A Season of Separation

Restoration waits for those on the path of repentance.

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As a father of many foster, three birth, and one adopted, I had my fair share of bellowing out the command, “go to your room,” due to their disobedience or misbehavior. The purpose of that consequence was to use the forced family separation as a time of reflection in hopes that repentance would follow. At the right time, I would make my way to their room, talk about what was done, reveal their error, chat with them about any further consequences, layout how they should have acted, and then explained what needed to be done on their part for reconciliation and restoration. From the moment I sent them to their room to the time when they were released, I was in complete control as the figure of authority; the one motivated by love that intentionally used the separation as a tool for their betterment. Would it have been appropriate for one of their siblings to open their door and set them free? Or, sneak into their room with a game and play? How about the entire family bringing up dessert and all having a grand time in their room while they were supposed to be separated? Of course not! Why? Because it was not their place to interfere; they lacked the authority to usurp dad’s path of reconciliation. But, consider what would have occurred if the mom and all the other children went to their room and played all day, even eating dinner with them? That child would not have experienced the lesson in separation and would have harbored harsh feelings toward the father as he was the only one perceived to be unfair.

There are times when our Heavenly Father operates in like manner, and through church discipline, sends a child to their “room” for introspection; as the first step on the path to repentance and reconciliation. Over the years, I have experienced a few occasions where a church member’s sins were confronted only to have them dig in deeper, refuse to repent, and ultimately walk away from the fellowship. Clearly, they were in sin; angry, immature, slanderous, spiteful, vindictive, and carnal, yet something inevitably occurs most of the time in the season of separation; their siblings interfere with God’s tool of restoration. From the comfort of their homes, and amid their sin, their brothers and sisters in Christ start to call, visit, send cards, all conveying the same message, “We love you, we miss you, please come back, the church needs you.” They continue to receive copies of the bulletins, the monthly financial statements, and a constant flow of gossip, all from their family members; words of affirmation, comfort, and concern from every member of their family except for their Father. The season of silence that God would have used to evoke feelings of isolation and loneliness, restoring the sinner in their relationship with God through repentance, has been hindered, stopped even, by the well-intentioned. Folks have essentially gone into the room of their disobedient sibling, set up a nice meal, and had a party while the Father watched with a grieved heart from the other room.

Sin separates, it always has, ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Right after they ate the forbidden fruit, they hid from God behind some bushes. When God came to the garden that day, he asked, “Where are you?”, not because He was terrible at playing Hide and Seek, nor did God lose His power of omniscience, instead because He wanted Adam and Even to acknowledge their season of separation, confess their sins and be restored (Gen. 3). Nothing stood in the path of God’s plan of reconciliation, and Adam and Eve were better for it. Even today, we are commanded to protect God’s season of separation when our Father is disciplining His children (Isa. 59:2, Mt. 18:15-17, I Cor. 5:1-13). 

In high school, I spent a weekend with a friend at his house. During that stay, my friend got into trouble with his dad, and while my friend was being yelled at, I injected something like, “It wasn’t all his fault…” I never finished that sentence for his dad looked at me sternly and said something like, “Don’t get in my way, this is MY son.” This was reinforced in boot camp years later as we all witnessed the mistake of getting between a drill instructor and the recruit he was correcting! How much more should we refrain from getting in God’s way? We lack the authority to usurp His plan of reconciliation; it is simply not our place. And, if we genuinely want the best for our brothers and sisters in Christ, as much as it pains us to hear the laments from their isolation, we must acknowledge our Father knows better and stay out of His way. 

Scripture: “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” -Titus 1:13, ESV

Question: Do you know anyone that God has placed in a season of separation? Would you commit to praying for this person that God’s children would protect this time, that they would soon repent and be restored into the fellowship?

Prayer: Father, it is difficult to see someone we care about and love being disciplined. Please help me have the strength to trust you through the process. May I never interfere or stand in the way of your path of restoration. May the separated one miss the fellowship of their church family, the sweetness of your presence, the intimacy in prayer, and the power of your love enough to repent of their sins and be restored into your family. Thank you for caring enough to invest in our lives; you are a good Father. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.


This is not your best life.

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In the military, there is a term; short-timers attitude; it merely describes a soldier that is nearing the end of their tour with just weeks or months left before a transfer. One particular tour of mine that I felt the full effects of this label was while stationed on the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sweetbrier in Cordova, Alaska. Even the best of writers would be hard-pressed to romanticize my tour there, scrubbing barnacles off of buoys in the Bearing Sea 12 plus hours each day for a year. Yet, I will never forget what I heard over the ship’s intercom system that day, “Seaman McCracken, please report to the Yeoman’s office,” for the only reason that announcement would come was that the command had approved my transfer request to Radioman school. Leaving the Yeoman’s office with my orders in hand, I ran, literally ran, back to my bunk, drew the curtain, opened the envelope, and read-word for word-my orders. I was to report to Training Center Petaluma California for Radioman School in 30 days. Once word got around, I only had 30 days left; my shipmates labeled me Seaman McCracken the short-timer.

Still, that label didn’t mean anything to me until one event, and from that moment on, I got it. It came around 0300 (that’s 3 AM!) when I was jolted out of a dream by the ship’s general quarters alarm system, a shriek that resonated through the ship like a screaming banshee before a death. Not too far off as our ship had taken such a severe roll in a storm that the next announcement was “prepare to abandon ship.” I made my way up the ladder to the Muster Deck and past open lockers exploding their contents on the ground. By the time the ship’s crew were mustered on the deck with our life jackets and we unsecured all the small boats, the danger had passed, and the Captain dismissed us. On the way back to my rack, I remember vividly announcing to myself with a voice that purposefully carried to anyone listening, “I only have three more weeks of this!” and at that very moment, I realized I was a short-timer!

From that moment on, nothing bothered me like it used to; being woken up in the middle of the night to cover a shipmate’s bridge watch because he was sick, no problem-only three weeks to go, cleaning up someone else’s vomit in the paint room because I was the lowest ranking sailor on deck, no problem-only two weeks to go, boarding a Japanese vessel in the dark of night, rounding every corner wondering if it were my last, no problem-only one week to go, being dropped off by helicopter to an isolated island lighthouse for solar conversion, even though I am scared of heights, no problem-I am leaving for sunny California tomorrow! Then, it all came to a head when the Chief Boatswain’s Mate put me on the cleaning crew to remove the rust from the ship’s hull while in dry dock in Oregon with a needle gun the following week. No problem, “Hey Chief, not me; I am flying out to California tomorrow morning!” I was able to put up with almost anything knowing that my days were numbered and that I had a much better destination in my future. That is what being a short-timer is all about.

Folks, I know this world is getting worse. Every morning we hear about how COVID cases are rising, of another political scandal, violent protests in our streets, racism, murders, sex-trafficking, and much more. We have to say goodbye to friends and family that have lost their fight with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Our bodies are marked with pain, our minds are filled with anxiety, doubt, and fear, and our spirits are troubled, causing our eyes to shed more tears than we ever anticipated. However, let me remind you, Christian, you are a short-timer. Your days on this earth are numbered by God (Hebrews 9:27) and are promised to be short-lived as a vapor (James 4:14). Christian, this is not your home; you are a stranger, a pilgrim, a tourist! Therefore, don’t let this world get you down, hinder your walk, impact your faith, or impede your purpose. And, not only are you closer to home each day, but you have received orders to a place even better than sunny California; you’re bound for Heaven! So today, as you navigate this sinful world, do so with confidence and joy, knowing you’re a short-timer with a heavenly destination.

Scripture: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:11-12, ESV)

Question: Am I getting discouraged over the things in this world because I have forgotten my true home?

Prayer: Father, my heart needs to be encouraged. This world is getting to me, I have lost my joy, and I am struggling with all that is going on. Please help me remember that this world is not my home, that this life is not as good as it gets. Father, I ask for you to give me the strength and faith to have a short-timer’s attitude so that I can be that patient and long-suffering giver of grace that this sinful world needs in times like these. Thank you for the gift of tomorrow, and may I live today in light of that very gift. 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.