands, asking you today, “do you want a mulligan?” the question remains, are you ready for a do-over?

Scripture: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23, ESV)

Question: Are you tired of doing things your way and ready to take full advantage of the mercy and grace offered by God through Jesus Christ? Are you willing to take that eternal mulligan that will change your direction and destination?

Prayer: Father, I have been overwhelmed with the guilt and regret that comes from all of the bad decisions I have made over the years. I am crying out to you now, asking for another chance; fresh wind, extreme grace, overwhelming mercy, and undying love. I need you. Please give me the strength to be a good steward of a new chance, a new day, to live for you. Thank you for being patient with me and allowing me another opportunity to enjoy your faithfulness on the course of my life. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen. 

People are Strange

God creates all in His image; therefore, all are worthy of our respect and love.

In 1967, after releasing the album that thrusted them into the limelight, The Doors frontman, Jim Morrison, and the guitarist, Robby Krieger, went on a hike at Robby’s request. The band had started to see Jim falling apart and struggling with depression, so Robby thought a walk and talk would cheer him up. Their trip ended at Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, and as they gazed at the sunset, Jim penned the words to their next popular song, People are Strange. On a piece of paper he let the words from his heart flow:

People are strange 
When you're a stranger
Faces look ugly 
When you're alone

Women seem wicked
When you're unwanted
Streets are uneven 
When you're down

When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When You're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange

People are Strange was a song about alienation, something that resonated with many people. It became the number one song in Canada and reached number 12 on the US Billboard top 100 list. Jim Morrison felt that he was looked down upon by those around him because he was different and therefore felt isolated, misunderstood, and alone. Not much has changed in our culture; we still tend to poke fun of, insult, ostracize and ridicule those that do not fit into our conformability mold. 

I recently saw a picture of a tattooed and pierced young man shared on social media with comments like, “this is what Hellbound looks like,” “no wonder our country is going down,” “caption this,” and “his nose looks like a pig I saw on the farm.” Many people laughed and made fun of someone they didn’t even know, just based on his appearance without considering his story. My heart hurt to see such misguided behavior because I do know part of his story.

According to Genesis 1:27, all of us were created in God’s image and likeness; therefore, all deserve our respect and love. What do I see when I look at someone being passed around on Facebook as a target for the brunt of jokes? I see a man designed and created by God, and that has a need to be accepted and approved by God, a message that Christians have been charged to bring, in love and through grace, to all people. I wonder what God thinks when instead of reaching out in love to this man, we drive him far away from the cross through our ridicule. I wonder what God thinks when we take someone that He made and use them to elicit a laugh to satisfy our insecurities? 

The Apostle Paul said to, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29, ESV).

At the age of 27, Jim Morrison was found in a bathtub dead. Apparently, his heart couldn’t take the massive amounts of heroin that flowed through his veins. As I have with many others, I have often wondered if there would have been people around him to share the love above him if things would have ended differently for Jim. Looking at the picture above, perhaps it would do us all well to recognize that we all have some influence and accountability over others’ direction. Even Cain was charged by God to be his brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:8-10), how can we expect God to hold us to a lesser standard than a standard of love?

Scripture: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.” -I John 4:7-8, ESV

Question: Am I willing to start viewing people through the lens of God’s love?

Prayer: Father, I struggle when I see people that are so much unlike me, it is difficult to not ridicule or judge, especially when their appearance is so extreme. Please help me to see everyone the way you do. I don’t want to be another reason someone has for not falling in love with you. Please give me the spiritual eyes to see your creation and the strength to reach out in Christian love to offer acceptance and approval through your Son. Thank you for loving me, even though I was not worthy and remain far from perfect. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.