Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Gifts We Don't Need

My wife and I braved the “Black Friday” shopping day in Greenville, SC this year. It has become a tradition for us in the last three years. I’m not much of a shopper, so it might seem odd that I enjoy this shopping day. However, if you think about it, not enjoying shopping is precisely why I love this one, big shopping day. We are able to complete our Christmas shopping all in one day.

Each year I think about the people who we are buying Christmas presents for. We like to see them open them and appreciate what we gave them, but I know that they really don’t need for us to buy them a present. I am the same way. I am grateful for what people buy me, but I really don’t need anything.

However, there are many who we pass each day who are needful. It is these people who I think of each year. Each year my Christmas wish is the same. I wish we could put some reigns on the madness of Christmas giving to those who do not need the things we give, and give to those who do.

I read a story this week that you may have seen before. The story is true, and was written by Nancy W. Gavin. She wrote it for a contest that the magazine Woman’s Day was holding in 1982. She won first place.

It is the story of a “small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.” She goes on to write, “It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-overspending...the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.”

Her inspiration came at a wrestling match that their 12 year-old was in. the other team from a poorer side of town, and the boys lacked the proper equipment. Nancy went out and bought what was needed and gave the equipment anonymously to the other team. She wrote on the envelope what she had done, and put it in the tree. She said, “His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.”

Each year she found a new recipient and she said, “The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.”

In 1981 her husband died of cancer. Nancy writes of that year, “When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.”

As you begin all the festivities of this Christmas season, remember that the greatest gift is one that comes from your heart, not out of a sense of obligation. Jesus did not leave all the glory of Heaven because of any obligation. He became one of us because he wanted to. It was the ultimate gift of the heart.

Nancy W. Gavin’s last line in her story is what I leave with you. “May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.”

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NIV)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Creation, Corruption and a Camaro

In the beginning, God created everything. He created the earth, sky, plants, animals, trees, and humans. Genesis 2:8 reads, “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man He had formed.” After this God created Eve and everything was going great.

One day Satan, in the form of a serpent, talked the couple into disobeying God. When this happened, the intimate relationship between God and humans was damaged. It seemed that Satan had managed to cripple God’s creation. The couple was banished from Eden and more importantly, from the close presence of God.

God exacted the penalty of death upon His creation for their disobedience. Men and women would struggle to reinstate the relationship with God from this point on. The problem was that due to the sinfulness that was so prevalent, they would wander farther away from God with each passing day. Satan continued to lure humans away from God until it seemed there was no way for them to ever fully belong to Him again. Humans were simply incapable of paying the price for restoration.

In 1983, John Schnatter was working in his father’s tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He had the idea to start making pizzas and delivering them from his father’s business. He used the best ingredients, and soon his pizzas were in great demand. However, his father was in danger of losing the tavern, due to financial difficulties, and that would have meant the end of John’s pizza business.

John’s prize possession at the time, was his 1971 ½ Bumblebee striped Camaro Z28, that he delivered pizzas in. He knew that if the family business was to continue, he would have to sell the car. $2,800.00 later he watched the car drive away with a new owner, but his father’s business was saved.

His pizza business was also saved, and “Papa” John Schnatter grew it into one of the largest pizza businesses in the country. However, John never forgot his Camaro. For many years he looked for it, and even hired an ex-FBI agent to help. He finally put up a finders fee of $25,000 to anyone who could find it, and offered $250,000 to purchase it from the new owner. Last year, John was reunited with the car and bought it back for much more than it is actually worth. He now uses the car in some of the commercials for Papa John’s.

God saw His creation the same way as John Schnatter saw his Camaro. Sin took us away from Him, but He never stopped trying to restore the relationship. The sacrificial system didn’t work, the law didn’t work. The only way to bring us back to Him was to redeem us from sin’s grasp.

In the Bible, the word redeem means to “buy back from bondage or death.” God indeed bought us back from our bondage of sin and death. However, the thing that is most humbling is that He paid much more for us than we are worth. Romans 5:7-8 reads, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though we were righteous or even good, God still redeemed us with His own life.

Knowing this, we should all be willing to do whatever we can for Him and His kingdom. 1 John 3:16-18 tells us, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” We, who are redeemed, should show His love in this world to others and tell them the good news of Christ’s love and grace. Make an effort this week to show your gratitude for His salvation by sharing with someone else.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Want an Apple With That?

A new survey by Yale University has revealed that 84% of parents say their kids have eaten at a fast food restaurant in the last week. Other research has shown that many times this is due to requests by the children to eat at the fast food restaurants. Why are the children demanding fast food? Many maintain that it is because of their marketing.

While companies that sell sugary cereals and drinks have pulled back on their marketing to children, fast food companies like McDonalds and Burger King have done the opposite. They have stepped up their advertising to younger customers. According to the Nielsen Company, preschoolers see about three ads per day, and teens see about five per day.

In 2006, at the urging of the Better Business Bureau, McDonald’s and Burger King agreed to devote at least 50% of their ads directed at kids to choices that are considered “better for you.” However, in those ads, those alternate, healthier choices such as apple dippers and milk are shown in the background behind the fries and cookies. Yale also found that those healthier choices are almost never offered at the counter or drive through.

 In other words, they are using half-truths and deceptively living up to the expectation of the agreement. With this, they are taking the opportunity to advertise more. In fact, the actual numbers are stunning. With information from the Nielsen Company, Yale researchers found that preschoolers are seeing 21% more ads for fast food and teens are seeing 34% more, compared with 2003. What they say they’re advertising is not what is really being sold, and what is being sold is not healthy.

The Garden of Eden was a wonderful place. Adam and Eve were placed there among the rest of God’s creation and lived happily. They were able to do as they pleased, and what they wanted to do pleased God.

God gave the garden to the newly created couple to take care of. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15) He only gave them one rule that we know of. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Everything seemed wonderful. Until, of course, the snake shows up. 

Take a look at the conversation between Eve and the serpent. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  
(Genesis 3:2-5)
Notice two things about this conversation. First, Eve misquoted God. She made the rule sound much worse than it was. She said God told them to not touch the tree. He only said they should not eat from it. Second, notice that the serpent tells her that God was lying and they wouldn’t die. Then he goes on to lure her by telling her she can be like God if she eats the fruit.

Examine those statements. Satan didn’t use a blatant lie. He spoke in half-truths, which is much worse. He said that they wouldn’t die. They didn’t die. Not immediately. Death entered the world after sin. Adam and Eve lived a long time after this event, but they did indeed die.  The other statement Satan made was to say they would know good and evil and be like God. They did know good and evil, like God does, but they did not become like God. They became quite the opposite.

Satan is a liar. He wants to make us think that his ways will not destroy us. He whispers those lies in our ears, and we listen to him. When we read of Jesus’ temptation, we see how crafty the enemy is. He always lures us with something tempting, while hiding a dagger of destruction behind his back. Jesus said of him in John 8, He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:42-44)
Don’t be fooled by Satan’s schemes and craftiness. Build your relationship with God, and allow Him to guide your thoughts, actions, and life. Then, and only then, will you be able to withstand the lies of the enemy.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:7-10 NKJV)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Great Gift! Now what??

My son and I recently celebrated our birthdays. His is two days before mine, which is really great. We get to celebrate for almost a whole week!

This year, we got some great gifts. He got several footballs, an MP3 player, and lots of other cool presents, including the Madden football video game for our Wii. I also got some great presents, including new clothes and an iPad.

My son was very excited when he opened his video games. He couldn’t wait to come home and play them. When I opened my iPad, I was only somewhat excited. Yes, it was a great gift, but when I opened it, I had no idea what it was. It was only after I realized what I had, that I was truly thrilled to own it.

The next day, my son decided to try out his new football video game. He put the disc into the console, and after some crazy music for an introduction, the game started. There’s a good bit of set up to do at the beginning and it took a few minutes to finally get to the place where you are actually playing football. However, the game takes some skill with the remote, and was a little difficult at first. My son got very frustrated and walked away very upset. He said, “Daddy, it’s too hard!”

I also had time to play with my iPad. Macintosh, who makes the iPad, does not include any directions with any of their products. They believe they are so easy to use, that there is no need for them. However, this is not true in my case. I tried several times to play around with it, but wasn’t sure how to do some things, so I didn’t do much with it for a few days.

There is a happy ending to both of these stories. My son plays the football video game like a pro. He is even learning more about choosing the right plays for different football situations. I have learned how to use my iPad and I’m not sure I can ever be without one.

In both cases, we were given something that was a little difficult for us to use at first. Our gratitude for the gifts, and our desire to understand and master them, drove us to learn how to use them. We now use them regularly and efficiently.

God has given us the Bible. Last week, I wrote about going to the Bible for answers. However, for many, it is like my son’s video game or my iPad. We simply don’t understand it, have no idea how to use it, and get frustrated when we try. However, we need to continue trying to understand it, study it, and use it in our lives.

 Make reading your Bible a priority. Stick with a reading plan. Ask God for the desire for His Word. Pray for understanding and He will show you great and wonderful things. 

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Get Answers

I do a lot of research in my position as pastor. I am always trying to figure out what this Greek word really means or what customs were like back in Bible times. Sometimes, I even have to research on when to use a comma in a sentence or how to spell a certain word.

For all of these things there are resources. For the Greek words, there are Lexicons. For the cultural information, there are Bible dictionaries and history books. As for the comma usage…well…if you know of one, please let me know.

Suppose you just made some zucchini bread that tasted fine, but was very dense. What if you were frying chicken in a pan and it sticks? How would you know how to correct those problems the next time? (Maybe you would just not cook anymore and go out to eat!) You would need to pick up one of Shirley O. Corriher’s books.

Who is Shirley O. Corriher? Shirley is an Atlanta, GA biochemist, food writer, teacher and consultant. She has written such books as; CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking and BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. For over 30 years, she has solved problems for everyone from home cooks, editors and writers, large companies like Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble, to Julia Child. If you have a cooking problem to correct, she is your resource.

What is the solution for the Zucchini bread? Corriher says that either the baking powder was old and inactive or too much was added. She says that sometimes recipes call for too much baking powder, which will result in the rising bubbles bumping into each other and floating to the top, where they burst. When they do that, there is no leavening.

How about the stuck chicken? She says that instead of immediately shoving the spatula under the chicken, to simply wait. She says that it’s the protein in the chicken that loosens when heated and sticks to the pan. Waiting until the chicken is cooked and lightly brown, will allow you to gently slide the spatula under the chicken and turn it over.

My point is, when you want to know something, there are a variety of resources to help you get the information you need. With all of these resources at our disposal, there is no excuse for not knowing something that you desire to know. There is more knowledge floating around today than ever before in history.

Why is it, then, that when we feel the desire to know God better, we are confused about how to go about it? We have the greatest instruction book ever written. God has given us His Word and preserved it down through the ages, so we would never be confused about how to live.

However, if we never consult God about the situations we find ourselves in, then we will keep making the same mistakes over and over. The zucchini bread of our lives will never rise. We will continue to be stuck to the pan every time.

The Bible is rich with God’s instruction, encouragement, love, history and much more. If you have trouble knowing where to read for certain things, pick up a good topical Bible. With a topical Bible you can look up any subject and read all the scriptures related to that subject.

Just as there is no excuse for routinely making the same mistakes in cooking, there is no excuse for not following God in your life. The instructions have been given. The directions are plain. Simply open the Bible and your heart and let God show you the way!!
Submit to God and be at peace with Him; in this way prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from His mouth and lay up His words in your heart. (Job 22:21-22 NIV)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Old Familiar Ways

Fall is officially upon us. This is always an exciting time for me. There are many reasons I love it. My birthday, football, deer season and cooler weather are just a few.

I have been going through my deer hunting things. I always pack up most of my hunting equipment so that I can leave to go hunting on short notice or suddenly find some free time. It’s also a good time to make sure I have everything I need and that my camouflage clothing still fits and isn’t too faded.

I can name most of the things that are in my bag. I have a flashlight with fresh batteries, two knives, hand warmers, gloves, cover scent, a face mask, a pen and paper, and various other things that I might need in the woods. I have another bag that just has clothes in it. I make sure I have a warm enough coat and the right boots for whatever the weather is.

My point to this is, that I regularly check my equipment to make sure I am ready for hunting season. Notice that I said “hunting season,” not just one hunt. This means that I need to thoroughly check everything to make sure it is in proper condition for this season. Simply because it worked last year, does not mean that it is good enough for this year.

I believe our lives are similar. Sometimes we rely on old, outdated, worn, or insufficient equipment for our lives. We believe that if it worked before, it will work again. Life does not work that way.

For example, a football team may have great success in one game by running the ball. They may have a great athlete as a running back, who can gain yardage every play. However, the team they play the next week will know that they need to watch that star running back, and zero in on him. Suddenly, the running game is not working anymore.

I have illustrated this many times from the pulpit by, using the various ways Jesus healed the blind. There were many blind people that Jesus healed. However, four occurrences are recorded in scripture with specifics of what method He used. He healed two at once by touching their eyes. One we’re not told how He did it, only that the man was healed. He spit on another man’s eyes to heal his blindness. Jesus simply spoke to Bartimaeus and his eyes were opened. By the pool of Siloam, Jesus spat on the ground, made clay, rubbed it on a man’s eyes and told him to wash in the pool to receive his sight.

The point is, that what worked in the past, may not work now. This is true in life, our Christian walk, and in church. Jesus changed the tone of His messages, the illustrations He used, and the way He healed, based on what would speak best to the people who needed Him.

Maybe it’s time we took inventory of our Christian equipment. Are we relevant to the people who need to hear the gospel the most or are we just taking care to make ourselves comfortable? Is there anything that we need to replace in our lives? Are we as effective in our Christian walk as we once were? Maybe God is leading you to change.

In John 21, we find the disciples fishing. Jesus had risen from the dead, and was standing on the shore. The disciples, who were fishermen by trade, were having no luck pulling in fish. They saw a man on the beach, who was calling to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They did not know it was Jesus yet, but what they were doing wasn’t working, so they tried it. When they did, they could barely pull in the nets for the volume of fish. Jesus called them to do something different than they were used to doing, so that he could show them His power, but most importantly, so that God would receive the glory instead of them.

Spend some time in prayer this week, asking God to show you where you need to improve your relationship with Him and be an effective soldier of the cross. Then follow Him with no hesitation!

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

Friday, October 1, 2010


This week, I heard an interview with author, Emma Donoghue. She is best known for her historic fiction and her knack for inserting homosexual characters in those settings. While I am not a fan of her previous writings, I was intrigued by the idea of her newest release, which was the reason for the interview.

Her new novel is titled, Room. It is told from the viewpoint of a five year-old boy named Jack, who has never left the eleven by eleven room that he shares with his mother. Seven years prior to the time of the novel, Jack’s mother was kidnapped and held captive in a man’s soundproof garden shed. She has never left the room, and even gave birth to Jack there. Jack has never known any other existence.

The room is furnished with a television, a bed, a rocking chair, a rug, a sink and toilet. The man who kidnapped the mother furnishes them with groceries, and makes sure they are well. He is not really a character in the novel as much as a device to bring them food and such.

Because Jack has never had any human interaction other than his mother, he believes they are the only humans on the earth. He thinks that the images he sees on television are only “cartoons.” He is even unsure that “Old Nick,” the kidnapper, is real. He thinks he is only partially real at best.

Because Jack has never known any other existence, his five year-old imagination has allowed him to become friends with the items in the room. Since the novel is told from his words and point of view, whenever he refers to an item it is capitalized. For example, there is Lamp, Rug, Television and Rocking Chair. All of these are personified in some way by Jack. They are his friends, and Jack seems to be a pretty happy boy. He has no sense that he and his mother are actually prisoners.

We as human beings grew up in sin. Sinfulness is all we know. Even though it is not the ideal way to live, we tend to be fine with it. Why? Because we know nothing of another existence. Before experiencing Christ in our lives, we have no idea how it feels to be free from the burden of sin.

Jack spent his whole life in the confinement of a small room. We spend our days confined to the darkness of our sinfulness. When we are offered a way out, we often resist because a new way of doing or thinking is frightening to us. We have been chained for so long; we have even made friends with our chains, just as Jack made “friends” with Lamp and Rug.

We need to allow God to shine the light of His Holy Spirit into our darkness and bring us into the light. We have been held prisoner for too long by the world and our comfort of “the way it has always been.” In order to follow Christ we must be ready to move into a better existence with Him. There is indeed more to this life than simply existing. Jesus died to give you a more significant life. Will you come out of your room and follow Him?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5 KJV)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Driver on the Bus

On Thursday, September 16, 2010, a uniformed bus driver entered a Chicago Transit Authority bus and settled into the driver’s seat. He logged in, started the bus and headed out on the bus’ route about 8 pm. He picked up numerous passengers and dropped them off at the appropriate stops. All seemed to be going well.

Sometime around midnight, however, the man returned the bus to the CTA garage and accidentally hit another bus. Another worker saw the accident and left to get a supervisor. As the second man was leaving, the bus driver bolted out of the bus and ran down the street.

It took a while for the authorities at the CTA to determine what was wrong. It turned out that a bus driver had reported his uniform being stolen about a month before. Before long, the man who drove the bus around for a few hours was identified. He was an acquaintance of the bus driver whose uniform had been stolen.

Now the “fake” bus driver is facing charges for his excursion. His motivation in posing as a bus driver is unclear, but is under investigation. Also, the CTA has assured the public that they are evaluating measures to keep this from happening again. 

The interesting thing about this story is that if he had not hit the other bus, he would have gotten away with his venture. He looked like a bus driver. He logged in and followed procedure. He apparently drove like a regular driver. He even knew the bus route and picked people up and dropped them off in the right places.

Many people might say, “What’s the big deal? No one was hurt.” However, there is a very real danger in this story. This man was not qualified to drive the bus, and as a result, placed both the passengers and himself in a potentially harmful situation.

There are many people who look like Christians. They seem nice. They know the “churchy” words to say. They give money to their church and other Christian causes. They may even have leadership roles in the church. However, they may truly not know Jesus in a personal way at all.

There are many who believe that simply being a “good person” and treating others with respect will grant us favor with Almighty God. Jesus calls these people “false prophets,” and warns us to watch out for them. We cannot simply observe their actions or words to learn of their relationship with God. We must also look for the fruits of following Christ in their lives.

In Galatians 5, Paul outlines both the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit. He writes, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:19-26 NKJV)

Look for these worldly works and Godly fruits in the lives of those who you believe to be Christians. You certainly do not want to get on the bus with someone who looks like a bus driver, but turns out to be a fake.

“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)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ghost Train

On August 27, 1891 a west bound train had just passed through Statesville, NC. Passenger train No. 9 was chugging along normally in the early morning hours, when it came to Bostian’s Bridge that spanned Third Creek about two miles west of Statesville. At the bridge the train derailed and plunged 60-75 feet into the ravine below. More than 20 people were killed and close to 30 were wounded.

Some people say that if conditions are right, each August 27th you can actually hear the crash. It’s known as the “ghost train” of Bostian’s Bridge. Each year there are a number of people who gather, on the anniversary of the crash, to listen for the sounds of a train wreck.

This year was no exception. There were about a dozen people on the bridge in the middle of the night, waiting to hear some sound of a train. Those people did indeed hear a train, but it was not a “ghost train.” They realized suddenly that there was a real train coming around the bend.

All of the people scattered to clear the tracks on the other side of the trestle. All of them made it across but one 29 year-old man. The man was struck by the train, and then thrown into the ravine by the force of that blow. He did not survive.

In 1 Samuel 11:1-3 we read these words. “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

David was toying around with sin. The things he did at first were not huge errors, but they were errors nonetheless. He didn’t go off to war like the other kings, he was too comfortable in his palace. He looked over into Bathsheba’s house and saw her bathing, he didn’t look away. These are not the worst thing David could have done, but they were wrong.

The problem is that even what we consider to be minor sin in our lives often leads to major ones. From David’s “small” sins, he wound up committing adultery and causing Bathsheba to do the same. He made his guards have to cover for him. He forced Joab to do something very unethical. He got Bathsheba pregnant. He arranged for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle. From simply not following through in his duty, to murder was a very quick, slippery slope.

Just like the young man who was waiting for a “ghost train,” David thought he was safely playing around with something fun and exciting. However, just as the man on the trestle, David was hit by the train of sin, which threw him down and almost destroyed him. Many times we are fooled into thinking we can “get away” with our sinfulness. We think we can beat it if we begin to become ensnared in it. The reality is that we may never know that we are trapped until it is too late.

What’s the cure? We need to stay away from those things, people, places, and atmospheres that can lead us down the path to sin. There are many things that we surround ourselves with that make it easy to fall prey to sin. Eliminate them from your life. Also, we need to apply God’s Word to our lives. We need to know what God is saying to us through His Word, and obey. Then, we need to pray for the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to help us know what is good and righteous.

If we are in a right relationship with God, He will open our ears, eyes, mind, heart, and spirit to see the world as He sees it. When that happens, we will stop chasing after sin like the young man sought the “ghost train,” and avoid the consequences of living carelessly. 

My sincere condolences go out to the family of this young man. May God grant you peaces in this time of loss. S.W.

Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15 NKJV)

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pastor Terry Jones

OK. I usually try to stay out of such, but I am quite indignant over this whole Koran burning thing. No I am not making a comment on whether the Muslim holy book should be burned. What's burning me up is the way the media has made a religious kook from Gainesville, Florida, who has a church with 50 members instant fame.

Do the people who are the most outraged by his threat to burn Korans on Saturday, not realize that they are the ones who are fanning the flames? People like Terry Jones feed off of such attention. They relish it. They wallow in it.

I used to keep a note under the glass on my desk that was a wonderful reminder for me in dealing with people. It read, "Never wrestle a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it." Mr. Jones is one who loves this slop, and our media, religious organizations, and our politicians are all simply wrestling this pig. Even the President and the Pope have weighed in on the matter.

People!!! Just a matter of weeks ago, most people had no idea who this guy was, or anything about his church of 50 members. Now the President of the United States, General Petraus, The Pope and numerous celebrities are talking about him? Where is our sense?

This man is the "shock jock" of Christianity. His philosophy is that bad press is better than none at all. This is doing nothing but puffing up his ego. Listen to me America. If you want Terry Jones and his kind to go away, pull the news trucks out of Gainesville, leave him alone and stop talking about it. You're worried about how this will affect our troops and world relations? Don't film it, then no one will see it but his 50 member congregation!!! My dad always said, "The manure doesn't stink until you stir it up!" Quit stirring!!!

OK. I have wasted enough time on Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center of 50 members. I'm  going home to burn some cookies.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is There Anyone Who Fails?

School has started back for students from preschool to college. Along with school comes homework, learning, tests and grades. If it were not for those things, school would be a fun place to be!

One would expect a normal school to be a place where teachers who are trained for certain subjects, pass on their knowledge to students. A normal school should also have a professional and knowledgeable administrative staff, who can run the school, in a way that is both efficient and appealing to the public. After all, if your school has a bad reputation, parents are less likely to send their children to you. 

I read two articles recently about two schools where one might think twice before sending their children to them. The first is from a high school in North Carolina. On the road outside the school is the word “school” in huge white letters to mark the school zone. However, the large letters on the road are misspelled. They read, “SHCOOL.”

Now I realize that this grand-scale typo is not the school’s fault. It was the contactor who painted the road who made the error. However, most people driving by would automatically blame the school for the misspelled word.

The second school is Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Drake University recently launched a new advertising campaign for their school. The idea of the campaign is to get the message across that Drake University’s experience, plus your passion is a great combination. This sounds like a pretty good advertisement, until you see how it is marketed.

They have shortened the campaign to something easily remembered. Sure enough, it’s easy to remember! Here is the way the ad reads. “D+ The Drake Advantage.” Huh? D+? Is that all your school expects? Maybe I should have attended there. I could have been the valedictorian! The school paid a lot of money to a marketing company to come up with a D+ for their ad campaign, so they say they’re sticking to it for a while. I say the marketing company should get a D+ for not noticing the problem.

We all make mistakes. Even schools, teachers, churches, pastors, police, doctors, and everyone who is human make errors from time to time. While we all know that humans make mistakes, for some reason it seems tragic when someone we look up to makes them. We hold some people in much higher regard than others and expect them to perform accordingly.

This expectation of perfection is the reason it hurts so much when those we regard so highly fall into errors of judgment. We want someone to inspire us, who we can look up to. We want someone to follow, who is above normal failure. We want someone to love us, who will never be unfaithful.

There is only one who can fulfill those expectations and more. Jesus will never fail. He is the only man who ever lived who did not sin. He resisted temptation and even defeated death. He is perfect and calls you to His side. He wants to love you, lead you and inspire you in ways you cannot imagine. If you have been “let down” by people who you wanted to be perfect but who never were, then allow Jesus to show you what true love really is. Ask Him into your life today and learn how to give Him more and more of you until you trust Him completely.

If you have never trusted Christ with your life before, please talk to a Christian friend or your minister about it. If you do not have either of those, you are always welcome to contact any staff person at this church, and they will be happy to help. 

Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:24-28 NIV)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Act

When I was a kid, I used to love to pretend. I didn’t just pretend, I really acted out the parts that I was playing. I remember one time I was going to play police. It was very hot summertime, but I went inside to change into long pants. My parents told me that I couldn’t and I began to cry. I said that policemen didn’t wear shorts. I think I took my pretending to the extreme level.

This pretending actually came in handy when I began getting involved in drama. I took a course in drama in high school, but was not in any productions. However, when I was a student at North Greenville College, I was asked to be in their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was one of the rustics. It was a small part, but enough for the theatre bug to bite me.

After I left North Greenville I transferred to Erskine College where I was even more involved. I appeared in two or three productions each year while at Erskine College and Erskine Seminary. I won two “Erskies”, the name given to the award voted on by the student body for the drama department. I was also named to Alpha Psi Omega a national dramatics honor fraternity.

Shakespeare wrote “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts”. We play many parts in our lives. We are a son or daughter, a brother or sister, father or mother, employee or employer, etc.

We also pretend in many other areas also. We pretend that it didn’t hurt when our husband or wife forgot our birthday again. We pretend that we are fine when our best friend doesn’t call for weeks. We pretend that we’ll “be better off” when we lose our job or the divorce is about to be final. Many times, we also pretend that our Christian faith is strong and that we have all the answers.

The Christian group Casting Crowns has a song called Stained Glass Masquerade. The lyrics penetrate deep within those of us who have ever pretended that everything is OK when we are falling apart on the inside.

Is there anyone that fails? Is there anyone that falls?
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small?
Cause when I take a look around, everybody seems so strong.
I know they'll soon discover that I don't belong.
So I tuck it all away, like everything's okay. 
If I make them all believe it, maybe I'll believe it too. 
So with a painted grin, I play the part again. 
So everyone will see me the way that I see them
Are we happy plastic people, under shiny plastic steeples?
With walls around our weakness, and smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open, to every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain on our stained glass masquerade

We have all put on the mask. We have all played the role and sat in church and sang the hymns and heard the preacher, all the while wondering how everyone else seems so strong. We know how to say the words. We know how to dress and act. But do we know that Jesus doesn’t care about any of those things? All he wants is us, every part of us. He calls us to the great banquet just as we are, not as we think we need to be. When we think we can disguise our ugliness with an act, we are truly mocking God. When we realize that the church is not a refuge for the righteous, but a hospital for the broken, wounded, weary, and scared, then we will truly see Christ move in our midst.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:16-17 NIV)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Caprice Classic

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
 (Matthew 13:44 NIV)

There is an old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” That old adage is certainly true. What is valuable to me may not hold any worth to you at all.

My home is filled with items that I would never throw away or sell. However, my wife simply cannot understand why I keep some of those things around. In fact, many others would find no value in them either. However, they are things that I treasure.

Last week, I visited a church member who was in the hospital in Augusta. When I returned to my truck, I noticed the vehicle parked directly in front of me. This car was a late 1970’s model 4-door Caprice Classic. It was faded brown in color and had many rust spots. There were dents in the passenger door and the spoke rims were rusty and rough looking. The headliner in the interior was hanging down from the top. As if these things didn’t make the car look rough enough, the hood was ill-fitting and white in color, as if it was awaiting a coat of paint.

However, it was not the rough condition of the car that got my attention. In fact, I didn’t notice the condition until I saw the steering wheel. There, clamped onto the steering wheel of the car, was The Club.

Remember The Club? The Club is a device that is locked onto the steering wheel of a car to prevent it from being stolen. A thief may break into the car, but they will be unable to drive it with The Club attached to the steering wheel.

Of course, my first thought was, “Who would want to steal that car?” I sat in the seat of my truck for a moment and stared at the Caprice. Then I thought, “That car belongs to someone who values it a great deal. They value it so much; they wanted to protect it from others.”

I have met with numerous people who think because they are not great public speakers, can’t sing, or are quiet, they aren’t valuable. You may be one of those people. You may think you are of no value to anyone. You may truly believe that no one cares about you. I have great news for you. There is one who values you above all creation.

When the world looks at us, they may only see what I saw in that Caprice Classic. They may see the rust, the dings, the mismatched parts, and an interior that isn’t holding up. However, God sees His creation that He values more than anything else He made. He sees such value in you, that He became man and died on the cross for you. He rose from the dead to defeat sin and death so that you would be His forever.

Just as the person who drove the Caprice saw such value in his car that he wanted to protect it with The Club, Jesus wanted to protect you. When He called you to be His child, He set His seal upon you so that nothing could ever take you away from Him. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. (John 10:28-29 KJV)

God created you and loves you more than you could know. He wants you to know today that you are valuable and loved by Him. Rejoice in the warmth of His love today!

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
(Matthew 6:26 NIV)

He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
(Matthew 12:11-12 NIV)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Good to great sermons

I just read a great blog on writing great sermons. Anyone who preaches needs to read this one!! Click here  How to Make a Good Sermon Great

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Baseball Bailer

Bo and Sarah go to a Houston Astros game last Monday night. They’re sitting in a very logical place at Minute Maid Park to possibly get some foul balls hit their way. Even Sarah said, “As soon as we got here and I saw where we were sitting, I said 'Baby, I'm going to get hit." Her boyfriend replied, “No, you won't. I'll catch it if you do.”

In a few minutes, Bo got his big opportunity. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Houston’s third baseman, Chris Johnson is at the plate with a 2-2 count. Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Minor zings an 80 mph ball in to Johnson which he fouls into the stands. Yes, you guessed it correctly. It headed right to Bo and Sarah.

Most guys would love to catch a foul ball at a major league baseball game. Some guys want to catch one so badly, they bring a glove to catch it with. Bo, however, saw the ball coming, instantly got up and moved out of the way. He turned back to where Sarah was sitting just in time to see the ball hit her in the forearm.

As if he didn’t feel bad enough, the cameras were rolling, caught the whole thing on film, and the network even sent a reporter over to their seats to interview them. He said his reason for moving away is that he couldn’t see the ball well due to the glare of the lights. All of Houston is calling Bo “The Bailer,” since he bailed out on his girlfriend.

Most of the time, we have the best intentions. There aren’t many who wake up in the morning and decide to harm others before the day is over. However, it isn’t long for most of us before we fall to the pressure of doing what we intended to do or not do.

How many times have you vowed to eat better, exercise more, watch less TV, control your temper, be more romantic, meet an old friend for lunch, go to bed earlier, read your Bible more or establish a quiet time with God? Perhaps you could add many more things to the list of well intended goals. The fact is, we want to do and be better, but we just fail at times making it happen.

Henry Ford once said, “You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.” The same sentiment exists in the saying, “It's always easy the night before to get up early the next morning.” Saying what we are going to do is easy. Making it happen is harder.

Jesus illustrated this in one of His parables. "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' " 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. (Matthew 21:28-31a NIV)

Jesus was talking to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. His point was that doing was more important than saying. While He was speaking to the Pharisees and priests that day, He says the same thing to us today.

Whether we are promising to catch a foul ball to keep someone from getting hit, or vowing to do a better job at something, actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NIV)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Is That My Job?

In the book, Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, the authors tell the story of an experiment that Mr. Geiger and some friends did. They placed a fake ad on (which is a real church staffing website) for a “Pastor of Extreme Worship Arts,” for a fictitious church in Florida. The ad read as follows.

This postmodern, gen-x church with an unknown denominational affiliation, averaging from 1001-1500 persons is seeking an exceptional leader to be our Pastor of Extreme Worship Arts. We believe the right person will be a unique fit for such a time as this. This person serves under the Senior Pastor, and will oversee all areas of worship. Candidates must embrace the Senior Pastor’s vision of aligning all people of all denominations under the same vision.

The person must also meet these requirements: Ability to infuse the TULIP [5 Point Calvinism]doctrine in all worship sets. Postmodern, Visionary, Missional leader capable of creating an ethos and apostolitic movement. Willing to find some songs written from a premillenial dispensationalist theological tradition. Desires to develop an emerging handbell choir.

Some snake handling may be appropriate (for our believers service only). Agree that the Lord is to be worshiped through magnificent attire and appropriate versions of the Bible. Demonstrate proof of a second blessing... Tongue speaking in various accents is a major plus as we are a multicultural church. Exegetically establish a movement of fluidity in the Extreme Worship Ministry. We realize that many of these requirements are personal preferences and not biblical mandates. Therefore, each candidate must be aligned with roughly 3/4 of all our requirements. (171-172)

If you are confused by the ad, you’re in good company. It was written to contradict itself. Most of the ideas “required” cannot exist with the others. The sad thing is that some people actually applied for the job with real resumes, cover letters and some even sent in DVDs of them leading worship. It is sad, according to Simple Church, because, “To apply for the position, a person would have to: (1) have no basic theological belief system that guides his/her ministry or (2) be willing to compromise his/her beliefs in order to get a ministry job.” (173)

Imagine you had to hire someone to fill your role as a Christian exactly as you currently fill it. What would the job description look like? It might go something like this. Wanted: Person to fill role as Christian. Must be able to go to worship services no more than once per month, must never take on any leadership role in the church, Pray only when in trouble, read the Bible only as needed in church. Must be available as a Christian for 1-2 hours on the Sundays that are required, and for 1 hour every third Wednesday night. Hours may vary during Easter and Christmas.”

Recently in Seattle, a parking meter officer marked a car tire at 9:30 a.m. The driver was in the car, but did not acknowledge the officer. The car was in a two-hour parking zone, so when the officer returned just after noon, a ticket was in order. However, the driver, a 36 year-old man was still in the vehicle. The officer tapped on the window but got no response. Assuming the man to be asleep, she wrote the ticket for $42.

About 12:30, the police received a call from the man’s girlfriend. Apparently he had been missing. You guessed it. The 36 year-old was dead. The report stated that the car’s sunroof was open and all the doors were unlocked. The officer could have opened the door or called for help when the man didn’t respond, but instead she simply did her job as meter reader, and moved on.

Are you living up to the job description God has given you or are you trying to just get by with the minimum? Jesus made it very simple for us. He told us to become as little children. He said to love God and love others as ourselves. Don’t simply “get by” in your faith. Work for Him daily!

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. (Luke 10:1-2)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Last week, in Clearwater, Florida, an older man got up and made his weekly visit to the Religious Community Services Food Bank. This was a regular trip for Frank Viscido, since his Social Security check doesn’t seem to cover all of his expenses. Any little bit he can save helps.

This time, however, he asked the worker at the food bank for something a little healthier than his usual fare. The worker looked over the items on the shelves, and spotted what seemed to be the perfect can of food. The label read, “Senior Holistic Superfood.” The worker commented that since Frank was a senior adult, that this was made just for him. He even commented, “You’re a senior, this ought to be good for you.”

Mr. Viscido looked over the can and commented on the rest of the label. It went on to indicate that it contained glucosamine, beta carotene, vitamins and anti-oxidants for "sharp vision, strong immune system and joint health." Frank said it looked good to him, so he was about to take the can when he turned it around and got a look at the front of the label for the first time.

Dog food website
When Mr. Viscido read it there was a bit of a shock. It read, “Healthy skin...and coat." "Superfoods every dog needs." The food bank had handed out dog food. Had Mr. Viscido not been so astute, he might have been dining on Fido fare that evening.

Of course, the food bank was very apologetic about the incident. They attributed the oversight to a well meaning food donor, who probably just swept out a pantry and made the donation without noticing the dog food. Mr. Viscido took the whole thing in stride, even to the point of making jokes about it.

I saw a funny Christian video recently, where a man comes out from behind a tree wearing a karate gi. He has a Bible in his hand and is about to fight two ninja. The voice over says “The Bible is a sword…” Then the two ninja cut off both arms of the man. (This was all comical, so there was no blood or anything.) The voice over continues, “…of the spirit.” The man is now standing there with no arms and says, “I guess I should have kept reading after the word sword.”

How many times do we simply halfway read our Bibles? We like to stick to certain stories or verses that we like, but ignore the rest. The Bible is an exciting, wonderful book. It is both entertaining reading and a guide for our life. The great director and producer, Cecil B. DeMille, who was known for his religious epic movies, once said, “Give me a couple of pages of the Bible and I’ll give you a picture [movie].”

However, if you only take a few pages or a few lines from the Bible, you can become misguided very easily. When you read the scripture, read the passage as a whole. You cannot take the parts you like and ignore the parts you do not. God gave us the wonderful gift of His word. Let’s honor Him by using it daily.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:9-16 NIV)