Disrespecting God

If you have kept up over the last few posts, you’ll know that we can’t disregard G_d; hoping that once we come to the end of the line here on earth a celestial dirt nap will be the only thing that awaits us. There is a G_d. There is an afterlife. There is a judgment. Nature (by her very nature!) proclaims that there must be a Creator with each panoramic sunrise and in the beauty of the changing seasons. We see the Creator at work during the moment of birth in our children. We recognize Him in the power of a storm or the peaceful serenity of a warm spring day. Disregarding Him is a fool’s gamble at best - hedging our bets against indeterminate odds while knowing all along we can’t afford the cost of doing so.

We are also unable to distract G_d by pointing to the examples and/or failures of others as a method of improving our perceived worth in His eyes or our own. We will be judged on an individual basis in the end, and the chalk-line of comparison will not be with our neighbor, but by the example of holiness set forth by His Son.

Maybe we can make our own selves righteous? Is there a way that we can meet G_d on His own terms? If we do enough good deeds and live our lives just right, dotting the proverbial I’s and crossing the T’s; maybe by doing so we’ll be alright? We can keep the Ten Commandments and go to church religiously. We can teach Sunday School and get an attendance award. We can give charitably to the church and to the Salvation Army at Christmas. Heck, let’s go all out and be baptized while we are at it! That should do it.

It amazes me how many people believe this to be possible. Ask people are they saved, have they been born again, and most of the time they bring up baptism or church affiliation without answering the question. This is especially true here in the South, where church attendance is still synonymous with being a ‘good person’. We hold onto our baptismal certificates and church letters much the same way that the Jews of Paul’s day held onto their circumcision. “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.”

For a Jewish boy, his circumcision was proof that he was one of G_d’s chosen people. It was ceremonial and it was important. After a while, it reached a point where the ritual of circumcision over-rode everything else in spiritual matters. You could live life how you pleased, but by merely being circumcised you had all of the eternal bases covered. It sounds far-fetched, but again, there is very little difference in the way we live our spiritual lives today; clinging to our own rituals and church dogmas. When we live our lives in that manner, in a very real sense we are disrespecting G_d, substituting an ordinance or ceremony for what He would have us do in our hearts.

How meaningful is the wedding ring worn by a man that continuously commits adultery against his wife? Can a mere symbol make up for a lack of sincerity in one’s own heart? The idea of such a thing is ludicrous, but we can easily fall victim to that thought process.

We cannot work our way to Heaven. There is no teaching that instructs us from G_d’s Word that we must meet Him halfway by performing certain acts on schedule or by performing a certain church ordinance. Paul writes to Titus: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done...” Try as we might, we will never be good enough. We will always miss the mark, no matter how careful we are or how well we live our lives.

So far in Romans we have learned that we cannot disregard G_d. We’ve learned that we cannot distract G_d, either. Now Paul tells us that we can’t disrespect G_d by substituting our own works, doctrines, or creeds in an effort to make ourselves right before Him. By chapter 3 he’s laid it all out on the line for us – “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of G_d;” We have gone astray. We have failed. Maybe it wasn’t intentional on our part, and it could be that we’ve always had the best of intentions in this area. But in the end, Paul reminds us that we have ‘come short’ of G_d’s glory. All of us.

But there is a way to be right with G_d. It is not a Baptist way, a Catholic way, or any religious way in general. We simply must be born again.

Distracting God

I have a friend, and I say that with all sincerity behind my statement, that continually denies my invitation when I ask him to come and attend church with me. Is he against all churches and religion in general? I don’t think so. Possibly. He explains to me that he isn’t against the spiritual side of life; it’s only my church he holds a grudge toward.

You see, back twenty or so years ago he had a bad experience in our church. Someone said or did something that went against the grain and hurt his feelings in the process. Never mind that the person he mentions died many years ago, and the church membership as a whole is almost totally different today from what it was back then. I did not attend the church at that time myself, so I haven’t a clue as to what he is talking about when he brings up the incident.

There are others that feel that way, not only in my church community but in other churches as well. I’ll bet you’ve met a few on your own somewhere down the line. “I won’t go to that church because ‘ol so-in-so is a deacon and I saw him down at the casino over-tipping a scantily-clad cocktail waitress.” Or “Miss (fill in the blank) is a Sunday School teacher and Lord knows how she has lived her life in sin and shame.” The people that attend church are not always pure. Sometimes they may set a bad example for the rest of us. Sometimes they need to get right with G_d in their own right. Occasionally my friend may even have a valid point. But there are other churches he could attend, no?

In Romans chapter 2, Paul turns from the sins of the Gentiles and the way they attempt to ignore G_d, and points his fingers at a completely different class of sinners. These are the ones that attempt to distract G_d by pointing out the faults in others. In so doing they attempt to validate their sin before G_d, but they cannot escape the fact that we are all bound by sin. We’re all in this together.

“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of G_d is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of G_d?”

As a Christian, I find myself guilty of committing the same acts from time to time. Nothing makes me feel better than to see someone else that is worse than me – in my own eyes. I’ll confess I used to watch Jerry Springer. I could sit in my chair for hours and pass judgment on all of his guests, sentencing them to hell for their wicked lifestyles. If G_d loves them, then He must simply swoon when He looks upon me, because I am a very good person! I go to church regularly and have done so for all of my life. I lead the singing and I teach Sunday School. I fix the lights and assorted electrical problems when called upon. Surely G_d is blessed to have me in His Kingdom!

There is a problem with that method of thinking. In my heart I know I am not a perfect specimen of all that a Christian should be. I’m destined to sin, even in my post-salvation life. Too often I've allowed pride to enter my heart. I do not love others as I should. I hold grudges. I say the wrong things when I’m angry. If it was not for G_d’s Amazing Grace, who knows where I would be today?

Probably on the Springer show.

We cannot simply disregard G_d, and by ignoring Him expect to find a way to heaven elsewhere. But we also cannot distract G_d by pointing out the failures and misgivings of others, all the while thinking that in so doing G_d will grant us a free pass from His coming judgment. In the next verse Paul reminds us that it is the ‘goodness’ of G_d that leads us to Salvation. I’ve noticed that he didn’t say it was the ‘goodness of Shannon’ that provided my Salvation.

When I compare my life and the things I have done to the example set for me by His Son, I pale in comparison. That alone should be enough to keep me from pointing my finger of blame at someone else.

Disregarding God

You just never know what a politician will say in these modern, liberated times. I guess that’s always been the case, but the idiocy of the comments today are almost overwhelming. I read a quote attributed to Nancy Pelosi a while back and it appalled me. But since it was not documented I went on-line and searched the quote along with the Speaker of the House as a keyword. I found that more of the search results pointed to her statement as being truthfully spoken than otherwise. More shameful still, her supporters apparently choose not to deny the quote and instead bask in the glow of it.

The statement attributed to Ms. Pelosi went something like this, "Americans do not need G_d any more. They have the Democratic Party." A quote of that manner taken by itself is especially troublesome. Having it emanate from the Speaker of the House, who is only two missed heartbeats away from the Executive Office of the United States, is not only problematic but also dangerous.

It is a sign of the times. Sigh. Or is it really that simple?

Paul begins his letter to the Romans by setting forth a discourse on the sins of the Gentiles. In Romans chapter 1, he writes, “For the wrath of G_d is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of G_d is manifest in them; for G_d hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” Evidently the Romans of Paul’s day felt and were acting a little bit like Ms. Pelosi appears to be doing today.

As a nation and as a people, the United States is getting very good at holding the truth in unrighteousness. We are stuck in a rut of doing what we know to be wrong, while denying what we know to be right. Creation is no longer enough to reveal to us the truth that there is a G_d in Heaven. Instead, we have arrived at our own explanations. We have been taught by enlightened men that nature is only the result of cause and effect, produced through the chance of evolution in a random, haphazard manner. We believe this without any proof-positive on the proposed theory, and through our acceptance we deny the alternative. Paul’s words echo down through the ages, reminding us that despite our modern and enlightened logic, we are still left without an excuse.

G_d is in control. He is the Author and Master-Designer of the world we live in. There is no truth to be found in evolution and there will never be evidence discovered as proof for its theories. Meanwhile, science and technology only satisfy us momentarily, and then leave us with an aching void in our hearts that can never be filled by mere philosophical rhetoric or empty logic.

The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse into the downward spiral of mankind when we ignore the G_d of Creation and instead follow our own devices. We are not getting better as a species. We will never reach a promised utopia by the sum of our own deductive reasoning. We cannot disregard G_d and make our own path to salvation by utilizing another means; not by government, not by false religion, and specifically not by a political party.

Sorry, Nancy. We can argue health-care reform and reactions to terrorism and you may have one or two (small) points in those areas. But you are wrong on all counts when it comes to G_d. America and Americans need G_d more today than at any other time in our history.

Paul's Choice

Youth Sunday School Lesson - 11/22/09

We continue on this week with our study of how we should go about making choices in our lives. This will be our last lesson on this topic, because next week is Youth Sunday and thus we will have no group class. You guys will be performing the teaching of the other classes and I hope you will volunteer to do so. Of course, as with all choices, you should take on challenges as the Holy Spirit leads you. With that being said, I’ll also take this opportunity to say that I know that you will each do a good job. You always do.

In the book this week, we examine the choice Paul made at his trial before King Agrippa in Jerusalem. It is never easy and may in fact be the hardest thing to do when we stand before others knowing that chances are we are not going to convince them of what we believe. Paul found himself in this predicament, but he made his choice to do his best and give his testimony anyway. In verse 2 he states, “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews.” He was happy to give his testimony before the king, and there is a unique background to this story.

King Agrippa’s great-grandfather was the Herod in the Bible that killed all the children when Jesus was born in an attempt to stop the prophecies that were being fulfilled in Bethlehem. His grandfather beheaded John the Baptist. Agrippa’s father was responsible for killing the Apostle James. Knowing Herod’s blood-line, Paul could have easily stayed quiet or denied the charges that had been brought against him.

Instead, Paul begins his defense by acknowledging that Agrippa is an expert in all of the Jewish customs and questions. Paul follows this up by giving his own credentials as a Jew. He reminds Agrippa that he, Paul, at one time was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians both in Jerusalem and in other cities. Paul was present and held the coats of others when Stephen was stoned by the Jewish leaders. With the groundwork for his defense now laid out to Agrippa, Paul then launches into the details of his own conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus. We’ll go over those verses in detail on Sunday, but there is something recorded there that sort of jumps out at me this morning.

Jesus told Paul on the road to Damascus that he had called him “to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;” It was a dual-calling, if you caught that. Paul was called first to be a minister. A minister is a servant, and Jesus wanted him to be a servant to the things he had seen as well as the things Jesus would reveal to him later. Our commission as Christians is not to make the message or our testimony serve our own purpose in life; we are called instead to serve the message. I think that’s important because we can easily lose our focus in this area. Secondly, Jesus called Paul to be a witness to the same things he was to be a minister to. We are commissioned as Christians not to create an experience or create the message, but to witness it and experience it for ourselves. This is a tough message to understand and you need to ponder upon it before we meet for class. I believe that churches in general have lost sight of these two callings lately, and we need to return to them before we forget what we stand for.

Paul completes his testimony and Festus proclaims him as mad, which means Festus thought he was crazy. Agrippa responds that Paul had almost convinced him to become a Christian. King Agrippa was clearly under conviction – so what stopped him from accepting Jesus at that moment? I can think of three things that prevented him from doing so.

The first thing I notice is his companion Bernice. She was sitting with him and he was fond of her. But she was sinful and immoral. Agrippa probably knew that if he accepted Jesus, he would lose her and his immoral friends as well. It was a price he was not willing to pay.

The second thing is the other man in the story, Festus. Festus was an important man in the kingdom and a proven leader. He had just pronounced moments earlier that Paul was crazy. If Agrippa accepted Jesus, he knew that Festus would think he was crazy, too. Because the praise of important people was important to him, Agrippa rejected Jesus and salvation.

Finally, there in front of Agrippa stood Paul. He was a Christian man and a good man, but he was in chains. Agrippa knew that if he accepted salvation through Jesus Christ, the chances were going to go up that he himself would be persecuted and maybe end up in chains. Agrippa was the king. He was important. How could he give up power, honor, and prestige and replace it with persecution?

Because of these things surrounding him, Agrippa missed his opportunity for salvation. Although he was almost persuaded to become a Christian, in the end he rejected Jesus and went on with his life. To me, it is one of the saddest stories in the Bible.

I look forward to seeing each of you on Sunday, and I appreciate and never take for granted how important you guys really are to me. Till then, may God bless you and keep you safe in mind, body, and spirit!
A Bunch Of Great Teenagers Of Whom I'm Honored To Teach

Sneaky Snakes

Snakes – you just can’t trust them. I know there are people out there that keep them as pets and it seems as though the bigger the snake, the more prestige they can provide to the owner. I’m not of that mindset and have never been so.

I was a teenager when I had the encounter that slanted me that way. We were fishing in a small pond and had discovered a flat-bottomed boat hidden on the bank in some brush. It was February and although it was unseasonably warm that morning, it was normally too early in the year to be worried about cold-blooded reptiles. Call us three young boys killing time on a day when there was no school to attend. We steered the leaking boat with a rotted oar out onto the pond and began fishing, oblivious to the uninvited danger lurking over in the shadows. It was a morning that was almost too perfect and held promise of being a memorable day for each of us.

Somehow we ended up on the side of the small body of water and the boat, carried by a mild breeze, began to float under a barren weeping-willow tree. Out of instinct I knew it was a bad situation, so I turned to our oarsman and advised him to steer us away from those ancient, moss-laden branches. No sooner were the words out of my mouth: I felt a heavy branch break off, fall earth-destined across my back, and land in the bottom of the boat. Pandemonium ensued as it was discovered that it was no mere branch that had flopped across my back – it was a snake! And the writhing, aggravated serpent had now joined us as an unintentional member of our fishing party.

Since I had become the newest, up-close and personal friend of the creature, I made the first move. I bailed over the side of the boat and into the murky depths beneath us. I was not alone in the cold, brackish water for very long as the middle member of our boat crew swiftly followed me over the side and we began our quest to find the nearest dry land. That left our oarsman alone at the helm, and the result was a boat now riding high out of the water on the end I had vacated, with the snake coiled up near the bow. Satan’s spawn was squirming and twisting in an effort to get away from the sudden noise and confusion that had only moments earlier ended his peaceful slumber in the old willow tree.

To the oarsman’s credit, he somehow guided the boat back to the bank. To our credit, we had an epiphany that if we used our gun to kill the snake, we would puncture a hole in the boat. In the end we used a broken log to pound the snake into submission and eventually dispatched him to his final, celestial dirt-nap. I have a picture in a box somewhere of three teenage boys holding up that dead snake alongside a tape measure, and his tally was forty-two inches in length. I felt no pity for the snake. He was, after all, not only uninvited but inherently dangerous. To allow him to share time with us in the boat as we fished would have been foolish. Someone other than the snake may have been injured.

Though we recognized and eliminated the threat on that early spring day so many years ago, I have not always been as wise in my life since that time. There have been other unwelcome and dangerous guests that entered my heart, and I allowed some of them to stick around far too long before I dispatched them. I’m talking about sins here; times I have let things hinder my relationship with God. At times I have been angry and I have held grudges. I have allowed lusts of the flesh and of the eyes to dominate portions of my life. I have wallowed in pride on more than one occasion. I’ve been known to become apathetic when it comes to how I live my life and I’ve back-slid many times in my spiritual walk with Him. Ah, you say, but those things are nowhere close to the level of danger imposed by sharing space with a poisonous snake in a small boat. But aren’t they?

Peter tells us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” Snakes always seem to surprise me. If I expect them, they are not a problem at all and are easily defeated. I’ve never encountered a lion in an setting other than at a zoo, but I would be extremely wary should I meet up with one, say, in a parking lot. Yet that is the way Satan works; he comes at me out of the blue and has many tools up his sleeve to use against me. He wants to devour me and is actively seeking to do so. Lions are fundamentally more dangerous than snakes, so what can I do besides simply remain sober and vigilant?

Peter completes the message: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” It looks like I am going to have to suffer with that old lion for a while and I know it to be so from personal experience. He is going to come after me when I least expect it and I have to constantly remain on the lookout for his evil schemes. But in the end, I have access to God (through His Son) who promises to strengthen and settle me while he stablishes me and makes me perfect. That’s a good promise to remember and a strong anchor to hold on to when sin drops unexpectedly into my life.

When We Bow

Hmm. Where do I start today? It has been a busy week for me and I have a lot going on. I neglected my blog yesterday and planned to do so today as well. I am knee-deep in another book/story and I have reached a tough pause in the plot. Some might call it ‘writer’s block’ but I call it simply being too busy with the things in this life to concentrate in that area. Either way, it is what it is…

I haven’t read too many news articles this week, (told you I was busy!) but I did see it reported amid a lot of turmoil and wasted ink that our President recently bowed to the Emperor of Japan. He did the same thing a few months back to the King of the Saudis. Now personally, it does not bother me in the least and I’m sure he did so not out of obeisance, but out of respect or whatever. Their cultures are different than ours and I understand the concept. When in Rome, etc. Or maybe he just has a spasmodic back problem that hits him at the wrong times.

What I do take away from the reports is how conservatives are upset again, and it appears to be yet one more of the many current signs that the apocalypse is upon us, to hear them tell or report it. I’m a conservative (duh) and I know where they are coming from – but I’m not interested in something that makes no difference at this point. I’m a lot more chagrined by the liberal side of the fence and their stance on the subject.

You see, on their side of the debate it is well and good for our President to bow in the presence of the ruler of another country and they are staunchly defending him for his actions. After all, the U.S. needs to show a little humility - what with all the things we tried to force on the world back during the evil Bush administration. I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. And where is that sarcasm font when you need it! It is good for our political stance; they appear to feel, to declare our country weaker on the world stage and more willing to compromise in order to get along with everyone in the Global Community. So they say bow, Mr. President, show humility, and we support you one-hundred and ten percent!

Those same enlightened liberals would choke and blow a head-gasket if the President of the United States bowed in a church and offered a prayer in humility to the Most High. I find that ironic. Or moronic.

But you know, there is a day coming when we will all bow to the King of Kings. Not just the President, but all of us - liberal and conservative, Democrat, Republican, Independent, agnostic, and even atheist. Paul reminds us in Philippians chapter 2: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

I don’t know how that is going to play out. I only know that it will one day. Will those that do not believe require coercion to bow to the Savior at that moment? I doubt it. I believe that this veil of darkness that covers us will be removed, and we will recognize Him as we should have known Him all along. At that very moment in time we will all realize who He is and we will have no choice or alternative other than to bow and show obeisance to Him. Our own hearts will compel us to do so. But for many of us, by then it will be simply too late to accept Him into our hearts.

If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to take care of that situation today and not put off salvation any longer. By simply choosing to accept Him into your heart, that Day of Judgment that appears to be just over the horizon will come to you as a blessed event; something to look forward to and not a time of foreboding and doom.

Barnabas' Choice

Youth Sunday School Lesson – 11/15/09

When I read over the story for our class this week, I was a little dismayed at first. Barnabas? You’ve gotta be kidding me, right? Most of us who attend church regularly will have no idea of who he was to begin with. In a way, that is a good thing this week because we should be constantly striving to learn more from God’s Word, and anytime we uncover something new from the Bible, it is important. I challenge you to read your Bible daily, because I can promise that you will learn something helpful each time you choose to study it.

The young Christian church after Pentecost was a church struggling to meet its needs and pay its debts. In order to do so, the church as a whole depended on the goodness of each member to provide for their daily needs as well as those of the church in general. This worked very well, for we read in Acts 2:34-35: “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”

This is not a confirmation that a government or society based upon Communism is a good thing, although the theory of communism was expressed by Karl Marx as ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ The only form of government ordained by God is a Theocracy, which is what the children of Israel had in place when they entered the Holy Land under Joshua. A Theocracy has God in charge from the top down, and we will see a return to this form of government when Jesus returns.

But back to our story – Barnabas was the surname the disciples gave him. He was known as Joses and he was from Cyprus. He was Hebrew and traced his lineage to the priestly tribe of the Levites. A surname is a last name; therefore if you met him on the street you would know him as Joses Barnabas. Barnabas means ‘son of consolation’ and this is an example of his character the disciples saw in him. If you look up the word consolation, you will find that it means, “One that consoles; a comfort”. Obviously the disciples saw something in his personality and daily life that moved them to call him by this name.

Barnabas, we are told in the verses, had a piece of land that he owned. He had a choice to make. He could have simply not brought up the fact that he owned the land, or he could have said that he wanted to keep the land for himself. No one was forced to give up their possessions and turn them over to the disciples. By the surname they had given him we know that he must have already done a lot of other things for the church by that point. No one would have thought less of him and there was no arm-twisting going on or a requirement that new believers give to the church. However, Barnabas followed the Holy Spirit in his heart, and he sold the land and brought the money to the disciples. He made his choice to help the church in the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus by doing so.

We can contrast his choice by reading about another couple’s choice within the first verses of the next chapter. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, also sold a piece of land and brought the money to the disciples. However, they chose to keep back a portion of the money they received for themselves, but did not tell anyone they were doing so. They wanted honor and glory for performing a good deed, even though they were not telling the whole truth. The Bible tells us that they chose to lie about it instead. As a result, the judgment of God fell on them, and He punished them severely.

Barnabas was blessed by God for the choice he made. No where in the rest of the book of Acts does it mention that he regretted his decision or ever found himself in need. The next time we read about him he is defending a new convert named Paul from the perceptions of the church that revolved around a problem with his checkered past. God rewarded Barnabas by giving him a discerning spirit in matters like that.

So what can we learn from the choice made by Barnabas? When we compare his choice to the one made by Ananias and Sapphira, we can see that the choice he made was legitimate and came from his soul. He gave to the church with an honest heart and a genuine desire to further God’s work, not out of a desire for personal gain or glory.

I doubt if any of us will be required to sell our possessions in this day and age and give them to the church. But by the same token, the young people in our class will be needed by the church down the road to become preachers, deacons, Sunday School teachers, or to serve God in some other capacity. Will you be ready for the challenge? Will your choice be made out of honesty and sincerity as a means of furthering the Gospel of Christ in our world today? It is definitely something worth thinking and praying about. Why not start today?

Coming Soon - Persecution?

Like a moth to a porch lamp on a warm summer night, I am drawn to the radio talk shows on my morning drive to work. I can’t help it, even though most of the time they can have a tendency to almost make my blood boil. Sometimes the topic for the morning can border on the ridiculous, but the comments of the callers on those mornings can help me recognize and temper my own reactions to the adverse subjects we are faced with these days.

One of the callers this morning was very angry – in fact he was irate. He brought up his own topic which revolved around if a Christian had killed people on a military base, the media would be all over the story (like white on rice, he put it). And before the day was over, he continued, we would know the church the guy attended, what denomination it was a part of, and legal action would be sure to follow. He is probably correct in his manner of thinking. Didn’t someone say recently that we red-staters cling to our God, guns, and religion a little too tightly or something like that?

There is an all-out attack on God these days, I can tell by the amount of chain-emails I get on the subject. Usually the sender wants me to forward them with my signature added to the bottom of a list, but only if ‘I’m not afraid or ashamed’ to do so. That’s a tough call on my part. I received one yesterday that was supposedly a petition being passed around to prove that we are still a Christian nation - and we only needed five-thousand signatures to prove it. Only five thousand?

I’m not making light of the subject. When someone preaches that our Christian values and ethics are under attack, I can sing the second verse. I know these things to be true in my heart. I hate the idea that my children can no longer pray in school, the Ten Commandments have been removed from our courthouses, and nativity scenes are now taboo at Christmastime. I despise the fact that there is an effort afoot to change the Pledge of Allegiance to remove the stanza about ‘One Nation Under God’. It is hard for me to comprehend the various changes and translations of our Bible, and how preachers these days seem more inclined to speak words of political correctness from the pulpit in an effort to be perceived as ‘tolerant’ and thus protect the church’s tax-exempt status.

But am I a militant Christian? No. I do not believe that if we work really hard on the political front and come together as Christians in time for the 2010 elections, there will be a dramatic change in our country’s opinion on Christianity as a whole. America’s policy toward things such as tolerance or diversity of thought and religion are more than likely too far gone at this point. I believe that things are going to continue to deteriorate, regardless of political climate or who controls what in our government offices. And I know that sounds cynical at best and opinionated at worst.

I haven’t thrown in the towel, so to speak - not by a long shot. But these times we live in were already foretold by Jesus long ago when he said, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” I used to think and still do that He was only talking about the Jews when he made this prophecy. But I see our current society’s persecution of all things Christian getting worse each day instead of better. I have a sense of foreboding in my belief that we may only be scratching the tip of the iceberg with the things we see happening so far. The Bible and the Christian faith are simply too oppressive and narrow-minded to a world that no longer feels or desires to be constrained by decency and morals.

Now is the time to circle the proverbial wagons, those of us who truly believe God’s Word and those of us who really put our faith and trust in Him. What will happen to us if down the road they close our churches and forbid us to exercise our faith because it might be considered offensive to others? What is going to happen if we really begin to be persecuted for His name’s sake? Will we walk away and disregard our beliefs? Will we 'drop the cross' and follow after another religion that is considered more acceptable by those in charge? When the Son of Man returns, will He find any faith at all left on the earth?

Stay tuned… it might get interesting before it’s all over with and done.

Bad Things/Good People

A seven-year-old girl was killed in New Orleans this weekend as she lay sleeping in her bed. A stray bullet came through the wall of the apartment in which she lived, striking her in the neck, and she was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Her mother described her as a typical little girl, “She talked about everything: Sponge Bob, Hannah Montana, everything on TV. She was the life of the party. She was just a beautiful, well-loved child." No suspects have been arrested and it appears to be the result of random violence; a violence the innocent little girl was not a part of until it found her sleeping peacefully on a Sunday morning.

In Fort Hood, a memorial service has been scheduled, and the crowd is expected to be over five thousand strong. Last week, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan fired more than 100 rounds, killing 13 people in a building on the base where deploying soldiers go through health screenings. Right now it appears as though a ‘blame game’ has begun in the media, rife with political correctness and the associated double-speak. However, the gut-wrenching aspects of the article I read were the comments from loved ones describing those that lost their lives in the attack. They were normal people; men and women with normal dreams, hopes, and plans for the future. They were people very much like you and me.

I wonder about both of these incidents, and I could have written of other tragedies this morning as the news reports are full of them these days. I wondered because it seems as though the seven-year-old and the faceless victims of Fort Hood were all apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time. But was it that simple? The little girl was innocent, and the brave soldiers at Fort Hood were young and full of life, ready and willing to serve their country. Why did this happen? How could a loving God allow this to take place? People are asking this question, you know. Is there an answer?

We live in a fallen world. From the time Adam and Eve first shared the forbidden fruit and continuing on through our present day, it has been so. The world is not going to get better, and people are not born ‘good’ in their natural state. We inherited sin and our fallen nature from Adam and there is no getting around that problem on our own. Sure, everyone is capable of doing good things, even extraordinary things at times, but the sinful condition that dwells within us will always rise to the forefront. It is waiting there in our hearts, simmering just below the surface. And it is not only people who find themselves in this state; it is all of creation that defines this fallen world in which we reside. Paul writes, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

Groaning and travailing. I should have used those words. It fits what we see in our world today to a tee. We see creation groan with each new earthquake or natural disaster, and travail with each epidemic or pandemic that arrives on the scene. But is it God who causes these things to take place out of vindictiveness or judgment, or is it the result of a world that is no longer what it was originally designed by its Creator to be? I’ll let you decide for yourself, but my mind has been made up on this subject for a long time now.

Whether we care to admit it or not, sin affects all of us. Even as Christians we do not receive a free pass to no longer sin or have sin influence our lives. Paul continues, “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” We are stuck in our sinful bodies, with a carnal mind that if left unchecked can lead us to ruin or far worse. Our bodies are still part and parcel to the decaying world that we live in, despite the redemption of our souls through the perfect sacrifice Jesus provided for us.

But it will not always be this way and a better world is coming. Paul adds: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Then Paul closes the thought with, “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

Oh for that day to come! I look forward to a time of deliverance from the ‘bondage of corruption’ that our fallen world finds itself in today. And it can’t happen soon enough for me.

A Refuge In The Storm

This weekend served to remind those of us that live in this region that hurricane season is not quite over with yet. We watched as Ida formed in Central America late last week and began her track northward, and by Sunday afternoon all of the local television stations were abuzz with predictions of when and were she would make landfall. Those that live along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans have learned to take our storms seriously; especially in the aftermath of Katrina.

As I write my blog, she appears to be headed for Mobile, Alabama and she has been downgraded to a mere tropical storm. At most, my county can expect a little wind and a lot of rain. The Gulf waters do not pack enough heat in November to keep a hurricane in fighting trim, so most of the news stories seem to revolve around the audacity of Mother Nature’s feeble attempt to throw a storm at us this late in the year. But I remember well a November hurricane back in 1985 that gave me quite a scare, so it is not as if there is no precedent for it – at least not for me.

I was a newly-arrived seaman at U.S. Coast Guard Station Panama City, Florida that fall, having completed boot camp only a few weeks prior. I cannot remember the name of the storm, but I remember that our boats were merely 41-feet long, and even in waves of less than six feet they were rough and caused me to become seasick. The arrival of the storm caused me considerable dread as a result, because as I mentioned, I was new to boats in general and had no idea of what we would be required to do. I remembered the videos I had been shown by my recruiter; boats crashing through heavy seas, sailors in life jackets hanging on for dear life, and the promised glory that comes from making a dramatic rescue while becoming a hero. Suddenly, I felt slightly less than brave with the realization that it might be me that would be called upon to perform such a feat. What was I thinking, I wondered, and how did I get so far from home?

We were required to evacuate our families as best we could and then return to the station for duty. I did as I was ordered, which proves the power of the discipline instilled in me while at boot camp, but I was very ill at ease as the weather began to pick up. We loaded the boats with all of our survival gear and put to sea as the wind made a dramatic shift to the northeast. We joked and laughed as young men do when faced with danger, and I did my best to play the part of a brave soul, but inside my heart was a wild animal called panic, and it was simmering and barely under control. The waves in St. Andrew’s Bay cow-licked and broke over our bow as we turned…north! My fears were allayed for the moment as our crew was told we would be headed up the Intercoastal Waterway to find a suitable anchorage, and therefore be available to assist others after the storm had passed.

A few miles up the canal, we came alongside a tug and barge which had been lashed securely to the levee, and we tied our boat to the barge, spending the night in the relative safety of the strong anchorage they provided. At possibly 12 times our length, it was hard to fathom enough wind or water to move something that large in the narrow canal. We ate with the crew of the tug that night, and I decided at that moment that if they ate like that every night, I had made the wrong career choice. They were very hospitable and could not seem to do enough for us.

There were a few moments later that night that caused a little alarm, and I learned the meaning of Acts 27:29 when the Bible says the storm-ridden crew of Paul’s ship ‘wished for the day’. But overall the evening passed without incident and the following morning we thanked the crew of the tug and returned to our base to begin helping others that were not as fortunate.

I learned the importance of a strong anchorage during that dark night so many years ago. Through the storms that batter me, (and I’m no longer talking about hurricanes or gales, but spiritual and emotional drama) I need something bigger than me to hold onto. The Bible states in Hebrews: “…we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.”

It is only when I attempt to face the storms in my life on their own terms, out in their depths and on my own, that I appear to have problems. Jesus is the anchor for my soul, and He is sure and steadfast. He helps me face the storms I encounter in my life no matter how difficult they may appear to be. And, much like a tug and barge to a small boat during a late-season hurricane, His refuge is always secure.

True Religion

Religion is a funny thing in this day and age. Ok, I need to re-phrase that because it does not allow me to wrap my mind around it quite well enough this morning. Religion in our modern, enlightened world now borders on the absurd.

Absurd - Inconsistent with reason or logic or common sense. Incongruous and inviting ridicule. Preposterous.

Again, our society will worship anything or nothing at all. We can base a religion on junk-science, on government, even on celebrities, especially those that have passed on to a celestial dirt nap. A religion is based on faith and a belief in something extraordinary. I’m not simply talking about Christianity when I say that – all religions were started in this manner. Prove me wrong.

I was reading the various news articles on the Fort Hood massacre this morning, and that incident was incredibly appalling. When I first heard the news on the way home from work yesterday afternoon, I’ll admit that my immediate thought was that it would have something to do with Islam or the perpetrator would at least be Islamic. I was right, but that does not give me unlimited capital to bash the religion of the attacker as I write this. They have their faith and belief system and they will answer for it one day. It is the same dilemma, shared by those that worship government, celebrities, or those that choose to bow at the altar of science and technology. Christians are in that mix as well – we will all face a Day of Judgment in the end. There is no use looking for specks when we have a 2” x 4” stuck in our own eye.

In no way am I defending the attacker of Fort Hood yesterday. I think he should be dispatched toward that Day of Judgment as soon as possible. An hour ago would not be soon enough, in my opinion. I'm a military veteran as well, but I digress.

Christians have their own set of difficulties that we will surely answer for. True, I have never seen or read about a Christian that strapped a twenty-pound explosive on his belt and took out a loaded subway train in the name of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. If a Christian entered a crowded market or mall and started shooting while chanting “God is good!” – the media would break their necks in an effort to be the first to report it. Christians are not apt to behead those that will not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, but are more often than not on the receiving end in those-type situations when they occur on the mission field.

But we have our own issues. We are fractured into too many denominations that share very little in the way of common beliefs. We argue over things like should a priest be allowed to marry, should a woman be a preacher, and should we speak in tongues or not speak in tongues. We have several thousand interpretations of our own Holy Bible with subtle variances in the implied interpretation of key scriptures. We argue whether or not the Old Testament still applies to us, and whether the New Testament leaves out possible alternative paths to salvation. We can’t agree on homosexuals, abortion, or a limit to our involvement in the government process. I found it ludicrous a year or so ago when a debate was launched by a group trying to decide if Jesus would be a Democrat or Republican if He voted today.

The Christian church today more closely mirrors the church at Laodicea mentioned by Jesus in Revelation than at any time in her history. We have become so wrapped up in the world in an effort to fit in and avoid emotional persecution or invite ridicule that we appear to have lost our calling. We have adopted the world’s policy of being ‘politically correct’ with the result that ‘tolerance’ has replaced ‘Thus saith The Lord’ from our own pulpits. As a by-product, our toothless faith cannot lead others because we cannot lead ourselves. By this alone, I know the end is near.

So what can we hold onto as the sands shift within the modern church, when the world spirals in so many different directions and all of them bad? Is there any degree of honest faith left in the world today? Which Christian denomination is the true one – the one that will carry us through the storms that enter our lives?

James wrote: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” I cannot pin my spiritual fortunes on a denomination, a cult, or even the government and science. Instead I can only help those I have the ability to help; those who can’t help themselves. And I must, at all costs, remain unspotted by the things of the world. It is a tall order, but there will be blessings to be gained from living as such.

To find a pure religion is a tall order these days, but at least I now know what to look for.

Jesus' Choice

Youth Sunday School Lesson - November 8,2009

As we continue this week with our study on Christian choices and how we should go about making them, we arrive at the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This choice remains the most crucial choice ever made on the earth, even more critical than the wrong choice made by Adam and Eve in another garden back in the beginning of the Bible. A look at how those choices, both made in gardens, shaped the human race is a study in contrasts and something well worth our time and effort to look into.

I see several things in this passage of scripture that may not be readily apparent if you only perform a casual reading of the verses. First, Jesus was not a martyr. A martyr is someone who gives his or her life willingly for a cause. We think of Joan of Arc as an example of a martyr and others like her. A martyr goes willingly to their death because they have no other option besides changing their outlook or compromising their beliefs. We read in Matthew 26:53 that Jesus could have called ‘more than twelve legions of angels’ if He had wanted to change the situation. He had a choice, and it was a tough one – an agonizing one. Jesus’ choice was to go to His death as a sacrifice for our sins, knowing that it was His Father’s will that He do so.

I also notice that unlike a suicide bomber, Jesus does not rush haphazardly to His death. I read in verse 39: “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” If you read this verse carefully, you will notice that although He is torn by the dilemma He faces, there is no indication that Jesus would disobey His Father. He simply asks God if there is another option besides going to His death on the cross. Neither a suicide bomber nor a martyr seeks another option – their minds are made up from the beginning. Once Jesus understands that there is no other way to bring salvation to the world, He readily accepts His Father’s will.

This is the central idea and the key thought of our lesson on choices this week. Jesus made the choice to put His Father’s will over His own will. We should always thank God for the decision that Jesus made on that dark, lonely night in the garden. His obedient choice removed the curse on mankind that came about as a result of Adam’s disobedient choice that was made back in Genesis. Philippians 2:8 explains this better for us:” And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Sometimes we will be called upon to make tough choices in our lives. At times we may have to make a decision that goes against what the world considers to be ‘good’ or ‘wise’. But at all times and during all of our choices, from the important ones to the ones that seem to be small, we should always seek God’s will before we choose which path to take. We need to trust our Heavenly Father and do our best to seek His will for our lives. He knows better than we do and can see the future we will have ahead of us. Once we fully trust God in our lives, becoming obedient to His will can become an easier thing for us to do.

Finally, there is something unique about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that we may never know and can never fully comprehend. In fact, we will never truly understand all that happened on that night almost two thousand years ago. What we do know is that it all came down to Jesus making a choice – His will or His Father’s will. In the end He chose His Father’s will and in so doing He made a way for us to receive salvation through His death on the cross the following day. His death paid the penalty for our sin.

In our own daily lives as Christians, when faced with difficult choices, we should always seek to place God’s will over our own will. Remember the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy (not my) will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

"Passing" Judgment

Feeling elated over the Saint’s victory last night – the game I worried about yesterday, I went online early this morning to check the news. I paid particular attention to the sports pages, both on the nationally syndicated sites as well as the local ones. Nothing beats reading the fine details of how your team forged their success and how plans are already being made for taking on next week’s opponent. It used to be the sports pages of the newspaper and a hot cup of coffee. The coffee remains today, but the Internet gives you far more news from different angles and opinions, all within a veritable blink of an eye.

During my browse, I read an article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution (I like to read the opposing team's view of the game as well) that gave me pause due to the tone of the report. Atlanta’s quarterback could seemingly do no wrong over the past year and a half. The city adopted him; he was their hero and would surely lead them into the promised land of postseason play for many seasons to come. At twenty-four years of age with a cannon for an arm and an even sharper intellect, he fit the part. However, that tone apparently changed overnight in the viewpoint of the columnist whose article I happened to read this morning. His opinion is that the success was a fluke and the hero quarterback from a year ago is merely a flash in the pan.

Because of one ‘less than stellar’ performance against a very good team, the writer was apparently ready to throw him under the bus. I can’t begin to imagine how the young quarterback will feel if he should happen to read the article himself. We are so quick to elevate people to hero-worship status these days, and more often than not, we easily cast them aside at the least sign of weakness. It’s a shame, I tell you. But we live in a society that thrives on tearing people down when they do not meet our lofty expectations.

As a Christian, I have found myself doing the same thing on many occasions and it is not a trait that I am proud of. In my own mind I can elevate a preacher or a deacon to super-saint status and then become disenchanted when they turn out to be merely human in the end. I’m quick to judge, although the Bible is rife with passages against doing so, and as a ‘fruit’ judge I’m not always honest and fair when I feel I have been let down. If I am going to judge other Christians by their fruit, then I better make sure my own fruit can pass the inspector’s test beforehand. I’ve heard it said that people who live in glass houses should never throw stones, and there is a lot of truth in that statement.

Maybe that is why in Matthew chapter 7 Jesus prefaces his discourse on knowing false prophets by ‘their fruit’ in stating, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” As for some of those preachers or deacons I mentioned above that may or may not have let me down - who was it that put them up on the pedestal in the first place? They were human like me and have feelings and emotions like me. I need to be more careful in this area.

Meanwhile, to the writer who wrote the article blasting Atlanta's young quarterback for not being what everyone perceived him to be – I found no less than six grammatical errors in your column. Maybe the readers of the AJC should throw you under the bus for not meeting their expectations as a writer.

But who am I to judge?

Worrying With Joe And Max

I’ve got ulcers from the worrying I’ve done, and they worry, too. – Joe Walsh

Tonight is the big game. The undefeated New Orleans Saints are playing their nemesis, the Atlanta Falcons, on the national stage of Monday Night Football. I’m a life-long Saints fan, and though on paper they appear to have the better team, I am worried that they will not play very well and lose the game as a result.

I’m worried about my youngest daughter and her plans for college. I’m hoping that she will be alright in the long run. Most of all, I just want her to be happy in life with whatever direction she chooses to take. She has decided to move home and commute to class each day – dorm life does not sit well with her due to her value system. (I say that with not a little pride as I do so) I’m ready for her to come home, but I am worried that my feelings may be based upon a desire to be overprotective of her when it comes right down to the crux of the matter.

My oldest daughter is getting married next spring and she is very thorough in every decision that she makes. But I still worry about her, and I’m also losing sleep wondering how I will pay for the elaborate ceremony we are planning for her and her groom. A wedding is one of the biggest days of your life and I want hers to be not only memorable, but special as well.

I worry about my sons, both of them. One is now a father in his own regard, and the other is many years away from becoming such. But both of them will face a world full of trouble that is seemingly arrayed against them. And worst of all, they will face the same things that I did in my own life up to this point.

I worry because though they are my children, all four of them, I cannot see into their hearts. I lie awake a lot of nights worried that they may have accepted God’s gift of salvation in their heads, but not their hearts, because I know that as their father it is my responsibility to lead them down the right path in that regard. Did I do a good enough job explaining that to them?

You don’t worry about it, I’ll worry about it. I’m going to be up all night worrying anyway. – Joe Walsh

I worry about my wife because she has health issues a lot these days and there is no way I could live my life without her. The health issues are minute, but it seems as though there is something new every week and so I worry. I worry over my bills. I worry about my church. I worry about my job. I worry about my 401k plan and how will I ever be able to retire before I reach 88-years of age or so?

My parents are good people. I worry that I’ll be unable to live up to the example they have set for me and that I’ll never measure up to being a good son to them.

I worry about Afghanistan, I worry about the poles, and if they drop the big one, we’ll all live in holes. – Joe Walsh

Worry never solves anything. Nothing will ever compute as a product for the amount of worrying that I do. Jesus said, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Worrying is not the cure for all of my troubles in life. But I worry anyway, as if the thought itself has some mystical power - my well-thought-out worry will somehow become a talisman to protect me from the things I cannot control.

I’m reading a Max Lucado book this week entitled Fearless. In the book, as always, he brings out a very dramatic point that 'hit the nail on the head' for me. The disciples came to Jesus because the crowd of over five thousand people were hungry and they had nothing with which to feed them. Gleaning through the possibilities they came up with only five loaves and two fish. Max states that they were counting to seven instead of counting to eight. As in, they had five loaves, two fish, and they had Jesus. With God anything is possible. I need to remember that priceless gem when I catch myself worrying over problems. I need to include Jesus in the calculation of solutions to the things in my life that plague me with worry and doubt.

On my own and left to my own devices, all I can do is worry about things. But with Jesus in the picture, well, that’s a whole-new ballgame! Go Saints!