Just Visiting

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

The world has a very strong attraction for us. From the time we open our eyes after our birth, our senses are flooded with the sight, sound, feel, scent and taste of our surroundings. We cry out for the things we need; food, water, nurturing and clean diapers when we soil them. But then as we grow older, we begin to notice pretty, or interesting things and in addition to our needs we begin to want more. We begin to accumulate our favorite toys, taking possession of them. We start interacting with others, but all the while we are searching for that new toy that will make us happy and keep us occupied for a while. Without God, our whole life could be summed up as a pursuit of pleasure without ever being truly satisfied.

I was fortunate that I discovered true satisfaction when I was only eleven years old. That was when I discovered the truth of John 3:16 and began a relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of His Son and His Holy Spirit within me; filling a void nothing on earth could do. That was not the end of the world’s attraction for me, just the beginning of my long journey through life with God as my tour guide. There have been times when I’ve been distracted by the things of this world, but my love and attraction to my Lord have always been strong enough to bring me back to Him. Through my love and relationship with God, I came to realize the value and importance of other relationships. I found the love of my life and shared fifty years of my life with her. Since her passing, I have developed deep, loving relationships with so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ and my extended family keeps growing.

I am taking you on this trip down memory lane to remind you of what really matters in life; our loving relationship with God and those around us. When the ruler of this world asks, “How can I help you?” our love of our Father will give us the will power to answer, “Just looking” as we continue on life’s journey. After all, when we leave this world, as we all will someday, love is the only thing we can take with us. All of our toys and possessions will be left behind along with our pain, sorrow and regrets. Then, as children of God, we will unite with Him for eternity when our visit here comes to an end.     

Recognizing Lies Part 2

This is the other disturbing teaching I ran into recently. There is a post that is being shared on Face Book that quotes a female Episcopal priest and “respected theologian”. It states, “Jesus was a person of color who was killed not by atheism or anarchy but by the religious right. Beware of anyone who claims to know the will of God.” That seems to be an attempt to paint me and other evangelical Christians as racists and potential murderers. This is not just the isolated view of a single person, but appears to be a coordinated effort to discredit those with fundamental Christian beliefs and values. I did a little research on this particular woman and found that she has left the church as far as her clergy ministry is concerned, but she is still influential as a bestselling author and theological lecturer.

I want to first address the “person of color” remark. Jesus is a Jew by race as a descendant of Abraham and King David. That and the shade of His skin come from His mother’s side of the family. The pigmentation of His skin has no significance to me at all and shouldn’t to anyone. In the last thirty years, I have not known one born again Christian who is a racist. The Holy Spirit doesn’t judge anyone (including me) by the shade of their skin and neither do we.   

Next, I want to address the question of who killed Jesus. As I pointed out once before when a pastor said white privilege killed Jesus; no one has the power to kill Him. He said himself, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18) In her theological studies of scripture, she must have missed that verse or simply doesn’t care.

I have found that those who refer to Jesus in the past tense as she does, do not have a personal relationship with Him, but simply view Him as an historical figure; a person who lived, died and is no more. This completely ignores the traits He receives from His Father’s side of the family. He always has been, is and always will be the Creator of the Universe who became a man to seek and to save those who are lost. You just don’t use past tense to describe a savior and friend who walks with you every step of the way in life.

Finally, I do know the will of God in my life and His will for mankind is evident in His word. He does not impose His will on us and I know I cannot impose His will on others. So as a born again follower of Christ, I pose no physical threat to anyone. I do pray daily that those who are lost will realize their dangerous position and accept God’s will in their life; even the well-respected theologians among them.

Recognizing Lies Part 1

Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), so we can expect his followers to lie to us. But when false teachings (lies) come from Christian leaders it is especially disturbing to me. I have written about this before, but there seems to be a new wave of false teachings wrapped in clerical rhetoric that need to be confronted. I could spend a year and not expose all of them, but there are two in particular I encountered recently to which I feel led to respond; one in this post and the other in my next post.

A popular mega-church pastor, Andrew Stanley, with tens of thousands of followers has stated that Christians should “disengage” or “unhitch” from the Old Testament because the old covenant (including the Ten Commandments) does not apply to modern day, new covenant Christians. I only mention his name because I don’t want to give the impression that all mega-church pastors are guilty of such false teachings. He claims Jesus replaced all of the Old Testament “Jewish law” with one, all-encompassing commandment found in John 13:34, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” Andy Stanley doesn’t mention that in the Sermon on the Mount (which appears to be one of his favorite New Testament passages) Jesus also stated, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No. I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19) He also ignores the fact that Jesus affirmed the Ten Commandments and even took two of them a step farther; equating lustful thoughts with adultery (Matthew 5:27-28) and anger with murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Well then, if we emphasize faith does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.”

All of this isn’t new. In fact, there was a “Christian” sect 1900 years ago that also tried to separate Jesus Christ from the God of the Old Testament scriptures. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel he makes it crystal clear that Jesus Christ and the Creator described in the first chapter of Genesis and throughout Old Testament scriptures are one in the same. They cannot be separated. It is clear to me that to discard the Old Testament would necessarily require twisting or discarding a large portion of the New Testament as well, including some of the teachings of Jesus himself.  

I’m not a pastor or theologian. I’m just a person who was spiritually reborn 64 years ago through faith in Jesus Christ. I have been studying scripture, praying, worshipping and walking through life with God’s Holy Spirit ever since then. It is He who has shown me the difference between true teachings based on God’s word and false teachings based on the opinions of people; even ordained popular and respected people.  

Little Things Do Matter

I’m a Chicago Bears fan and this past Sunday they had a hard fought playoff game. Both teams are very talented and the game came down to a field goal attempt well within the range of the Bears’ kicker. It would spell the difference between a two point win and a one point loss. The first kick was good but time had been called at the last second by the other team, so he had to kick again. I can still see that final kick bounce off of the goal post turning sure victory into season-ending defeat. I’ve heard sportscasters say that baseball is a game of inches. The football field may be laid out in yards, but many of the plays in that game came down to a matter of inches. My apology to those of you who are not sports fans, but I believe there is an important life lesson here for all of us.

Life is not a game (although some people approach it as if it were one), but there are times in life when something as small as a second or an inch can spell the difference between success and failure. Some people advise us, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, but Jesus pointed to faith as tiny as mustard seed that can make miracles happen. (Matthew 17:20) Paul likened false teachings (Galatians 5:9) and a little sin (I Corinthians 5:6) to a tiny amount of yeast that affects the entire loaf of bread; an illustration Jesus used in two Gospels. Small things do matter.

You may have heard the expression, “Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.” No one fits that description better than Satan. He only needs a tiny crack in our defenses to insert a seed of doubt. When he, in the form of a serpent, asked Adam and Eve, “Did God really say that you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” the seed was planted. Then he watered that seed with his lies, “You won’t die. God knows your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God knowing both good and evil.” Before they knew it, that tiny doubt had sprouted into the full grown sin of disobedience which, in turn, infected all of mankind. (Genesis 3:1-19) As our relationship with God becomes closer, our doubts will begin to evaporate, but we need to be aware of the tiniest doubt creeping in and ask God to give us strength to overcome it and wisdom to identify the lies that are sure to follow.

I just heard one of my favorite young pastors tell about a rural area that was experiencing a severe drought. The religious leaders in the area decided to bring all of their congregations together in the town square to pray in unity for rain. Each group prayed in their own way lifting up their voices to God, but nothing happened and they all went home disappointed. Then a young boy of eleven decided to try, so he went alone and knelt in the town square. He prayed for rain and as he opened the small umbrella he brought with him a cloud began to form and the rain came. The difference was the crowd came to pray without being prepared for God to answer. The boy was so sure God would answer that he came prepared for the rain. We can eliminate the little doubts we have if we come to God in prayer knowing He will answer and prepared to receive His blessings.    

Closer Still

My wife, Carol, often prayed for a closer walk with God. No doubt with the words of a song reverberating in her mind and her heart. “Just a closer walk with thee, grant it Jesus is my plea. Daily walking close to thee, let it be, dear Lord, let it be.” Once we experience God’s presence in our life we can never get enough of it. We yearn to draw closer and closer to Him.

James wrote, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” (James 4:8) There is only one way to approach God and that is in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, the heavy curtain in the temple that separated us from God was torn from top to bottom so we can enter God’s presence without the intercession of a priest. We can enter God’s presence through prayer, worship and studying His word. We wash our hands by repenting of our sins and turning from them. Our hearts are purified by the blood of Jesus. When God looks at us, He no longer sees our sinful nature, but instead sees the righteousness of Jesus and draws us near to Him as His adopted child. The closer we get to God through His Holy Spirit within us, the less attractive the hollow, unsatisfying things of the world become.

I remember so clearly watching The Passion of Christ in a movie theater with Carol. We sat there stunned for ten minutes letting the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross sink in. I had been a Christian for over 30 years by then, but I felt closer to Him at that moment than ever before. The words of two songs merged in my mind and heart. “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me. Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee, even though it be a cross that lifteth me.”   

Since then, I have studied God’s word, worshipped Him in song and remained near to Him in prayer, always taking time to listen to Him. I will never get enough of His presence until I pass through death into eternity with Him. I hope each of you will continue to draw closer and closer to God each and every day.

A New Year

In spite of well-meaning resolutions and good intentions, most of us will pick up in January right where we left off in December. If we have a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ, that really isn’t a bad thing. We are told this is a great time to make changes as we face a calendar with 365 blank pages. But as we consider our obligations and responsibilities in the coming year, it is easy to become overwhelmed by how quickly those blank pages become full. I already have doctor appointments, events and deadlines on my calendar for January and February. I’m sure those of you with a job and family have even more on yours. The truth is, change is possible any day of the year. Each sunrise is reason for thanksgiving and a new opportunity to improve our life.

As I begin to fill my calendar as a child of God, I am aware that He has already mapped out this year for me and if I could see His plans for me, I’m sure “overwhelmed” would be an understatement. In my experience, that is the reason God only lights my path one day or even one step at a time. When I concentrate on His plan for the present, I can eventually look back and be amazed at the progress I’ve made and the things I have accomplished with His help; things I didn’t think possible when God through His Holy Spirit prompted me to do them.

When God calls me to do something, my first reaction is the same as Moses or Gideon. I list for Him all of the things that disqualify me for the job and I’m sure He just smiles and nods. God knows our weaknesses and shortcomings. He chooses us because of them, not in spite of them. When we are aware that we are inadequate, we are forced to rely completely on God and not even attempt to do it on our own. As God told the Apostle Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)  He isn’t looking for strong warriors. He is looking for obedient servants who will allow Him to fight the battles while guiding our words and actions. All we have to do is make ourselves available and willing and then let Him do the rest.

I pray that I will continue to be attentive to God’s call and obedient to His will every step of the way this coming year. I hope you will share that prayer with me and if we follow through on that resolution, we will make positive changes in our life and in the lives of those around us.

 

Expect the Unexpected

I hope you don’t mind if I get real once again sharing my personal life with you, but this is just too good to keep to myself. The Friday before Christmas I saw my eye doctor again. He confirmed that the eye drops were keeping the pressure in my eyes at a safe level and prescribed two eye drops, one to apply in the morning and the other to apply in the evening. He emphasized that if I ever stop using them I will go blind. His assistant faxed Walmart (where I get my other meds) for a one month supply with twelve refills to get me through a whole year. She also gave me a voucher for a one time free month’s supply of one of the drops. Later that day I received a text from Walmart that I had two prescriptions to pick up for a total of $270. Now I am barely keeping my head above water, so that additional monthly cost would sink me. I would no longer be able to remain in my townhome, so my life would be completely turned upside down.

The next morning when I met my brothers in Christ for breakfast, I laid out my situation and asked for prayers. Right there at that table in Cracker Barrel the six of us prayed, including the young son of one of the guys. I continued to pray as I attended the children’s presentation on Sunday. Monday morning (Christmas Eve) I decided to go through a stack of mail. There were two letters from my mortgage company. I knew I wasn’t behind on my payments so I couldn’t imagine what they were. I tore open one of them and there was a check for $1,453. I must have stared at it for fifteen minutes. It was what one of my friends calls a “wow moment”. There was no explanation with the check, so I tore open the other letter. It was an escrow statement explaining the refund of over payments to my escrow account and stating that my monthly mortgage payment will be reduced by about $150 beginning in January.

As soon as I caught my breath, I called Walmart to make sure they would accept the voucher and find out how much I would owe for the other one. They told me the voucher was for a brand name and both of the prescriptions were generic so they could not take it. I called the doctor’s office to let them know the voucher was useless to me. His assistant apologized then told me to hold while she checked with the pharmacy for the medical group in their building. She came back saying that the cost for both meds at their pharmacy would be $35. Before she finished her sentence, I asked her to send the prescriptions to them and I will pick them up after Christmas. That evening I attended the candlelight service I wrote about in my last blog post. I have never opened so many perfect gifts on Christmas Eve in my entire life.

Why is it when I pray with complete faith and confidence that God can and will answer my prayer, I am still caught by surprise by the way He responds? You won’t be surprised that the events of Christmas Eve reminded me of the words of a gospel song. “Expect the unexpected when God’s about to move. He will meet our every need in ways we wouldn’t choose. Be still and know He’s in control His power will come through. Expect the unexpected and watch what God will do!” What a great and loving God we serve!

Chistmas Day

Another Christmas day has past. This was my 75th, although I don’t remember much about the first few. It is the day each year that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and many others celebrate holiday traditions instead. Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Most Bible scholars agree that he was probably born a few months earlier. The actual year and date of His birth is not important. How can I be so sure of that? Because if it was important to God, it would be recorded in the Bible, like the many annual festivals God established for His chosen people to celebrate each year. Please don’t get me wrong, it is good that we set aside a day each year to commemorate the greatest event in the history of the world. I just don’t think God wants us to limit that celebration to a single day, but celebrate it every day.

This year a good friend invited me to attend the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at her church. It is much smaller than CLC, but like my church it is multicultural, multigenerational and Spirit filled. She invited me because the pastor had announced that he was going to preach a special sermon he had never attempted before.

The choir and worship team were outstanding as they led us in familiar carols and hymns of the season. By the time the pastor took his place, the presence of the Holy Spirit filled the sanctuary. He told us he wasn’t going to use the account of Jesus’ birth recorded in Matthew, Mark or the most popular account in Luke. Instead, he wanted us to look at the birth of Jesus from his Father’s viewpoint by reading the first chapter of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.  The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.” (John 1:1-5) “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (John 1:9-14)

Since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have heard 64 annual Christmas sermons and this one was special to me. It immediately focused my attention like a laser beam on the deity of Jesus and the fact that his life did not begin, as ours did, with a fertilized embryo. He was, is and always will be the Living God. It reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote, “The Son of God became a man so that men could become the sons of God.”

I pray that each of you had a blessed Christmas celebration and continue to celebrate God with us (Emanuel) throughout the New Year. .   

A Loving God

When discussing God with a non-Christian the question often comes up, “Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?” That question seems to make perfect sense in a society where personal accountability and responsibility are things of the past; where if you show up for class you expect to get a passing grade; or if you participate in a race or game you expect to get a trophy in spite of your lackadaisical performance; and when there are disastrous consequences for your unwise choices and actions you can always blame someone else – even God. The real question is, “Why would anyone choose hell instead of heaven?” Each of us is trapped in a world ablaze with sin. It seems like a wall of flames block our every exit. But a loving God provides everyone with one way out of danger to safety. When someone refuses to take that exit and continues to search for another way out until the flames finally consume them, who’s to blame? Is it the loving God who provided the safe exit, or the stubborn person who refused to take it to safety?  Nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” But the next verse also describes God’s loving desire that everyone who accepts His grace and mercy will be spared from hell. It reads, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” That is the real action of a loving God.

In the next few days we celebrate the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, into the world as an infant born in a stable in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago. His earthly life, death and resurrection form the escape route from judgement and hell that a loving God has provided for us – all of us. All we have to do is accept His mercy and grace and then follow Him into eternal life. It is a person’s refusal of God’s salvation that sentences them to hell, not the desire of a loving God.

Make no mistake; Jesus is coming back again. This time He will judge those who have refused His sacrifice and offer of salvation. “’Fear God,’ he (the angel) shouted. ‘Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and all the springs of water.’” (Revelation 14:7) Our decisions and actions have consequences both now and for eternity. I have made the wise decision to follow Jesus and I pray you have done the same. Have a blessed Christmas celebration!

Perfect Timing

The only relatives I have left are my brother-in-law Tom, his wife Trudy and their family. They live in another state. We keep in touch but have not seen each other since Carol’s memorial service. Due to medical expenses I sent them an email that I couldn’t afford to exchange gifts this year. With her permission, I want to share Trudy’s reply.

“Hi Jim, please don’t worry about Christmas gifts for us. We are blessed in ways that have no bounds. I thank God every day for allowing me to have another Christmas with my family and friends. Last March I was taken to the hospital by ambulance with complete heart and organ failure. They did CPR on me for an hour and 15 minutes, broke two ribs. I had to have temporary dialysis and pacemaker. Spent 3 days on a ventilator and they told the family that they didn’t think I would have any cognitive ability If I came out of the coma they had to put me in. It was a miracle that God in his infinite wisdom just happened to put my heart and kidney doctors in the hospital ER when the ambulance brought me in. So in the grand scheme of things, we are truly blessed to have our family and friends who are still with us and appreciate and miss the ones who have gone on. We love and miss you and will talk to you soon. Trudy”

I knew she was rushed to the hospital and I prayed for her recovery but I didn’t know the details until now. The odds against those two doctors being in the emergency room at the precise moment her ambulance arrived are off the chart, but God’s timing is perfect. Over a year ago, Tom was hospitalized for tests and treatment when he suddenly   went into cardiac arrest. Trudy sent me a text that they had just called a “code blue” and then put him on a ventilator. The next evening at a meeting of our Iron Men group, I asked for prayer for him. After the meeting I sent Trudy a text that 30 men had just prayed for Tom. Five minutes later she replied,“God heard you. He is off the ventilator and will be coming home in a few days. Please thank them for their prayers.” The fact that a medical response team was immediately available was no coincidence. It was God’s timing at work.

As I write this, I can close my eyes and remember clearly three times in my life that God’s perfect timing literally saved my life. Without going into detail here, I can assure you in each case there was no other possible explanation for what happened. It makes me wonder how many times God has imposed His timing to protect me from unknown dangers. That phone call or text as I was about to go out the door or that slow moving freight train that threw me off schedule just long enough for the danger to clear along my route. When you pray, never forget to thank God for His perfect timing and protection.