Monday, December 29, 2008

Squirrel Makeover

A friend of mine told me about the time he was trying to get rid of the abundance of squirrels in his yard. He was trying to humanely trap them and release them far away, but was convinced that the same squirrels were returning to his yard. Since nobody believed him, he decided to paint the squirrels to see if they were the same ones. You guessed it. They were!

I read a story this week that reminded me of my friend. It seems that in a community called Stubbington in the southern part of England, a purple squirrel has caused quite a stir. No one can explain why the squirrel is purple. The color doesn’t seem to be topical, the purple goes right down to the roots of his fur and is very uniform throughout.

Dr Mike Edwards, an English teacher, said, "I was sitting in my classroom and looked out the window and saw it sitting on the fence. I had to do a double take. Since then it's been a bit of a regular at the school - everyone's seen it. We thought it might have been paint or something but then when you look at it up close, it's an all over coat, not in patches like you'd expect if it had been near some paint. Its fur actually looks purple all the way through. It's an absolute mystery."

The article about the purple squirrel goes on to say that they had seen him hanging around a dumping area for old computer printers. They think he may have rolled in ink toner or perhaps ingested some to create his purple hue.

Perhaps this is the squirrel’s new look for the New Year. Many of us make an effort to start a new year out with a new look, a new attitude, new habits, or new commitments. Many times these last for a while but are not lasting changes.

The problem is twofold. First, habits that need to be learned or unlearned take time. We are a culture of instant satisfaction, so when in 30 minutes we don’t look like the guy on TV who is selling 30 Minute Abs; we give up and stop trying. The second problem is that when we try to accomplish things on our own, we sometimes fail. We need to strength of God and others to help us truly change.

Jeremiah 13:23 says, Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. In other words, if our habits are evil, then we cannot become “good” on our own without true change that comes only from God.

Does that mean we should stop trying to do good? No, but we should try to allow God to do good through us, rather than trying and failing ourselves. There are many habits and desires that we can control. We can choose to avoid that certain website or refrain from stopping by the local watering hole. We can choose to speak positively instead of negatively to others. There are many choices we can control, but without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are likely to make the wrong choices.

There are several ways to allow true change in your life this year. First, if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, please contact me or another Christian who can talk with you about that. This is the first step to true change. Second, avoid the things of the world that you know will stain you. Just like the squirrel, you might wind up a very odd color that might look good and interesting to the world, but will be unappealing to God. Third, seek the help of a friend or family member who can help you on your journey. There is power and strength in numbers, especially when they are all under the command of the Father.

Whatever your resolutions are this year; I hope they include Christ and His Kingdom. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a New Year filled with the blessings of God.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25a-27 NIV)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of my readers. It has been another wonderful year in Edgefield. My children continue to grow, my wife and I are closer than ever, and the church is doing well. My hope and prayer is that you will find Jesus Christ in your Christmas, and that God would bless you beyond measure.
Just for fun, I thought some of you might enjoy reading about some of our Christmas superstitions and traditions. (Follow this link to read the article. http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/superstitions.asp)
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!!
Stacy

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blue Christmas

The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

Christmas is here! For some of us, this time is filled with joy, family, friends, too many gifts to buy, too many parties to attend, too many snacks and meals to prepare, and too little time in which to accomplish all of it. Homes are decorated, carols are sung, and festive colors are worn.

For many people, however, it is a time that comes and goes without much fanfare. To them it is a lonely time. It is a time when perhaps loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord are missed or money is extremely tight or other circumstances get in the way of experiencing the joy others seem to have during this season.

Those who truly enjoy the season try to help those who do not in a variety of ways, and it may help for a short time. However, after the food, fruit baskets, inclusion in a dinner, or some small gift is gone, the feelings of despair and loneliness often come racing back like a cold December wind.

We know that there are these two extremes during Christmas, but I believe there is another group of people we must pray for and embrace this holiday. These are the people who seem to have it all together, but are empty on the inside. These suffer silently. There are no extensions of goodwill to them, because they do not seem to be in despair. These people are hard to spot, because they go through the motions of Christmastime well. They smile, shake hands, hug, give gifts, decorate, and enjoy the festivities just like everyone else. If we could see inside them, we would see that they are on auto-pilot.

These are the people who skip meals quietly to make sure their kids have something to eat. They use every little bit they can squeeze out of toothpaste, soap, and laundry detergent so they can have enough money to buy that one special present for their spouse. They reluctantly spend the money to bring that $5 present to the office Christmas party, not because they don’t want to participate, but because they could use it elsewhere. They sing carols about a King born in a stable and laid in a manger, but they feel as though He has been forgotten in the season that bears His name. Perhaps they too, feel forgotten in the shuffle of Christmas.

You’ll never hear them complain of their problems. You’ll see them at the parties. You may sit beside them at church. You will just see them going through the empty motions of an otherwise joyous season. Maybe this person is actually you.

This Christmas season, pray for God to lead you to someone who may have a need that they would never share with anyone. God knows who they are, and if He places someone on your heart, do not hesitate to act. If you are actually the person I described, know that God loves you very much. So much, that He wants to give you a full life. Turn all of your dreams, hurts, burdens, and fears over to the God who loves you enough to send His Son, into this crazy, misguided world to show us the way back home to Him.

The Lord hears his people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. (Psalm 34:17-19 NLT)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Passionate or Passive

My mother often has some wonderful ideas. However, just like me, some of those ideas that she and I think are wonderful, seem strange to others. One idea, that she came up with years ago, was a solution to the problem of homelessness. While we had a snow delay at an airport out west, she made the comment that you could live indefinitely in an airport. Homeless people could have a roof, a safe place to sleep, and just as much charity from people as they would on the streets.

We began to think of all the reasons that it wouldn’t work. We couldn’t come up with any back then. However, we decided after 9/11 that it is a near impossibility in today’s world.

This week I saw a headline that really captured my attention. It read, “Japanese man makes Mexico City airport home.” I had to read the story. Here are some excerpts from the AP News story.

For reasons he can't explain, the Japanese man has been in Terminal 1 of the Benito Juarez International Airport since Sept. 2, surviving off donations from fast-food restaurants and passengers and sleeping in a chair.
At first, he frightened passengers, and airport authorities asked the Japanese Embassy to investigate why the foul-smelling man refused to leave. Now, he's somewhat of a celebrity, capturing Mexico's collective imagination with nearly daily television news reports on his life at the food court.
"I don't understand why I'm here," he said through a visiting interpreter originally hired by a television station. "I don't have a reason."
The embassy can't force him to leave, and since his visa is valid, all Mexican officials can do is wait for it to expire in early March.

I guess mom was right after all. (Don’t they usually always turn out to be right?) This man says he really has no idea why he is still there. He is simply enjoying the celebrity status.

When I was a banker, I had one employee who was possibly one of the most intelligent young men I managed. He was very bright, but very lazy. He did only what I asked him to do. He was smart, but had no initiative. His passions were not in his banking career, but in a career singing and playing his original songs on his guitar.

While I have no personal problem with someone having dreams of a career in music, he was doing no good at the bank. I eventually had to ask him to resign because of poor job performance. His passions and interests were elsewhere. He was like this Japanese man in the airport. He had no idea why he was with the bank.

Many of us feel the same way about church. We are just there. We first came for a reason that we have long forgotten. Our presence is observed, but there is not much life, only activity. We do only enough to get by, but no more. We are smart and can do the work that needs to be done, but many Christians are phenomenal underachievers.
Jesus did not suffer on a hill so you could be a slacker. He did not experience death so you could expect life on earth to give you handouts. He did not defeat the grave and rise again on that glorious morning so you could “go through the motions” of a passionless existence. Jesus said, “I have come that they (you) may have life, and that they (you) may have it more abundantly.” There is more to life in Christ than most of us ever experience. Won’t you pray and ask our Father to show you how you can serve Him better and with passion? He will be faithful if you will hear His voice.

Write this to Sardis, to the Angel of the church. The One holding the Seven Spirits of God in one hand, a firm grip on the Seven Stars with the other, speaks: "I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you're dead, stone-dead. "Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there's life in you yet. But I wouldn't know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God's work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God. (Revelation 3:1-3 The Message)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pepsico

Many of you have asked me if the information is true that is circulating on the internet about Pepsico donating $500,000 to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays). Well, I am sorry to inform youthat it is. I did a bit of research and found a great deal of information on their own website about such things. (follow this link and click on the 4th line down. http://www.pepsico.com/PEP_Diversity/diversityNews/index.cfm#Goldman)
If you would like more information about this transaction and what you can do to make your voice heard, follow this link. http://www.afa.net/Petitions/Issuedetail.asp?id=333

Negative Equity

A husband came home from work after a very long and terrible day. Everything had gone wrong. He said to his wife, “I’ve had nothing but bad news at the office today. If there is one thing I don’t want, it is more bad news.”

His wife gently replied, “In that case, you’ll be glad to know that three out of four of your children did not break their arms today.”

There are people who can see the positive side of things right away, and make others feel good about whatever the circumstances are. Conversely, there are others who cannot find a bright spot in any situation. These people tend to spill out negative comments, give off negative body language, and try to rally others to see the bad in things, situations, or other people.

My family of four went to see Clemson University play Duke last Saturday. It was homecoming weekend, and we had a great time walking around the campus and looking at the homecoming floats before the game. My kids (ages 7 and 4) were very excited to go to their first Clemson game this year.

We found our seats, got settled in, and my wife went to get the kids some hot dogs. They were just finishing the food when we stood for the National Anthem, the Clemson Alma Mater, and cheered as the tigers ran down the hill to take the field. The kids loved it when the balloons were released, and the band played Tiger Rag.

It was only after the game started that I noticed the man directly behind us. He was there with his family. He was very loud and extremely obnoxious. He was wearing a Clemson shirt, but was criticizing everything they did. When Clemson made a bad play or even just an unsuccessful 2nd down pass, he was yelling bad things about the quarterback, and the team.

The interesting thing about this man, was that even when Clemson scored or made some spectacular run or catch, his only comment was, “Well it’s about time!” There was no way for the team to please this person. When they performed badly, he screamed at them, and when they performed well, he screamed.

To make matters worse, I noticed that after a while his wife and kids were doing it as well. I also realized that they were all drinking canned sodas, which they do not sell at the concession stand. There is a rule against bringing in food or drink from outside the stadium. Not only was he teaching his family to be negative, but he was also teaching them that it’s ok to break the rules that you don’t agree with.

God has given us so much to be cheerful about. When we spend our time and energy tearing others down, it may make us feel good about ourselves, but it gives others a very dim view of us. Nobody wants to be around people who are negative and criticize others. Why then, does this seem to be a regular occurrence in most churches?

The wisdom of old says, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, then don’t say anything at all.” How true those words are. Are you really living out the love of Christ when your language and attitude are filled with negativism? Make it a matter of prayer and ask God to help you see how your words and deeds affect others and their view of you and your Christian walk. Then follow God as He leads you to eliminate such negativity from your life. You, and all who are around you, will be much happier.

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don't grieve God. Don't break His heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for Himself. Don't take such a gift for granted. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 The Message)







Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fruit Loops

If you are like me, I’m sure there are passages of scripture in the Bible that you don’t quite understand. After spending years studying the Bible from cover to cover, both on my own and in formal training, I still wrestle with certain things the Bible says. I’m not talking about books of the Bible like Revelation, or the last part of Daniel that seem to confuse most people. I’m talking about the straight-forward scriptures that seem to make no sense.

A good example of this for me is found in Matthew 21.
Now in the morning, as [Jesus] returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. (Matthew 21:18-19)

This passage always seemed a little odd to me. The way it reads seems to indicate that Jesus was ready for some breakfast, but the fig tree did not have anything for Him to eat. Therefore, He just destroyed it. Upon a first reading, it seems as though Jesus was not a morning person and used His divinity to exact revenge on a poor tree. Who hasn’t wanted to be able to do this to someone or something that made us angry? (I had a similar incident at Hardee’s in Greenwood this week, but I didn’t burn the building down.)

What is really going on in this passage? Jesus was human, so He experienced hunger. If you read what happened before this passage, you’ll find that the day before He had been busy. He rode into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna, and He ran the moneychangers out of the temple. In other words, He worked up an appetite. By morning, He was ready for something to eat.

Also, this was right at the time of Passover. It was spring. The fig tree, if it was healthy, should have had its spring fruit ready for harvesting. When Jesus saw that it did not, He cursed it. Why? Not because He was angry with the tree, but to teach the Disciples who were around Him a lesson. Jesus never missed an opportunity to teach.

Did you know that you are like the fig tree? If you are a child of God, then you, like the fig tree, are supposed to bear fruit. What kind? Galatians 5:22-23 instructs us that the fruit of the spirit is, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It was a reasonable expectation that Jesus should find fruit on a fig tree in the spring. It is equally reasonable to expect us to show the fruit listed above if we are truly following Him. We are not to be His in word only, but also in actions. We must love as Jesus loves. We must have the joy and peace that come from submitting to the Father’s will. We must be patient, gentle, kind and good to all as Jesus exemplified in His life. We must be faithful to who we are in Christ. We also must control our evil desires and resist temptations that come our way, as Christ has taught us.

If we are a tree that has the most beautiful leaves, but have no fruit, then we are nothing more than a house decoration with no function or purpose. Jesus cursed and withered the tree, because it was simply taking up good soil to do nothing but look good.

Is that what we are doing in our churches? Are we simply taking up space, but never even showing signs of any real functional fruit? Are we rooted in a shallow relationship with Christ that will never yield a harvest?

There is a world that is hungry for Christ. When they come to you will you be found with fruit or will they have to look elsewhere?

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Of all the duties enjoined by Christianity, none is more essential and yet more neglected than prayer. --François Fénelon

A man's daughter had asked the local minister to come and pray with her father. When the minister arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows, with an empty chair beside his bed. The minister assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me”, he said. “No, who are you?” said the father. The minister told him his name and then remarked, “I saw the empty chair and I figured you knew I was going to show up.” “Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”

Puzzled, the minister shut the door. “I have never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church, I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it went right over my head. I abandoned any attempt at prayer, until one day four years ago; my best friend said to me, 'Johnny, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here is what I suggest. Sit down in a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith, see Jesus in the chair. Jesus promised to be with us always. So, just speak to Him in the same way you're doing with me right now.' So, I tried it and I like it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I'm careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she'd either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The minister was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old man to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the church. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the minister that her daddy had died that afternoon. “Did he die in peace?” he asked. ”Yes,” the daughter replied, “When I left the house about two o'clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me he loved me and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him, but there was something strange about his death. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?' The minister wiped a tear from his eye and said, “I wish we could all go like that.”

There is no way to know if the story recounted above is true. There are no names, dates or places that we can pin to the narrative. However, just as Jesus taught the crowds and Disciples in parables, we also can learn from stories that teach us how to know God better. The actual events may or may not be true, but there is truth in the tale.

The truth lies in the privilege we have through Jesus Christ to come to God in prayer. The task that was once reserved for those set aside for holy work, is now available to all. In fact, it has always been available to everyone, but the human rules and laws restricted access to God by the common person, and reserved it for the priesthood.

Are you having trouble in your prayer life? Perhaps you feel that God doesn’t hear your prayers. Maybe you feel this way, because you have fallen into the trap of believing you are not eloquent or sophisticated enough to approach God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

God hears you whether you use the language of the King James Bible, or the simple dialogue of a three-year-old. God has no use for our words anyway. He listens to our heart. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” He does not give the desires of our minds or our bodies. He listens to our hearts and gives us what our heart desires. If our heart is His, then we will desire the things that God wants for us.

Praying is simply talking to our Father. Pull up a chair and tell Him the desires of your heart.

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. Matthew 6:5-8

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6)

The internet can be used for so much that is productive. There is almost an infinite supply of information right at your fingertips. With just a few keystrokes, you can find out how to bake a turkey or who the actor was in that old movie you just watched. However, for every bit of usefulness the computer provides, there are at least two non-productive timewasters.

There are also some uses of the computer that do not readily fall into either one. There are some great games online. There are community sites that can bring you in touch with old friends. There are chat rooms and dating sites that can introduce you to a new friend.

Whether these are good or bad depends on the person who uses them. Certainly there have been some who have met online who are truly happy. However, there are predators out there just waiting to do harm to unsuspecting people.

A teacher in London named Julie Mcllroy was checking out some men on a dating website, when she came across a picture she liked. She sent the man a message. He replied and in the next several weeks she learned that his name was Allan Donnelly, and that he worked as an electrician.

They chatted for weeks, until Julie mentioned a certain shop she had just left. Allan commented that he like the same shop. They began asking some more pointed questions, and found out that they lived on the same street. Not only that, but they were only seven houses apart. "I was stunned... He asked me over for a cup of tea, and that was that," she said, while Donnelly, 53, added: "We've got the perfect compatibility. I'm a very lucky man."

These two lived on the same street, just seven houses apart for 17 years, but never met. They had to go on the internet in order to find each other, when all they really had to do was take a walk down the street.

Do we not treat God this way? God wants us to seek Him. He wants us to find Him. He wants us to love Him. God isn’t hiding from us, He is right there for us to find. The only problem is that we are seeking.

Did you ever play hide and seek, but hide too well? What happened? Nobody ever found you. What did you do? You might have made a small sound to get the attention of the others, but if that didn’t work, you finally came out to find them.

That is exactly what God does, only He isn’t hiding, He is in plain view. He is right next to us, watching us try to find Him in every place except where He is. He is beside us. He is with us. He is in us. We’re looking for salvation on the internet while He is whispering in our ear, “I’m right here. How can I love you today?” Are you seeking?

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' (Acts 17:26-28 NIV)


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Little House" Truth

What do the television shows The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and Happy Days have in common? There are several common factors. First, they were all successful, highly rated shows in the late 1970’s. Secondly, they were all about a simpler time in our history.

I believe people flocked to these type shows as well as reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies, at this time, to help with some of the feelings of hopelessness. We were just bringing a war to a close that had grown very unpopular, gasoline seemed to be in short supply, the economy was in shambles, so people turned to wholesome television to remind them of a time when things weren’t so bad. (Sound familiar?)

Anyway, if you ask my wife what her all time favorite television show is, she will no doubt reply, “Little House on the Prairie”. She’s in good company. The show ran from 1974 to 1983 and was nominated for 3 Golden Globes, won 15 other awards, and was nominated for 34 more. The show was adored by so many people, for so long, that many of us watched Mary, Laura and Carrie grow up in our living rooms. (Click here to see the opeing credits and hear the theme song! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhHrOgOkXZw)

I was flipping channels a while back, and I came across an episode of Little House on the Prairie. In this episode, the circus came to town. Everyone in Walnut Grove is excited, but Nels Oleson, the local store owner, is shocked to spot his estranged older sister as the "fat lady." Hurt and disappointed by her brother's rejection, Annabelle draws comfort from her close-knit circus family and continues to approach her job with dignity. Nels is terrified to let anyone know his relation to her, even after observing her unwavering kindness to everyone in the community (namely the children at the blind school). After maintaining such secrecy for so long, Nels recognizes his foolishness and publicly expresses his feelings for his beloved sister.

One of the final scenes in the episode, Nels goes to her and tells her that he is sorry and offers to let her stay in Walnut Grove. Her response to him is one we all could learn from. She says, “I was put here for a purpose. Maybe not an exalted purpose, but a purpose. I make people laugh. I make them feel good. That’s not such a bad thing.”

You never know where you will find theological truth. Even a television show can offer up some very deep truths from God’s word. You may not feel that you were put here for an exalted purpose, but you were put on this earth, where you are right now, for a purpose. You may think you have the lowest, most demeaning job on the planet, but if you do it the best you can, with all your heart, then you are a success.

We make the mistake of buying into the garbage they feed us from Madison Avenue about how we should look, what car we should drive, what clothes to wear, and what kind of houses we should live in. We think we are not of worth if we don’t fit that mold. However, we should see the value that we are to God and let Him use us for His purpose. If we find His purpose for our lives, then whatever we are, or do, will be exalted in God’s Kingdom.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)


Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.
(Proverbs 19:21)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wooden Faith

I believe that there is nothing in the Bible that is insignificant. Truly, everything that is there is purposeful. For some things, the reason is obvious, such as Jesus’ crucifixion. For many others, we scratch our heads and wonder why God chose to tell us in His Word, the name of the Roman guard that Peter slashed.

I was thinking this week about wood. Yes, I was thinking about the substance of which trees are made. Before you decide that I have way too much time on my hands, or that I have completely lost what marbles I had left, consider the following with me.

God created the world in six days. The first two days were spent separating day from night, and the earth from the sky. There was no land yet, so the earth was just water. The first mention of any life on earth is in Genesis 1:11 where grass, plants and trees are formed. Only three days later did He create man and woman. Therefore, wood was here before people.

Adam and Eve had free reign in the Garden of Eden, except for that one tree. They were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, we know what happened. They ate and were banished from the garden. From then on, wood and trees become one of the most overlooked, yet very significant part of the scriptures.

Consider, if you will, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It did not cause Adam and Eve to sin, but it was there to witness it. It is just as much a part of the story as Adam and Eve or the serpent. Without it, there is no fruit. Let’s take a brief look at what God has to teach us about trees and wood.

In Genesis 6, not long after the fall from Grace in the Garden, God decided to wipe out all people. However, He found Noah to be a righteous man and decided to save him and his family. How did He save them? He told Noah to build a boat out of gopherwood.

By the time of Abraham, the sacrificial covenant system that was in place, required a burnt offering, which used wood. When Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, they were headed up the hill and Isaac said “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7).

God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and Moses wooden staff played a huge role in the liberation of the Hebrews. The Ark of the Covenant, which was the embodiment of God’s presence, was made from acacia wood. Certain woods were prescribed by God for use in the Tabernacle and Temple.

Then there was Jesus. He was born in a manger which was probably made from wood.
He was raised by a carpenter. He was probably taught the trade and learned how to work with wood. He used trees for illustrations. Zacchaeus climbed into a tree to be able to see Jesus. Finally, two wooden beams were used to bring a cruel and terrible end to His time as a human.

Is it a coincidence that the same substance was the first form of life, the vehicle by which sin entered the world, and also held the weight of Jesus and all of our sin? I think not. God always allows for redemption. Adam and Eve picked the forbidden fruit from a tree. Therefore, God arranged for trees and wood to play a part in His plan of redemption. Noah’s ark saved all of humanity, the burnt offering forgave sins, Moses’ staff delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, and when Jesus, the carpenter’s son, stretched His arms across the wood that Friday, we were saved from sin forever.

Never overlook the ordinary things in your life. God uses the great and the minute things to complete His plan. In your prayer time, ask God to reveal to you those things, in His plan for your life, that you might ordinarily overlook.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fresh Out

Unfortunately I had to put gas in my truck the week of the great fuel crunch. I was at a pump that only had regular in it. The mid-grade and premium selections were covered. That was fine with me since the regular was $4.99 per gallon. I looked across the street at the sign in front of another station, which indicated they had premium for $3.85 per gallon.

For just a moment I was tempted to stop pumping gas and change to the other station. However, as I looked closer, I realized the all of the nozzles at other station were covered. They might have been advertising $3.85 premium grade gasoline, but they really had none.

This reminded me of something that happened to a pastor friend of mine. He lives to eat at Zaxby’s. For those of you who have never eaten there, they have the best chicken strips and wings on the planet. In fact, chicken is all they sell. You can get chicken wings, grilled chicken salad, chicken strips, and chicken sandwiches, but you won’t find a burger in the place.

Anyway, my friend goes into the local Zaxby’s and places his order. The girl behind the counter tells him that they are out of chicken. He is, of course, quite surprised and downright indignant. “You mean all you sell is chicken and you’re out of it?” he replied.

As I listened to his story he went on to say that if all you do is sell chicken, you should be able to stock up on it so that you never run out. He also took it a step further by saying the local church is no better. Many churches have crosses on the steeple, stained glass that depicts scenes from the life of Christ, Bible references or cute sayings on our signs out front, but when someone comes inside, in desperate need of a savior we are unable to point the way. We point them to our programs, our ministries, our worship service, our coffee pot, or our information desk, but what we are really saying is “Jesus? We ran out of that a long time ago. Would you like some information on our Sunday School classes?"
I realize that all of the things I named above can all be used by God to lead people who thirst for righteousness to the Living Water. However, my point is, when we begin to replace personal relationships with those who need Christ, with programs and information desks we are no better than a gas station with no gas, or a Zaxby’s with no chicken.

I attended the State Evangelism Conference in Rock Hill this past February. As I left one of the sessions, I noticed a woman at the church’s information desk. She was definitely not part of the conference. She was not well dressed, and she had tears in her eyes. I walked by, assuming the folks at the desk were helping her.

I went outside to my truck to make a call. I finished my call and as I was returning to the church, I saw her in the breezeway. She was still crying. Preachers of all shapes and sizes were filing out past her. Nobody stopped.

I knew that God was speaking to me, so I went up to her and asked if I could help. She said the people at the desk told her to go to a certain building on the church campus, but that she could not find it. I told her that I did not know where it was, but asked if I could help. She cried even more. She poured her heart out to me.

Here was a bunch of pastors and church staff people gathered together to talk and learn about evangelizing our state, but we completely missed one who was desperate for Jesus, even though she just walked right in the front door. What message got sent to her that day? “We have plenty of buildings, and a great information desk, but we are fresh out of Jesus.”

What are you doing to show the love of Christ to a world in need of a savior?
Write this to Sardis, to the Angel of the church. The One holding the Seven Spirits of God in one hand, a firm grip on the Seven Stars with the other, speaks: "I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you're dead, stone-dead. "Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there's life in you yet. But I wouldn't know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God's work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God. (Revelation 3:1-3 The Message)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thanks!

Thank you for your patience while I dealt with computer problems. I hope you enjoy the blog post below called Reading Errors.
Stacy

Reading Errors

One of the great joys I have had, over the last year, is witnessing my son learning to read. He began with just the letter sounds, which he picked up pretty easily. Then putting those sounds together was a bit of a struggle, but once he did it a few times, he was off to the races. He can now read most any word, at his level, and he sometimes attempts ones which are much harder.

I love to read with him at night just before bed. If it is a short book, I let him read it to me. If it is longer, I take a line or two and he does the same. We take turns reading until we are finished. Of course, he still loves for me and his mother to read a whole book to him.

One of the problems he has with reading, at this stage is that he wants so badly to read faster. Sometimes, he will read a story to me, and will do fine for a while. Suddenly, I’ll hear something that doesn’t quite make sense. When I check it out, the first few letters of the word are the same as the word he said aloud, but the word is completely different. When I make him go back, he reads the word correctly.

There are several reasons that cause him to make this mistake. First, he has a desire to read faster. Secondly, he doesn’t take the time to make sure of what the word is before moving on to the next one. Thirdly, he wants to be impressive to whomever he is reading. Fourthly, he is overly confident and thinks he knows the word already.

Of these reasons, the first is the most noble. I appreciate his ambition to be better, but we all know there are no shortcuts to getting better at anything. It takes practice and hard work. The second reason could be caused by impatience, or tiredness. Either way, it can cause quite a bit of confusion. The third reason is useless, because I could not be more impressed with him than I already am. I know his limits, and his level of learning and I do not hold an expectation over him beyond what I know he is capable of. However, I do expect him to perform any task to the level that I know he can. The last reason is common also. He is feeling good about what he can do, and overlooks some basic rules of reading because he thinks he is past that. However, how many times in life have we all had to go back to basics in order to reorganize life?

This is a good example of our Christian walk. As we learn more about God we tend to make the same mistakes as a young reader. We begin using what we learn from God, but we want Him to move faster in our lives. First, we don’t like the pace God has us on, even though we are not ready for the next level with Him. Secondly, we don’t make sure of the Word before acting. Thirdly, we want to impress others (or maybe God) with our faith, so we act a certain way based on how we think we should live. Fourthly, we get a small glimpse of God’s plan for us, so we run ahead assuming we know where to go.

All of these mistakes are detrimental to reading, and also to our relationship with God. God works in His time, not ours. God gave us His word to guide us and lead us. If we do not consult the Bible and commit its words to our hearts we will never be sure of God’s true plan. God already knows what we are capable of, He created us and knows us inside out. He is happy when we do something pleasing to Him, but we do not need to call attention to it. He already knows, and we have no reason to impress other people with our faith. Finally, God knows what lies ahead, even though we do not. Wouldn’t you rather follow someone who knows where you both are going rather than to run ahead, only to have to come back to basics later?

Trusting God is hard sometimes, but He will always prove His power and glory in your life if you let Him. Give Him your time, read the Bible for guidance, live only to please Him, and don’t get ahead of His plan. If we can avoid these mistakes, then we will truly honor Him.

My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones. (Proverbs 3:1-8)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sorry!

To any readers,
Due to some serious computer issues, I have not been able to update this blog for a while. I will resume posting after Wednesday September 17, 2008.
Thank you for your patience.
Stacy

Thursday, August 28, 2008

$3 million Church Donation

http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/indexFP.php?rn=3906861&cl=9483252&ch=4226713

I think this link above tells an interesting story. I think the person's desire to remain anonymous is an incredible testament to their character. Or is it?
Maybe they just didn't want their church to know they were gambling! :)
Did God allow this person to win the lottery so that this church could add on to their facilities? God has certainly done stranger things in scripture to further His purposes. I have several questions though.
  1. How many of us could have given up our winnings to our church?
  2. How many people in that church will stop giving because they think the church doesn't need it now?
  3. How many people out there will criticize the church for taking the money?

It's amazing how quick we are to judge a person or situation when God actually does show up to intervene. In John 9 we are told the story of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. The Pharisees and even the man's own family began to criticize Jesus for healing on the Sabbath and the man for ackowledging that Jesus is the Son of God who healed him.

Too many times we behave exactly as these Pharisees in this story. We judge, criticize and villianize what we cannot understand.

My prayer is that this church will add on, but that they will add on in order to reach others for Christ, not to just enrich their own programs and worship experience.

Just my rambling thoughts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What do you worship?

I believe that the remarkable progress of human society - the progress of the human mind and spirit - is not of our doing, but is nothing less than a wondrous manifestation of the extraordinary power and blessing of God working in and through us. It's not our power, it's God's power. And thus it is God and God alone that we must worship, and not the work of our own hearts or minds or hands. Margaret B. Gunness


OK, its pop quiz time. Ready? What is the thing that we attend on Sunday mornings just after the Sunday School hour?....

Time’s up! What was your answer? There is a long list of names for this Sunday event. You might have said church, Sunday service, “preaching”, “big church”, or even naptime. (I seriously hope the last answer wasn’t yours.)

The most correct answer is worship. We come together to worship God during this time. There is no distinction between the hymns, the message, the offering, or even the children’s sermon. If we are doing these things correctly, it is all worship.

We know that when we come into the building we call “church” on Sunday morning we are there to worship God. However, did you know that your worship of God is not limited to Sunday mornings? God wants you to worship Him with your life, all day, every day.

Too many times, however, we just can’t seem to squeeze in even a few seconds of worship for our God, who is always there waiting to hear from us. All too often the things that receive the most attention from us are things that matter the least to God.

One of our church members told me recently about a sermon one of our previous pastors preached. In the sermon the pastor said something like, “Wherever you spend most of your time, that’s where your god is.” I’m sure I have butchered the exact quote, but the sentiment is there. Where do we spend the bulk of our time, exhaust most of our energy, and funnel most of our money and resources? The god we worship is in the answer to that question.

There is no harm in doing our daily activities, but when they begin to eclipse our view of God Almighty, The Great I Am, who loves us so much, then these diversions become distractions. God is a jealous God. The Bible refers nearly thirty times to Him being jealous for us! Too many times we continue to ignore Him and chase after other gods.

The bottom line question I have for you is, “What do you worship?” Is the God of the universe the main focus of your life? Is He your reason for living? Or is He just the old man, with the white beard, who sits on a throne in heaven that you give a nod to on Sunday mornings?

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No wonder the perception that the world has of Christians is so bad. Whatever happened to personal purity, character, and integrity in our church leadership?
http://www.sbc.net/redirect.asp?url=http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=28727

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Two paths

When Dr. William Willimon was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, he got a call from an upset parent, a VERY upset parent. "I hold you personally responsible for this," he said.

"Me?" Dr. Willimon asked.

The father was hot, upset because his graduate school-bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to chuck it all ("throw it all away" was the way the father described it) and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti. "Isn't that absurd!" shouted the father. "A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she's going to dig ditches in Haiti."

"Well, I doubt that she's received much training in the Engineering Department for that kind of work, but she's probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months," Dr. Willimon said.

"Look," said the father, "this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible," he said.

As the conversation went on, Dr. Willimon pointed out that the well-meaning but obviously unprepared parents were the ones who had started this ball rolling. THEY were the ones who had her baptized, read Bible stories to her, took her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vail. Dr. Willimon said, "You're the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me."

"But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian," said the father, meekly.

This is what happens when we get too comfortable and forget that we are following Jesus, not our “religion”. This Christian experience is not about what denomination we are, it is about being sold out to Christ. In that, He may ask us to do many things that lead us out of our complacency, and into an unknown world where we follow Him, not rules.

Please do not misunderstand; submitting to God’s will for our lives is not complete anarchy. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is complete peace that we live in when we are doing the will of the Master.

Many times in our journey we may be content in our Christian lives, and happy with the way we worship, but unfulfilled in our spirits because we are not living and worshiping Him in the way God wants. However, we may find ourselves in uncomfortable and possibly downright dangerous circumstances, but are able to feel God’s peace because we are listening to Him, and following blindly.

The old story of the man who visited the jungle is a good illustration of this. A man was trudging through the jungle with a guide. The plant growth was beautiful, but thick. The guide was using a machete to get through the growth. The visitor said, “Where is the path?”
The guide replied, “I am the path.”

We have two choices. We can follow the well worn-path of religious law and ritual that Christ proved was a path that always leads to bondage and guilt. The other choice is to follow Christ blindly, where we cannot even take a step without following in His footprints. We then become completely dependant on Him. He becomes our “path”.


Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)





Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What is real?

Jesus was always going up into the mountains to pray. He went there so He could be alone and talk with God. One day, however, He took Peter, John and James along with Him.

I‘m sure they were thrilled to be able to go with Jesus to pray. Can you imagine the feelings and excitement they must have felt as they walked up to that special place where they would get to see and hear Jesus talking to God? Not only were they chosen to accompany Him on the journey up the mountain, but they were also going to be able to participate in the moment. They must have thought, “What a day this will be!”

It must have been a long trip up the mountain, because when they arrived at the place where Jesus intended to pray, Peter, James and John fell asleep. In fact, they almost missed the whole entire event. While they were asleep, Jesus began praying. Luke 9:29-31 reads, As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Jesus was in the presence of Moses and Elijah, talking with them about His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. His face became different, His robe lit up, and Peter, James and John slept. However, something stirred them.

As they became fully awake, they saw Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus, and also saw Jesus in His full glory. They were then allowed into a cloud in which they heard the voice of God. They must have been speechless to encounter the true power of Almighty God.

However, Luke 9 tells us that as soon as God spoke, suddenly they were alone with Jesus. There was no more shining robe, no Moses or Elijah to talk with, no thundering voice from heaven. Once again, it was just the three of them and Jesus. Many thoughts probably rushed through their minds. “Did it really happen?” “Was it a dream from their heavy sleep?”

I read an article on Monday about the Olympic opening ceremony fireworks. Apparently the fireworks show that was seen in Beijing was a little different than the one seen on our television screens. Some of the fireworks on television were faked. They were computer generated.

A good number of people are upset that they believed the display to be true. However, some are not upset at all. They enjoyed it whether some of it was fake or not. They are not upset, because they appreciate the effort that went into the display, whether it was the real thing or generated by computer.

Make no mistake, Jesus’ light show on the mountain with Peter, James and John was real. It was no dream or group psychosis. It really happened. There was nothing fake about it. However, what if it had been a dream? Couldn’t that dream be used of God to strengthen their belief?
Sometimes the question is not whether an experience is real or not. Sometimes the better question is what can we learn from it? What is God trying to show me through this real event, dream, or emotion?

What is happening in your life that seems unreal? Instead of trying to take it apart and analyze it, try trusting God for the faith to understand it. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you just as He did that glorious day on the mountain to Peter, James and John. He will relish the opportunity for you to know Him better.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unnecessary Roughness

I just returned from our family vacation to the beach. We had a wonderful time. The kids were fun, and my wife and I both said it was the best beach trip we have ever had with the kids. It was truly one to remember.

This year, more than ever before, I was struck by the way worldly values are bombarding us in advertising at the beach. I know we see commercials on television, and endure foul language at the movies, but the barrage of images that was fed to us this week on billboards, building facades, radio commercials, and pamphlets, was overwhelming.

There are certain places where one would expect to find such advertising. If you pass by a bar, you might find a beer sign. If you pass a place of business that sells swimwear, you might see an image of a man or woman in a swimsuit. I understand these things. It doesn’t mean I approve, but I understand the marketing principle.

The problem that I truly have is when the approach is unnecessary. Many times the advertising could be done in a way that does not glorify questionable values and morals, but they are used to get the attention of the consumer. We see sex, materialism, and selfishness glorified in this type of advertising and we follow like rats after the pied piper.

One such example is at Broadway at the Beach. I used to love the Discovery Channel Store. It was a huge store filled with all types of scientific stuff. I don’t think I ever bought much from there, but I loved going in.

This year as I was wandering around I saw where the Discovery Channel Store used to be. In its place was a store called It’s Sugar. This huge building has now been turned into one gigantic candy store.

As I was surveying the outside of the building, and pondering whether or not to enter, I noticed something that truly bothered me. The spacious façade of the store was painted with a number of seductive looking women holding different types of candy. Not all of them were scantily clad, but it was obvious that the owner took the old adage, “sex sells”, very seriously. I didn’t even go in.

I guess the most frustrating thing about it is the unnecessary nature of it. If you call a store “It’s Sugar” put pictures of candy on the outside and people will come in. Why add the graphic artwork?

We as Christians have a huge job. Throughout history, it has never been an easy task to avoid the lure of the world, but today it is more difficult than it has ever been. Now more than ever, we need to arm ourselves with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The morals and values of the world are seeping into our lives and we never see them taking over.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were three dangerous bird-women, portrayed as seductresses, who lived on an island. It was surrounded by cliffs and rocks. Seamen who sailed near were decoyed by the Sirens' enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast. Satan uses the same techniques. To lure us into thinking we are safe, but he is simply leading us to destruction.

How can we avoid such seemingly harmless and wonderful things? We must take precautions and not put ourselves in situations where we are tempted. There are some things that assault our senses that we cannot control, but in those cases we can be prepared to endure such temptations. In order to do this we must pray continuously for God’s strength, be accountable to other Christians, and arm ourselves with the word of God.

Paul explains in Ephesians 6:10-18 how to arm yourself with God’s armor. Jesus informs us in Matthew 6:22-23 what happens when we allow our senses to be taken in by the world. Surrender these things to God and ask Him to strengthen you to be a light in the world, not another victim of it’s lust.

I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman? For what is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is it not destruction for the wicked, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? Does He not see my ways, and count all my steps? (Job 31:1-4)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Color Commentary

If you are a fan of Clemson football and have listened, in recent years, to a Clemson football game on the radio, then you have no doubt heard my good friend, Will Merritt. Will was an offensive lineman for Clemson, and now provides the color commentary alongside Pete Yanity’s play-by-play. Will adds a new dimension to the term “color commentary”, with his incredibly hilarious comments.

I’m not really sure whether he means for them to be funny or not, but he is quite entertaining to listen to. For example, a few seasons ago, he was talking about the Clemson defense swarming the other team. He said, “They came down on them like a bunch of banshee Indians.” Now, a banshee is a screaming Irish ghost, and I assume he was referring to Native Americans. I wasn’t aware, until Will told us, that the two had ever mingled.

Sportscasters have a difficult job. We criticize them many times, but who among us could talk extemporaneously for several hours about a sports event? They are special people. For all the crazy things they say from time to time, they have the ability to inspire us, educate us and entertain us, all at the same time.

On Monday night, Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs in the opening round, to break Bobby Abreu's record of 24 set in 2005. This is a great feat in itself, but the story behind Josh’s achievement was the talk of the night.

Josh was a drug addict. He was hooked on both alcohol and several kinds of drugs. He became drug free in 2005 and after a dream in which he saw Jesus helping him fight the devil with him, he realized he didn’t just need to quit the drugs, but he also needed Christ in his life. He accepted Christ back in 2006, and is very vocal about his faith.

After Josh Hamilton's feat on Monday night, it was Rick Reilly, a sportscaster for ESPN, who made quite a statement. He simply said, "It's a lousy night to be an atheist". With all of the crazy things these airtime professionals occasionally say, sometimes they get it right. Indeed it was a testament to the power of God, to see a changed man accomplish something like that.

Mr. Reilly has been criticized for his words by some. However, what he said was true. Why? Because God was not putting on a show Monday night through Josh Hamilton’s home runs. (If He had been, then Justin Morneau wouldn’t have won the whole Derby.) No, the testament to God’s power wasn’t in the bat, but in the man standing at the plate. The new Josh Hamilton, who God changed with His love, grace and power, was there for the devil, the atheists, and all the world to see.

Our lives are a living breathing testimony to God’s all powerful love for us. His power is not shown in our blessings, accomplishments, achievements, awards, and accolades. It is shown in the fact that we have been given eternal life in heaven with Him, and life “more abundant”, here on earth. If we have Jesus Christ in our lives, then we are not just a changed person, but an entirely new creature.

Thanks for the reminder, Josh!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

To Forgive and Be Forgiven

No doubt you have seen the photograph to the left. It is perhaps the most famous photograph taken during the Vietnam War. It is not easy to look at the images seen here. It brings to mind the horrors and innocent lives that are affected by war. However, the story I heard the other day, made me take another look at this photo, and see it in a different light.

This picture, taken in 1972, shows South Vietnamese forces behind injured children as they run down a road near Trang Bang. They had been in a temple when an aerial napalm attack was launched on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. This photo earned a Pulitzer Prize for photographer Nick Ut.

Why am I showing this to you? Is a rant about the horrors of war about to begin? No. I want you to read an essay. I want you to take the time to read the words of the girl in the picture. Look at the photo. She is the one in the center. She is naked, because her clothes were burned off. She is running, because she is terrified. You may have seen this picture before and thought, “Poor girl. I wonder what happened to her.” You are about to find out, but not in my words; in hers.

I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR this week. They have a series called This I Believe. As the essay was introduced, I knew right away what photograph they were talking about. I had seen it many times and turned away. Now, in my truck, I was hearing the actual voice of this little girl, whose name is Kim Phuc who is now 45 years old.

I was moved to tears, as I thought about how petty and spoiled we are. When the boss yells at us, or we can’t park close to the mall, or we are inconvenienced by someone’s lack of professionalism, we think we have problems. We have minor bumps in the road compared to what this little girl went through. How did she make it through? Read the essay. I think you will find inspiration, and maybe a new way of looking at your problems.
By the way, if you would like to hear her read the essay, just go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91964687 .

All Things Considered, June 30, 2008 · On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.
I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.
Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.
It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.
Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.
The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.
I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.
In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.
Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.
If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?


This essay was produced by Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. NPR's This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Little Big Horn

Chances are, you have never heard of Thomas J. Stowers. In fact, if it were not for a small grave marker in Odd Fellow Cemetery in Baxter, Tennessee, his story might be lost forever. This marker preserves a piece of history that even the most astute history student might miss.

The gravestone reads as follows: Thomas J. Stowers, December 3, 1848-July 25, 1933 Enlisted September 3, 1864-Private Co. D 199 Regiment Served in the 7th Calvary after Civil War. Was sole survivor of General Custer’s massacre June 25, 1876.


History tells us that there were no survivors of that fateful battle, which occurred this week in 1876, except one horse named Comanche, who was found in a thicket with seven arrows stuck in him. However, Mr. Stowers’ marker tells us something quite different. His story that he told until his death is worth re-telling.

The story that has been passed down about him is that the reason he was able to survive was prior to the commencement of the battle, Stowers had been placed in a supply wagon because of an extreme case of intoxication. During the battle, the supply wagon was turned over, and he lay hidden beneath it.

Now, before historians and the like begin contacting me about the validity of Mr. Stowers’ story, allow me to acknowledge that there were as many as fifty people who “claimed” to have survived the battle. Most of them have been written off as “yarnspinners”. However, most of these didn’t take their tale so far as to be written on their grave marker. Whether the Stowers story is true or not, I think it illustrates a great point for us as Christians.

I have been preaching through a series entitled “The Battlefield”. We are discussing the spiritual warfare we are all engaged in, (Ephesians 6:12) and where those battlefields occur in our lives. We fight this battle at work, school, home, and even church. There are those who fight valiantly in this war, but there are many more who have been so “intoxicated” by the ways of the world, that they have no idea that a battle is even going on. They are sung to sleep by the hum of the world’s noise, and only awaken when the wagon they are riding on overturns.

Even then, many choose to stay out of the battle. They cower under some kind of cover to try to ride out the storm outside. They hear the sounds of war, but they choose to stay safely hidden. The problem, however, is that sooner or later, they are going to have to give an account to the general as to their role in the war. They will either be met with a medal of honor, and greeted with “well done my good and faithful servant”, or a verdict of treason and a sentence of “depart from Me”.

There is a story about a Scottish noble named Robert the Bruce, who led Scotland to independence in the 1300’s. He requested that at his death, his heart be preserved and taken on crusade by a worthy knight. James Douglas took on the responsibility.

In 1330, Douglas was engaged in a battle he realized he could not win. He was wearing the king’s heart around his neck. He took the heart, threw it into the enemy’s ranks, and cried out to his men, “Fight for the heart of your king!”

How long will you allow the battle to rage around you while you sleep? What will you do when your wagon is overturned and you find yourself in the middle of a war? Will you hide and try to ride it out, or will you fight well for the heart of your King?

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:12-16)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cell Phone Tree

I was leaving North Augusta this week, headed for Augusta. As I turned left onto Highway 25, I noticed this funny looking tree behind the Publix shopping center. It was very tall, and rather scraggly. It towered over everything, and its limbs were spaced widely apart. I did not remember seeing it there before.

As I drove closer to it, I realized that it was not a tree at all. It was a cell phone tower. No, my eyes are not so bad that I don’t know the difference. The reason I could not identify it sooner was because it was a cell phone tower disguised as a tree.

In an effort to make the tower seem more like part of the landscape, the company had made the pole look like bark and the receivers look like limbs. The result looks like a very out of place, very tall, unhealthy pine tree.

I was only fooled for a few seconds. The fact of the matter is, even though it was disguised, it was still a cell phone tower. I’m quite sure that the residents of North Augusta have mixed emotions about the cell tree.

The problem is that either way, the tower is not exactly appealing. I suppose the decision is the lesser of the two evils. Either you have an unattractive cell tower looming over the city, or you have an equally unattractive, bad imitation of a tree.

Personally, I would go for the former. This portion of North Augusta isn’t what I would call rural. There are stores, restaurants, power lines, and lots of traffic. I never noticed there was a cell tower there until they tried to make it look like a tree.

When I was a banker and still running as hard as I could from God, I had an interesting experience. I was at lunch in downtown Greenville. There are many people who work downtown that were dressed like me. I was wearing the standard suit and tie of a banker, and was surrounded by other businesspeople that were also waiting for lunch. A man, who was dressed very casually, came up to me and asked if I was a preacher.

I, of course, replied that I was not. He said “Are you sure?” I told him again that I was not a preacher. He then said “I’m sorry, you just look like one.”

I left there puzzled. Why on earth did he think I was a preacher? I was dressed like all the other businesspeople and I was not holding a Bible or anything that might look like one. Why did he say that? I wanted so badly to find him and ask “What made you think I was a preacher?”

After being a pastor for almost three years now, I understand. You see, I can wear whatever I want, I can put on any mask that I like, and I can try to behave like the world in order to fool them into thinking I’m like them. The truth is, that because I belong to God, others can see the difference, no matter how I try to hide it. I can try to disguise myself, like that cell phone tower, but others only see me trying to be something I’m not.

When we Christians do this, we are fooling nobody but ourselves. God knows who we are inside, and the world knows when we are behaving inconsistently with who we really are as children of God. Stop wasting the effort it takes to put on the disguise, and live your life in the fullness of Christ’s love. Just like the cell phone tower, the world may not like you any more or less, but at least you won’t be a poor imitation of something you are not.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Truth

If you do not have an e-mail address, some will say you are not in touch with the times. However, on some days, I believe the “e” in e-mail stands for “evil.” Those of us who send and receive messages through this particular portal, know it can be very frustrating at times.

We get fake Amber Alert messages. We are told that if we forward a certain e-mail to at least 10 friends then Bill Gates will send us some money. We are regaled with heart wrenching or inspiring stories that are supposed to be true, but turn out to be a story that was fabricated years ago.

One such example that I received last week is the story of Jay Leno’s essay on the blessings we have in America. The following is an excerpt from the e-mail.

A recent Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the President. In essence 2/3 of the citizenry just ain't happy and want a change. So being the knuckle dragger I am, I started thinking, 'What are we so unhappy about?’ Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 Days a week? Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter? Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year? Maybe it is the ability to drive our cars and trucks from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state?(Attributed to Jay Leno)


The essay goes on to list other things that we have to be thankful for. While this is a great essay, it was not penned by Jay Leno. It was authored by Craig R. Smith of the World Net Daily. I found the true author of this essay in a matter of seconds online.

This is a great example of how rumors get around. All it takes is one person to carelessly give out information, others to halfway hear and repeat it, and many more to pass it along as fact while never checking to see if it is true. How many times have you told the story about the man who was not hired by the CEO of a large company because he salted his food at lunch without tasting it? That one’s not true either.

While some don’t really think this is very damaging in the big scheme of things, I do. The danger in passing along undocumented information, that happened to a “friend of a friend”, is twofold. First of all we begin to doubt everything we hear or read. The second danger is that we begin to believe everything we hear and read. The first danger is that of cynicism and skepticism, and the second is gullibility.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, many people were displaced from their customs and ways of life. As a result, in the generations to follow, the ability to read and write was something a commoner did not need. Therefore, over time this ability was lost. In many cases, only the church retained the art of reading and writing.

Because the people could not read the scriptures for themselves, they became prey for corrupt priests who knew the commoners would believe anything they were told. The people were slaves, in a sense; to the church because they did not question the information they were given.

Today we have more information available to us than ever before. We have entire libraries at our fingertips, on the internet. Many people had the opportunity to watch the Mars landing live last week, and we can follow a storm with the radar on our own home computer.

What are we doing with this access to information? Are we really squandering our time and resources by spreading rumors and gossip even faster? What if we use this resource to study God’s word to learn the real Truth? What if instead of forwarding a joke that has been making the rounds since 1942, we make sure people hear about the love of Christ?

I challenge you to make sure the words from your lips, e-mails, texts and letters are true. If people can’t believe you in everyday subjects, why should they believe you when you talk to them about Jesus?

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker. (2 Timothy 2:15-17)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Debt

Debt is a term that many of us are painfully well acquainted with. Debt is that guest that enters into our lives hat soon can become a permanent yet unwanted part of our family. So many of us are so entangled with it that we fear we will never be released.

If we feel this way, we are not alone. Consider these facts:
· The average family in credit card debt carries a balance of $4000 on several cards from month to month
· In the year ended June 30, 2004 there were 1,599,986 personal bankruptcy filings.
· The average household has 10 credit cards and the average interest rate is 18.9 %
· Americans paid out approximately $65 billion in interest last year alone.

Debt has become a way of life for many people. When faced with a large purchase many of us do not ask the question “can I afford it?”, but ask “can I afford the payments?”

Sometimes debt takes us by surprise. Imagine the shock Yahaya Wahab of Malaysia felt when he opened his phone bill a while back.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A Malaysian man said he nearly fainted when he received a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday. Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the $23 bill, the New Straits Times reported. But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a $218 trillion bill for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported. It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after his death."If the company wants to seek legal action as mentioned in the letter, I'm ready to face it," the paper quoted Yahaya as saying. "In fact, I can't wait to face it," he said.

I don’t know if any of you have $218 trillion lying around anywhere, but I would never be able to pay such a debt. Our sin is much like that phone bill. We were created as perfect people in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned and separated us from God. When we tried throughout history to make atonement for our sin through sacrifice to God, it was like making a minimum interest only payment on a $218 trillion dollar debt. We were getting nowhere fast.

God decided that the only way to help us was to forgive our debt completely. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, the embodiment of forgiveness for our debt. As the old Hymn goes, Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

This week, my prayer is that you realize the magnitude of our debt that has been forgiven. Jesus paid the price for something he did not do, and that we could not possibly afford. When the sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, He told this story that embodies the significance of His sacrifice.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:36-47 NIV)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ticket Trouble

As I have said in the past, I haven’t always been a pastor. Just like many of you reading this, I have done my share of things I wish I hadn’t. Looking back now, I see how incredibly disobedient to God I was, and at the same time, realize how fortunate I was to have a Heavenly father watching out for me.

My inability to comply with traffic laws was one of those areas of disobedience. I am no stranger to being pulled over by the police. I have had speeding tickets, fender-bender tickets and parking tickets. However, I have to tell you that I have now learned better, and I now drive much slower. If you see me speeding, you know there is a very good reason.

At one time, however, it was a series of parking tickets that got me into trouble. I had some very good friends who attended Clemson University. In fact, I met my wonderful wife through these friends. Being able to park right outside of an apartment building in Clemson is nearly impossible. You almost have to park in a handicap space to even get close.

I did not go to Clemson, so I thought it would be just fine to park in the handicap space. The first time I got a ticket, I just ripped it up and threw it away. I thought “They are just campus police; they won’t find me since I am not a student.” Furthermore, I was driving demonstrator cars from my dad’s car dealership. I drove a different car very frequently, so I thought that would make it harder for them to catch me.

Ticket after ticket came to be placed on my windshield, and one after the other I threw them away. Finally, I started to leave one day, and could not find my car. It was not where it was earlier! I went to the campus police station to inquire about it. They told me that they did indeed have my car and they would gladly turn it over to me when I paid the $375.00 fine that had mounted from my unpaid parking tickets. Of course, I had to come up with the money, and pay it.

I thought I had outsmarted the police. I thought I had gotten away with my crime. The Clemson police finally made me pay for my insolence.

We tend to be like that with God. We think that because other people do not see our sinfulness, God cannot either. We may not confess to believing that way, but our actions tell a different story. What do you do when nobody is looking that God doesn’t approve of? Would you do it if others knew? I rest my case.

Some of us are also like the lady in Calumet, Michigan, who got a parking ticket back in September of 1976, and sent the money to pay for it just last week. The ticket, a $20 bill and a note arrived at police headquarters last month in a plain white envelope with no return address. The note read: "I always had good intentions of paying it. I put it aside and every once in a while I would come across it and say 'Someday I'm going to pay it.' Now I think it's time." We always think we have more time to atone for our wrongs.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we just admitted to wrongdoings; to others and to God, before we are caught? Why do we think we can continue forever in disobedience to God with no punishment?
The Israelites had that kind of mentality. They thought they could just go forever worshipping other gods and denying the one who created them. They paid no attention to the prophets who told them to repent or risk God’s wrath. They thought He wouldn’t, or thought He couldn’t, carry out the promised punishment. However, in 586 B.C., not only was Jerusalem conquered by the Babylonians, but it was leveled and God’s temple was destroyed.

Many of us today have the idea that God isn’t there anymore. We think maybe He will not punish us for our insolence. We think we have gotten away with it and there will be no punishment, no judgment, and no hell. But one day, we will find our car that we parked illegally, is no longer in the place where we left it, and we will need to pay the price for our sin. Doesn’t it seem like a better idea to stop being so arrogant, pray to God, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing the things that displease God now, rather than pay the terrible price for disobedience before His throne later? Just confess your sinfulness to Him, ask Him to show you what needs to be corrected, correct it, and He will be faithful to forgive and reward you with life forever with Him.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Sheepdog

When I was in seminary I was labeled as somewhat of a rebel. This was mainly because I challenged some of the thinking that was taught there. Don’t get me wrong, I never questioned the authority of the Bible, or the existence of God. I simply questioned some of the teachings in some less Biblically based classes like Church Administration.

Prior to entering seminary I had some experience in automobile sales. I had been trained by the best car salesperson in the business; my dad. He wouldn’t even let me step foot on the sales lot until I had completed a two week one-on-one, personal training, at home, with him. My job during the day, while he was at work, was to watch training and motivational videos. Then when he got home, we ate supper and went to the upstairs bonus room to talk about what I had learned that day and role play.

I tell you this because it was during this, and in the ongoing training I received in the car business, that I learned basic business practices. I knew what the latest business growth models were, and how to apply them. When I got to seminary, I realized that the models for church growth were simply “renamed” business growth models. I spoke up and asked many times, “Whatever happened to just lifting Christ up for all to see? He said if we do that then He will draw all to Him.”

I believe we should always lift up Jesus Christ first. It’s not our job to grow the church. It’s His. We work for Him. He calls the shots. Not us.

One of the other things that I chose to fight in that class was the idea of being a shepherd. The instructor continued to refer to us as the shepherd of the flock. While I realize this is common terminology in reference to the pastor, I believe we are much less than shepherds. Jesus is the Great Shepherd. As pastors, we are just sheepdogs. The flock is His. We are not worthy to even be guarding them. We are just doing the hard, dirty work of a sheepdog.

We do what the Shepherd tells us. We try our best to corral the flock. If one goes astray, we try to rescue it. We live with the flock, eat with the flock, and spend our whole day and night with the flock. We are one of them, except for our calling.

Pastors, you are very important to the work of the Master. However, you are not in charge. We are only sheepdogs to God’s flock. Do your work obediently and faithfully.

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he'll see that you've done it right and commend you lavishly. (1Peter 5:1-5 The Message)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Are you a Knut?

Do you sometimes struggle to do what is right? Of course you do. We all do. Sometimes it seems easy to make the right choices. At other times, it is much easier to do what is sinful. We all know the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” However, how may of us truly do this day in and day out?

You are not alone in this. Every person who has ever lived, has wrestled with sinfulness. Even Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert. He passed the test, but He would not have been fully human had He not been at least tempted to take the Devil’s deal. We are certainly not better than Christ; therefore, we are also tempted by the lies of Satan.

Why do we do this? Our sinful nature inclines us to wander away from God. It all started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed for the first time. Since then, it is in our nature to shun God’s ways for our own self-satisfying desires. The only hope for reconciliation with God is the salvation offered to us by Christ.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can take the man out of Edgefield, but you can’t take Edgefield out of the man?” (Well, maybe you didn’t hear it quite that way, but you get the idea.) It is true that left to our own devices, we will always regress to our evil ways.

I read a story recently about a polar bear named Knut that is a resident of the Berlin Zoo. He was born in captivity, abandoned by his mother and raised by the zookeepers. He was a gentle bear, but eventually grew to weigh over 300 pounds. Several weeks ago, Knut made headlines again, because he decided that the carp in the moat that surrounded him would make a tasty snack. He ate ten of them in front of a group of zoo visitors. An article by Aaron Hotfelder read:

Knut, the once-cute celebrity polar bear turned vicious killer, is at the center of a controversy over his brutal slaughter of ten carp at the Berlin Zoo. The massive polar bear, who has lived at the zoo since birth, apparently fished the carp out of the moat surrounding him and ripped them to shreds in front of several disgusted zoo patrons.

What exactly did they expect? As at least one journalist put it so well, “Umm...HE'S A POLAR BEAR!" Just because they put him in a zoo, feed him and love him, does not change the fact that bears like fish! Put fish in a moat around a polar bear and his nature is to eat them unless you can change the nature of a bear.

Unless something can change our nature from sinful to righteous we are always going to flounder. (Pardon the pun.) Fortunately for us, there is a life changing power that can change us. The love of Jesus Christ has made a way for us to make that change by surrendering our lives to Him. Only God, who created us, can change our nature, and He did it by dying for us. Because He died and rose again to defeat death, we can have a new heart, a new life, and a new nature through Jesus Christ.

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin's power. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me(Romans 7:14-20 HCS)

Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20 NKJV)