Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

I promise

The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines the word promise as “a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future.”  In Western culture, a promise is not something to be taken lightly (unless perhaps you’re a politician).  Anyone who has raised a child knows that a promise carries weight.

If you’ve ever planned to do something with a child—say a Saturday afternoon trip to the zoo—and subsequently had to cancel, then you have probably had a conversation like this:

Dad: “Sweetie I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to go to the zoo tomorrow.  Something came up at work.”

Child: “When are you going to take me?”

Dad: “How about next Saturday?”

Child: “Do you promise?”

Dad: “We’ll see.”

The “We’ll see” response is a rather hollow attempt at not having to break a promise the dad made to the child. No parent wants to break a promise made to their child.

There is a special kind of promise called a covenant.  Covenants typically entail a personal relationship between the various parties to the promises made.  If you’ve ever been a member of a home owners association (HOA), you’ve probably read, or at least heard of, the HOA covenants.  These are the rules and regulations that all home owners belonging to the association agree to follow.  Human covenants typically contain stipulations, a condition or requirement that is specified or demanded as part of an agreement.  For example, your mailbox must match the color of your house, or boats are not to be parked in driveways for more than 24 hours. For breaking or violating these covenants, there is usually some sort of penalty that must be paid.  In the case of a HOA, this is often a monetary fine.

For Christ followers, marriage vows are a form of covenant and a pretty demanding, “for better or for worse…in sickness and in health…until death do us part.”

The Bible contains many covenants.  While the exact number is a point of debate, there are five core covenants forming the foundation of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind through faith in Jesus Christ. These covenants were made with Noah, Abraham, Moses/Israel, David and finally the New Covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Noahic Covenant God promises to never again destroy mankind or other living creatures. This covenant was without stipulations. Instead, God will fulfill the redemptive promise of Genesis 3:15.

 Abrahamic Covenant – God promises to make a great nation out of childless Abraham, assuring him that his descendants will outnumber the stars. Abraham is to forsake his land and follow God wherever he leads.  All the while, Abraham and his family are to walk blamelessly before God and to follow the practice of circumcision in every Generation.

Mosaic Covenant (with Israel) – God rescues the Hebrew people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and promises to make them his own people and a nation of priests.  In turn, the people must abide by the laws given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.

Davidic Covenant – God establishes David as Israel’s king. Through David’s royal lineage he will fulfill the promises He made to Abraham and Israel. In return, David and his lineage must remain faithful to God and obey God’s covenantal laws.

The New Covenant of Jesus Christ –   Jesus is the culmination of God’s saving grace for his people. Christ is, as John the Baptist called him, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is a covenant of Grace without stipulations.

There is a major difference between the covenants of man and the covenants of God. People routinely violate the covenants, while God never breaks a promise.  The covenants of God do not replace the ones that came before—they build upon them, because it is impossible for God to lie or break a promise. Before the foundation of the world, our omniscient God made a plan for the redemption of sinful mankind.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of man’s redemption, which was planned out through the five covenants discussed herein.  Thanks be to God that his promises are faithful and true!

 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. –Galatians 4:4-7

Follow me!

*All Bible quotes are ESV

The motto of the US Infantry is “Follow Me.”  From day one, infantry soldiers are taught to lead. The most effective leaders “lead from the front,” which means leading by personal example. Audie Leon Murphy was a popular Hollywood actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but he was a skinny, baby-faced, five-foot five-inch teenager from Texas when he joined the US Army in 1942. No one could have imagined that this lad would become his country’s most decorated service member of World War II. Time and again, Murphy proved himself fearless under fire. By October 1944, he was a highly decorated combat infantryman fighting in the European campaign. Murphy was given a battle commission to second lieutenant in the same month.

On January 26, 1945 Murphy’s conspicuous bravery would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH). Murphy knew about leading from the front. An excerpt from his MOH citation reads as follows:

2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

Audie Murphy was a selfless, sacrificial leader who always led from the front.  Time and again he put his life on line for his friends and the men he led. Although wounded multiple times, Murphy miraculously survived the war. 

Jesus was the ultimate example of selfless sacrifice and leading from the front. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls his disciples for the first time with the words “follow me.” Immediately they dropped what they were doing and followed him. The call to follow Jesus means now, not later. If you hear him calling, don’t resist.

In Luke 18, a rich young man who had always tried to live a righteous life asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds in verse 22, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man went away very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus restored the sight of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.  Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, once his vision is restored, “followed him (Jesus) on the way.

Mark 9:35 tells us that when Jesus observed his disciples arguing about their personal status in the group of disciples, Jesus told them ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

In John 13, on the night of the Passover feast just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion, he displays a remarkable act of servitude by washing his disciples’ feet. When he is finished, he says to them in verses 14-15, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus calls us to a sacrificial life, placing others before ourselves.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:23

Most important of all, Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary and lived as a man among us, understanding our weaknesses and struggles, so that he could give his life to save us all from our sins and death.

“Since Adam’s sin, mankind had been separated from God, but through Christ’s sacrifice we have been reconciled to the Lord. Jesus is ’the Lamb of God,’—the final and permanent sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under God’s New Covenant he is now the one mediator through whom we can come to God, for God will accept and forgive everyone who professes by word and life their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and depends upon his death as the sacrifice for their personal salvation.” (Source: Bibleforce.net)

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” John Stott

Do not fear!

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Note: I periodically turn to previous blog entries for content that is relevant today. This entry is based upon an article I wrote in 2015.

Many people today are scared. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America. The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence. Why wouldn’t people be afraid? Many media outlets and politicians survive by instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In the natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Many fear that global warming will cause killer storms, droughts, melting polar ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, we have just just witnessed the rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and death. Many fear the threat of terrorism in the homeland as a result of Afghanistan’s demise. Others fear home grown terrorists. Yet others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, the CORONA-virus Delta variant, and a growing list of drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about wearing masks, riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.  Others fear hackers will disrupt our critical national infrastructure, as we recently saw with the hack on the Colonial pipeline.  There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe. It can all be paralyzing.

Do not fear.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from them culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important: ” But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may paralyzed by a fearful nature, facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 10-12 (ESV)

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

Eight years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/ 

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

A perpetual communion with God

Do you love God?  Do you know God’s son, Jesus Christ?  Do you spend time with him daily? Revelation 22:4-5 shows us a picture of the saints in heaven enjoying a “perpetual communion” with God, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.”  While this passage in Revelation paints a picture of the future, the perpetual communion it describes is available to Christ followers today. But how do we get there?

In the hustle and bustle of today’s busy, fast-moving life it can be easy to pass an entire day without having even a single thought of God. At least this is true for me and I suspect many others will recognize it as true.  So how does one achieve perpetual communion with God today?  Here’s a clue.  One of the things I admire about Muslims is their commitment to the daily prayers. Practicing Muslims pause to pray five times a day. The pause for prayer is a chance to center one’s self and refocus on their god.  The prayers go like this:  

  • First: This prayer starts off the day with the recognition of God; it takes place before sunrise.
  • Second: After the day’s work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance.
  • Third: In the late afternoon, the faithful take a few minutes to remember God and the greater meaning of their lives.
  • Fourth: Just after the sun goes down, one remembers God again as the day begins to come to a close.
  • Fifth: Before retiring for the night, the Muslim faithful pause to remember God’s presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness.

Whether or not you’re a Muslim, such a daily prayer schedule that keeps one focused on God is a wonderful idea. Abraham was the father of both Islam and Judaism.  In Genesis 17, God appeared to Abraham and “spoke with him,” announcing the Covenant of Circumcision. Genesis chapter 5 list Adam’s descendants down to Noah. Speaking of one descendant who was named Enoch, verse 24 says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him.”  

The meaning of this cryptic passage has been heavily debated by Bible scholars. Did Enoch physically walk with God?  Was he taken up to heaven without dying?  The New Testament holds a clue. Hebrews 11:5 says, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken, he was commended as having pleased God.” 

It appears that both Abraham and Enoch literally met God—stood in His presence while they lived on this Earth—pretty special to say the least.  Even so, they could not have seen him face to face. Moses too had a literal meeting with God. God spoke to him in Exodus 33:20, saying, “…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  Exodus 33:23 goes on to recount how God physically passed by Moses, showing him his back.

Like Adam and Eve before them, Abraham, Enoch and Moses were blessed to have physically communed with God.  I can’t help but think how easy it would be for me to live in perpetual communion with God if I could physically meet him. God doesn’t make it that easy, however.  As Jesus tells the Apostle Thomas in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What moves someone to believe without seeing. From Jesus’ own words spoken to “doubting Thomas,” we can extrapolate that developing a perpetual communion with God requires faith. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “The mystery of God is not in what is going to be, it is now…Realize that the Lord is here now, and the freedom you receive is immediate.”  Communion with God leads to liberation—being set free from the cares and worries of the day. How can one achieve this liberation? As Chambers suggests, we must first recognize that God is here now! 

How is such a close communion developed?  Unlike justification, which Luther explained is achieved “through faith alone” (sole fide), developing a perpetual communion with God requires more than faith.  It requires hard work. This work takes two forms: studying the Scriptures and praying without ceasing, as Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. We cannot truly come to know and understand God without committing ourselves to studying the scriptures, for they are the revealed word of God. Prayer is also essential.  Psalm 143 suggests we should begin each day with prayer: “Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you.”

With respect to praying, one often overlooked aspect of prayer is extremely important to developing a perpetual communion with God—praying requires listening!  We need to take time to be silent and listen for the voice of God. God is with us.  His name is Emmanuel. Start getting to know Him today and begin the hard work of developing a perpetual communion with Him.  

Amazingly, the Creator and Ruler of the universe wants to spend time with you so that you can know Him better. It’s as if He is saying, “I want you all to Myself for a little while.” Take Him up on the invitation to get away to a quiet place and learn about Him.  –Dr. Charles Stanley

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

Feed My Sheep

The Good Shepherd (C.1650-60) by Philippe de Champaigne

My recent work with a struggling young man in my community has provided me a stark reminder of the reality of hunger in America. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “having access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  According to USDA figures, 10.5 percent of American households in 2019 lacked proper food security. While the government’s 2020 food security figures are not yet available, indications are that this year’s numbers will be much higher.  The primary reason for this is the sharp increase in national unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the map below shows, the food insecurity problem is widespread.

As a state workforce developer in Pennsylvania, I worked with hundreds of clients who had recently lost their jobs.  Food security was often a major concern of these displaced workers. Many had small children at home, making their situations even more dire.  More recently, as a volunteer job coach working with the elderly, I discovered that food security is a major concern for many of my clients. My typical client is age 70 or older, dependent upon a Social Security check of less than a thousand dollars a month as their primary income, and frequently has to decide between purchasing expensive prescription drugs or food, as they lack sufficient income to pay for both with what remains after paying the rent or mortgage.  

While the mission of Christ’s church is to spread the Gospel, it’s difficult to convey the Good News to someone with a growling, empty stomach. Jesus clearly recognized this. By feeding the five thousand in the miracle of the loaves described in John 6, Jesus provided for the physical needs of the crowd.  The very next day, he called Himself the “Bread of Life.” (John 6:35). Clearly, one needs food in the belly in order to be more open to partaking of the Bread of Life.  The level of involvement in feeding the needy varies significantly from church to church.  Many get involved in collecting and distributing holiday food baskets for the needy.  While this is a wonderful thing, such baskets only cover a few days of the annual 365 that people need to eat. Much more is needed.   

Food banks and pantries exist across the country to help support food security. Typically, a food bank supports a region (such as a county), while local food pantries serve small towns or communities within larger towns/cities. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, a food bank is a non-profit that safely stores thousands to millions of pounds of food for bulk distribution to local food programs, like food pantries. Food banks come in all different sizes. In contrast, food pantries receive food shipments from food banks and run food distribution programs where hungry families can receive food directly. Pantries feed hundreds of people per week! Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries. It is common for a food pantry to operate from inside a community school or church. Some areas even have mobile food pantries to serve seniors with limited mobility or rural communities with little transportation.  Some pantries require the clients to demonstrate financial need, while others serve anyone who shows up. Some communities also have food kitchens, where the needy can eat a hot, nutritious meal.

Churches and individuals can help their local food banks, pantries and kitchens in a number of ways by donating money and by volunteering their time. Check directly with your local organizations to ascertain the best way to help each. A general rule of thumb is that monetary donations are preferable to food, as it enables the organization to spend where the need is greatest. Another general rule is that volunteers are always needed; this is particularly so during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many food banks, pantries and kitchens have adopted special precautions for COVID-19.  Those who might wish to volunteer should check with their local organization(s) to determine if they are comfortable volunteering in light of the precautions that have been adopted. In any case, I encourage you to reach out as you can to support food security in America. As James 2:15-16 tells us, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Jesus feeds the five thousand, John 6:1-13 (NIV).  Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

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

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

Rooted in the Word

Rooted in Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2: 6-7

My wife and I lived near the Chesapeake Bay in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia for over seven years.  During our time there the region was struck by four hurricanes and a tropical storm.  All the storms caused great destruction of trees, as most trees in the area are evergreens, including many pine trees which have extremely soft wood.  Pine trees also tend to have shallow roots that run outwards near the surface of the soil.  We frequently saw massive pines that had snapped clean in two in the middle of the main trunk or ones that were blown down fully intact, because the roots were not deep enough to withstand the high wind.

Pine Tree Damage

We presently live in South Dakota, in the upper Great Plains.  To say it’s windy here would be a gross understatement. The average wind speed in our region is around 12 mph.  Days with 25-35 mph gusts are not uncommon. On the windiest days in the late spring and summer it’s fascinating to watch the hardwood trees in our backyard swaying to and fro in a mesmerizing dance. Sometimes they appear ready to break in two, but they always stand up straight whenever a gust subsides.  One of the reasons hardwoods are strong is that, unlike evergreens, they have deep roots, an invisible support network that provides a firm foundation.  

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord  Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.  –From the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”

Windblown trees are a wonderful metaphor for Christians. Everybody is shaken to and fro by fear and emotions at one time or another, but not all respond in the same way.  Some are like softwoods with weak, shallow roots and some are like hardwoods, with strong, deep roots. Christians need to cultivate strong roots in Jesus.  Each of us can grow and strengthen our roots through the Word of God.

The first chapter of the book of Genesis begins with the familiar words, “In the beginning,” painting an image of two forms of the triune God, the Father and the Holy Spirit:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  –Genesis 1: 1-2

Chapter 1 of the Gospel of John echoes the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning…”, and describes the preincarnate Jesus as “the Word of God,” who was there with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit at the creation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.   –John 1: 1-5

During these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, are your fears and emotions tossing you to and fro?  Do you find your faith being challenged? If so, then maybe you need to strengthen your roots in the Word of.   Immerse yourself in scripture today to cast out fear and emotions.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. –1Peter 5:6-11

*All Bible quotes in this post are from the NIV.