A Father’s Day to Remember

For a number of years as my father-in-law’s health declined and his Homegoing drew closer, I felt compelled to have our families spend ‘my’ Father’s Day honoring him by traveling to his nursing home in the Memphis area to love on him because we never know when it’s going to be the last time.  As Spurgeon said so well. “Our duty is our delight…”  

My last act as the next senior dad in our families was to gather all of us around Dadaw, as he is known to his grands, lay hands on him, and pray.  The most important part of my prayer was answered this morning.  Dadaw was ushered gently Home – his spirit safely in the presence the Savior he loved so much. 

We are so blessed our entire family was able to make the trip to be with him one more time this side of Heaven.  My daughter was very excited to take our new grandson to meet his great grandfather.  He seemed alert enough to know we were there.  His quips slowed over the years, but he still had the occasional one that defined his wry sense of humor. 

My dear brothers, do not take such days and times for granted.  We have no promise of a next day or even our next breath.  But if you are in Christ, you have the most important promise of all – eternal life spent in Heaven with Jesus and all the saints who have gone before and those who will follow us Home.  It was a… 

Happy Father’s Day indeed, 

 

 




Fathers and Sons

Another Father’s Day is upon us, and, honestly, I am not sure what else can be said on the subject.  Many books have been written and sermons preached.  Having grown up in the church, I have literally heard them all my life.  With multiple teaching times just ahead, I had no intention of adding more to that.  My journal is full of other thoughts and verses written down believing one day they will encourage and equip men in our walks with the Lord.  But today my focus was turned to this timely subject—fathers and sons.

I have been a son since the day I was born and a father more than thirty years.  I recently became a “grand”-father.  Being a father is a great honor and privilege, yet our high office is not without trials and tribulations.  The responsibilities can be intimidating—sometimes overwhelming.  Most of us men do not want to let cracks in the armor of our manhood become exposed.  But at some point in our lives as fathers, they are.

The Bible contains many examples of fathers and sons.  My mind was taken to three that give us much to read, chew on, and digest as we consider them in the context of our own experiences as fathers and sons.

Abraham and Isaac. The faith of a father—the love and trust of a son.

The story of Abraham spans Genesis 12 – 25.  Much of that covers the twenty-five years from God’s promise he would have an heir and descendants “as numerous as the stars”.  Abram was 75 when he received the promise—100 when he received his son, Isaac.

While his age is a great conversation among biblical apologists, Isaac was young man when God gave his father the most incredible order in biblical history.  God commanded Abraham to “take his son, his only son whom you love (and had waited on for 25 years) and sacrifice him” (Genesis 22:2) – a burnt offering at that!

In the next verse we read the most amazing act of obedience in all of Scripture apart from Jesus Himself.  Abraham packed up what he needed, got Isaac, and headed for Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son.  The most incredible thing that is easy to miss (because it is not there) is this—no argument from Abraham.  As fathers, we would have been screaming, crying, and begging God to relent on such a ridiculous command.

It is probably safe to say no father ever loved his son more than Abraham loved Isaac.  Yet in complete and swift obedience, he prepared to kill him.  But do not forget about Isaac.  We know he questioned his father about where the sacrifice was.  Abraham simply told him God would provide (Jehovah Jireh).  The love and trust of Isaac for his father is obvious in his obedience.  He was old enough to have resisted being placed on a pile of wood to be the sacrifice.  Abraham was old.  Isaac probably could have taken away the knife.  But he did not.

We know how the story turned out.  God stayed the hand of Abraham, sparing the life of Isaac and immeasurable grief for his father.  What did we learn?

  • As fathers, we must also be men of faith, believing God, taking Him at His word, communicating (ongoing process) that to our sons in words and actions.

David and Solomon. A Portrait of Contradiction and Consistency

That is an odd way to position this part of our lesson.  But the Bible clearly teaches that David was indeed both.  He was an amazing young man who began writing worship songs watching sheep and continued throughout his life.  He believed God completely and stepped in to kill a giant who defied Him as the ‘real’ Israeli soldiers cowered in fear.  He loved His Lord God with all his heart.  He is the only man in the Bible that God Himself called, “a man after My own Heart”.  (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22)

But O did David have issues!!!  Lust surrendered to that led to adultery and murder.  That followed by the death of his child.  Too many wives and too many dysfunctional sons.  One who raped his sister.  Another killed him for that.  Later he led a rebellion against his father.

Much of what befell David were consequences of his sin.  Yet we know from the most powerful Psalm of all (Psalm 51), David was broken and repentant before the Lord in all of this.  When confronted by the prophet of God attending him, he was accountable for his sins.

And who grew up in all of this?  Solomon.  Solomon was not in line to be David’s heir, but God selected him, and David honored that despite major ramifications from the “rightful heir” son.

David wanted most of all to build God a house – temple – worthy of His magnificence and made all the plans and preparations to do so.  But God halted that; instead giving that honor to Solomon.  Once again, as with Abraham, we do not read that David complained.  Instead he wrote a psalm of praise to God.

When David was about to go Home to be with His Lord, he called Solomon to him and spoke these words.

“So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to Him, and keep His decrees and commands, His laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go…”  1 Kings 2: 2-3

What do we learn from such a relationship filled with contradiction on one hand and consistency on the other? 

  • As fathers, our lives mirror David’s more than we readily admit—as least in public.  We all fail miserably and often.  The question is what do you do when confronted with your sin?  Get defensive and deny it?  Or get humble and confess it, accepting responsibilities for your sins against your Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ?
  • Despite his failures as a father, David’s lasting impression on Solomon was he chose the latter.  And for that he is hailed by His Father God as “a man after My own heart”.  As fathers, let us strive to be known, like David, as “forgiven failures” who model the same humble and contrite hearts to our sons. That is a legacy worth leaving!

The Father and the Son

God the Father and Jesus the Son.  This might seem the more challenging and unusual of the three parts of this lesson.  It turned out to be the easiest to write, but perhaps the most difficult for us fathers to apply.  In the three examples that follow, it is not His Son that benefits.  It is you and me!  Consider,

– Sacrificial love.  Most of the time when we think of this concept, the sacrificial love of Christ, the Son, for us comes to mind.  That is supported by many scriptures.  But in the best-known verse in the Bible, John 3: 16, Jesus speaks of the sacrificial love of God.  He gave His Son to die as a sacrifice.

– Tough love.  This concept was introduced to me through a book on parenting by James Dobson, PhD.  It has since been applied to other areas of life including marriage.  Reduced to a sentence,

Tough love means holding firm to (biblical) truths and convictions in relationships even when the impact on others may be painful and not seem “loving” in the cultural sense.

It was “tough love” of God that stayed His hand from bringing His Son down from that cross because it should have been you and me there.  What He should have done was brought on mankind the judgement due after thousands of years of second chances and failed covenant relationships (on man’s part).

But He did not. Instead He listened as His Son cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?”  (Matthew 27: 46)  That, my dear brothers, is the toughest love ever applied which brings us to the third love that is the result of the first two.

– Saving love.   Every Christian knows what this means.  It is the saving love of God that the Apostle Paul talked about in Romans 5: 8.

“…God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 It is the saving love of Jesus that Paul again described in Galatians 2: 20

“…but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

As fathers, lovers of our children (and their mothers), let us strongly take to heart these examples.

  • Sacrificial Love – when it costs me something or I do not benefit from its expression.
  • Tough Love – when it hurts me and the one on the other end of this biblical love.
  • Saving love – we cannot offer, but one of the greatest demonstrations of our love for others is when we point them to the only One Who can save them – Christ our Risen Savior.

Yours for Christ’s sake,




Standing on the Promises of God

Beauty and the Beast – a promise kept.  I recall when my daughter was a little girl, she came downstairs and asked me a loaded question. “Daddy, why do kids have to keep their promises, but grown-ups don’t?  I knew where this was going.  I asked what that might be, to which she replied, “You promised to take me to the movie, and you didn’t.  We saw it that afternoon.     

Most of us do not make promises we do not intend to keep.  Circumstances may arise that prevent us, but the promisee is not always understanding—even if s/he is not a child.  Breaking a promise you can keep insures one thing.  You are a liar.  That is a strong indictment, but it comes from a strong source—the Word of God.  I could list more than a dozen verses in both OT and NT that speak to the subject.

What about God?  What was said above about us holds even more true for God.  If every promise of God is not true—

if He does keep even one of them, then He is a liar, our faith should crumble, and we are simply back depending on ourselves or others. 

But, indeed, God is not a liar and all His promises are true.  Biblical Christians believe the Bible is the true Word of God, i.e., it contains no errors or inaccuracies (in its original form).  He is Truth (Jesus words in John 17), and we can take God at His Word.   The question is “Do we?”

 Three Promises of God that “stand out” so we can “stand on” them

1.  Promised to be God to His People (that includes us)

Let’s begin by letting God speak for Himself regarding His promises.  The first example is fascinating because the words are spoken by a profit-seeking prophet named Balaam.  His story may be read in Numbers 22-25.

This so-called prophet was hired by the king of Moab to curse God’s people—instead he ended up blessing them.  It may be hired to understand, but God speaks to and through whomever He chooses.  BUT only to accomplish His purposes, i.e., bless or punish His people.  Here is part of Balaam’s response to the pagan king.

 “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind.  Does He speak and then not act?  Does He promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19

From Abraham to Jacob to Moses to David and throughout the Old Testament, God made and kept His promises.  Joshua summed it up best (Joshua 23: 14)

“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”

2. Promised to send a Savior (Messiah) – From Genesis to Malachi, there are many prophecies about this Promised One:

  • Genesis 3: 15 God’s words to Satan; 12: 1-3  God’s promise to Abraham
  • Isaiah 9: 6-7 wonderful counselor, prince of peace mighty God; 53 suffering servant
  • Micah 5: 2 born in Bethlehem
  • Zechariah 9: 9 rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – righteous and having salvation
  • Malachi 4: 2 Sun of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings

If His promise was not kept, we are all as Paul said,

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”   1 Corinthians 15: 16-18

3. Personal Promise to all who are in Christ

“…being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?””  Heb. 13: 5-6

The part of verse 5 in caps is quoted from Deuteronomy 31:6 when Moses was about to die and passing the baton to Joshua.  He said those words to encourage their hearts as I do now to encourage yours.

And one more. Perhaps the most important promise of all—eternal security.  The Apostle Paul taught the following to the church to reassure them (us) that God keeps His promises and our salvation is secure because He does.

“For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God,  who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”  2 Corinthians 1: 20-22

 Closing

I know some of you are still not convinced.  You look at your circumstances and question why you are here or why God would let the bad things happen in your life that have?  The first question we have to ask ourselves is what is my part?  Did my bad choices or decisions bring me to this point?  That can be the hardest truth for men to face—looking first in the mirror.

Or perhaps it is someone else’s fault.  “They are to blame.   I am a victim.”  Brothers, no matter how you arrived at this point, God promised all I have covered tonight with one condition – that you take Him at His Word that Jesus is His provision for our sins and receive Him as Savior.  The Apostle Paul told us “we can do all things through Christ.  But perhaps the words of Jesus bring more truth to this lesson.  Jesus Himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

So let us trust the Lord our God and take Him at His Word.  Let is be said of us as it was of Moses by the writer of Hebrews,

“By faith (Moses) he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king (Pharaoh); for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible (unseen).”  Hebrews 11: 27




Your “Saturday Evening Post” – A Message to Challenge and Encourage the Hearts of Christian Men

Opposites That Do NOT Attract

Understanding This Spiritual Law Will Profoundly Change Your Life

You may (or may not) recall from science and chemistry classes how the phrase “Opposites attract” was derived.  That principle helps things move, open or close, and even causes certain chemical compounds to form, like salt.

However moving from the physical laws of science and chemistry to God’s spiritual laws taught in His holy Word, we encounter a most amazing discovery. Not only do opposites not attract, they represent stark contrasts between how our lives, as biblical Christian men, should look to those who are lost—deny Christ thereby living apart from any relationship with God.

Following are two sets of opposites that clearly do not attract (chosen from many) that are simple, straightforward, and appear throughout the Bible straight from the mouth of God or Jesus.  They serve to teach, correct, reprove, rebuke when required, and training (2 Timothy 3:16).  My goal is to encourage you to examine your heart and life before Christ with a close eye or, if necessary, the higher power of magnifying glass to see what the evidence suggests.

Hot and Cold

HOT – The Bible often uses fire as a means of expressing the presence and power of God. Here are a few examples:

God’s presence before Moses was in a burning bush.  When He had Moses’ attention, God spoke to him through the fire as the bush burned but was not consumed.   (Exodus 3: 1-4)

“The angel of the LORD appeared to (Moses) in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.”

We read in Leviticus about burnt offerings God demanded from His people.  We know that “fire came out from the presence of God” and consumed the offerings.  (Leviticus 9: 24)

We also learn another key point that has been the text of many sermons over the years.  In Leviticus 6:13, God instructed them to NEVER let the fire go out.   We will come back to that.

COLD – The Bible uses the word cold in some contexts we do today, e.g., temperature. However the analogies move to a more foreboding application when find the word used to describe that heart of man.  It is particularly troubling when applied to someone who once had a fiery love for Jesus that has grown cold.  Breaks the heart of God to when cares, concerns, bad things that happen, or even demonic attacks from our fierce enemy, cause that love to diminish and, in some hearts, grow altogether cold.

Jesus spoke on this subject, noting that as the end of time approaches it will become more prevalent and evident.

“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 24: 12-13

Pretenders and cultural Christians will fall away and grow cold toward God because of all that happens around them.  Many desert Him now as they did in the before and during His crucifixion.  True believers endure to the end.

The “Why does a good God allow bad things to happen” question will cloud their minds and chill hearts toward a Father Who loves them through it all.   We see this today every time a natural or man-made disaster occurs and God does not act as people think He should.

As blood-bought, born-again, biblical Christian men, we know and cling to the truth of God’s Word.  In the OT, God supplied the fire He never wanted to see extinguished—a sign that His people must always recognize and confess our sins to stand and walk before Him.

In the NT, Jesus did the same by sending the Holy Spirit (fire).  He supplies the never-ending fire – fuel, power, energy – we need to live and love like Christ all the way Home.  Without Him, we only exist, and our lives are powerless and fruitless.  Let Him have His way in your life and I promise the fire – though it wanes or flickers – will never go out.  Rest in that and be at peace.

Light and Dark

This duo is the easiest couplet to comprehend for most people—saved or lost.  Before any other sense are experienced in life, we are pushed or pulled from the security of our mothers’ wombs into the (sometimes) bright lights of the delivery room—that and someone whacking our buttocks for no apparent reason make for a rude awakening and arrival in this world.

Going back to science class, we learned darkness is the absence of light.  (The converse is not true, by the way.)  Light and dark cannot co-exist.  We may argue we are able to see to some degree at night or in a dark room, but that is not real darkness.  Partial darkness exists in that sense, but not in the Word of God.  And that darkness is intolerable.

The Apostle John used this analogy on numerous occasions as well as quoting Jesus. In John 9:5, Jesus proclaimed what seemed bold and bodacious to those listening.

“While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”

The crowd must have thought He was incredibly arrogant or a lunatic.  The religious leaders knew what He meant and hated Him for it.  Nowhere in the Bible is this analogy better explained or made clearer than in John’s first letter.

 “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”   1 John 1: 5-6 (NASB)

To walk in darkness meant then what it does now—the person is lost and without hope.  If you have ever been enclosed in a room of complete darkness where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, you know it can be very scary. Some even have panic attacks.  Jesus talked about those who die apart from Him being cast into Hell and utter darkness for eternity.

Jesus’ words were meant to literally ”scare the Hell out of people”.  Worked about as well then as it does now.  Some listen receive Christ.  Many mock Him and His words as they march right into such an ending.

Passing the Torch.  In this verse, Jesus changed the narrative away from He is the Light of the world to you and me as biblical Christian men.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”  Matthew 5: 14

This could read, We are light to the world to show others the way to the Cross of Christ.

My dear brothers, remember Whose you are and, therefore, who you are.

The Apostle Peter said it best.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  1 Peter 2: 9

I close this discussion with one more vital lesson concerning light and darkness clearly expounded in God’s Word and so important to read, receive, and apply in our lives.

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”  2 Corinthians 6: 14 (NIV)

The answer to this rhetorical question is clear—NONE!  There are many arguments over this verse and its application in marriage (and some business relationships).  We can clearly cite the ridiculously sad and disturbingly high divorce rate as a reason this verse is irrelevant today.  Some will also note the successes of many marriages and other relationships between people who are not believers, and the very popular trend of living together among many millennials.

Gigi and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary this week. We both held this verse closely before we became seriously involved and taught our children to do the same.  You may argue the above all you like, but one thing I can say with certainty.  There is never any downside to obedience to Christ and His Word.

Missionary and Minister to Men




Five-Star Athletes – God’s Process for Building Men (Learning to “Trust the Process”)

 Athletes – God’s Process for Building Men

Learning to “Trust the Process”

“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  (Hebrews 12: 1)

Out of the gate, I may lose part of my audience due to comments on what has become, in the last decade or so, a time-consuming area for men in the months leading up to the next major sport season, especially football, the draft.  The amount of hyperbole surrounding star ratings of young men for their athletic prowess is (in my humble opinion) over the top.  In some circles (not all), there is more concern for developing performance over the personcompetitiveness over character.

That said, do not think for one second God is not interested in building high-performance men.  He absolutely is!  He just defines them differently.  On the surface, His process (compared to those above) seems doomed to fail.  God does not care how fast we run the 40, how many reps we bench press 225 lbs, or how high we jump.  We will not run through cones, but we may run through fire!

Biblical and modern history have demonstrated God’s process can be widely successful.  But many find it troubling.  The reason is simple.  His methods are not natural—they are supernatural.  They do not build on the physical man, but the spiritual one.  God builds His men inside-out.  

God does not care what we look like or the physical attributes we bring to the field when we join His team.  I hope this has piqued your curiosity.  Throughout this study, you will be given the opportunity to peak into His playbook.  But first, The Process. 

Following are five facets of God’s process for building biblical Christian men.  This overview is neither exhaustive nor original­—just a humble attempt to call attention to another aspect of our Father’s love for you and me.  He invests heavily in His boys with hope that we become godly, young men, and, ultimately, maturing men after His own heart—soldiers of the Cross fit for our King.  I chose present participles because God never stops the process this side of Heaven.

 Providing   

The first, and best, provision is obvious—Jesus our Savior, Who redeemed us from our sins because He alone could, and did, satisfy the mandatory death penalty that accompanied them.  Neither our fathers nor we, ourselves, had any chance of doing that.  Neither can we do it for our children.   The best Old Testament foreshadowing of this provision is the very familiar story of Abraham and Isaac.

Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  (Genesis 22: 7-8 NASB)

Jesus often spoke in parables to His disciples.  As His crucifixion drew nearer, He spoke directly that He was God’s provision (the Lamb the takes away the sin of the world as John the Baptist called Him).

“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” (Matthew 16: 21)

That satisfies the most important provision, but God did not stop there.  He knows all our needs and delights to make provision for them throughout His process.  These two verses give me great assurance of that—one from David; the other the Apostle Paul.

“I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread.”  (Psalm 37: 25)

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 19 NASB)

 Protecting

God is not about to let our enemies, especially Satan, score early victories over His men in process.  We are safe under His wings, the sanctuary of His Word, and fellowship with other brothers also in the process and older men of God, mostly on the other side of it.  Consider two verses citing God’s protection. Many believe Moses wrote Psalm 91, as he did Psalm 90, though it is not confirmed.  King Solomon wrote the second.  God does not want us to think He bails on us when the going gets tough (which we know it does).  He reminds and reassures He is our Protector Who goes before and after us.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you…He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.” (Psalm 91: 1-4)

 “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”  (Proverbs 18: 10)

 Purifying

Now the process gets harder and hotter!  

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.”  (Isaiah 48: 10 ESV)

I chose the following powerful verse from the Apostle Peter because he went through as visible a purification process as any man in the Bible.  Boastfully zealous and outspoken at times.  Swore to his willingness to die for or with Jesus.  Slept on His command in the garden.  Ran away when the soldiers came.  Denied Him three times.  Somewhere weeping and hiding as Jesus was crucified.  Wow!

But Jesus, loving, forgiving Lord that He is, restored Peter.  On the other side of his intense purification process fell out a man useful for Christ’s service—one of the key leaders of the early church.

 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”   (1 Peter 4: 12 ESV)

So take heart, brothers.  For we have in our own ways slept on Jesus’ commands to us in Scripture, run away during tough times, denied Him with our words, and, more so, our lives for which we have wept bitterly in the shadows hoping no one would see us.

But there is great news and encouragement!  The same loving, forgiving Jesus meets us where we are and restores us to Himself to put us back in His service—a more purified and useful vessel.

  Pruning

Late Winter or early Spring (depending on where you live) is a time many prune trees and shrubs to prepare them for the new growth of Spring and Summer and fruit in late Summer or Fall .  Cutting back select branches on a fruit tree to make them more fruitful is not painful to the tree, but it sure is for men.   Horticulturists tell us pruning directs more of the trees energy into producing fruit.  So does God’s pruning!

God prunes the tree (man) to see who is a genuine disciple of Christ, grafted into the vine, versus those simply holding onto it (like kudzu) for the sake of convenience and appearance.  Jesus’ words:

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15: 2 ESV)

He also prunes the forest (the church) as well—again to separate out the real from the pretender.

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…”  (Matthew 3: 10-11 ESV)

(I feel it is important to interject a quick note on these verses.  These verses can be misinterpreted to mean one can lose his salvation if you are not bearing fruit.  The reality is Jesus is calling men out to examine our hearts to see if we are born-again in the first place.

The issue is not losing your salvation.  The compelling issue is whether you ever had it!  Jesus made perfectly clear the consequences.  So be sure to examine your hearts, brothers!

  Perfecting

Most are familiar with the adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  That was one-upped by someone else who said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”  Perhaps the most glaring difference between this athletic analogy and real life is this.  There is no practice field in the Kingdom walk.

If you have been born-again into the army of the Lord, you are in the fray.  You do not get to sit on the sidelines and wait your turn or sit behind a veteran to learn the ropes.  It could be argued our churches and discipleship ministries serve that end for “rookie” Christians.  They can/should serve that purpose,

 but at no time is the Christian man not in the battle—it is not a game.

“Trust the Process.”  I attempted to trace the origin of this oft used expression in sports.  It has been used by winning schools and organizations that took a very process-oriented approach to all aspects of building their respective programs.  One recent use that is now deemed “successful” is a pro team that lost for years so they could get the best draft picks—the most five-star athletes.  Interesting, but painful and expensive for the season tickets holders to watch during those years.  I thought the object was to compete as hard as one can to win; not lose to get better the next year.  Silly me!

I do have the answer to the question, “Who first said that?”  The most important thing to note is this.  It was the second phrase spoken because it paled in comparison to the first.

The Lord God said to man in the beginning and throughout His-story.  “Trust Me.”

From Adam to Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, Moses, all the subsequent judges, prophets, kings, and the rest of the boys in the band, God kept saying, “TRUST ME!  Good things happen when you do.  Bad things happen when you do not.”

God’s process is about perfecting you and me.  I know that sounds crazy to some, but if you will not believe me, believe Jesus.  He commanded us to be perfect. The following was not a suggestion.

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48)

That is as impossible an assignment for us as obeying all those laws was for the Israelites in the OT.  God is always giving His men impossible assignments.  Is He setting us up to fail?  Of course not.  He does that so that we come to the end of ourselves (my definition of a desperate man) and have no choice but to turn to Him in complete dependence.  Then, and only then, can Holy Spirit power, wisdom, and guidance take control of our lives and this seemingly ridiculous assignment.

One key to success was given to us by James, the half-brother of Jesus, and leader of the new and very fragile Christian church.

“And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1: 4)

 If we trust God first and best, then we can learn to “trust His process” and stay the course.  On the other side, you will look in the mirror and see a man who looks more like Christ than we ever thought possible—more fit for war than we ever imagined or hoped.

Performing

My dear brothers, if we endure God’s “five-star” process, we are ready to perform for Christ’s sake and His glory.  The Apostle Paul must have had some athletic skill and experience as he used numerous analogies to things like I discussed above and the Christian life.  Consider these two passages.

“…Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (one).  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 ESV)

 “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus…that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”   (1 Timothy 6: 11-14  NASB)

The only stars you and I should be concerned with are those that will bejewel our crowns when we have kept the faith, fought the good fight, and finished the race He assigned to us.  Our race does not end at a finish line.  It ends at the Beginning Line we call the entrance to Heaven—finally Home.  Hallelujah!




From a Donkey Ride to an Empty Tomb – Four Lessons from the Most Important Week in His-Story

The King of Kings on a Donkey’s Colt – The “Un-triumphal” Entry

First, I should write that I looked long and hard for the origin of the phrase “triumphal entry” used to refer to Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey of all things.  I could not find any specific references other than the words were assigned based on the response of many Jews to Jesus riding into Jerusalem accompanied by a crowd.

His arrival seemed “triumphal” to observers.  These people (not their leaders or the Romans) were shouting and singing—praising God and calling on Jesus to “save them now” (Hosanna in the highest”).  They threw palm branches in His path.

But Jesus and the crowd had very different agendas. The Jews wanted a political Messiah who would throw off Roman rule and return Israel to them—not at all what Jesus had in mind.  He came to save them (us) from their sins—not the Romans! (Luke 5: 32)

The importance of this event and amazing scene is underscored in that it appears in all four gospels.  What lessons can we learn from our own observations on what we now refer to as Palm Sunday?  Two things stand out regarding Jesus’ ride—a small donkey.

  • Jesus’ abject humility. It is both interesting and exciting that this humble (and probably uncomfortable) means of travel also fulfilled OT prophecy.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Zechariah 9: 9 ESV

  • Beast of Burden. Donkeys carried loads for their owners that would be too burdensome, if not impossible, for them to bear. Jesus carried our sins to the Cross, and there bore our burden “once for all” who repent of sins and receive Him as Savior.

What a great start to the most difficult week in His-story!


The First Streaker Recorded in the Bible

“Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.  Matthew 26: 56 KJV/ Mark 14: 50

“Every man for himself” may have been what the disciples and others who followed Jesus were thinking or screaming as they literally ran for their lives.  All deserted Him—every man who swore they would stand by Him to the end, walked with Him three years—the men Whom He referred to as friends!

Mark shares in his gospel that one young man (himself) was grabbed by the cloak and ran out from under it—naked and very afraid, escaping with his life (v. 52).  Only John, is accounted for at the Cross. We know Peter was hiding – crying bitterly at having denied Jesus three times.  And a distraught Judas hung himself.

Honest Christian men will admit to times we also ran away when standing up for Christ got tough, or we were afraid it could cost us our standing with others; perhaps even our jobs.

Like His disciples, whose feet Jesus’ knelt and washed during the Last Supper, we have experienced His humility, drank from His cup of grace, yet withheld it from others whose needs were no more than our own.

Peter’s denial offends no more than ours as we stand nervously in silence or curse Him, not with words, with deeds that reflect our true nature, not His.

The first half of Holy Week was all good for these devoted followers of Christ.  It brought popularity and fanfare.  The second half brought fear and failure.

Yet out of despair and defeat looms forgiveness and victory.  Jesus is heading to the Cross for your sin and mine.  We just have to make it ‘til Sunday.  Happy days lay ahead.

As we approach Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, let’s do some introspection that will lead surely to confession as the desperate men we are apart from Christ.


The “King of the Jews” is Dead – Long Live the King!

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour (12-3  pm) …And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.” (from Mark 15: 33, 34 37).

Only John recorded His words, “It is finished.”  (John 19: 30)

Luke recorded these as His last spoken words before dying.

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO THY HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” And having said this, He breathed His last.””  (Luke 23: 46)

Imagine the defeated and hopeless feelings of Jesus’ followers, who despite being with Him three years – listening to and living with Him – still did not get it.  All they knew was the man who was supposed to save them was dead.  How many times did He tell them He had to die to accomplish His purpose.  Now He had.

Even nature could not bear to watch, so the sun turned away and darkness covered the earth for three hours.  God turned His back on our sin as Jesus became sin.  Only now could God’s holy demand for justice be satisfied.

When Jesus breathed His last and yielded His spirit back to God, strange physical manifestations occurred in response.  (Matthew 27: 50-53)

  • First, the veil of the temple was torn in half from top to bottom – an unimaginable feat. The veil was ~ 60 ft high x 30 feet wide x 4” thick.  Only God could rip it in half.  He did!
  • The earth shook, and rocks split.
  • Graves opened, and the bodies of saints came alive again. After Jesus resurrection, they came out and walked around the city.

That’s the Good News, brothers, but what a price!  Deserving death, Jesus bought us life.  So, as you spend this Good Friday and the Saturday Jesus spent in the grave, I challenge you to consider your life in lieu of His death.  Ask yourself this question,

“Has His death made an eternal and obvious change in my life?”


 He is Risen Indeed!

He is risen indeed! – the greatest expression in history.  Jesus had risen from the grace as promised.  Those words of confirmation were first used by eye witnesses and spoken to disbelieving disciples to whom Jesus had not yet appeared.  All four Gospels give resurrection accounts, but the Apostle Paul cut to the heart of the matter in terms of its significance in 1 Corinthians 15.

“if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (from verses 16-19)

But Hallelujah, He is risen.  Only fools will pity us as we celebrate and share this Good News.  If you are in Christ, He lives in you.  This is Resurrection Sunday – a day set aside by the Christian church long ago to celebrate His resurrection and the future hope with certainty of ours as well.

My prayer for true believers is that our lives are filled with such undying gratitude and joy that all whom the Lord puts in our paths will want to know the reason for the Hope we have.  Our response?  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

 

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Celebrating our risen Messiah with everyone who has received Him as Savior,




Caregivers

Caregiver has taken on new meaning for many of us from the “baby-boomer” generation as our parents age, and we find ourselves in role reversals of sorts.  We are now called upon to provide care for those who spent much of their lives caring for us as we have for our children.

In our home, we went down this path with my dad and my wife’s mom a number of years ago.    For the last few years, we are back in that hard place with my mom and her dad—both hundreds of miles away in opposite directions.  We are thankful for care from family who live closer and staff where they reside.  Above all, we are thankful they are still with us—knowing sooner than later, we will get THAT call.  Until then, like so many of our friends and peers, we are doing our best to honor our parents and, collectively, be good stewards of their care

A few weeks ago during my time with the Lord, the Holy Spirit brought this subject, care, to mind in the broader context of caregiving and the Christian life—God, our Chief Caregiver, and care that flows from our thankful hearts into the lives of needy people.

Care is not mentioned among the fruit of the Spirit, nor is it found among the attributes of God.  But we know from the beginning of the Bible to the end, God takes great care of His people because He cares deeply.  The care of God flows from the love of God as do many other benefits toward man.  We could say, without error, care is love poured out.

Care is one of those great words that serves as both a noun and a verb.  The Apostle Peter did a wonderful job using both in one sentence (just like your English teacher used to ask.)

“Casting all your care (n) on Him because He cares (v) for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7 NKJV)

There are many ways to demonstrate care. I chose three based on what we learn from God’s Word (how He dealt with His people in the OT and how Jesus did in the NT), our personal familial situations dealing with aged parents who sometimes act like children, and years of work among homeless, addicts, and prisoners.

♦    Protection                            ♦   Provision                             ♦   Patience

God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Principal Caregivers                                                                                           There are so many verses that reassure us as sons of most high God that we are His, and He promises to be our strong defender and shield.  Here is one.

“The LORD is my protector; He is my strong fortress. My God is my protection, and with Him I am safe. He protects me like a shield; He defends me and keeps me safe.”  (Psalm 18: 2 GNT) 

We know God has always provided for His children in many ways.  Consider the fur in the Garden that clothed Adam and Eve, the ram in the thicket for Abraham, manna in the desert, and all the times He made provision for His wayward people.  Then consider His final provision—Jesus Christ the Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world.

“But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”   (Romans 5: 8 HCSB)

Many OT verses speak to and demonstrate God’s patience with His disobedient, obstinate people. After Jesus patiently endured shame and suffering to death (that had our names on it), He kept His promise to send the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit not only gives us power to live and comfort in hard times, He patiently works in our lives to produce fruit—one of which is patience. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is…patience” (Galatians 5: 22 excerpted)

All of that makes sense from the point of view of the Holy Trinity, but how do they (protection, provision, patience) find expression in and through us? 

Christians as caregivers.                                                                                                                                                                   God has great expectations of His children.  We are His sons—adopted into His family through the finished work of Christ on the Cross.  While His atoning work is finished, He continues to work on and in us by the Holy Spirit until He takes us Home. His expectations are that we learn from Him (Matthew 11: 29) and do what He did:

Love one anotherDo unto others. Go tell others about Him.

Here are three ways His care and caring are poured out through our lives.

  1. Protection. This response is two-part, and the first will shock some. (1) As biblical Christian men, our first responsibility is we must protect God.  Before I lose you with that strange response, let me clarify.  We must protect His reputation.

If you are in Christ, you no longer have a reputation of your own to maintain.  You gave up your right to yourself and laid it, along with the rest of your life, on the cross to be crucified.  The Apostle Paul said it best,

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  (Galatians 2: 20a)

As Christian men, we protect God (His reputation) by first laying our lives down, then living before the world in humility—intent on loving and living as He did.  When we worry about our own reputations (pride), we may be certain we will at some point fail and bruise His reputation as the world watches and scoffs.

The other side of protection as a caregiver for Christ is this.  We look out for the interests of others—those who are unable to protect themselves.  Our world is full of needy, helpless people, some more than others.  We have the poor and disenfranchised, orphans, widows (single moms), the addict and the prisoner, and perhaps the least cared for in our nation, the unborn child whose cries have been muted over four decades.

2.  Provision.  As caregivers, we must make provision for the physical and emotional needs of people.  But the most important  provision does not cost a dime or take up any space.

We must be providers of truth of the Gospel of Christ to the lost.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6: 35 NASB)

Many Christian organizations attend to both as they provide care.  Consider first how well God has cared for and attended to your provision (and your family).  Then ask yourself how you are caring for others according to the example and instruction of Jesus.

3.  Patience.  Just as God has been and remains patient (long-suffering) with us, so we must do a better job of demonstrating patience.  Consider three means of proving patient care:

♦  Patient with unbelievers—praying and believing the Holy Spirit is working on them just as He did with you and me. Most, if not all, of us did not pounce on the Gospel the first time we heard it.  Some wait and watch.  And remember, they are watching you and me!

♦  Patience with believers who are not as far along in the process of sanctification or who have taken more steps back than forward. I believe it is safe to say, we have all been there at some point in our walks with the Lord.  Three steps forward—two back.  Two steps forward—three back.  Pray for, encourage, and walk with those brothers who will let you do so.  And we can pray for those who will not.  Prayer = Care.

♦  Finally, be patient with yourself.  God is!  He knows we are works in progress.  We are made in His image.  Yes, it was tarnished, dented, even broken in places because of sin.  But Jesus removed that, and the Holy Spirit is patiently reforming us from the inside out.  We can either go at His pace or run ahead.  We know what that brings!

I am so thankful to be counted among you dear brothers, knowing our Father is our Protector, Jesus our complete Provision, and the Holy Spirit patiently working on, in, and, hopefully, through us for His glory.

 




Billy Graham – Another Mighty Soldier of the Cross Goes Home! Hallelujah!

Chose this pic because Billy Graham always pointed people to the Cross of Christ and told them the empty tomb secured our salvation.

 

So many great and wonderful things have been written, posted, and said concerning Billy Graham, such an amazing, faithful man of God who finally arrived safely Home today.

I can only add to such beautiful testimonials what the Holy Spirit impressed upon me this morning as I sat praying and praising the Lord for his life during my QT.   I found myself in Isaiah 50—a passage that is both poetic and prophetic.  The Servant (Jesus) spoke clearly—calling out the unfaithful nation of Israel, reminding them (us) of His power and willingness to help.  He was faithful and obedient to the Father’s work.  Verses 4-5 stood out to me.

“The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.  He awakens Me morning by morning,  He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.  The Lord GOD has opened My ear;  and I was not disobedient nor did I turn back. ” (Isaiah 50: 4-5 NASB)

I could not help but think of Billy Graham and his amazing ministry of more than seventy years.  I feel certain God would have no problem with me saying the words of verse 5 about this dear preacher and evangelist.  For clearly the LORD God opened his ears, and Billy Graham was not disobedient – neither did he turn back away from this powerful and profound call on his life.

Praise God, not only for not turning away from our sinful nation, but loving us enough to send Jesus as our Savior to redeem us from death into life eternal.  Those of us who are in Christ long to join you, our dear brother.  And until He also calls us Home, may He find us faithful as you were.

For Christ’s sake




Faith and Fear in the Hearts of Christians




The Greatest Impossibility of All – Eternal Life

The Greatest Impossibility of All – Eternal Life

Exchanging Difficulties for Impossibilities (Part Four)

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19: 26 ESV)

While this sounds encouraging, the disciples were very disturbed over the whole conversation.  The preceding verses contained the discourse between Jesus and the rich young ruler who asked Jesus the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He was ill-prepared for Jesus’ answer.  Most of us know the story well. (Matthew 19: 18-23)  The rich young man did a good job of justifying himself based on his obedience to the law – keeping the commandments.

The Difficulty:  When Jesus gave him the final qualification, the rich young man did not like the terms of the deal sheet (as we might say today)—go sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow Me.  We are told he walked away grieving because he was very rich. Jesus took this teaching opp to say what has become troubling to many today because of our wealth as individuals and a nation because we are so financially blessed compared to most of the world.

“I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (vs 23-24)   

The stunned disciples responded by asking Jesus who could be saved.  They must have thought the rich man wanted to know the answer to eternal life and lived a good life, obeying the commandments.  Just because he would not give up his possessions and become a follower of Jesus, he would be kept out of Heaven?  Really? Not really.

The Impossibility:  In the lesson verse today, Jesus gave His disciples the only correct answer to rich man’s question—one asked by millions who want to know how they can live forever – get to Heaven; avoid Hell (if either really exist—get “fire insurance” of a sort).

The rich young man gave the answer many do today.  I have been “good” and done “good things”.   As Christians, we know our best behavior and works do not qualify us for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said it best, with man this is impossible.”  Simply stated, that means you cannot work your way to Heaven, nor are you good enough to ever get there.

But Jesus also gave the simple answer to everyone who seeks the Truth with a contrite, repentant heart, “with God all things are possible.”  That is the great news of the Gospel.  When we had no way to God—lost in our sin and without hope, God made THE WAY.  It cannot be any more simply stated than the first verse taught to children in Christian churches.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (John 3: 16 NASB)

God made the ultimate impossibility possible through Christ.  The rich man’s issue was his money had become his ‘god’ and stood between him and becoming a follower of Christ.  Money is just one of many ‘gods’ that can do that.  Are there any in your life doing the same or keeping you from going deeper in your relationship with Him?