“Where Freedom and Grace Collide”

I am an American. I live in a country fondly referred to as, “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” I am a Christian, trusting in God for my eternity and my daily provision. Despite all of the internal struggle within today’s government, despite all of the latest fears of an Ebola pandemic, despite all of the latest news about religious conflict with popular pastors resigning their posts, despite the ridiculous demands from the Mayor of Houston trying to subpoena church sermons because pastors disagree with her position on gender-neutral bathrooms, I love it here.

I can vote and weigh in on who leads our government. I can be a part of a group of like-minded believers in God who strive to make the world a better place. I can also take my place in society and make a positive difference in the lives of those around me because it is simply the right thing to do. We may not always have the freedoms to do all of these things but today, I, You, We, all ought to leave this world just a little better than we found it. I choose to do that by leaning on the following words:

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (‭1 Peter‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ESV)

These are not the typical marching orders of soldiers, or government leaders, or even a sports team. Rather, this is a command for all of us to do something unusual. This is a charge to stand up, think clearly, be ready for anything…and be totally dependent on the grace of the God of the Universe.

It’s at the crossroads of independence and complete dependence where we can find hope for today and a promise of a better tomorrow. Today is yours; what are you going to do with it?

“Content? or Contempt?”

When I was growing up, long before there was Law and Order (dun dun), there was Perry Mason (dating myself a bit). Raymond Burr played Perry Mason who was a criminal defense lawyer and I thought he was the coolest. I wanted to be like him. He always seemed one step ahead of people, he could figure out things that others couldn’t. Occasionally you would hear the judge say to someone, “I hold you in contempt of court!” I learned then that this meant someone was about to get in trouble because they treated the courtroom or the judge with disdain or dishonor.

This term was new to me as a kid, but it dates back to at least the Old Testament. The Bible wasn’t written in English obviously, but the term which translates into “contempt” is ancient. When the Priest Eli’s sons misused their privileges, they were charged with dishonoring the offerings that others had given to God:

“Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.” (‭1 Samuel‬ ‭2‬:‭17‬ ESV)

As I read these verses this morning I was challenged to evaluate my own views of what is given to God (both from myself and from others). First hand, as a believer in Christ I am charged with giving back to the Lord from what He has given me, and to do so cheerfully. If I don’t lovingly give to the Lord, at least what he commands (10% financially), I live in contempt of His authority which is a dangerous place to be.

Second, having spent 13 years as a vocational pastor, I know what it is like to be totally dependent on what others give to the church as an offering. When others treat this honor and command from God with contempt, they either give begrudginly, they give minimally, or they don’t give at all. This directly affects those in vocational ministry and their ability to do ministry as well as provide for their families.

Third, when any church leadership treats the gifts of their members with contempt they are they are no better than the sons of Eli. I have seen leaders of the church treat the tithes of the people as an unnecessary spending account. I have also seen other leaders refuse to publish a budget for the people to see where and how their gifts are being used. These could both be labeled contemptuous.

Regardless of our individual roles in the church body, we will never experience the true blessings and favor from our God until we treat the gifts to the Lord with reverence and responsibility. I believe the key to acquiring the ability to do so is found when we trade in our “contempt” and replace it with being “content.” When we are content with God’s love, grace, redemption, blessings, provision, justice, soverignty, and His will, then and only then will we find the true blessings of being children of the King. So how are we doing? Are we in contempt of God’s provision by withholding or abusing what is His? If the jury was filing in; how would they find you? Content? Or in contempt? (dun dun)

“The Blessing of Desperation”

Have you ever been so desperate for something that you felt like your life was would be worthless unless you got what you longed for? Have you ever felt as if God was ignoring you in your desperation? You aren’t alone. At some point in everyone’s life we all find ourselves at a point where life can seem hopeless unless God grant’s us relief and fulfills our deepest cry…and it doesn’t seem to happen. In this desperate hour, we just might be on the verge of the greatest blessing God could grant us. Sometimes The Lord needs us to see life from the right perspective before He will bless us beyond measure.

In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah walked this road to the point where her spirit went beyond anguish…and then it happened. Hannah was unable to have children and she spent days, months, and years crying out to God for a child; a God who seemed absent from His concern over her requests. In God’s sovereignty, He chose the perfect time to fulfill her longing…but He brought her to a point of necessary desperation first. For some reason, God needed Hannah to run the race of consistent prayer, hope, and belief in God’s love for her and arrive at a place where she was exhausted from the emotional journey. God wanted to show her what it was like to have desperate faith. In her most vulnerable hour, she did something crazy…she went to church and continued to pray; she never gave up.

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (‭1 Samuel‬ ‭1‬:‭10-11‬ ESV)

God communicated through Eli, the priest, and she was assured that God heard her cries and she would finally receive what she had longed for. Hannah had reached a point where she made a vow to The Lord that if He granted her request, then she would give it right back to Him.

Maybe, just maybe, God wants to use your greatest longing to fulfill His eternal purpose. God used Hannah’s child, Samuel, to ultimately appoint David to be the King over His people; a boy who killed a giant with a slingshot; a man who wrote many of the Psalms we have today; a man after God’s own heart, whom through his lineage God would ultimately redeem the world through the birth, death,and resurrection of Christ.

So what do we do in our most desperate hours? We don’t ever give up hope. Let God use your desperation to give you the perfect perspective on what He has planned and maybe, just maybe, God will use your desperation to change the world. Keep praying…

“Life Can Be a Real Bear”

In everyone’s experience, there are times when life just seems to overwhelm us. Unfortunately, this will be the case until Jesus comes again and we are transformed into His perfect likeness; into an eternal, immortal, sinless state…I can’t wait. In the mean time, life will be hard for everyone at times. A seemingly unrelated fact about life in today’s world is that most people tend to want to “be somebody.” What I mean by this, is that we all want to be somebody important; someone famous; or at least someone who is validated by our contribution to this world instead of just how many famous people we may know. Paul tied these two ideas together when he wrote:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” (‭Galatians‬ ‭6‬:‭2-5‬ ESV)

The key to true value on this ball of dirt we call earth is directly linked to our involvement with other people. Life is meant to be a real bear, but in a different sense than that statement typically communicates. We were meant to bear one another’s burdens. We were meant to walk through life with others and help hold them up (and for others to do the same for us when we need it). This is the kind of “work” that we can test, which produces true self-worth. When we bear the burden’s of others, we produce a true and genuine value in our own lives because we are emulating the actions of Christ. As we bear one another’s burdens, God will then grant us the ability to bear our own load.

Again, life can be a real bear, but it takes real effort to get it there. Does someone need your help in shouldering a burden today? You just might find a very true sense of purpose by doing something about that. #trueworth #likeJesus

“Blinded By The Light”

Early morning last week I was driving to the dentist when I turned my car directly into the sun without being prepared. No sunglasses, the windshield still streaked with evening dew, my worn out wiper blades only causing more harm than good, and the defroster?…useless. I was literally driving blind and never saw it…the huge landscape rock, that is, that I ran over which crushed the rocker panel of my car as I drifted off the street. Awesome, right? But that’s what happens when you are simply unprepared for crazy, unexpected things like…the sun coming up…and it being bright. Yes, I feel like a moron for not being ready for the light.

In 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5‬, Paul wrote: “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5‬:‭1-10‬ ESV)

The signs of the times Paul described above seem strikingly familiar to the headlines of any given day today. It’s almost funny how Christians are shocked at what is transpiring around the world. Paul reminds believers that we are, “fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Unfortunately, many of us live like we just rolled out of bed and climbed into a car totally unprepared for the light that is coming.

Don’t be surprised. Don’t fear the signs of the times. Don’t dread what you see on the news. Embrace the day knowing the Father never sleeps, He never slumbers, and it’s nearly time for His return. I pray today that you are able to live in the Light as He is in the Light. When Jesus finally steps out into the Eastern skies I look forward, with great anticipation, to being blinded by His light. Meanwhile, I think I’ll get some new wiper blades.

“Following Orders” – Be Encouraged!

With all of the craziness happening in the world around us, you can’t help but wonder what news today may bring. Will there be another case of ebola? Will we find a cure for cancer? Will Isis kill more victims? Will terrorism be stopped in the middle-east? Will our country ever climb out of the financial ruin we’re in? Will our government begin to pay down the national debt? Okay, I know, I’m getting a bit dreamy with the national debt thing but I’m at least praying cancer will be cured soon!

Regardless of what the day holds, we can look into the near future and know The Lord is coming back soon and that brings me endless hope today. I awoke today to read these words this morning:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4‬:‭16-18‬ ESV)

Have you ever been to a college football game? I’ve experienced several football games at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa watching Alabama play football. Before the game begins a video is played on the big-screens showing historic and recent football victories and it is narrated by the late Bear Bryant himself. By the end of the video, the crowd is electric in anticipation for the contest to begin. Then, out of each corner of the stadium, drum majors appear high-stepping towards the center of the field. The band meets them there as it gets louder and louder and the stadium stays that way for over three more hours!

As exciting as an Alabama football game is, I can imagine the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God blasting out its victory tune will be a bit more electric…just a bit.

Paul’s final words here end in promise and a charge: “…so we will always be with The Lord,” is the greatest headline I’ve ever read; and, “Therefore encourage one another with these words,” is why I wrote these words this morning.

I hope that you are encouraged and blessed. No matter what news today may bring, stand firm in the anticipation of an eternity with Jesus…which will be even more exciting than college football!

The Body-count of Sexual Immorality

This is not an easy subject to write about and I didn’t plan to address this in a post this morning but this is where God led me…so here it goes (this post may be longer than most).

If you are human, you have have experienced immoral lust at one time or another. Many people can control this fairly well and others not so much. However, our culture today is infused at all levels with opportunities to give way to sexual immorality. From advertising, to television shows, to social media, we are constantly given effortless opportunities to give into lust which is a freeway to sexual immorality. Paul wrote:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4‬:‭3-8‬ ESV)

This passage speaks for itself, but there are a couple of things that I find intriguing here. Paul compared those who lust passionately to people who do not know God. That alone should send a shockwave through every believer. He then says that when we give in to lust and act like non-believers we immediately transgress and wrong our brother. We sin against each other when we commit sexual immorality! Lust really messes up God’s holy design (sin has a way of doing that). Think about it, when a person is sexually attracted to another person, at the core of the attraction is a longing in some measure to gratify themselves and simply “use” someone else’s body to do it; we wrong our brother (or sister) in this matter. We defile another human being…made in the image of God.

Another thought: by saying that we wrong our “brother” by sinning sexually, Paul is implying that the person or persons who are wounded are other believers. So even if the person who is the subject of the immorality is not a believer (they are still wounded), other believers are hurt when we sin sexually. Christian families are split, churches are fractured, lives are marred, spirits are crushed. And why wouldn’t they be? Paul said whoever disregards God’s command not to sin sexually, disregards God himself; the same God who also gives us the Holy Spirit inside us! We disregard the God of all creation who literally lives inside of us, fused together with our own spirits. By his presence inside us, we have the power not to commit sexual immorality…and in this truth we have hope for a life with purpose.

Lastly, Paul gives a charge to us about what to do instead of sining sexually. He said, “…to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4‬:‭11-12‬ ESV)

If we stay busy working, if we stay busy contributing to the betterment of this world instead of seeking after our own physical gratification, we will walk properly before outsiders. That is the key! Get busy living the Gospel and we will not have time to gratify un-Godly passions. And by doing this, we will “be dependent on no one.” I am up for a little Holy dependence on God and spiritual independence from the world…how about you?

One final caveat: If you have failed either slightly or miserably at this, take hope…today is a new day (or at least in can be). God will not change your past, but He can author your future if you let Him. What’s it going to be?

“Second-Hand Joy”

As we all are very aware, life is full of ups and downs, good-times and bad. As a believer in Christ I am charged to live in the joy of my salvation; we all are. But we both know that life can seem to overwhelm us at times and steal that joy.

I noticed something this morning in the Scriptures that I am not sure I’ve ever acknowledged before. I noticed how often Paul, and other first-century disciples of Christ, express joy in the salvation of others amidst their own personal life struggles.

“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” (‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭3‬:‭6-8‬ ESV)

The reason for that joy is most often because the person feeling the joy had something to do with the salvation experience of the other party. This is why we are charged with sharing the Gospel both in word and in deed as a regular part of our lives. I call this second-hand joy.

It is exciting when someone else thrives in their experience and relationship with God…especially when He chose you to be involved in the process of them discovering it or maturing in it. This is pure, selfless, others-centered joy. It flies in the face of the self-promoting patterns of worldly society today. It flies in the face of pride and being me-centered. It flies in the face of the devil himself.

I pray today that you and I can both catch even a glimpse of what it means to celebrate the holiness of others this week as we are used in the process of them finding it. #gospelliving #shareJesus #blessothers

“He Chose You”

Today has been a day of confident, worshipful silence. As I have been busy with the tasks at hand I have been listening Passion worship songs in the background; me, my work, and a musical reminder of the love I have for God. That reminder has been a welcome encouragement today.

I also received a few unexpected phone calls this week from friends far away who simply expressed to me that I have worth in their lives beyond what I may see in the moment; that was an unexpected and much-needed blessing. Then today, I read in God’s Word that He feels the same about me…and about you. Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians of this truth:

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” ‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-5‬ ESV

When you begin to get overwhelmed by circumstance, stop and remember this truth: God chose you. If you are a true believer in Christ, the moment you accepted His calling, it came with the power of the Holy Spirit and conviction in your heart. Today, take a moment to rest in that truth: He chose you, you have worth, you are a child of the King! Don’t be discouraged by the events of your day…be encouraged in the truth from God who created all things, and values you most of all; His child, in His image.

Thank you Lord for choosing me…I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned…all I am is Yours!

“Don’t Ever Give Up…Never”

Life is hard…period. The God of the universe created each of us for a purpose. Some will never know Him or who they could have become as a child of the King. This is the greatest tragedy creation will ever know. But if you know the Savior, if you know your Creator as Father, then you and I have both been set apart from those without hope. We know Him; we are His children; we have eternal purpose.

Sometimes life will get so difficult that we begin to wonder for a moment if God really does still care about us. We wonder if He is so busy with eternal matters that He has temporarily forgotten us in the midst our daily trials. Psalm 13 contains a brief 6 verses from someone who understands your pain. Sometimes, I feel as if I am reading my own words as I process each phrase…

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm‬ ‭13‬:‭1-6‬ ESV

When the world around you begins to rejoice because you are shaken, DO NOT forget to beg God to light up your eyes with the TRUTH. Remember that you do not trust in the world or those who have wronged you who celebrate your being shaken. You trust in the steadfast love of the Eternal, Almighty, Loving, Grace-authoring, Powerful, Justice-bearing, Creator of all things…including you! Sing to the Lord! The pain will pass. You were created in the image of the One who overcomes all adversity! Eternity with The Father awaits us…and it begins TODAY! #hope