Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Joy!


Merry Christmas!  Out upon merry Christmas!  What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?  If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.  He should!  (Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

Most of us do not understand Scrooge’s lack of merriment during Christmas. For us, Christmas is a warm, cheerful time in which we gather with family and friends, give and receive gifts, eat too much and sing festive songs. However, it wasn’t always that way.

The early celebrations of Christmas were rather somber. There were no festivities. There was only church, and that consisted of a typical mass. In fact, the name of the holiday is simply “Christ’s mass.” There were no Christmas carols to sing. The only songs that spoke of the birth of Jesus were drab. They were only written in Latin, which was not the common language. Therefore, only the priests could sing them.

All of that changed forever, in the early 1200’s. Francis of Assisi, was concerned that the common people were missing out on the joy of celebrating the birth of Christ, because they only observed it by going to formal worship services. He wanted the people to be able to celebrate themselves.

Around 1223, Francis recruited a few people and gathered some animals together for a new project. He dressed them in Biblical costumes and staged the first nativity scene in a nearby cave. He then invited the townspeople to come to the cave to view the depiction of the Savior’s birth.

About that same time, Francis also wrote a song for the common people to sing at Christmas. Instead of the formal melodies they heard at church, he set it to the tune of a popular song of the day. He called the song a “carol,” which is taken from the French word for “dancing in a circle.” The word was borrowed from the pagan ritual of dancing in a circle during the Winter Solstice.

St. Francis wanted people to be joyful and festive when they celebrate the Lord’s birth. We have Him to thank for making our Christmas a “merry” time. However, let’s not make the mistake of moving too far in the other direction. It would be as much of a mistake to get so caught up in “making merry” that we forget what we are celebrating.

Jesus came into this world as a baby. He left as our Savior. He was born, died and rose from the dead, that we might have life. That is why we celebrate. That is why we remember the night of His birth through our nativity scenes. That is why we sing, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and other carols.

This is important to remember, so when the decorations come down; when the Christmas songs are no longer playing on the radio; when all of the gifts have been opened; we will still have the joy of Christ in our hearts all year long. 

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach”…“It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it.” (Ebenezer Scrooge)
I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
(Luke 2:10-14)





Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nothing is Little to God!


We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell,
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
Phil

Phil was a young minister who was serving a church in Philadelphia. He was well liked by his church for his wonderful sermons and kind, moral spirit. He was an imposing figure who, at six feet four inches tall, commanded respect.

After serving the church in Philadelphia for several years, he took a lengthy vacation to Europe and the Holy Land. While he was in Palestine during the week of Christmas, he wrote the following, “After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem. It was only about two hours when we came to the town, situated on an eastern ridge of a range of hills, surrounded by its terraced gardens. It is a good-looking town, better built than any other we have seen in Palestine. Before dark, we rode out of town to the field, where they say the shepherds saw the star. Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still 'keeping watch over their flocks.’

Can you imagine the thrill of being in that field during Christmas? It thrilled Phil. The images of being in that field at nighttime, during Christmas, made a huge impression on him. He never forgot the images and emotions of that night as he looked from the darkness of the field to the lights of the city of Bethlehem.

Redner
Several years later, Phil wrote a poem that he intended to be sung for the children in his Sunday School during Christmas. One Friday, he gave the poem to Lewis Redner, his minister of music, and asked him to set it to music by the following Sunday. Lewis tried all day Friday and Saturday, but nothing felt right. Lewis was stuck, and they were to practice the song the next day. He went to bed, still unsure of the tune. Lewis wrote of that night, “I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church I filled in the harmony.”

Because of the hasty nature of the composition, neither man thought the song would ever be played after that Sunday. They were very wrong. That was 143 Christmases ago, and the two men’s composition, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” is still sung today. Phil, who is better known as Phillips Brooks, went on to become one of the most famous preachers in the nation in his day. In fact, there is a statue of him outside Trinity Church in the Back Bay area of Boston.

So many times, we think that our contribution to the world is small. We think that very few, if any, will ever be affected by our efforts to share Christ. However, we must remember that something small in our hands, becomes incredibly powerful in God’s.

Jesus didn’t appear on earth riding in a royal caravan with an entourage. He came in a very small, seemingly helpless package. He also didn’t send messengers to announce His arrival in the great city of Jerusalem, which was the hub of politics and religion in those years. His arrival was only noted to a few humble shepherds in a field, who were simply doing their jobs. Even the city of His birth was small compared to where one would expect a king to be born.

If God can use a baby, a small town, a stable, and some shepherds to accomplish His plan of salvation, then He can use whatever you have. If you give Him your all, He will use it to do wonderful and powerful things for His Kingdom, even if you never know it’s happening.

Our job is to simply be available and obey, not to guess what God can or cannot use. Phillips Brooks and Lewis Redner had no idea how God would use their song to bring future generations back to Bethlehem where the Savior was born one holy night, many years ago. We, also, never know how God can use us, until we let Him.

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

 


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving


We are headed full-steam into the holiday season, whether we are ready for it or not! Usually, I am bothered by the encroachment of Christmas upon the observance of Thanksgiving, but this year, I’m a little calmer about it. I am not only open to hearing Christmas music, seeing the Christmas decorations in the stores, and Christmas commercials on television, I am embracing it!

However, before I start singing Silent Night, too soon, let’s be sure to enjoy Thanksgiving and what it means. If you asked a group of people what the day means to them, they might give you responses like, “It’s about thanking God for all we have.” Or “It’s about family and friends.” Or, “It’s all about the food!”

While most of us are aware of the fact that the day is set aside to give thanks for all that God has blessed us with, for many, the food is the highlight! I remember the first Thanksgiving that my wife and I shared in our first house. We had lived in an apartment for a couple of years, before purchasing a home that would accommodate a Thanksgiving celebration.

That year, she wanted to cook all of the food, and host Thanksgiving. We knew it would be a little crammed, but we were sure we could pull it off. As she prepared the meal, I remember her calling her mother several times to ask how to make this or that. My wife cooked the food, but with a little instruction from her mother.

I recently read a funny story that reminded me of that Thanksgiving. In the tale, a couple who was celebrating their first Thanksgiving together had planned on having ham. The young wife sent her husband to the store to pick one up. Upon his return, she asked why he didn’t have the butcher cut the ends off the ham. He asked why he should have. She told him that her mother always did it that way.

The young man assumed this was some family secret for cooking ham, so he cut the ends off for her. It happened that the wife’s mother was visiting for Thanksgiving. The young man couldn’t help himself, so he asked his mother-in-law why she cut the ends off of her ham. She replied that she didn’t know, but that her mother always did it.

The young man was on a mission at this point. He called his wife’s grandmother, and asked her why she cut the ends off her ham. She said, “Oh, I always cut the ends off my ham, because my roaster was too small back then to cook a ham in one piece.”

We like to follow traditions. Traditions make us comfortable and secure. However, there are many “traditions” that we follow and have no idea why. I was visiting a church some time back that had an old tin can underneath the altar. When I asked what that was for, no one knew, but quickly told me not to move it, because it had “always been there.”

Christ never called us to follow “religion” blindly. He urges us to know why we believe what we believe. When we are asked why we believe in Christ, we cannot reply, “Because I always have,” or “That’s what I was taught.” Jesus wants to be so much more to us than just a “belief” or a bit of knowledge. He desires a relationship with us.
In fact, He so desires a relationship with us, that He laid His life down to provide a way to make us worthy of that relationship. Then, He chooses to bless us with all of the goodness that we have in our lives. Because He lives, we live.

This Thanksgiving, observe the “traditions’ and enjoy the time with friends and family. Do not, however, forget to give thanks to the One who loves you. Give Him more than just a short prayer over your feast. Give Him your life and friendship. Get to know Him and stop going through the motions of following blindly.

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!!

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (Psalm 100)


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Maze

Last week, I heard John and Cleve on WAFJ, talking about local fun things to do. One of the items they mentioned was Kackleberry Farm in Louisville, GA. This time of year, they have a pumpkin patch, hayrides, and lots of other attractions, including a corn maze. When they mentioned the corn maze, I immediately thought of my family's summer vacation about three years ago.

This is the maze in Garden City, SC
We were staying at Pawley's Island, which is just south of Murrell's Inlet near Myrtle Beach. One afternoon, we were driving north to have some fun at Broadway at the Beach. As we  traveled through Garden City, my wife spotted a maze made out of wood fencing, which looked to be about eight feet high.

I had seen it there for years, but it never occurred to me that it would be fun. She and the kids, however, thought it would be great. I gave in, and we planned to stop there on our way back.

I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent man. I was confident that I could navigate that maze with no problem. My wife took our oldest, who was seven at the time, and I set out with our youngest, who was three.

At first, it was fun. I managed to get to the back of the maze, where there was a marker to let you know you had reached the halfway point. However, by that time, my daughter was whiny and tired. I also think she was concerned that we might not get out. Frankly, that thought began to work its way into my mind as well.

Corn Maze in Danvers, MA
Apparently, I am not the only one who doesn't do well with those things. A few days ago, in Danvers, Massachusetts, a man with his wife and two children decided to tackle a corn maze. The maze boasts pathways that are seven miles long, and averages an hour to navigate. For this family, the fun turned into a nightmare. They were hopelessly lost, and were dealing with their youngest child who is three weeks old. Things got worse when they realized the sun was setting and the folks at the farm had closed up and gone home without checking to see if anyone was still in the maze.

Fortunately, they had a cell phone. They called 911. In about 10 minutes the police showed up along with a dog to help sniff them out. They were rescued, only to find out they were only about 25 feet from the exit.

These examples are perfect illustrations of how we get pulled into sin. Most of the time, sin looks like fun at first. We either think it will be pleasurable and think we are smart enough to handle it. We enter in, like innocent lambs, simply looking for excitement or entertainment. At first, it may actually be amusing. However, we wander in deeper and deeper until one day we realize we have no idea how to get out.

It seems the harder we try, the worse it gets. We look around for clues or try new strategies, but we find ourselves back down the same paths again and again.

For those who do not know Christ, the quest for freedom from sin is hopeless. They will always fall into despair. For the believer, we know we can call on God to rescue us. The problem is that we are embarrassed to acknowledge that we can't find our way out. So, we wander until we swallow our pride and ask Him for help.

Yes, I got out of the maze at the beach, but not until some kind people on the observation deck began shouting directions to me. I needed help, and felt humiliated. However, the feeling of humiliation faded quickly as it gave in to the relief of freedom.

Sin gets us mixed up. Satan wants us to be confused and embarrassed to ask for help. Put aside those feelings of pride and come to the Father, who will pull you out of the maze of sinfulness, wrap you in His arms and speak peace into your life.

By the way, that was my last venture into a maze. Forever!

I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them. (Isaiah 45:16)







Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Mess We Make

After years of being in denial, I have come to terms with an ugly truth about myself. I have a problem that I have had for most of my adult life, that I cannot seem to shake. It affects my job, my leisure time, my family, and some of my friendships. I feel a bit hopeless in this issue, because as of yet, I have found no remedy or way out. What's this terrible problem that I battle? Here's my confession. I am...a messy person.

There, I've admitted it! Isn't that the first step to recovery? Perhaps. If my wife wasn't around to "inspire" me to pick things up and put them where they belong, I could go for a long time without picking up.

I'm not as bad as I once was. These days, I can't stand to see dirty dishes in the sink and clothes lying around bothers me. However, I still have this problem.

My truck is the place where I have the worst problem. When I wash it, clean out the interior, and vacuum it out, I vow to never let it get in that shape again. It stays that way for about a week. In a very short amount of time, I'm right back in the bad habits again.

Do you ever feel like your life is like that? You work hard to get things organized into neat compartments. You know when all of the bills are coming due, you're ahead at work or school, you have written everything down on your calendar, and you're pretty proud. Life seems nice and orderly.

However, life doesn't play fair. Maybe you forgot to pay a bill, or some expense arises that you didn't plan on. You have a few interruptions at work or school and suddenly you're behind. Your schedule has some overlap that you didn't notice before, and you have to be three places at the same time. What do you do?

Some people roll their sleeves up and start trying to work at organizing better. Some people panic and become a flurry of activity. Some people shut down and feel hopeless, and as a result, give up and do nothing.

I have found an interesting correlation that has eerily proven true over and over again for me. I would venture to say that it is true for you also. Here it is. The more chaotic and messy my life seems to be, the further I am from my walk with God.

When things seem to be crashing down on you and you feel hopeless, take some time to consider your spiritual health. Instead of working yourself into a frenzy trying to keep up, spend some time with your Maker. Ask Him to help you prioritize, and make Him the top priority. Our Creator is not a God of chaos. He is very orderly.

I am teaching a 4-week class on Genesis, at the Edgefield Baptist Association. On Monday, we discussed the creation. If you study the accoutrements, you will find that God created everything in the order needed. He created day and night and began the spin of the Earth. Then He created the atmosphere to hold in the oxygen and material that living things would need to survive. After that, He created plant life. Plants need the sun to live, so He created it next. Since the plants were in place to give the animals something to eat, He created them last. This is a wonderful example of how orderly God is!

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth. They were very confused and chaotic in their worship. Some said that one way of doing things was right, and others held on to the opposite belief. As a result, not much was getting done for the Kingdom, because their whole church was "messy." Paul tells them in verse 33, "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."

The only times in the Bible where God allows confusion is to either confuse the enemy so that His people could be victorious, or to teach His children a lesson. By allowing confusion and chaos, He is hopeful that they will turn to Him and give their confused lives completely over to Him.

Maybe that is the case with you today. Perhaps your life is a bit out of control and you're not sure how to begin calming it down. Start by going to the One who made you, and asking Him to take over. After all, you're not doing such a good job, are you? Slow down a bit. Trying to work harder at it, only brings further disappointment. Ignore the chaos for a while and sit down beside your Father, bring Him your brokenness, and ask forgiveness for forsaking Him. He'll help you put the pieces back together and bless you with a "sound mind."

 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.  Selah 
(Psalm 46:10-11)






Friday, September 16, 2011

Mistakes

Mistakes are made by most everything on earth. Humans are especially susceptible to mistakes, since we probably reason better than most animals. Mistakes are going to happen and we all should be ready to admit when we have made one.

I make mistakes all the time. Sometimes I forget things, do them incorrectly, or hurt others feelings. If you were in the worship service Sunday, you know I made a huge mistake. As I was preparing everyone for the time of response at the end of the message, I intended to call Matt, our interim Minister of Music, to the platform to lead us in the hymn of response. However, instead of calling "Matt," I called him by the name of our former Associate Pastor. Not only did I make a mistake, but I made it publicly and did it with something that was so obvious!

I don't embarrass easily. There's not much that rattles me. I have made mistakes from the pulpit before and was able to salvage them. This time, it took me a minute to get myself together and I was thoroughly embarrassed.

The unfortunate thing about our mistakes is that we usually leave behind an impression. The impression might be good or it might be bad, but we always make an impression. The impression that I may have left is that I wasn't paying attention or was being careless. Maybe you simply regarded it for what it was, an innocent error. Regardless of your position, I left behind an impression.

I read an article, some time ago, about an owl that accidentally flew into a window in Leicestershire, England. During the night, Nancy and Ray Pearce were sleeping soundly. When they awoke, there was a perfect imprint of an owl on their patio door. It seems that the owl had flown into the glass door during the night. When he slammed into the glass, there was an explosion of “powder down” which is produced by an owl's feathers. This produced a perfect picture of the owl in mid-flight right down to the beak, eyes, and ears.  "It's incredible," said Mr. Pearce. "The imprint really captured what the owl looks like.”

The owl obviously lived since there was no dead owl on the Pearce's patio. He probably shook his head after he crashed into the door and took a long look around to see who was watching. After making sure that none of his owl friends saw the fiasco, he flew off confident that nobody would be making fun of him down at the owl lodge later. Little did he know that he left behind a perfect image of his error.

Sometimes the mistakes that we make in our walk with God are public for everyone to see. Those are easy to atone for. We know that everyone knows of our error, we ask forgiveness and move on. But what about the mistakes we make when there's no one around? What do we do then? Do we simply look around to see if anyone saw us and then fly off confident in our self-centered thought that we hurt nobody but ourselves?

Our mistakes leave an impression on others whether we know it or not. Even if we do seem to be able to get away from our wrongdoing in private, God still sees and knows. Cain literally thought he got away with murder when he wiped out a fourth of the population one afternoon. However, God knew that Cain had killed his brother. “His eyes are on the ways of men; He sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide.” (Job 34:21-22)

The good news to all of this is that what God sees and knows, he also forgives. This is not just a lip service kind of forgiveness like our human variety. It is an all encompassing, thorough, completely liberating, forgiveness. Psalm 103:12 reads “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us”.

Perhaps you think you have made mistakes that nobody else knew about. Maybe you have carried that guilt around like a wet blanket because you feel that you cannot tell anyone about your secret mistake. You can be free from that guilt, because God has seen your every step and still loves you. He will forgive, if you will only ask.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)




Saturday, September 3, 2011

Walk This Way

As a pastor, I am in the hospitals and nursing homes a great deal. I have visited church members and family of church members in Edgefield, Columbia, Augusta, Charleston, Greenwood, Aiken, and Greenville. In most of these, I don't even need directions to the rooms anymore. Some of these institutions are very esay to navigate, while others are like a maze.

University Hospital in Augusta is one of the easiest to find places in. The sections are color coded and clearly marked. Even the rooms on each floor are arranged so that the higher numbered ones are to the right of the nurses station and the lower ones are to the left.

I remember visiting one family whose three-year-old was having survery at MUSC in Charleston. I left very early to get there before the child's appointed surgery time. I arrived at the hospital in time. I went to the information desk and gave the attendant the name of the patient. She told me where he was, and gave what seemed like clear directions to the waiting area.

I thought I had followed the directions to the letter, but wound up at a dead end. I turned around, wound around another corridor, and found a nurses station. I asked for more directions. They told me I was in a completely different area, and told me how to get to the correct place. I walked a long way, but found a place that looked right. Of course, it was the wrong place. By this time, I was feeling rather silly and frustrated. A nurse at an information desk told me that I was close, and told me how to get to the correct area. Again, I could not find it.

Finally, I asked once more and a kind nurse sensed my frustration. She got up from her desk and said, "Come with me. I'll take you there." I was relieved until SHE got lost too! However, by this time, we both had a good laugh and found the family together.

In John 14, Jesus is telling His disciples that His time in this world is coming to a close. He tries to comfort them by telling about this wonderful place where He is going. Not only is He going there, but He said, "My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

That sounded wonderful to all of them, except Thomas. Thomas gets a bad reputation sometimes, and is even called "doubting Thomas." However, I like Thomas. He usually asks the questions I, and many of you, would ask. Thomas pipes up and says, "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

How many of us could find our wy to Heaven yourselves? No one can. In fact, Adam and Eve were in Paradise and still lost their way! When we try to find Paradise alone, we are no better off than I was at MUSC in Charleston. We get directions from the world like, "look out for number one," "think positively," and "you can do anything if you set your mind to it and work hard enough." We set out with that kind of thinking and believe we're on the right path, only to find a dead end or end up where we started.

Jesus' reply back to Thomas is wonderful. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." That statement is the heart of the Gospel. We couldn't find our way to God, so He sent Jesus to SHOW us the way! Like the nurse that helped me, God got up from His throne and became one of us to show us the way to Him.

Remember that you cannot navigate this world on your own. You will mess things up and get yourself turned around and lost. Asking Christ to lead you and following Him exclusively is the only way to God and Heaven. Give your life wholly to Him, and follow where He leads!

I'd rather see a sermon, than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me, than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
And the best of all preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
Edgar A Guest



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Road Trip

I've been locked up in this crazy world. How far is Heaven? I'll just keep on praying, Lord and just keep on living. How far is Heaven? Lord can you tell me?(Henry, Jojo, and Ringo Garza. 2004)

With kids back in school and most summer vacations over, we are mostly left with souvenirs, pictures, stories and memories from the last few months. It seems that my family has been away more than we've been home this summer. I have been to Camp McCall, the beach, the mountains, the lake, and visiting family and friends.

Living in Edgefield for six years, I have realized that our town isn't really close to anything! Most of the places we have been, take anywhere from two to four hours. That's a lot of driving time. When you factor in my travels to Augusta, Aiken, Columbia, and Greenville for visits and meetings, I sometimes feel like I live in a vehicle.

Most people do things during a longer drive to pass the time. Some listen to music or talk radio, many listen to CDs, (I still have some great cassettes I listen to!) audio books, and still others like to chat on their cell phones. Kids who are riding will read, color, draw, play video games, or watch DVDs.

The age-old question from kids, and sometimes parents, is "Are we there yet?" Fortunately, there are ways to tell how much longer the trip will take. If you are on the interstate, there are mile markers. On more familiar rural roads, there are landmarks that help you estimate time and distance to the destination. If you have a GPS, it can be programmed to actually tell you what time you will arrive at your destination.

If you are traveling a long distance and do not have anything to guide you, it's easy to get discouraged and frustrated. It will seem that you will never get where you are going and you might even get lost or think you are. The reason is that when we are driving, we are only focused on the destination. The journey is simply a way to get there.

One of the problems we have in our Christian journey is that we apply the same logic to it. For the Christian, we know the destination is Heaven. That is our true home and final destination. However, we have no idea when we will get there, nor do we have any landmarks, mile markers, or GPS units to tell us our arrival time. Since we have no idea how far away from Heaven we really are, we get frustrated and weary from the journey. When this happens, we begin to do things to pass the time. We seek distractions and diversions from the grind of our travels, with entertainment and fun. Sometimes the distractions are not necessarily bad. There are certainly ways to have fun that are Godly. However, sometimes the distractions are not. These are poison and can cause us to not only get lost on our journey, but also make us lose the focus of our destination.

What should we deduce from this? Yes, God wants us to focus on our final destination, but He also intends for us to make the most of the journey. Our Christian walk, in this world, should be filled with working for Him. We should spend our time here growing closer to Jesus Christ, learning how to live a more Godly life, and showing others, who are lost, the way to Heaven.

While we cannot know how much longer our journey on Earth will take, we can have some guidance while we travel. God has given us His Word as a road-map, the Holy Spirit as a guide, and fellow Christians as encouragers. Therefore, make the most of your travels on this earth, and enjoy the trip!

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:8-10)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Junk Food For The Soul

Suppose you have decided to get a pet fish. You go down to the pet store or fish store, and browse through all the varieties of fish. You could go with the standard goldfish, but you decide you want something a little different. You consider some of the others, but finally stop at one that is the size of a goldfish, but has more color to it.

You ask the shopkeeper about it. She informs you that the fish is called a Gourami. She describes it as a tropical fish that lives only in fresh water. You like the fish and decide to buy it.

The shopkeeper sets you up with the proper aquarium, filters, and all the other necessary equipment. You leave the store with the fish, and your new aquarium, excited about the new member of the family. You drive very carefully home, so as not to damage the plastic bag your new pet is traveling in.

When you get home, you set up the aquarium and other equipment as you were instructed. After some temperature adjustments, you carefully put your new fish into his new home. He begins to swim around and explore his new environment.

After watching him for a bit, you decide to get a snack. You go to the pantry, and find a Kit-Kat candy bar, and grab a soda. As you head back to check on the fish, you realize that you forgot to buy fish food. The store is closed now, so there is no chance of buying any tonight. What will you do? Of course! You would give the fish some of your Kit-Kat bar right?

Don't be too quick to laugh at such an idea. Currently, workers at an aquarium in London are working hard to break a Gourami of its Kit-Kat habit. The fish's previous owners exclusively fed the fish Kit-Kat bars its entire life. The fish now weighs a whopping 8.8 pounds. Gourami fish usually eat fruit, so they are slowly adding grapes and taking away the chocolate.

The aquarium veterinarian says there seems to be no real damage to the fish's system. However, Kit-Kat candy bars are not what this fish was designed to eat. While the fish seems to be normal right now, there may be some long-term effects that may not appear for years.

As humans, we might be able to exist on chocolate, pizza, and cheeseburgers. However, if that's all we get, our quality of life will be less than what we were designed for. It takes proper nutrition and exercise for us to be at our maximum capability. We might handle junk in our system for a while, but it eventually catches up with us.

The same is true in our spiritual walk as well. God designed us to have a healthy dose of His Word and time with Him each day. We may be able to go for a while and seem fine. However, soon we will begin to show the outward signs of being deprived of His guidance in our lives. We begin to care more about ourselves than others. We start to miss gathering with God's people. We become more critical of those who try to do what is right. We drift a little farther away, each day we go without Him.

Don't try to live your life on the spiritual equivalent of Kit-Kat bars. Feast on the Word of God and spend time talking to God in prayer. It is indeed food for your soul.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

That's Just Wrong


[Jesus said to Peter] I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” (John 21:15-21)

Last week, I was driving back to Edgefield from Aiken on Highway 19. I was almost to the overpass near the prison, when I spotted a car in my rear-view mirror coming up quickly. I was in a no-passing zone, but the young lady paid that no attention as she raced around me like I was sitting still.

She continued speeding up the incline of the overpass, but when she reached the top, I saw her brake lights come on. I knew what that meant! I wasn't far behind her by that point, and was able to see a South Carolina Highway Patrol car meet us both at the bottom of the hill.

Although I know it was wrong, I have to confess that I was secretly delighted when I saw the patrol car. I almost smiled thinking about the knot that must have risen in the young lady's stomach as she topped the hill and saw the police. The truth is that it probably had less to do with the fact that she had broken several traffic laws, and more to do with me feeling that she had wronged me in some way or put me in danger. I felt a touch of vindication.

First, she passed the patrol car, then I did. I checked my mirror, waiting to see his brake lights. Imagine my shock when the trooper simply drove calmly over the hill and away from us. As I watched him drive away, I also watched the young lady speed up and pass another driver just past Billy's Truck Stop. I had the same thought most of you would have had. "If that had been me, I would be in custody now!"

My thoughts then turned to how unfair the whole situation was. I actually asked God why people get away with things like that, but I seem to get caught all the time. To my surprise, I knew God was speaking to me, in my heart, and He led me to the passage in John I have quoted at the beginning and end of this column.

In the passage from John 21, Jesus had risen from the dead, and had appeared to the disciples. They had just finished eating breakfast, and Jesus, it seems, pulled Peter aside to talk to him. After all, Peter was the one who probably felt the most guilt after denying three times that he even knew Jesus.

Jesus wanted to do two things in this conversation. First, He wanted to assure Peter that he was forgiven for his denial. Second, Jesus wanted to forewarn Peter about the type of death he would suffer for Christ. Jesus’ prophecy did come to pass. Most historians agree that Peter was sentenced to crucifixion, but requested to be hung upside down, because he felt unworthy to be executed in the same way as Jesus.

After Jesus told Peter that he would be executed for his faith, his immediate reaction was to look over at John. John never calls himself by name in his gospel, but he makes it very plain that Peter is referring to him. The disciples always had a strong rivalry and it reared its head again.

To paraphrase, Peter is saying to Jesus, “Ok, I understand that I will have to die for you, but what about John? Will he suffer and be executed also?” Peter wanted to make sure everything was fair. However, Jesus’ answer must have shocked Peter. Jesus told him that it was not any of his business if John lived or died.

We all want fairness. If I get caught speeding, I want everyone else to get tickets when they speed also. If I obey the rules, I want everyone else to obey them or be punished. As Christians, we are called to live as sons and daughters of God. We are not to live for Him as long as everyone else does. We are called to live for Him regardless of what others do.

Do you worry that evil is not always punished in this world? Rest assured that God sees and knows about it and that He will deal with it in His way, in His time. You cannot make others live life the way you want them to live, any more than they can force their lives on yours. Give all of your sense of fairness to God and let Him lead you in the life He has chosen for you!

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.” (John 21:22)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's Cooking?

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

We have a lot of cookbooks in our house. Sometimes I enjoy cooking, and my wife loves to try new recipes. However, we both tend to stick to certain cookbooks more than others. I guess we have found that some are easier to follow and are more practical for feeding our family.

We also have several cookbooks that are pretty humorous. One of my favorites is written by Ted and Shemane Nugent. (Yes, this is Ted Nugent, the rock guitarist). The name of his cookbook is "Kill it and Grill it." We also have, "Eat Like a Wild Man," "Vegetarian Grilling," (I'm not sure where that one came from!) and "Fix it and Forget it."

Suppose I decided to cook something from one of these books. I would look over the list of ingredients to make sure I had the items needed for the recipe. Once I determined that I had what I needed, I would then follow the directions for cooking the dish. Following the recipe, as it is written, is very important if you want the dish to turn out right.

Sometimes, however, you can follow the directions perfectly and still have problems. This reminds me of a joke I read recently. It read, "According to the Knight-Ridder News Service, the inscription on the metal bands used by the U.S. Department of the Interior to tag migratory birds has been changed. The bands used to bear the address of the Washington Biological Survey, abbreviated 'Wash. Biol. Surv.' until the agency received the following letter from a camper: Dear Sirs: While camping last week, I shot one of your birds. I think it was a crow. I followed the cooking instructions on the leg tag and I want to tell you it was horrible. The bands are now marked 'Fish and Wildlife Service.'"

Most people in our community own a Bible. In fact, recent studies have shown that approximately 92% of American households have at least one Bible. That study also revealed that the 92% included atheists and people who profess other religions. We also know that 60 Bibles were sold every second in 2009. None of the surveys take into consideration the number of Bibles placed around the world by the Gideons.

All of this begs the question, "If there are so many Bibles around, why is there so much sin and hate in the world?" The answer is simple. People may own Bibles, but they don't read them. Also, out of those who read them, many do not understand what they read. Worse than this, many who read God's Word and understand what it says, do not believe, obey or do what it says.

I may not agree with some of the ingredients shown in the recipes in our cookbooks, but if I don't use them, the dish will not be prepared as it was created by the originator. Likewise, if we pick and choose what we will believe, obey and do from the scriptures, we will never fulfil what our Creator intended us to be. We must study God's Word to know what He says about our lives. There is no subject we can encounter in life that God did not address in some way in His Word.

So, open your Bible, and as James put it in the passage above, "Do what it says."

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:23-25)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Jumper Cables

A certain lawyer stood up and tested [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:25-29)

In 1970, a Princeton University social psychology class conducted a study using students from the Princeton seminary. They asked the seminary students to prepare talks on Biblical topics for their class. They were then instructed to deliver the same talk in a different building. Some of them were asked to speak on the parable of the good Samaritan. The each seminary student was given different degrees of urgency in getting to the class. Some had more time than others.

What the seminary students did not know, was that the class had placed actors along each seminary student’s path to the next building. The actors were slumped over and pretending to be in pain. The study was measuring whether the seminary students would stop to help, and if the level of urgency in getting to the next talk would influence their decision. While most of the seminary students stopped, their willingness to go the extra mile to help was greatly influenced by their perception of being in a hurry.

A friend related a story to me recently that truly shocked me. She had returned to her car in a parking lot, got in and tried to start it. It would not start. She thought the battery might be the problem, so she began looking for someone to jump start her car.

She saw a man approaching her, and spoke to him a couple of times to ask if he had jumper cables. He ignored her. When she finally got his attention, he acted as if he did not know she was talking to him. She asked if he had jumper cables, and he replied that he did. However, he followed that by saying that he was not going to attempt to jump start her car, for fear of damaging his Lexus.

Most of us are appalled at hearing such stories. However, in our Christian walk, we behave the same way in many ways. Most of us are quick to respond if someone is in physical or financial need, but what about their spiritual needs? How long, if ever, has it been since you asked someone where they will spend eternity?

Knowing that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and not sharing His love with others, is like owning a Lexus AND a set of jumper cables, but refusing to share them with someone in need. This world is in great need of a jump start. People need to hear that God loves them and gave everything for them. Romans 10:14 says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

There is a Christian song from the 80’s that says, “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see. You’re the only words of life some will ever read.” Tell someone about God’s great love. It’ll be like giving them a jump start!

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
 (Luke 10:30-37)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dead Gator

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
(2 Peter 1:3-7 NIV)

About two weeks ago, we had put the kids to bed and my wife was busy getting final grading done for the end of school. That left me in complete control of the television remote. I leaned back in my recliner and began searching for something manly to watch. There wasn’t much to choose from, so I wound up searching some of the upper channels, and came across Swamp People on the History Channel.

I was immediately taken in. I was looking for a manly show and I certainly found one! Swamp People is a reality/documentary show that follows the daily activities of several Cajuns living in the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana. These Cajuns hunt alligators for a living in the largest swamp in the US.

I was reminded of the show when I read a news story this week from Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City police responded to an unusual call in a suburban neighborhood. Some kids, playing near a pond, had spotted an alligator in the weeds that lead to the water. The police had heard of alligators being set free in populated areas, they took the call seriously.

The officers talked to a conservation agent who advised them to shoot the gator if they felt it posed a danger. When they arrived, they saw the gator lying in the weeds, just as the kids had described. One of the officers aimed his rifle and shot the gator in the head. When the animal didn’t move, he fired again. This time the bullet bounced off the alligator’s head. They had been shooting at a concrete lawn ornament that the owner had put there to keep people off the property.

Those who are Christians are like that alligator in some ways. We look like what we should be in Christ. We go to church, put money in the plate, teach Sunday School, serve as deacons, or perhaps even pastor a church, but we are ineffective for God’s Kingdom. On the outside, we seem to be strong Christians, but upon closer inspection we are nothing more than a concrete lump. Because we do not allow Christ to breathe His breath of life into us, we remain still and useless. The truly unfortunate thing is when the enemy figures out that our witness has no teeth, he will walk right by us or even over us, exposing our failure to the whole world.

lawn ornament from Lillian Vernon
Peter, who knew a little about how not to do things, tells us that we should have faith, goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. All of these come from a strong relationship with Christ. Without Him living in us, we are no more effective than a concrete gator lying in the weeds. We look the part, but are ineffective.

Make today the day you stop being a “lawn ornament.” Pray to the Father and ask Him to come into your life, that you may be more effective for Him.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8-11 NIV)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Divine Appointments

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 in that person? (1 John 3:16-17)

How did you celebrate Memorial Day? Many people had to work. Some spent time with friends or family. Some had cookouts. Others may have attended memorial services in cemeteries or watched parades through towns and cities.

For so many of us, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. It ushers in a time of vacations, days by the pool, no school for the kids, and many other images we hold dear when the days get longer. However, while there is no harm in all of this, it is important to realize that there have been men and women who died defending the freedoms we enjoy. Not only do we need to take the time to remember the sacrifices they made, but we also need to remember their families.

In churches across America, if Memorial Day was mentioned, it probably was accompanied by a statement about Jesus laying down His life for our freedom from sin. That is very true. However, we must also remember that while He was alive, He gave us an incredible example of how to live.

Have you ever thought about how Jesus inserted Himself into people’s lives? He interrupted funerals, interfered with people at work, and stopped huge crowds to speak to one person. Jesus might have been considered rude by today’s standards. However, when He showed up, everything changed for the people He encountered.

In today’s world, people have the same problems and hurts as they did in Jesus’ time. The difference is that we are too busy to see them. How long has it been since you ministered to a stranger? When was the last time you were actually the “hands and feet” of Christ? A long-time family friend told a story this week that truly spoke to me. The following are her words.

I saw something today that broke my heart wide open. On the way to my sisters, we passed by a home-made memorial in a front yard. A father and mother were standing by it. They had lost a son in war. I slowed down and nodded to them. Hours later, as we returned home and passed by the house again, they were still standing by the memorial. The father had an American flag wrapped tightly in his arms. I am sure this flag accompanied his young son's body home. This time I stopped and told them I was sorry for their loss and appreciated his service and sacrifice. I started reading the memorial and was brought to tears when I read that he had died on May 19, 2011. This father and mother were experiencing their first Memorial Day and were trying to honor their son. Please pray for these families.....we all owe them so much! Today is much more than just cookouts and a day off work.

If you are like me, the first reading of this story moves you because of the pain these parents felt. I can picture the scene in my mind and I hurt with them. However, a closer reading moves me even more. My friend, who is not a pastor, minister or any member of the clergy, did a very Christian thing. She allowed her life to be interrupted by this family, and in turn interrupted theirs.

Jesus never shows up at a time that is convenient for us. He doesn’t plan around our schedules or call us to see when we can fit Him in. Christ interrupts, disrupts, and does anything else He can to get our attention. He may also use us to interrupt others to get their attention. How has Jesus interrupted your life lately? How have you used the ministry of interruption? When you give your life wholly over to Him, expect interruptions!

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1 John 3:18)