Sunday, December 28, 2008

Easy as Jumping Off of a Cliff?


"Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16b)

Have you ever jumped off of something really high in the air? Me, I prefer the safety of my feet on the ground. But for many of my young acquaintances, the thrill of jumping off of "the cliff" was just too much to pass up. Let me explain. This was no ordinary cliff. This was a towering cliff that extended out over the sounds of a flowing river underneath in the heat of a southeast Alabama summer. The only problem was that when you stood on the cliff, you couldn't see the water.

All you could see was the bank of the other side of the river and a treeline. The hardest part about taking the leap, so I have heard, is getting past what you could not see. You had to trust the sound of the flowing water below. You couldn't see it; but, it was there nonetheless. And for the few brave, or reckless, souls that took the plunge, an epic story of endless descent into the river became one of their lifelong "big fish" stories. It meant bragging rights. It meant that you belonged to an elite few knuckleheads that were young enough, brave enough, and dumb enough to take the plunge.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, he described salvation in terms that he had never heard before. Salvation wasn't attained by keeping the Law to the letter. Salvation wasn't attained by keeping a check-list of good deeds for the day. Salvation wasn't attained by trusting in the tangible, seen things in life. Rather, Jesus spoke of belief as being the only way to be reconciled to God. Jesus spoke of salvation as believing in what you could not see. In Nicodemus' case, Jesus used the analogy of the wind to describe the regenerative process of the Holy Spirit.

As people around us stand on the cliff of conflict (on the edge of belief), we should be the ones to assure them that there is a fountain of living water ready to catch them. No more trying to be good enough. No more check lists. No more impossible standards to keep. Just believe there is water to catch you. Just believe the Savior is waiting. Just believe. Sounds too good to be true doesn't it?

In reality, though, it is as simple as believing in God's promises. It is as simple as trusting in Jesus for our salvation--making Him the Lord and Savior of our lives. It is, in a very basic way, as easy as jumping off of a cliff.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Denying the Undeniable


"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20)

Those that know me well will tell you that I can be quite particular about certain things. One of them just happens to be personal space. I do not like to be crowded. I do not last long in a room with many people competing back and forth in conversation. I must remove myself from situations like this or I will simply shut down and become a silent "bump-on-a-log." I've tried...Lord knows I have. But, that is just the way I am. Warts and all I guess.

Not long ago, I was a financial advisor being sent off to St. Louis for financial preparation and updated knowledge on the latest financial packages and products. As far as the trip to St. Louis was concerned, I was somewhat excited about it. I had never been to St. Louis, MO before. There was just one small problem; I was forced to room with another advisor that I had never met before. Not only had we not met, we had never talked. We had never heard of one another. And the thought of sharing a hotel room in St. Louis, MO with a complete stranger did not appeal to me at all. In fact, I felt myself already guarding my invisible "me-space" as the plane landed in St. Louis.

Fortunately, the gentleman that I was forced to bunk with turned out to be alright after all. He had a young family to support. He was an intelligent individual that seemed mature and level-headed. Even better, he cared about his personal hygiene. He wasn't a slob. Praise God! And as we began talking, we found that we had a good bit in common. We were near the same age. His youngest child and my daughter were almost the same age. We liked some of the same sports. We liked some of the same teams. The evening passed by with polite conversation and an occasional laugh.

That is when it happened.

Just before bedtime, I liked to read from the Bible. And as I read, I could tell my Bible reading bothered Todd (finally introduced his name) a little. Although I was trying to concentrate on the Scriptures, I could see Todd give a glimpse of interest from time to time. And as he did, I began to wonder what he was thinking. Was he thinking, "Aw, Man! I thought this guy was going to be alright. Now, it turns out he is a 'holy roller!'?" Was he thinking, "I wonder why he is reading the Bible?" Or, was he thinking something like, "Interesting...I wonder what that is all about?" My questions were soon answered. Todd asked the question like he had been repeating it over and over and over in his mind during the last twenty minutes. He said something along the lines of, "Do you believe the Bible?"

Not a bad question to ask I suppose. I responded, "I sure do." And then I asked a question to Todd, "Do you believe the Bible?" I believe that this caught him off guard. He thought about his response for a minute, as if he were collecting the perfect response. Then he said, "I don't believe we can know any absolute truth." According to Todd, coming to grips with a God who revealed himself to mankind in an authoritative, absolute way was a difficult task.

I, in turn, took a few moments to gather my thoughts for a response. Then I responded, "Doesn't the fact that something is 'true' inherently mean that the other options are 'false.' Otherwise, we would truly live in a world of complete relevance and personal opinions, right?" So if something is in fact true, it is necessary that it is absolutely true. Todd asked the next logical question, "How do you know that your belief is right and all the other religions are wrong?" He continued, "Aren't there hints of truth (though not absolute) in them all?" What a great question? If there is a question that encapsulates the confusion of the post-modern thought process any better than this question, I would like to know it. I responded simply, "They cannot all be true...it is an impossibility."

The greatest difference between Christianity and all other world religions is the fact that--in Christianity--God reveals himself, making himself known. Absolute truth is revealed. It is proclaimed. I believe all of Hell, all of the dark demons, and even Satan himself would like nothing more than for the world to be as relevant, as opinionated, and as tolerant as possible--especially toward this subject of truth. If this becomes the case, then the only foundational aspects of one's belief system would simply be their individual opinions and personal worldviews. Why would anyone need absolute truth if everything is truth? Even more, why would anyone need to feel bad for sin? Why would anyone believe that sin is possible? If truth is relevant, it would be ridiculous to punish someone for their own actions based upon their own relevant truth and worldview induced actions. Right? And the slope gets more slippery with each descent. With each thought.

We are all accountable to a holy God because truth is truth. God reveals truth. And because God reveals truth, we have standards to live by. Furthermore, we are accountable for our actions based upon his revealed truth.
I never really felt as if Todd and I settled our differences that night. However, he did respond by saying, "I have never heard it put that way before." And as I turned off the light and tried to go to sleep, I couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking. I prayed for him. I prayed for his family. Then I prayed for the millions of people in this country that have been taught relevance. That have been taught that truth is what you decide it to be. That have been taught to suppress the truth. From Oprah chit-chats to University lectures, the thought of tolerance permeates our culture.

God's Word tells us that God has made himself evident to all. He exists. God has made his truth known. His invisible qualities have been clearly seen.

We can suppress truth in order to create some sort of "out" away from absolute truth. Away from moral accountability. Away from the concept of sinfulness. Away from the idea of brokenness. Away from moral responsibility.

But in the end, it is simply another attempt to deny the undeniable. We are all without excuse.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Taking Out the Santa Claus Pacifier

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

Ah...Christmas is just around the corner. Ready or not, here it comes. It doesn't wait for you. You must be prepared for today's Christmas mania (correction...holiday season mania). Once a religious holiday, Christmas has developed into a mad dash for survival. Just one more dollar to squeeze. Just one more gift to wrap. Just one more this. Just one more that. Silent night turns into clanging cash registers and honking horns in the parking lot. Peace on Earth turns into debt recovery plans. Good will to men turns into "hands off that last special edition barbie doll...it is MINE!" The funny thing is that this isn't a semi-humorous attempt at hyperbole on my part. This is what Christmas has become for so many. This is what Christmas has become for so many Christians. Better put, this is all it has become for too many.

No more wide-eyed wonder over the virgin birth. No more exuberant praise for the supernatural workings of a loving, holy God. No more proclamation that "God is with us!" We have been taught to say, "Happy Holidays" so not to offend others. But wait a minute. Isn't the Christmas story hope for ALL of mankind? Isn't the Christmas story God's gift to "whosoever believes?" Yet, we live in a post-Christian country that the ACLU has in a choke-hold--daring the Christian remnants to express their faith during the holidays. Daring us to believe again. Daring us to utter a word.

This struggle has brought me to question several things. One of these questions has brought about more soul searching than I bargained for. The question? Should I really push the Santa Claus story to my children? My daughter, Ellie Kate, will be old enough to understand so much more this year. And even though deep down I want to throw away every Santa Claus hat and every commercial product that has taken the place of the greatest moment in human history (the birth of Jesus Christ), I do not want to rob my children of some of the intricate details of the Christmas festivities--though secular they may be. Maybe you haven't had this struggle. Honestly, I didn't see it coming. Truthfully, it hasn't been an easy issue for me. Amy and I have prayed over this. We have discussed it together. We ran into wall after wall of uncertainty.

But this morning, I read an interesting, helpful quote from C.S. Lewis. I would like to share it with you. Lewis said, "There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life."

If you didn't catch it the first time, please read it again. Santa Claus is not the enemy here. The enemy is the failure to faithfully teach the true meaning of Christmas as our children grow. The real danger is a lack of "gospel" in the Christmas season. The lack of the greatest gift of all--Jesus Christ. The lack of a public witness during the Christmas season. People are comfortable in their Christmas "death-dash." And as our culture continues to drown out the majestic with the material, it is becoming more and more important for Christians to reclaim the Christmas boldness within their hearts, homes, churches, and communities. I don't fear a thieving Santa Claus lurking in the shadows to hinder my children's belief. What does concern me, however, is the lack of proclamation during the Christmas season. The lack of worship. The lack of reverence. The lack of hope.

Our nation needs to remove the "Santa Claus pacifier." We must be able to distinguish between the spiritual and the festive. The material and the majestic. Unless we do, we too will ultimately settle for an independent, and therefore a soon withering, holiday season. The material must not remain more important than the majestic. We must re-discover the foundational.

Merry Christmas everyone! Glory to God in the highest!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Too Short to be Passive

"And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (Luke 2:52)

As a parent, I've often wondered what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary to experience the same joys of parenting that I do with my children. There he was, the Savior of the world. Yet, he learned to walk, talk, and speak just like my children. He grew. He developed. He matured--just like my children.

Before the movie "The Passion of the Christ" came out, I was indecisive on whether or not I wanted to watch it. After prayerful consideration, I decided that I would go see it. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie took place during Jesus' walk to Golgotha. He had been beaten almost beyond recognition; and now, he was carrying the cross. During this dreadful walk, Jesus falls several times. During one of Jesus' falling scenes, his mother, Mary, witnessed his descent from the side of the street. As he fell, Mary had a flashback to when Jesus was a small boy. He had fallen and skinned his knee up. The scene is one of parental love as Mary picks up Jesus and comforts him in his distress.

Even though we know that the grave could not hold Mary's son, it amazes me that Mary had the same worries that every parent has. She couldn't bear the thought of her child hurting. And as I watched the scene play out, I couldn't help but wonder if Mary thought that the time had passed too quickly. Just the other day, they were looking for Jesus as a child. They found him in the temple. Just the other day, the Magi had brought their gifts to her young son. And now it was all flashing before her eyes.

Why do I write this today? I guess I am in somewhat of a sentimental mood. Just minutes ago, I watched my son, Emmett, splash around in his infant tub. He was kicking, splashing, and smiling. In the short time I have spent as his father, I have watched him grow in so many amazing ways. Similarly, I have watched my daughter, Ellie Kate, grow into a young girl with so much wide-eyed wonder. Just hours ago, I was watching her play dress up and walk around in shoes twice the size of her feet. It was beautiful.

As a parent, I wish to squeeze as much enjoyment out of what little time I have to spend with my children in this lifetime. If the standard passing of time so far holds true, Ellie Kate and Emmett will be graduating from school and I'll be shooting these arrows out of my parental quiver in no time whatsoever. I am angered when I see how often parents of children forsake their God-given responsibilities to spend time with and mold their children. I am angered when I see how often society makes children seem more like a burden, rather than the blessing that they are.

Life is simply too short to be a passive parent.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Does God Really Care About Football?


"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." (1 Corinthians 9:25)

Love it or hate it, football is a great American sport. Perhaps there is no other game that brings about more passion from the fan than football. If you are from my neck of the woods, this week is especially important. It is Iron Bowl week. Auburn vs. Alabama. Two in-state rivals lace up for another battle for bragging rights. Husbands cheer against wives. Wives cheer against sons and daughters. And yes, preachers cheer against the rival congregation members--imagine that! All in the name of the "orange and blue" and the "crimson and white." This brings up a very important question. Does God really care about football? Surely this is a great theological question!

The truth is, I actually believe that God does care about football. In fact, I am quite sure he does. However, it might not be like we would imagine. I'm not sure that God pulls for His favorite team. I don't believe he will have his favorite collegiate shirt and hat on come game day. But, it is unmistakable that God has moved through the avenues of sports like football to bring lost people to faith in Jesus Christ. Programs like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Fellowship of Christian Students provide great evangelistic, discipleship opportunities through high schools and colleges throughout America. In addition, many teams have their own chaplains who pray with and counsel the players on a daily basis.

In sports today, there is most definitely a spiritual war brewing. There are many evils associated with sports. For example, steroids, HGH, and other dangerous, illegal performance enhancing drugs are being passed around like candy in order to gain the "competitive advantage." There are many evil associations with football. We have scantily clad women dancing around on the sideline (although not all cheerleaders lack modesty), the amount of alcohol consumption and drunkenness at games is simply ungodly, and there is also an abundance of power struggle, pride, and greed present in sports today. But, for all of the evils that can be associated with football, there are many instances where it is undeniable that God's blessings can be found. Young men like Tim Tebow use their abilities and talents on the football field as a platform to share their faith in Jesus Christ. And behind the scenes, many student-athletes are placed in environments in which they will have multiple opportunities to hear the gospel message shared.

Will God loose sleep if my team doesn't win the Iron Bowl? Not hardly. But, then again, he might just use the game, win or lose, to bring some wondering soul into a right relationship with Himself. So as you cheer for your team this weekend, remember that God is able to use this "game of inches" for His eternal, immeasurable purposes. Then, spend a little time in prayer for the local athletes in your home town. Pray that God will use this sport of football to make a difference in the lives of those that play the game that we love so much.

Monday, November 17, 2008

When God Calls You Out


But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9)

Eve was so convincing. The fruit of the tree looked so delicious. His mouth was watering. Maybe the serpent was right. Maybe he wouldn't die after all--as God had warned. Just one bite. Just this once. He took the fruit from Eve and took the dive. His taste buds experienced the sweet taste of the fruit from the one tree in the garden from which he was commanded not to eat. The sweet experience became bitter quickly. The consequences didn't take long to take hold. He looked at Eve and noticed that something was extremely different. He looked at himself and noticed it too. They were naked. For the first time, they experienced shame. Adam had introduced God's good creation to sin. He had welcomed death to a world created for abundant life. He had welcomed destruction to a world God had created for His glory. The result? Well, you know what he did--he hid. Ashamed. Guilty. Separated. Lonely. For the first time, he was afraid of his maker. For the first time, God's holiness meant punishment for the lawbreaker. Behind the bushes, he heard God in the garden. He felt his presence. He closed his eyes, held his breath, and hoped that God would not find him.

Then God said the one thing that Adam so desperately wanted to avoid. He asked the one question that sent chills up Adam's spine. He asked, "Where are you?" Three words. One question. The conclusion in Adam's heart--busted! Adam knew that God knew where he was. This was no secret. God wasn't playing hide-and-seek with Adam. He was calling him out. He was calling him out for his disobedience. A verdict had been reached. The sentence was about to be given. Adam now realized that his nakedness reached far beyond his outward anatomy--it reached deep down into his soul. God could see his sin. God could see the mess he had made. The punishment wasn't easy. Yet, the first thing that God did was provide clothing for Adam. He sewed it together Himself. He clothed Adam to preserve his dignity. Although he had ripped God's good creation to shreds along with Eve, God still provided for the ones he loved more than anything. God is just. The sin had to be punished. But, God is also merciful. He clothed them.

When we sin, we are also exposed. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners through Adam (Romans 5:12). We sin because we are sinners. We sin because we, like Adam, just can't resist the subtle temptations in life that have such devastating results. The amazing thing is that God still seeks us out. He doesn't leave us hiding naked in the bushes. He loves us far too much to leave us broken, separated, alone, and naked. The gospel message saturates this garden tragedy. We can be restored. We can be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Through placing our faith in Jesus Christ, we can not only be clothed, we can have right standing with God--as though we didn't sin. No more hiding. No more guilt. We can experience what it is like to start with a clean slate. A new birth. A re-birth. Washed as white as snow. The question, then, is, "What will we do when God calls us out?" Adam couldn't hide. Neither can we. But all too often, we try to act like we have it all under control. All too often, we feel like we can do enough good works to fix the problem of our sinfulness. All too often, we try to act like we aren't as broken as we really are. The problem with this thinking is that we can't fix the problem. We can't change the fact that we are sinners. But, we can seek God's forgiveness. We can seek to be restored.

Are you still hiding in the bushes? Are you still clinging to the futile possibility that somehow, by your own goodness, you will be able to escape God's gaze. Are we still trying to hide the mess that we have made of our lives from God? If so, maybe we need to be a little more honest with ourselves. Maybe it is time to finally "fess up" with God. Maybe it is time to let the father clean us up and clothe us.

When God calls you out, he is calling because he cares.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who is Jesus Christ?

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:15, 16)

Peter stood before the Sanhedrin--the Jews' national ruling body and supreme court. There were 71 members of opposition breathing down his neck. Peter remembered. He could hear Jesus' question like it was yesterday, "But what about you...who do you say I am?" In his heart he knew. Peter had witnessed the miracles. He had heard the teachings. He had seen the violent storm reduced to still waters. He managed to tremble out the words, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." His heart knew deep down. Yet, Peter would still struggle to live up to his billing. He would deny Jesus three times. He would follow from a distance. He would shrink back in shame after the rooster confirmed what his heart still lacked--conviction. He had been a coward. And although he had been restored over a meal at the Sea of Tiberias, he could still see the look in Jesus' eyes at his third denial. He could still feel the burning in the bottom of his stomach. He couldn't forget the shame.

Peter clears his throat. He had watched these same Jewish leaders hand over Jesus to be crucified. He knew their intentions. Yet this time, it was different. This time he was no coward. This time he would speak boldly. He looked toward the crowd of rulers with courage and exclaimed, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Not good doing. Not by keeping the law. Not by keeping a set of rules and regulations. Salvation came from no other name. Where he had once withered in shame, Peter now stood boldly. The difference? The difference was Jesus. He had observed his life. His ministry. His death. His resurrection. His ascension. He knew who Jesus was. He was the Son of the living God.

Not just a man. Not just a carpenter.

Who is Jesus? Who do you say that he is? How we answer this question impacts our eternity. This is more than a simple question. This is the question of all questions. It is the question.

Peter's proclamation to the Sanhedrin is the door that slams shut in the path of universalists. God had given us a way of reconciliation. He hadn't given us several ways. He had given us a way. And, Peter was making that point very clear to his astonished audience. No other name. No other Savior. No other god. No other hope for humanity.

It wasn't a message of condemnation. Jesus once spoke with a member of the same Jewish council, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17) It was a message of hope for all of us. God has given us a way. In Jesus, we can have the forgiveness of sins. John 3:16 resounds in each of Peter's words. God loved the world. He gave his son. Whoever believes will not perish. Whoever believes will have everlasting life.

Next time you feel pressed to follow Jesus from a distance. Next time you are tempted to deny the Savior. Next time you choose to believe in silence. Next time you can almost hear the crows of the rooster. Remember Peter. Remember the message of hope. Remember that God loves people. Remember that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

Who do you say that he is?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

When Mercy Saves the Day

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11b)

I wonder what she was thinking. She had been caught in the act. Dignity and self-respect were lost somewhere in her cloudy past. Maybe she had been divorced by her previous husband(s). Women in her time could be divorced if their husband simply found some "unlovely" trait in his wife. Women in this day and time were at the bottom looking up if they had been given a certificate of divorce. No socio-economic status. No security. No hope. Not as many takers the next time around. She had been cast aside as impure. Maybe she was just so lonely that she jumped at the first glimmer of affection. The first glimmer of adoration. The streets had become her home. She lived in the dark places. She lived in despair. And now she had been caught in a horrible, sinful act by men with stoning on their minds.

This time they were going to expose this small town, teacher for what he was. They had set the stage. They had the bait in the trap. Surely he would put his foot in his mouth this time. She offered no excuses as she stood there--probably half-dressed and beaten. Humiliated. But, she stood there looking at the crowd surrounding her. She looked everyone in the eyes. Then she looked down at the ground. The Pharisees had no compassion in their eyes--only self-righteous hatred. She feared the worst. She knew the penalty. She knew the price for her sin--death by stoning.

The Pharisees confronted Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" The haughty Pharisees smiled. They had Jesus right where they wanted him. Finally, this so-called Messiah would be exposed as a fraud. Finally, there would be no more crowds following this articulate teacher. Jesus surprises them. He doesn't give an immediate response. Rather, he kneels down and begins to write on the ground with his finger. Maybe he wrote the word "mercy." Maybe he wrote the word "forgiveness." I like to think that he wrote a message. A message that signaled his knowledge of the sins of the judgmental Pharisees in the crowd. Maybe he knew their dark secrets. Maybe he could expose them. Just maybe. They caught the woman in her sin. Maybe Jesus had caught them in theirs.

Jesus stands up and looks at the silenced mob of Pharisees and says, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he returns to the ground to write in the sand. What he wrote isn't recorded. Nevertheless, it must have been powerful. From oldest to youngest, the Pharisees began dropping their stones one-by-one until only Jesus and the scantily clad woman remained. Instead of hearing the whistling sounds of the stones flying through the air, she heard the stones flop to the ground. There would be no stoning today.

She looks at Jesus. She looks into his eyes. She didn't expect to see what she saw. For the first time in years, she saw compassion. For the first time in years, she didn't feel like the trash of the city. She straightens up and wipes the tears off of her cheeks. Jesus speaks, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She didn't know where they had gone. All she knew is that they were no longer there. She had not been condemned. She answers the second question, "No one, sir." She trembles. The trembling isn't due to fear. She trembles because she no longer fears for her life. The adrenaline is wearing off. She is no longer afraid.

Jesus was the only man in the crowd that could have thrown a stone. He was without sin. If anyone had reason to take out a little frustration on this sinful woman, it would of been him. He would have been just in doing so. But, Jesus wasn't in the stone-throwing business. Jesus was in the business of forgiving sinners. Jesus was in the business of healing the sick. Jesus was in the business of bringing new life. He was in the business of mending broken hearts; and, he had one more heart to mend today. He turns again to the woman and says, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more."

A second chance. Mercy had been shown today. Mercy had saved the day.

That is the last we hear of this woman. We don't know the "rest of the story"--as Paul Harvey would say. But we do know one thing. We know that Jesus was true to his words to Nicodemus. He had said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)

Have you ever felt the threat of stones clinched tight in judgmental hands? Have you ever been so disappointed in yourself that you, too, felt like you were holding one back, ready to take a shot at yourself?

Maybe we all need to remember the mercy of our Savior.

If we are in need of a little compassion. If we are in need of a little mending.

We can revisit the scene that we are familiar with.

Instead of throwing stones, he shows compassion. Instead of shouting accusations, he whispers forgiveness.

His mercy will save the day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Finishing Strong

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

There I was. Twenty-two years old. At a turning point. I was about to graduate in Finance/Business Administration and was looking a career choice right square in the eyes. I have to admit, I was scared to death. It isn't easy trying to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life, is it? No matter where we are. No matter how old we are. It isn't an easy decision. It wasn't for me. At this point in my life, I was not exactly living the way I knew I should. Constant conviction was my steadfast spiritual condition. The last four years of my life had been a constant struggle between seeking out the life that I desired for myself and struggling to surrender my future to the Lord. Here is the pressure point--the two just don't mix. One has to give. Every time. We either reach the point of submission in which we echo Jesus' words, "Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:42b) or we continue to rely on our own abilities and strength and mosey through life the best way we know how.

It had always been easy to reflect back to see the things that God had done in my life--especially as a young teenager. It seemed so much easier to trust the Lord then. Accountability was present. Spiritual growth was encouraged. Godly examples were given and sought after. God was moving. But eight years and a couple of bad decisions later, I was struggling to surrender. My future was clinched tight in my hands and I was struggling to open my fingers and let go. I had allowed the things of this world to take my eyes off of that for which God had called me heavenward in Jesus Christ. For a period of time, what the world had to offer looked pretty good. But, the world can never keep its promises. Never. It can never truly satisfy. There is always the illusion of "more" and "better." There is always an emptiness to its promises.

So, once again, there I was. Lying on the bed having a "staring at the ceiling fan" experience. I couldn't sleep. In fact, I really wasn't having much success eating either. I knew this feeling. I knew this conviction. I had heard this voice before. God was calling. The Spirit was convicting. I had to decide. Even for a church-raised, bible-belt youngster, this decision wasn't easy. I could finish my life selfishly. Or, I could finish life strong. Finish serving instead of constantly being wrapped up in the desire to be served. Finish for eternity instead of finishing for the temporary. Finish for God's glory or finish for my own. Finish weak or finish strong. I thank God that He gave me the strength to finish the rest of my life for Him. I cannot take the credit for the decision. I never could have made the decision by my own strength. Control is such a funny illusion. It isn't easy to call its bluff. I did, though. I gave the control of my future to the Lord. I trusted Him and let go. It was liberating. The struggle was over.

In a way, we decide to do this each day. In a way, it isn't just a single, turning-point decision--it is a daily decision we all must make. Where are you today? Have you had a "ceiling fan" experience lately? If so, choose to trust in the Lord with all of your heart. If so, choose the promises of God rather than the promises of the world. John warns, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:17)

Continue to seek the will of God for your life. It isn't too late. You haven't gone too far already. Don't believe that lie.

We all can finish strong.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ever Felt Like a Crash-Test Dummy?

"Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Exodus 13:22)

Have you ever needed protection? Have you ever felt like a crash-test dummy--just waiting for the next crash experiment? These type of feelings might lead us to ask the question, "Does God really provide protection for us today as he did for the Israelites in the desert?" What about my "cloud by day" and "fire by night?" The truth is that we all need providential protection. We all need that "cloud by day" and "fire by night." Without it, we will end up feeling like we are wondering aimlessly through our lives. Right? God's protection and provision for the Israelites in the desert was not this on-again/off-again type of scenario. It never left its place. The fire was constant at night. The cloud was constant during the day. So is the Lord's presence with us.

In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus leaves a comforting departing word for His followers, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." How about that? Nothing that the disciples would do from that point on would have to be done alone. Nothing that they would do would be accomplished by their strength alone. Nothing that they would do would be without that providential protection from the Lord. Jesus promised that His Spirit would never leave them...never. God will always protect His purposes for us.
What about you today? Are you in need of a little shade? Do you need a little warmth and guidance during your night? Jesus promises that He will never leave you. You are never abandoned in your time of need. You are never alone.

We should never live carelessly--as if we were this untouchable, unstoppable experiment. Yet, we should find comfort in knowing that the Lord is with us always. Every breath we take. Every step we take (starting to sound a little like the Police--it is unintentional). We have a friend that sticks closer than a brother. We have a Savior to cast our burdens upon. We have a Father who will never leave us or forsake us.

So next time you feel like an open target, next time you feel as though you have lost all control and expect another crash-test procedure--take comfort. The Lord is near. Always. Until the end of the age.

We'll just leave the crashing up to the dummies.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Hungry Little Chap and an Acorn


"The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:17)


Early memories are priceless. But, not this one. I was no older than 5 or 6 years old when it took place. I was hungry, very hungry. I was standing underneath a tree that had produced tons of acorns. In fact, I had spent the last several hours in an all out "acorn war" with several other kids that afternoon. Then it happened. I stepped on an acorn, heard the crunch, and looked down with interest at the orange, crusty center. Was this cheese? My young, naive eyes said yes. So did my hungry stomach.

You could probably guess what happened next. Yep, you guessed right. I ate it. It looked just like the cheese that I loved to eat so often. I loved cheese so much that I can remember sneaking to the refrigerator to secretly sneak a slice every once and a while. It was my favorite food. I mean to say that I absolutely loved cheese! I loved the taste. This hidden, miniature cheeseball that I had discovered within the acorn promised to be a good tasting snack. So, I popped it into my mouth and began to chew.

Unlike the cheese that I loved, this was not as good as it visually promised. In fact, it was terrible. It was bitter. It was nasty. What had started with strong promise ended with bitter distaste. What had started as a pleasant discovery ended in a bad experience. Lesson learned. DO NOT EAT THE CHEESE LOOKING SUBSTANCE INSIDE OF THE ACORN. Noted.

Have you ever been promised the world only to end up lacking? Relationships? Material purchases? Advertisements? Advancement? The world works this way. It promises what it cannot fulfill. Why are there so many Christians who fail to experience God's best in their lives? Why is this? What goes wrong? Answer. They ate the imitation acorn-cheese. They took the bait. What promised to be a pleasant experience ended up being downright nasty. Bitter. Disgusting. And sometimes, the guilt is overwhelming. Sometimes, it is just easier to lay out of church the next Sunday. Sometimes, it feels easier to lick our wounds on our own. Enticed. Deceived. Wounded. And ultimately, separated. Sound familiar? I've been there before.

The apostle John says something amazing here. He says, "the world and its desires pass away." The empty promises really are empty. No substance. Futile. It can look real, smell real, feel real, and sound real. But, it is not. Tempting--yes. Promising--yes. Satisfying--no. Trustworthy--no. The Christian must be alert to these deceptions. Nothing that this world promises will endure. It will all "pass away." Then the apostle John says something else amazing. He says, "the man who does the will of God lives forever." Promises and delivers. Imagine that.

Have you fallen for the old acorn trick lately? Has the world served you a bitter experience on a silver platter? Is the guilt setting in? Feeling a little separated? The apostle John has some good news for you. In the same book (1 John) he writes, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Another one of my favorite verses. Life is full of that stinking, imitation cheese. In one way or another, we've all fallen for it. The good news is that no matter how many times we take the bait, we have a loving Father that has a good, pleasing, and perfect will for our lives (Romans 12). If you've fallen lately, don't savor the aftertaste of bitterness. Don't allow yourself to be isolated. Rather, confess the incident to God, let Him clean you up, and seek His will for your life. It (God's will) will endure forever.

Satisfaction guaranteed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Marriage is a Good Thing!


"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD." (Proverbs 18:22)

I have to admit. I am a blessed man. I married way above my head and the only explanation that I have for it is that God has most definitely been good to me. Last week, Amy and I celebrated 5 years of marriage. It has been the most wonderful period of my entire life. Amy has given me 2 wonderful children and is an incredible mother. She is also a great friend.

We live in a culture that discourages marriage. Even more, our culture downright belittles marriage. Watched an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" lately? Watched an episode of "Desperate Housewives" lately? I think we get the point. Downgrading the role of husband/father to a whining, lazy joke for target practice from the other members of the family. Downgrading the union of marriage to an on again/off again, deceptive relationship of lust and selfishness. Do we really believe all this? Really? Statistics say we do. No reference is needed here.

God ordained marriage. Marriage is a good thing. Scripture doesn't teach us to avoid marriage at all costs. Rather, it encourages us to seek a spouse. It teaches of marriage as "favor from the Lord." The 21st Century single Christian has great challenges ahead of him/her, especially in light of cultural persuasion. Most young men/women delay marriage and make 100 million different mistakes before they find out that the "cultural" way of doing things just leads them to feel unfulfilled and empty. Often times this period of self-realization is severely detrimental to these wide-eyed youngsters. I know, I was one of them.

But marriage shouldn't be discouraged. Rather, it should be embraced and sought after. God intended it to be this way--unless, of course, you are given the gift of singleness (if so, singleness is a gift that is only meant to be embraced in complete service to the Lord). Singleness is the exception, not the rule. God intended for a man and a woman to be united into a one-flesh relationship. Outside of this, our culture formatting relationships can only be justified by relativism and self-controlled autonomy--a justifier often only as stable as an individuals emotional outlook. I prefer to have God's blessing. I prefer to find God's favor.

I am glad that I found Amy. I am glad that the Lord has shown His favor. I am glad that I have found such a wonderful, GOOD thing!

He who FINDS a wife finds a good thing.

God Bless.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Plenty to Go Around

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3,4)

One of the greatest temptations we face when confronted with troubles is the tendency to become self-centered trouble-bodies. "Poor me," we often say in our distress. "Why me, God?" Right? The problem with this kind of thinking is found at the time in which we are comforted in our troubles. When God answers our prayer for comfort. When God gives us peace amid the storm.

Often times, we receive our compassion from God and allow ourselves to sink in the comfort. We don't want to leave. We bask in it. We relish it. We hide it under our pillows. But, that is not the reason that God gives us comfort in our troubles. God doesn't comfort us so that we will simply find a remedy from distress. Instead, God has a purpose beyond our comfort when He sends it to us. He sees others who are hurting, too. When we are still straining the last drop of comfort from our situation, God sees other needs. God sees other hurts. God sees opportunities for us to minister to others.

When we pray for comfort, what is our intention? Is it simply to feel relief from the burns of our troubles? Or, is it because we want comfort from our troubles and desire to minister to others who are facing similar troubles? It is important to see that God is the, "God of all comfort." All comfort comes from His hand. We should be willing to share our comfort with others out of thankfulness to God. We should not selfishly keep it to ourselves.

One of the earliest memories that I have of attending church was when I was in the nursery at FBC in Samson, AL. There was the electronic teddy bear named Teddy Rockspin in that nursery. I thought he was the most amazing toy that I had ever seen! He could actually talk to you! Wonderful! Absolutely magnificent! There was a problem though. This one other kid was hogging Teddy. I remember doing everything I could to try to get a few minutes with Teddy. It didn't work. Apparently, the other kid believed that the electronic bear was his personal gift from the nursery. Apparently, it had a sticker with his name on it. Apparently, it was his world and I was just living in it.

In a similar way, although with much higher implications than a small, electronic teddy bear, we can either choose to be like the little kid in the nursery or we can choose to share our comforts. Our troubles are never just about us. Never. Neither is God's comfort. It doesn't have a sticker with our name on it. Rather, there is more fulfillment to receive. What an awesome thing it is to actually be able to comfort others with the same comfort that God has shown us!

Have you recently received any comfort from God? If so, be mindful that there is plenty to go around.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Every Parent a Teacher

"Because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:14b,15)

Nothing brings me more joy as a parent than spending time teaching the Word of God to my daughter. Every night, my wife (Amy) and I review a couple of bible stories, sing some verses that are put to song, take prayer requests, pray, and close by reciting Psalm 4:8 with our daughter (Ellie Kate). We've been following this format for the past year or so. Along the way, we have become much more efficient. When this process began, it took nearly 30 minutes or so to complete all of these events. Now it only takes 15 minutes or so. A few months ago, after we had finished reciting Psalm 4:8, Ellie Kate called Amy back into the room just to tell her, "Mama, Jesus love me!" The flood gates opened up. Amy came into the living room and told me what she had said. I couldn't have been more touched! I couldn't have been prouder!

The one thing about being a daddy that continues to grip my soul is the burden I have in my heart to see my children come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. That my children will follow Him. That my children will have abundant life in both the here and the hereafter. And although I know that I cannot make that personal decision for them, I can prepare them. I can teach them the Word of God. I can, as the Scripture teaches, make them "wise for salvation." I cannot save them; I CAN prepare them! What an awesome privilege! What an awesome responsibility!

Encouragingly, one of Barna's recent polls discovers that, "Nine out of ten parents of children under age 13 (85%) believe they have the primary responsibility for teaching their children about religious beliefs and spiritual matters, while 11% said their church is primarily responsible. (2003) " (link: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=44 ) It is a delight to know that parents understand that the primary teaching role does not belong to the church. Rather, they understand that they have the awesome responsibility to prepare their children spiritually.

Timothy was a disciple of the apostle Paul. Since Paul's early days in Lystra (Acts 14:6-23), Timothy had been a faithful pupil, friend, and co-laborer in the work of the Gospel. In addition, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy. In his greeting to Timothy in 1 Timothy, Paul writes, "To Timothy my true son in the faith." Timothy had been discipled by not just an apostle; he had been discipled by a father figure. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul writes to Timothy, "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life...continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it."

One of the most important ways that parents teach their children is by their example. Our way of life. Our faith. Our perseverance. Our struggles. Our dependency upon God. This is Faith in Practice 101. If we fail in this regard, we do a tremendous disservice to our children. Then Paul turns to lesson number two, "and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures." Evidently, Timothy had received a godly upbringing from his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. Paul had reminded him of the fact that he had known the Scriptures since infancy. He had been "made wise for salvation" by his family. He was taught the Scriptures. Saturated. Trained. Reminded. Corrected. Rebuked. Encouraged. Taught.

As we continue to raise our children in hopes that they will come to that saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, let us not be passive, spiritual babysitters. Rather, let us take the opportunities to set the example of "faith in practice" and to make our children "wise for salvation" through the intentional teaching of the Word of God. May we start this with urgency and courage when our children are but infants. May we continue teaching as they grow.

May God find us faithful in realizing that every parent is a teacher.

God bless.



Monday, September 15, 2008

When the World Caves In


"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." (Psalm 46:1,2)

Looking out from the coffee shop window (where I am currently sipping on a nice cup of coffee), all I see are storm clouds. Overcast. Dark. Gloomy. Threats of storm clouds begin the new week. In fact, I cannot see a single ray of sunshine this early, Monday afternoon. The coffee makes today much better. I used to not like coffee at all. Bitter. Hot. Dark. Not your typical feel good drink is it? Yet, today (as it has many times before) it seems to fit in just right. This good cup of coffee reminds me of how we often find a source of comfort during the ho-hum days. We often turn to things that we can "bank on" when things aren't quite going well. You know--when there is not a single ray of sunshine piercing through. When all you see are the threats of the storm clouds. That is when you turn to something/someone you can "bank on." A friend. A family member. A spouse. A minister. A warm cup of coffee (had to throw that in again).

Psalm 46 contains another amazing truth about God. Are you ready? Okay, here it comes--God is present and ready to be our safe haven in the storms of life. What about those days where there is much more going on than the threat of rain? What about those days where not only does the light not pierce through the clouds, but it is so dark that you cannot see your own hand in front of your face? A torrential downpour. Nowhere to turn. Scared to turn to anyone even if you could. Life gets this way at times, like it or not.

Have you been in any storms lately? How about today? How about now? Is the coffee just not cutting it today? Then look up. Then trust in God. Then pour your heart out to Him. God is your refuge. God is your strength. God is ever-present. You're not alone. He'll give you the strength you need for today. And though the coffee spills. And though the friends, family, and trusted ones give way. He is there. Ever-present. Ever-loving. Ever-protecting. Tried. True.

When the world caves in, He does not.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Point of Straining Ahead

"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal ." (Philippians 3:13b-14a)

Surely we should all be "super-Christians" by now. Right? Attend church faithfully? Check. Pray regularly and fervently? Check. Tithing/Giving with a glad heart? Check. Bible reading? Check. Surely we can check "Yes" all the way down the "super-Christian" to-do list by now. Right?

Let us be realistic for a minute, shall we?

Chances are most of us feel as though we have hit some kind of invisible, spiritual ceiling in our Christian walk from time to time. If we are honest, I don't think we would have any problems admitting that we are not perfect Christians. Yet, there is often strife involved in this issue. The good news is that most of us desire to live faithful Christian lives, don't we? The problem is that, despite our best efforts, we grow weary because we so often realize our shortcomings somewhere along the way. Somewhere, we miss a check on our to-do list. Then, it happens. The thought hits us, "Surely we should be further down the Christian maturity road by now?"

Don't get me wrong, I am all about the spiritual disciplines. I believe that we should continually strive to exhibit discipline and self-control in our every day lives. This brings glory to God and better prepares us to lead godly lives before those around us. The righteous man in Psalm 1 was blessed in everything because "his delight is in the Law of the Lord" and "on it he meditates day and night." He exhibited discipline.

I've mentioned both scenarios. I've mentioned that we all want to better exhibit continual Christian growth. But, I've also mentioned that somewhere along the way we fall short of the to-do list expectations. This leads us to the place that I often find myself--stuck somewhere between the to-do list failures and a disciplined, surging Christian walk. I like to call this "the point of straining ahead." This is a point of absolute self-abandonment and submersion in God's grace. It is the point where I find that I cannot and will never be sufficient enough to "grow myself" into Christian maturity by keeping some to-do list. It is complete reliance on the sufficiency of Christ and the determination to continue, by the power of God, seeking to be faithful in those disciplines which prepare me for "that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3:12b)

Has your to-do list looked awfully shabby lately? Is the frustration setting in? Good. Now you can take a little dive into "the point of straining ahead." Where we realize that God is the only sufficiency for Christian growth. Where we are enabled, by the Spirit of God, to do "immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine." (Ephesians 3:20)

With the sufficiency of Christ and the determination to strain ahead, we are able to "live up to what we have already attained" (Philippians 3:16) and continue forward in Christian growth.

So go ahead. Take a little dive.

Monday, September 1, 2008

In Need of Fine-tuning?

"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." Psalm 19:7a

Have you ever felt out of tune? Out of touch. Stressed out. Sleepless. Overwhelmed. Maybe a compilation of strains and pains? According to the Better Sleep Council, 65% of Americans are being deprived of sleep due to unhealthy stress levels.http://www.bettersleep.org/OnBetterSleep/stress_sleep.asp

But, that is life. Isn't it? All work and no rest has led to a culture of increasingly "stressed out" individuals who simply feel "out of tune." Out of shape. Out of touch. And, unfortunately, out of hope for a remedy.

In the Psalter, David takes the time to acknowledge an amazing aspect of God's law. He addresses the fact that the law of the Lord is perfect. Then he says something of great significance. He says something of supernatural meaning. He says "the law of the Lord...revives the soul." The word he uses for soul here simply alludes to one's mind or body.

If you've been experiencing the burn of the midnight oil. If you've been sleepless and stressed out. If you've been playing notes that have been out of tune for sometime, you can take heart in David's psalm to the Lord. For you see, David knew a great deal about sleepless nights. David knew a great deal about stress and anxiety. Yet, instead of continuing to toss and turn night after night, He turned to the Word of God for satisfaction and restoration. He turned to God's Word for a fine-tuning that only the Lord could give.

The law of the Lord does indeed revive the soul. It can restore our vitality for our bodies and our minds. Pretty amazing thought, isn't it? But, that is the meaning here. In our turmoil and distress, we can have peace. We can turn to the Word for our restoration. Hudson Taylor rightly encourages, "Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him."

Are you tired? Stressed. Sleepless. Exhausted. Are you in need of fine-tuning?

If so, then turn to the law of the Lord. It, as David puts it, revives the soul.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Being Still Before God

Personal computers, television, computerized games, text messaging, on-demand tv, and tivo are evidences of just how fast and furious our culture has become. When we are not working, we are most likely consumed with the idea of our next technological adventure. From MySpace to Facebook, we have so much to consume our "off-time" with that we often forget what it is like to enjoy some old fashioned, reflective "quiet time." The thought of being still is almost a painful thought for many of us. Often, the only time we really take to be quiet and reflect is when we are going through some sort of trial in which we feel like God is our only way out. So, we take a moment to still our minds and our computers in order to acknowledge that God might actually be watching. He might actually be listening. Even more, He might actually care about our lives after all.

Returning to the place in which we actually look forward to having a time of stillness, reflection might just be what the doctor ordered. Better yet, discovering that there is a God who desires for us to speak with Him and to know Him would change our lives forever. God does indeed desire to be known by us. The question is--do we desire to know him at all? Andrew Murray once said, "Each time, before you intercede be quiet first, and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His redeemed people. Think of your place and priviledge in Christ, and expect great things!" Similarly, the Psalmist writes, "Be still and know that I am God."

Have you reached the point of technological addiction? You know, the point that you find yourself surfing on the internet for endless hours not really knowing what you are looking for. The point in which you are re-looking at former posts, pictures, and/or blogs just to pass the time. If so, you're in good company. There are about 100 million of us in the United States alone that are desperate for our next "technological hit."

Wouldn't it be nice to rediscover a quiet time? Wouldn't it be nice to be still? Better yet, wouldn't it be great to discover that there is a loving God that desires to know us--and to be known by us?

A nice change of pace for an on-demand society.