Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We've all seen it - a kid screaming his or her head off in the grocery store. Mommy was just trying to get some shopping done when little Johnny saw something he wanted and reached out for it. Then, when mommy said no, little Johnny began to cry because he didn't get what he wanted. That's when the fun begins. EVERYONE in the store begins to stare at the "evil" mom and her poor, little child.
"Look how mean that mother is! She must have abused that poor child to make him cry that much."

Actually, the "evil mom" simply was being wise, thinking that perhaps the big can of Red Bull energy drink wasn't the wisest choice for her two-year-old.

When we grow older some of us begin to understand making wise choices. Some of us do not. For example, spending. Did you know that the average U.S. household credit card debt for 2013 was $15,270. That is the AVERAGE! When little Johnny grows up and gets a credit card he pretty much gets what he wants . . . and then pays 21% interest for the rest of his life.

When you want something do you pray for it? And how come when we pray for something we usually don't get it? Doesn't God love us? Doesn't God know we NEED this? Apparently not. Or is there something we're missing?

What kinds of things to do you pray for? I've had high school kids text me, asking me to pray for their math test because they didn't really study for it? I usually reply with, "Sure, I'll pray for you." Then I pray something like this . . .

"Father, may Little Johnny learn exactly what he needs to from this test. May wisdom come to him before it is too late and his high school career is over, in more ways than one. I pray for Johnny's priorities to change. May You, Lord, become first in his life. God, I pray for Johnny and his relationship with you. I pray your Holy Spirit would convict Johnny of his poor decision making. May he realize that he needs you above all else. And may he come to know that before it is too late. But whatever You choose God. Your will be done."

Here is my nominee for the most misused Bible verse of all time.

"24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." - Mark 11:24. That verse has launched the careers of more Prosperity Gospel preachers that I can shake an asherah pole at.

Those are red letters! That's Jesus telling us that whatever we ask for we can get if we only believe it!! Cool!!

Not so fast. First of all, who is Jesus talking to? Well, I think it's His disciples . . . for sure he's talking to Peter. So, was Jesus talking to us? Or just to His disciples? Hmm.

Here's another verse to consider.

"14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him." - 1 John 5:14-15

This God's will thing. Umm, so we can get whatever we want as long as God wants us to have it anyway? Something like that. Praying "in God's will" requires selfless prayer. That's not to say you can't pray for yourself, but you should pray for the things that God is likely to give. If we pray for a new Ferrari our prayer is likely to go unanswered. But if we pray that we can somehow find a ride for our kids to get to Sunday school . . . expect the phone to ring. Unless of course . . . you've been bad.

I am reading a book by Mark Cahill called The Watchmen. This is from his chapter on prayer.

"Living a sinful life will literally cause God to hide His face from us. Just wrestle with the ramifications of that concept for a second.

"When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!" - Isaiah 1:15

God takes how we live this life very seriously. He is not some big vending machine in the sky where we throw up a prayer; pull a lever and whatever we asked for drops from the heavens. No, He is concerned about your character. He is concerned about our thoughts and emotions, and how we treat people. He is concerned if we are representing Him well in this crazy world."

So are you praying for something, expecting to get it, while you are shoplifting things from Walmart? Are you seeking God's favor while you are cheating on your wife? Getting drunk on the weekends?

If I were you, which I am not, I would confess my sins first, seek God's forgiveness and mercy before even CONSIDERING asking Him for any favors. Remember . . . we deserve nothing. Even our good deeds are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6)

When we remember that, suddenly the things we pray for take on a different tone.

"Holy Father, I come before you today, lost and broken. I have sinned against you Lord and I come to you on my knees, humbly seeking your forgiveness. My eyes have strayed where they shouldn't have and I have lost myself and who you want me to be. Father, I seek your help. Refine me by whatever means you see fit. My desire is to please you with my obedience and with my life. Create in me a clean heart. Forgive me, I pray. May I always seek to do your will here on earth and one day, if you are willing, with You in heaven. Holy is your name, Lord. I thank you and praise you for who you are and all that you have done. In the matchless name of Jesus, Amen."

The Prayer by Celine Dion & Josh Groban

Monday, February 24, 2014

Steelie

When you were growing up did you ever play marbles? I'm thinking you have to be about my age, 60, or older to have done that. I had a bag of marbles when I was in grade school. My mom made it for me out of blue corderoy with a couple of shoelace draw strings at the top. I took it to school so I could play marbles during recess.

My marble bag had all of the usual marbles in it - cats eyes, agies, puries, "boulders" (the bigger diameter ones). All came with a varying number of chips taken out of them. Usually these scars came from the heavy-hitters on the marble circuit - steelies.

Steelies were powerful and packed quit a punch in the hands of a skilled shooter. As the name implies, these bad boys were made from steel. They may have been sphere-shaped and looked like marbles but they were really ball bearings, salvaged from some piece of junkyard equipment.

One day at the beginning of recess a large crowd of my marble-playing buddies, which probably number well in excess of four or five, gathered by the back door to the school. The were all talking excitedly and looking down at something one of my friends held in his hand, I hurried to see, shouldering my way through the crowd.

"Look at the size of that thing!!"

"Holy cow!!! That thing's huge!!"

One of my friends had brought in a steelie. A steelie the size of a baseball!! It was massive!!! He began challenging all comers. Some fools agreed and had their once-prized marbles crushed under the weight of something 20 times their marble's size. But not me boy! I wasn't about to lose any of my marbles to that thing!

This guy and his giant "marble" changed to whole atmosphere of the playground. No one felt like playing marbles anymore. There were shattered pieces of glass . . . everywhere!! And shattered lives as well, young men having their marble championship dreams literally shattered before their very eyes. But then, one day, everything changed.

Someone challenged the Mighty Steelie!!

Now in the game we played we basically took turns shooting at one anothers marbles. If you hit it and it moved their marble was yours. Well, this challenger tossed his marble out onto the playground in defiance of Goliath and it's owner.

Smiling, our "former friend" pulled his giant steelie out of his sagging marble bag. He took aim at the poor, trembling marble laying there in the dirt. Pumping his arm once, he let go of his massive weapon. We all watched in slow motion, our mouths hanging open, as this weapon of mass destruction arched its way across the Michigan sky. THUD!!

He missed!!!

Our friend picked up HIS marble now, It was HIS turn. He wound up before he threw just like Bob Gibson and then he let her rip. He struck the big steelie square, shattering his marble into a dozen pieces. But guess what. The big steelie had moved! Ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly, the big, bad Marble of Death had moved! It had been captured by our new hero!!

Our champion however was not happy. He didn't go over to his new prize to pick it up and taunt its former owner. Instead our friend knelt down and picked up the broken pieces of his former marble.

"She was my best shooter."

I learned much about sacrifice and selflessness that day. The act of one selfless friend basically saved recess for us all. Despite the odds our friend had overcome our enemy and won the day for all marble players everywhere - well, at least in Marion, Michigan.

We never saw that gigantic steelie again. The playground returned to normal once more. But our friend, the one who had saved the day by giving up his treasured shooter, never played again. Eventually we all stopped playing. But we never forgot what happened that day - one kids sacrifice saved our playground from millions of shattered dreams . . . and marbles. Well, . . . five or six kids dreams anyway.

When Jesus died on the cross He gave up his life here on earth, once and for all. He knew what had to be done and, even though He knew it would cost Him much, He did so willingly for the benefit of those He loved.

Each of us in this world has one marble - our lives. How are we going to use that marble . . . our lives. We could just waste it, pitting it against the evils of this world, sinning without repentance, not really caring what happens. Or we could live our lives for Jesus, offering our "marble" up to the One who sacrificed His life, His "marble", for ours.

Our "marbles" aren't much to look at. We're all dented and chipped. But in the hands of a hero, even the ugliest of marbles can make a difference. Offer yours to Him today . . . amd win!

"13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." - 1 Peter 3:13-18

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Eddie

Have you been watching the 2014 Olympic games from Sochi, Russia? I think lots of people have. There have been many interesting stories and some really exciting and close competitions.
Like hockey! I missed watching the hockey game between the United States and Russia but the following day many people were talking about it at work and on the news, just how exciting it was. Overtime! A shoot out!! And we won!!!

Many great stories are coming out of these Olympic games. But there have been many sad stories as well. Unfinished hotel rooms, toilets installed but the actual pipe was missing, drinking water that looked more like a glass of beer than water.

Every Olympic games has its share of happy and sad stories to tell. Stories that inspire and stories that make us wonder. Back in 1972 at the Munich games for example, 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer were killed by a group of Palestinian activists. A sad story indeed.

This morning I would like to talk to you about a happy story - a story of the Olympic spirit and one former Olympian - a ski jumper named Eddie Edwards. This guy competed back in the 1988 Calgary games. He wasn't very good. As he would say later, he was Great Britain's first, and probably last, Olympic ski jumper.

His story was much like that of the Jamaica bobsled team. Underdogs to say the least. Never expected to win. But everyone seemed to love them anyway and they developed a following. Same with Eddie, who, mockingly, became known as Eddie The Eagle.

When Eddie made a jump the whole crowd cheered, not because he set a record but because he actually survived! Some in the sport actually shunned Eddie because he was detracting from the actual champion ski jumpers. And all he did was believe he could do something and then actually set about doing it.

Eddie's "Olympic Spirit" reminds me of what it's like being a Christian these days. We are persecuted for our faith. Shunned by the secular world and liberal ideology. Yet we continue on worshiping Jesus, despite all the negativism and attacks on our faith.

America loves an underdog and we Christians are definitely that. But unlike Eddie The Eagle, we are not lifted up as heroes by the world in which we live. But we DO get to win in the end. The following is a pep talk of sorts from the apostle Paul to a young Christian named Timothy. It could easily have been read to Eddie Edwards before his first Olympic jump. Each of us should take it to heart when we face persecution in this world that loves to crown champions. The following is a letter to underdogs everywhere.

Final Charge to Timothy

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.

Grace be with you all."
- 1 Timothy 6:11-21

Eddie The Eagle Interview

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Highlighter

Do you highlight things in books as you read them? I never used to . . . but I do now. I'm not talking about the random novels we read for entertainment or to help us fall asleep at night. I'm wondering if you highlight or underline things in The Bible.

My memory ain't what it used to be and I need all the help I can get remembering things. Although most people only retain 10-20% of  what they read anyway so maybe I'm not so bad.

When I was in college and had to purchase books for the upcoming semester I always bough new ones. I could have rented my books I guess or even purchased used ones but I didn't. There something special about a brand new book. Clean. Fresh. Untouched.

Of course, if I had purchased used books in school, already underlined, I could have cut my studying time in half. All the important stuff would have already been underlined. That is, of course, unless the person doing the underlining was an idiot. Then I'd REALLY be in trouble! Besides, the highlighted parts would only be important in the mind of the person doing the highlighting, not me.

I use a highlighter when I read my Bible. If there is something I want to remember or if there is something that really jumps out at me, I highlight it. It's easier to find when I'm searching for verses. I can go right to the highlighter ones and don't have to skim over everything again.

And I use a rainbow of colors to do my highlighting as well. The various colors don't mean anything. I just like to see all the colors. But some people use a color code. For example, purple might be the commands of God. I don't go that in depth but it would be cool to do sometime.

I underline things too. But just the REALLY important stuff. Stuff that I have already highlighted but just want to add to the importance of a verse or two.

What would happen if we could buy pre-highlighted Bibles? Would we then find it easier to understand or remember the really important verses? Or maybe that's why Bibles come without highlights. BECAUSE IT'S ALL IMPORTANT!!!

It is important to remember those verses that have special meaning to each of us. But it is more important to remember the verses that are really important to God. Hopefully, the more we read and understand, the more verses we will have highlighted in our Bibles. And more of what is important to us will line up with what is important to God.

"18 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." - Deuteronomy 11:18

Monday, February 17, 2014

Makeup!

My wife and I went out for a date on Valentine's Day. Normally, we don't do anything TOO special - a card . . . maybe dinner of a simple gift. But this year we did something a little extra special - we got tickets to see Chris Botti, our favorite jazz trumpet player, who was performing in Green Bay.

Hours before the show began, my wife began getting herself ready. She has an entire procedure she goes through when she is getting ready to go out in public. I can't even begin to describe all the logistics, the application techniques, the color combinations, foundations, blushes . . . I just simply call it . . . makeup.

My wife doesn't really need any makeup in my opinion. She always looks beautiful in my eyes. But she must see some imperfections that I cannot see when she looks in the mirror. Whether they exist or not, she spends time each day trying to conceal her perceived imperfections.

As we were walking through the parking lot of the Weidner Center, on the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay campus, we saw lots of beautiful people. Many were being chauffeur-driven to the front doors. Others walked on the same sidewalk and my wife and I.

There was one couple directly in front of us. The man had kind of a Rand Paul look to him - long coat down to his knees, man-scarf, no hat covering his perfectly trimmed, salt-and-pepper hair. I probably looked equally stunning in my blue jeans, 25-year old winter jacket and Wisconsin Badger ski cap. Mmm. Maybe, but probably not.

The woman he was escorting was very beautiful . . . from what I could see of her. Her stockings had no snags or runs in them. Her high heels made her walk like she was going some place . . . or had already arrived. Very nice. She must have spent as much time getting ready for the concert as her date had, with much the same result.

Why do people get dressed up so fancy anyway? Why do people put on airs about who they are, utilizing makeup to hide every blemish, real or imagined?

When the concert started I noticed that Chris Botti had on a very nice suit. So did the two ladies who performed with him. But the rest of the band? Dress shirts and bluejeans. At least seeing what they were wearing made me feel a little more stylish about MY evening's wardrobe selection.

Slight change of direction here but what kind of clothes do you wear for church? Fancy? Laid back? Does it matter? And what about our religious leaders? What about The Pope? The Cardinals?  Bishops & Priests? Your pastor. Is the minister of your church the flowing robe and vestments type? Or is he a Hawaiian shirt and sandals kind of guy? Does he put on any makeup so his face doesn't cause a glare for the live-streaming video feed?

I think I am more of the John The Baptist type, when it comes to going out to dinner or dressing up. Camels hair coat and locusts for me, thank you very much. But why do we feel the need to dress up and look . . . rich? What does God think?

". . . women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire," - 1 Timothy 2:9

"But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. - 1 Samuel 16:7

Hey, there's a thought. What would happen if we all appeared to each other as we appear through the eyes of God? Would we be a little more understanding of each others dress? Or less? The Bible says that when God looks at us, in effect, He sees Jesus. God sees no imperfections. Yet, because God sees everything, he DOES see our imperfections and loves us just the same.

Hmm, I wonder. If none of us ever dressed up. If we dressed with modesty and self-control as it says in First Timothy, would the world in which we live be a better or worse place as a result? It wouldst be a better place, me thinkst.

Perhaps if we spent more time preparing our hearts and minds to come into the presence of God, we would ALL see the time as being an investment, not a waste. May the time we spend preparing ourselves in service of our King far outweigh the time we waste carrying the burden of men's opinions on our shoulders where they do not belong.

"13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
- Revelation 5:13

Amen.

Emmanuel - from Chris Botti In Boston (feat. violinist Luci Micarelli)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Predestination

One of my favorite movies was on television this week – The Matrix. It's probably more of a guy movie than it is a chick flick. Probably not the ideal date movie on a Valentine’s Day, or any other day for that matter, but I watched it.

What I like about the movie is its many parallels to the Christian faith. It is not someplace we should be drawing upon for theology lessons but the streams of analogies and similarities is constant - as constant as the flow of those little green symbols on the computer monitors they watch.

The main character, Neo, for example, can easily be seen as a Christ figure. The leading lady’s name is "Trinity." There is a prophet in the film named Morpheus – a character whose names cries out “change.”

One theme that runs throughout the film is that of predestination. Neo, for example, was predestined to save the world. Morpheus seemed to always be referring to Neo as “The One” even when Neo himself didn’t believe it. Morpheus was “destined” to find “The One.” And Trinity was destined to fall in love with “The One.” Everyone, it seems, was predestined to do "something" in that movie.

Hmm. Predestination. What about you? Do you supposed that YOU have been predestined to do something? Ever thought about that? Do you think you have been created with a specific goal or quest in mind by God Himself?

"11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." - Jeremiah 29:11-13

"13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." - Psalm 139:13-16

God had plans for us and He had them before we were even born!

Think about that for a moment. Talk about predestination! Our lives have already been planned? Well, sort of. God had a plan for us to be sure, but He gave us a choice. We could either follow that plan, or not. It’s called “free will.” That’s usually where most of the things in this world get screwed up - when we start making decisions based on our own needs rather than considering and deciding things based on the will of GOD . . . or what we PERCEIVE to be God's will.

According to scripture, each of us is predestined to do something in God's plan. That much is true. But when we "try to find our purpose in life" that's exactly when we begin to wander.

Take a look through a "Christian" book store sometime (perhaps that's bad advice). There are many authors offering to help you find your purpose. Rick Warren would love to help you! Joel Osteen too! Save your money. They're leading you astray. Go back home an read your Bible. Everything God wants us to know has already been told to us. We just need to be obedient.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is our predestined purpose - to be obedient to God. Period.

Did you ever wonder what Gods plan for Himself is in all this? It's in the Bible, from beginning to end . . .

Where was God as Adam and Eve . . . in the beginning?

"8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day . . . " - Genesis 3:8

And where will God be with those who believe . . . in the end?

"3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." - Revelation 21:3

God's desire, at least from what I read, has always been to dwell among His people. But we ruined all that. God knew we would. That's why he planned ahead of time for Jesus to be born of a virgin, and He was. God planned that Jesus would live a sinless life, and He did. And He also planned that Jesus would die on a cross, a spotless lamb, sacrificed for our sins, . . . and He did. God has always had a plan. And God's plan is all coming true. The only "option" is, do we want to join Him? I'll tell you what. This guy's in! But God knew that I would be, even though I ignored Him for years.

Now THAT's predestination!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

102

This past Monday I had an annoying little cough. Dry. Persistent. Probably a lot like this blog. Well, today I am on day three of the worst cold I have ever had. Although I did set a personal best for Internal Body Temperature, so I've got that going for me. Yay?

I didn't eat much Tuesday or Wednesday. It was like a 48-hour fast . . . but for all the wrong reasons. Blah . . .

Early this morning I awoke to a strange noise - the sound of my growling tummy. I was hungry!

"Well, you'd better get up and eat something before you wake your wife."

So I wandered out to the kitchen, bouncing from wall to wall as I went . . . at 1:27 in the morning. I opened up the refrigerator door and grabbed some juice, set it on the stove. Then I went over to the cereal / cracker cabinet which seemed more empty tan normal. The only thing that seemed palatable to this sick-o was Saltine crackers. Kind of blah but that's what I was looking for.

As I placed the crackers on the stove next to the juice I looked and saw this picture.

"26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes." - 1 Corinthians 11:26

And so . . . I prayed.

I asked God to forgive me for all of the times I have placed myself above Him; thought of my own needs before those of my King. I prayed for this world, which is so full of itself it doesn't have time for ANY gods, let alone the One True God. I prayed that Jesus would return soon. Imagine, a life without colds!!!

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
- Revelation 21:1-5

Monday, February 10, 2014

Payday

Everyone loves payday. No, not the candybar, when we get rewarded for a job well done. It feels good to work hard and get paid for it. It's even better to work hard at something we really enjoy and then have people give us money for doing what we love!

Look at professional athletes for example. They get paid millions of dollars for just playing games!! It doesn't get much better than that!!! Musicians are another example. They really love to play their instruments and, to them, getting paid is actually a bonus. That's cool!

Do you love your job? Or maybe this would be a better question to ask . . . Do you love your job enough that you would do it for free? Oooo. That's a little bit tough! We all need money for house payments and car payments and food and heat and electricity. We all need to make SOME money!

If money was no object and you didn't have to worry about bills or food or taxes, what would you do? Would you still be content washing dishes or fixing cars? Would you still do what you are doing now? My guess is that many of us would say no. We would rather be doing something else.

So what do you LIKE to do? Do you like to write like me? Maybe you like to draw or play guitar. Maybe you like to sew or to build things. Maybe it's playing video games or surfing the Internet. Would you be able do what you like for 40 hours a week? If you could, would you?

One of the things I like doing most is talking about Jesus. I like to write about Him too. That is the whole purpose of this blog. But what do YOU like to do? What gifts and talents has God given you?

There is a lady where I work who likes to draw, yet she spends all of her time typing specifications and letters. Boring!! She has given up the enjoyment she finds in drawing things for other pursuits. That, to me, is sad. Yes she needs to pay the bills but I also thing she is missing out on some real enjoyment by setting aside one of her passions, one of the abilities that God has gifted her with.

This past weekend I was gifted with three opportunities to use what God has gifted ME with - compassion and exhortation - and let me tell you, I have never felt more blessed or more used in my life!

There is great satisfaction to be found in using our gifts and talents for God's glory. There is nothing quite like serving a loving King selflessly, without thought of payment. It is during times like those that we often receive our biggest paychecks.

A lady once came up to me at church and told me how she appreciated what I was doing by speaking into her son's life - listening to her son's struggles and offering advice. That meant a lot to her and made me feel good inside. After the conversation with this kid's mom ended I leaned over to a nearby friend and said, "I just got paid."

Payday for me comes in the knowledge that I have served someone and done so in a God-honoring way. I do not seek any "payday" but I know that God blesses His children in ways that are priceless. As one of my friends at another church says, "The pay sucks but the benefits are out of this world!"

Ain't that the truth!

This week I encourage you to examine your gifts, the ones given to you by God. He gave them to you for a reason. He gave them to you so you could use them, for His glory. Honor Him in all that you do and you will be surprised at the size of your paycheck. It will be heavenly for sure!!!

"23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." - Colossians 3:23-24

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ultraviolet

Are you familiar with all of the colors in the spectrum? Everybody knows the colors red, yellow and blue. Those three colors are called primary colors. They are called "primary" because all other colors can be made using some combination of those three primary colors. The absence of any color is known as black. The presence of ALL colors is known as white. Don't believe me? Watch these scientists prove it.


God has blessed us with eyes to see all the beautiful colors this world contains. Green trees, colorful flowers and beautiful sunset are but a few of the many colors we can see everyday. Those who CAN see anyway. Some people are born blind. It's those people I will be writing about today. First, I'd like to share something from the Book of Colossians.

"15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister."
- Colossians 1:15-23

Did you catch what Paul said in verse 16?

"16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and . . . invisible,"

God created invisible stuff! Don't believe me? Look at the color chart at the beginning of this story. See where it says "UV" off to the left? That's stands for ultraviolet. We humans cannot see ultraviolet light, but we know that it exists.

When I was in the Boy Scouts we liked to tell ghost stories around the campfire. One kid told a story about an Ultraviolet Monster who could not be seen . . . and, of course, craved human flesh. All that anyone ever saw was its footprints and, of course, all the blood left behind by its victims. Mu-a-ha-ha-ha!!!

I struggle mightily with those in our world who are blind to the love and grace of Jesus. As much as I would like to see everyone come to a saving faith in Christ, the truth is that not many will. That saddens me greatly because that number includes many people that I love deeply.

My wife bought me a pair of dress pants this year. She told me the old ones were wearing out. She told me that me new pants are green. When I look at them they sure seem dark grey to me. They even look different in florescent lighting than they do in incandescent light. So what should I do? I could say "NO! They're not green, they're grey!" or I could trust my wife who picked out my pants and told me they are green. I have chosen to trust my wife. Why? Because I don't really care. But what if I DID care? What could I do then? What SHOULD I do then?

I suppose I could go to the source - the manufacturer of the pants. They could tell me for sure what color the pants were. But where do we go when we want to find out the truth about God? Well, how about The Bible - God's Word? Jesus said He was the truth. The important thing is do we trust Him. Do we believe His words?

"42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. - John 8:42-47

What we must do for our loved ones and friends, is pray. There is nothing we can do ourselves. Jesus told us that "No one comes to the Father unless the Father calls them" (John 14:6). God can use us but we ourselves can do nothing. No, that's not true. We CAN do something. We can pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you SO much for allowing us an opportunity to come before you in prayer. We are not worthy of such an honor. Yet you freely give that to us. Lord, we know that you wish that NO ONE would perish but there are many in our lives that appear to be headed in that direction. Lord, soften their hearts, draw them to Yourself and make them your own, as you have done for us. We thank you and praise you for all that you have done for us despite our sinfulness. We pray for your forgiveness and for your mercy, not only for ourselves but for those who don't even know you. But whatever you chose to do Lord, may your will be done. Amen.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pockets

I hate going to the dentist. Perhaps hate is too strong a work . . . no it's not. I hate going to the dentist. So why do I still go? Good question!

My dentist loves me. I'm his favorite type of customer - a repeat customer. I keep coming back for more!! And I pay him for it!!!

I have been to the dentist four times in the last three months. That's not right. That's not right is it? That's just insane! I went in for a cleaning, then I broke a tooth and had to get a temporary crown fitted, then I had to go back and get my REAL crown put in and the next thing I knew it was time for another cleaning!!

You know what's really annoying about dentists? They never tell you ahead of time what they're going to do to you the day you go see them. Like today. I thought I was just going in for a cleaning. Nope.

"Today we're going to check your pocket depth."

Pocket depth? My pocket depth gets checked every time I get a bill from these people! And my pockets are getting shallower and shallower with each passing visit! Goodness gracious!

So my dental hygienist, Frau Blucher, who obviously got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, set out to see just how far she could shove her sharp metal probe into my tender jaw.

"Two, three, three, four . . . EIGHT!!!"

"Yow!!"

"Was that uncomfortable Mr. Hall?"

"Uncomfortable? Does this tear running down my cheek give you a clue? How about this piece of the chair I just ripped from it's moorings? Here."

"I'm terribly sorry Mr. Hall. But we have to check your pocket depth so we can make your teeth healthier."

I am sure she shoved that sharp metal tourture device as deep into my jaw as she could make it go. I could have sworn I saw her leaning on it to make it go deeper. I sit in that chair and think . . . I would rather die. Hey, I know Jesus. I get new teeth when I get to heaven, right? Let's go and get this over with!!

But she was right. Deep pockets are not good. They get filled with food and yuck and can be a location for some nasty infections. Naturally, my dental hygienist had some ideas for how I could shallow up my deep pockets.

"Do you use an electric toothbrush?"

"Not really. We have one but . . ."

"You should really use one. Do you use your end-tuft brush?"

Lord, forgive me. I lied.

"Some . . . maybe . . . (I never even picked the thing up) . . . once?"

"You really should use it every day."

I know she's just trying to help but I really don't like doing all that putsy stuff. I've got a toothbrush and toothpaste, Ain't that enough?"

Apparently not.

Our walk with Jesus can be like a trip to the dentist sometimes. God allows pain and suffering in our lives to teach us things or to refine us in some way - to improve our character. It's like He's "checking our pockets" to see how healthy our faith is. Like just the other day . . .

My wife's side of the family was having a get together - a birthday party for my mother-in-law. Normally that's just fine but recently I had had a "discussion" with my sister-in-law and her husband over our differing views of scripture. If I would attend this party it might feel a little "uncomfortable, us three in the same room. Kind of like me squirming in that dentist chair.

I told my wife I probably wouldn't be coming down. Five hours in a car is a lot of driving and I wasn't looking forward to it. But then God began probing my pockets with his two favorite instruments - His Word and His Holy Spirit. It didn't take long for me to feel convicted so I decided to, in effect, I decided to use my "electric toothbrush." I decided to go.

And God taught me something. We had a great time. I had a nice talk with my brother-in-law, the entire family played a game, I got a kiss on the cheek from my mother-in-law and a "Thank you for coming.", and I'm sure I got a nodding smile from my Father in heaven. My "pockets" are showing signs of improvement. And maybe, if I actually practice a little preventive maintenance on my faith . . . by staying in His Word, by more consistently living what I believe, perhaps I can have a healthier relationship with my family . . . and with my King.

"And He said, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer." - Exodus 15:26

"2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:2-4

Refine Me by Travis Cottrell

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dishes

When I was growing up I had to do chores. You know, work around the house. I remember feeding the sheep, I remember having to keep my room clean, and I remember having to do the dishes. I hated doing dishes. I don't know of many people who enjoy it.

Doing the dishes is rather boring. You fill up the sink with water. Apparently, from all the television commercials I watched as a child, lots of bubbles is good.

Then you scrub all the yuck off everything, rinse it and then dry it. Sometimes, doing dishes WITH someone is a help. One person washes and the other one dries. Washing sucks because you have your hands in all the dirty dishwater and you have to scrape all those hard things off the plates. Where do those chunks of stuff come from anyway? At one time, whatever it was, was edible and now it's like a rock stuck to the plates with superglue!

Drying is much better. You get handed all the clean plates and all you have to do is dry them. Life is much better dealing with clean, wet stuff than it is trying to clean hard, dry stuff. In my opinion. Either way, doing the dishes is not fun.

I recently had a talk with a young friend of mine. She is a part time dishwasher at a local restaurant. Things haven't changed much since I was a kid. Dishes still need to be cleaned and doing the dishes still sucks. My friend is looking for a different job. But in the meantime, my friend is doing dishes.

I have a theory about BAD JOBS. Bad jobs exist to provide incentive to get a better job. But I also have another theory and that is what I am writing about today. The theory that God uses anything He can to get our attention.

Recently, my daughter has been going through a stretch of, what some may call, bad luck. I don't believe in luck. I believe that things happen for a reason. Even things we don't suspect. Let's go back to my young friend for a moment. She is a Christian. At least she prayed once to receive Christ. But when one looks at her life, the fruit that usually accompanied such a life-changing moment, is missing. That leads me to believe that she either is a false convert or has drifted away from her faith.

Back to my daughter. She recently had a job interview that didn't go well. Her car died and was sold for scrap. Someone used her check card to buy cigarettes . . . in Atlanta. One can almost hear the cry, "Why would God let this happen to me!?!"

Open up your Bibles to the Book of Luke, Chapter 15. The story of the Prodigal Son.

"15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father."
- Luke 15:15:20

The Prodigal Son had a "dirty job" as Mike Rowe would call them - feeding slop to pigs. But he finally "came to himself" and realised the error of his ways. He craved something better. He returned to his father and sought forgiveness.

I think God uses rotten job to draw us to himself. He will use them to move people around from one job to another like he did with my friend here at work. She came here from a job that she did not like and God used her to help save an old man, me, and return him to the faith he left behind years ago. How amazing is a God who gives us dirty jobs! It is though them, and His Holy Spirit, that God directs and orchestrates our lives. Thank you Lord Jesus for the struggles and the pain. for it is through them that we find our selves drawing closer to you.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate." - Luke 15:20-24

The Prodigal - The Skit Guys

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Submit

When my daughter & son-in-law got married this past fall I was asked to read some scripture during the service. I was allowed to pick one verse myself, the second verse being selected by the couple getting married.

My verse was easy. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

"9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him - a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

I love that verse. Not only does it describe how our relationships should be with each other but it speaks volumes about what it is like to have Jesus as Lord of our lives.

The second verse I read on that wonderful day was selected by the wedding couple and, quite frankly, when I was given the verse to read, its selection surprised me. I was expecting something more like the typical one from 1 Corinthians 13 - "Love is patient, love is kind." Instead I was asked to read a verse about submission and sacrifice in a marriage - not something this world or women's lib and gender equality would have us believe. The passage being discussed here today is Ephesians 5:22-33.

"22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

This is God's pattern for not only husbands and wives but for the church's relationship with Jesus. Remember, HE is the bride groom. We are His bride. We are to submit to the authority of Christ and to love and respect Him. He in return has protected us and indeed SAVED us. sacrificing Himself FOR us because God loves us THAT MUCH.

I received a message from a relative of mine a few weeks ago, questioning my giving the "submissive" advice to my daughter. She said I "scared her." Hmm. All I did was read a Bible verse and I suddenly became scary? I think perhaps she is afraid of God's Word.

The world in which we live has a different idea about marriage. It doesn't matter what sex a married couple is, as long as the couple loves each other. That's what the world says. What God says is quite a bit different. Seeing as God created us, one would think He just might know how He planned to have things work.

God wrote our instruction manual. It's called The Bible. We are to submit to God. It says it right there in Ephesians. Jesus is the bride groom and we, the church, are the bride of Christ. We are to submit to Christ. Christ, the groom,  sacrificed Himself for us, His bride. And He was already done that. So how are we doing on OUR end of the bargain? Are we submitting to Jesus?

"If you love me you will keep my commands," said the groom, Jesus, to His bride. The bride in God's plan would do what He says. We are to submit to God's authority.

In a marriage in today's environment, things are a little more cloudy. When it's time to make a decision as a married couple there is discussion, or at least there should be, but in the end a decision is made. The husband is the head of the household. It is ultimately his decision.

But let's not forget to role of the husband is more than that of a dictatorial king. He must analyze the situation and make a God-honoring decision, without thought of self.

Here's an example. A husband wants to buy a new deer rifle. His old one is getting old. His wife would like to buy a new sewing machine. They discuss. The husband says the new deer rifle will put meat on the table. The wife wants to use the sewing machine to make clothes and also to teach other women how to sew. They discuss some more, weighing all the options and ramifications, but ultimately the man decides. But not selfishly . . . self-LESS-ly.

"Honey, I've thought about this a lot. Although I really would like to get a new gun, I can make due with the one I have for one more year. Your idea of helping others by teaching them how to sew is a good one. It would be providing for many, not just for ourselves. Let's go get you that new sewing machine."

That's nice and it works if everyone honors God's plan. But we live in a self-centered world where everyone seems to be out for themselves. That's where the plan falls apart, when the husband thinks only of himself.

"You want a new sewing machine!? Seriously? I need a new rifle so I can provide for this family. A sewing machine can't do that so forget it."

In this last example the man is not thinking of others. He doesn't see how teaching someone to sew actually DOES put food on the table . . . for a lifetime!

The plan of submitting to authority, to God, to anything must be a two-way street. Yes, there is someone making the final decision. But the decision maker must make those decisions considering all of the options and which decision is the most God-honoring. And if the deer rifle/sewing machine decision is too close to call, he is to sacrifice himself and let his wife get the machine.

Men are to be the leaders of the family but that does not mean they are to be dictators of it. It means that men are the last to eat. It means that men do the dishes because their wives have had a long day. It means that the man sacrifices all for his wife.

We all kind of bristle at authority. None of us like to see the flashing lights of a police car in our rearview mirror. But there is nothing more comforting when we are stranded on a deserted road in the dead of winter than to see the flashing lights of authority, of sacrifice, when it is truly needed.

When Jesus died for our sins He did so because He was submitting to the will of His Father. Jesus sacrificed Himself for His bride, the church . . . so that any who would believe in Him could survive the wrath of a righteous and holy God. How can we as Christians not submit to Him?

When we read the Bible and find something that is not to our liking, do we ignore it? Or do we submit? Do we erase that particular verse thinking others might see us as judgmental? Or do we stand by it and submit to our King . . . on bended knee . . .