Salt: A Little Dab Will Do You

What we say is not as important as how we make others feel.

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In a culture absent of mercy, Jesus shocked the assembled crowd with words like, “Blessed are the merciful” (Mt. 5:7), as He stood on the Mount of Beatitudes preaching what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus spoke to a culture where mercy was not a popular concept thought to better society but rather a weakness to be eradicated. One Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.” This was a culture where a father could give a “thumbs down” to his newborn if he thought the child ugly, too loud, or unhealthy, and the child would be put to death. A Roman citizen could kill and bury a slave without any consequence, and husbands could end the life of their spouse for any reason without retribution.

It was in this dark culture, void of mercy, that Jesus stated, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  -Mt. 5:7, ESV  

And, let me point out, not much has changed from the culture of Roman history to our current American culture:

  • We are giving a “thumbs down” to 1.2 million unborn babies each year in America, mostly because of inconvience.  
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

Mercy has always been foreign to the world and not rewarded by the world. Jesus made the lame to walk again, and He caused the blind to see. He rose the dead, brought hearing to the deaf, and reached out to the outcasts and the untouchables. He sought out the; tax collectors, degenerate, immoral, prostitutes, drunk, despised, and the rejected; Jesus was an advocate for the weak and an encourager for the bleak. So, after Jesus tells the crowd “what” to be, a distributer of mercy, He then tells them “how” to achieve that goal by being the “salt of the earth.”

A few years ago, thirteen-year-old Darci Lynne walked onto the stage of the twelfth season of America’s Got Talent. Her act? She explained to the judges that she desired to reignite the once-popular art of ventriloquism. Darci was nervous, even laughing for no reason, her hands shaking as her eyes darted around a full auditorium boasting thousands in attendance with millions more watching from home. When instructed by Simon Cowell to start, she composed herself, queued the music, and sang. From the first note, it was evident this girl was special; she captivated the crowds and the judges, and by the time she finished her performance, everyone-even Simon-was standing with shouts of acclamation and praise. Confetti fell from the ceiling, and lights darted all around the stage as one of the judges, her mom, and the host rushed up to surround her in celebration of her advancing to the next round. Darci didn’t have any words; she simply wept. As she took in all of the support through cheers and applause, the look on her face was enough to see what the power of encouragement could do. Darci ended up winning that season, and her first performance became the most viewed in the show’s history in just 30 hours. 

When Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth,” he was undoubtedly speaking of us acting as a preservative in this rotting world, and as a spice to show the contrast between darkness and light. But salt has another benefit; as an advocate, enhancing everything it touches. Therefore, Jesus is calling us to bring out the best in those around us, to stand applauding in the audience for those on the stage of life. When you watch the videos of Darci’s performances after that first nervous entrance in 2017, you no longer see a shy and timid entertainer, rather someone with confidence and boldness, recognizing her talents and using them free of fear. What was responsible for bringing her from fear to fame? I am confident it was the support and praise she received. We all have the opportunity to make such a difference in others’ lives by being the salt.

There are so many in this world, believing they have nothing to offer, no talents to share, feeling worthless. God does not make junk. We must seek out the hopeless, reminding them of who they are in the eyes of God and encouraging them to walk boldly on the stage of life shining like the stars God designed them to be. 

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

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” -I Thes. 5:11, ESV

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Heb. 10:24-25, ESV

Question: Can you think of someone that may be down and discouraged, someone that could use some “building up”? 

Prayer: Father, please bring my focus on someone that may need encouragement. Please give me the wisdom and discernment to recognize those around me in need of someone in their corner, cheering them on. I know you are calling me to make a difference in this world, may I strive to please you by encouraging others today. 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.

Working for Heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Have you ever considered what a full surrender would do in and through your life?

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In the 1991 movie Hook, Robin Williams plays the grown-up Peter Pan, who has returned to Neverland and finds himself trying to prove, to the still-young Lost Boys, that he is, in fact, Peter Pan. The Lost Boys cannot recognize Peter as he has grown old, gained weight, wears glasses, and has wrinkles. Tinker Bell, who knows this aged man to be the real Peter Pan, convinces some of the Lost Boys to give Peter a second look.

After everyone has given up, the smallest of the Lost Boys makes his way over to Peter, guides him down to his knees so that he can be face to face, and gives Peter a closer look. He removes Peter’s glasses, and with both hands, pushes back the wrinkles on his forehead, straightens out the lines surrounding his eyes, and then pushes the fat on his cheeks far out of the way to remove the many years. While holding the wrinkles back, he looks into Peter’s eyes. He declares, “Oh, there you are, Peter!”—a revelation that causes many of the cynical and unbelieving Lost Boys to rush over with joy and become filled once again with hope.

I believe this to be the problem with the bride of Christ today. We have allowed complacency to fatten the church, selfishness to add many wrinkles, organization, legalism, and politics to dull her vision. Meanwhile, the world around us still hears and sees us but cannot recognize the once purpose-driven organism that had the power to change the world. I am convinced that once we surrender again to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the lost people in this world will give us a closer look, push back our wrinkles, dysfunction, and sin, and declare, “Oh, there you are Church!”

Stepping off a ship, D.L. Moody arrived back in America from a trip to Europe, where he attended a revival held by Reverend Varley. During that revival, Varley challenged the congregation with the statement, “This world has yet to see what God could do with someone totally surrendered to Him.” With those words still resonating in his heart, Moody took his first step off that ship and uttered, “God, with your help, I aim to be that man.” 

What would happen to the world around us if the One within us could be seen free from distractions, distortions, and dysfunction? What if this world could see the church? 

Scripture: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship.” -Romans 12:1, ESV

Question: Would you be willing to admit that over the years, your dedication to Christ and passion for His mission have been weakened by the things of this world?

Prayer: Father, I confess that I am not who I was when I first professed you as Lord and was baptized. I used to be so excited, passionate, and willing to be used for your glory, but lately, I have been struggling. I confess there to be things in my life that ought not to be there and some things I should be doing yet choose not to do. I want to reclaim my joy and fulfill my purpose to bring you glory and worship you in spirit and in truth. Please help me overcome every obstacle in your way, and may I be the change agent you have called and empowered me to be. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

The Mulligan

In a merciless culture, God offers second chances.

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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. 

Stop Judging, Start Loving

We must stop judging people for sinning differently

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I will never forget that January day in 2009. I was leading both a Wednesday morning and evening prayer service and Bible study as the pastor of a church in Southwest Virginia. As usual, I checked two things in preparation for that church service; the news and the weather. The news to be sure I am meeting the current spiritual needs of our congregation by addressing the issues that cause us to struggle, and the weather because I like to be outside greeting people and need to know if I need an umbrella or a jacket! That particular day, both the weather and the news were cold, and both took my breath away. It was on this Wednesday, January 21st, that Haiyang Zhu, a Virginia Tech student from China, walked into the college campus cafe’ with a knife, and brutally attacked fellow student Yang Xin. What made this crime stand out more than other murders that took place in our world was that Zhu beheaded Xin in public, and that this heinous crime was committed on the same campus still reeling from the 2007 shooting that left over 30 dead. The church I was about to lead in prayer was just 35 miles away with many in our congregation having ties to this college; the news really struck an emotional chord.

When I arrived at church, I made sure that I was prepared for the service; brewed a few pots of coffee, walked around each table and prayed for all that would be in attendance, unlocked all doors, printed and copied handouts for my lesson, and turned the heat on-remember it was cold that day! What I was not prepared for was the reaction to the news by some in attendance. Most, if not all, of our congregation had already heard the news and were freely discussing their opinions around the coffee pots and at their tables. As I walked around greeting everyone, I heard things like, “There is a special place in Hell for someone like that”, and “This is what happens when we allow people from other countries to come to America, we invite evil to infect our country”. Again, while I was prepared for the church service, I was not prepared for this type of reaction. As a pastor, I remember this day so vividly because my heart was broken. How quickly we forget that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and that we all deserve that “special place in Hell” for our sins (Rom. 6:23), when we allow the sins of others to overshadow our own. How can we truly appreciate our own salvation to its fullest if we really believe there are some that hold greater sins? And, how can we hope to change the world around us if we see some people as beneath us?

Yes, Haiyang Zhu committed an act of evil and Satan seemed to have won a battle that day. But Satan did not win, and I saw a glimpse of that hope during the prayer request portion of our service after I insisted that Zhu and his family needed prayers too. That hope came in the form of a seasoned believer-one of our cherished senior adult members who raised her hand and simply announced, “Pastor, we are all sinners in need of a Savior, I hope this young man repents and falls in love with Jesus”.

In front of the judge, just before his life in jail sentence was pronounced, Haiyang Zhu lamented, “Not a single day went by without my conscience being tortured by guilt and my heart aching in pain. I will never forgive myself for what I have done”. And, after his sentance, he tried to take his own life at least three times. I often wonder what happened to Zhu, did he ever find release from that guilt and pain by surrendering to the love of God? I have prayed many times that God would place people of grace before him instead of people of judgment; that Zhu would hear there is love and forgiveness even for him.

There are many more like Haiyang Zhu in this world, perhaps not as outwardly violent, but certainly as inwardly sinful. As you rub shoulders with other sinful people as you navigate this world throughout the course of your day, will you be more like those on that cold January morning that believe there is no place in grace for them, or will you be like that precious woman who reminded everyone that there is still room at the cross?

Scripture: “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” -Colossians 3:13b ESV (Italics/bold are mine)

Prayer: Father, it is easy to compare myself to those that walk around me; viewing their sins as worse than mine and their actions as something that I would never do. Please help me to focus more on what is above me instead of around me-your love. Father, I confess that my sin was enough to cause you to send your Only begotten Son to the cross to die, and I thank you today that I did not get what I deserved. In the midst of my sin, your grace and love reached down and saved me, forgave me, and loved me. May I never get over that, and may I not judge those that are still in their sin but be quick to share the hope of love that is within me because of you. Father help me today realize that your love is not mine to keep but yours to give-to all-freely. In the name of Jesus, I pray, amen.