Archive for the ‘spiritual’ Category

Making friends

A friend to all is a friend to none.  –Aristotle

I have hundreds of friends.  At least that is what my social media accounts tell me. The concept of friendship has changed significantly over the years, especially since the advent of the internet and social media. Social media friendships are so easy to make—just press the “Add Friend” button.  But what is a real friend?

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus explained friendship like this in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Whoa!  That rules out most of my social media friends. Real friendships, at least in Jesus’ definition, require personal relationships and a willingness to make sacrifices.

A real friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”  –Walter Winchell

So, what is real friendship?  I do not profess to have all the answers, but here are some things I have discovered about real friends:

  • They are there for you when others walk away.
  • They meet you where you are, warts, wrinkles and all.
  • They will make time for you, even when they cannot spare it.
  • They expect nothing in return and do not keep score.
  • They are good listeners.
  • They respect confidentiality.
  • They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  • They say, “Wow, you really screwed this up! Now how can I help you fix it?”
  • They walk beside you in the demon filled valleys.
  • They are at their best when you are at your worst.

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.  –St. Teresa of Avila

I am blessed with an abundance of friends.  They know who they are. Most are fellow brothers or sisters in Christ. Thinking about what I like most about my friends makes me wonder if it is possible to be a friend of God?  I believe it is. In Daniel 3, Daniel was bound and thrown into a fiery furnace because he refused to worship an image of King Nebuchadnezzar. God, presumably a preincarnate Jesus, appeared in the blazing furnace with Daniel. David, despite his many serious flaws, had such a close relationship with God that God called him, “a man after my own heart,” (Acts 13:22). God called Abraham “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8b). And God spoke to Moses face to face, “as a man speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11a). The closeness of God to these individuals was not due to their righteousness, as all were flawed. These friendships were a result of God’s grace and mercy.

God is eager to be your friend, but He is unlike your other friends in one important way. God wants you to be his disciple. Jesus, God the Father’s only begotten son, lived up to his own teaching that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Are you ready to let God mold and shape your life like potter’s clay?  Then lay down your life at his feet, pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

 He (Jesus) washes us in Baptism and gives us new, clean clothes of goodness and holiness to wear—His own good clothes, to be ours forever. Finally, He gives us life—His own everlasting life, which He won for us when He rose from the dead, never to die again. Dr. Kari Vo, The Lutheran Hour.

Give thanks to God

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  –Psalm 107:1*

Recently I’ve been pondering what it means to give thanks to God. The Bible is full of examples of thanksgiving being lifted up to the Lord.  After giving it much thought, I’ve come to several conclusions. First and foremost, thanking God is my way of acknowledging His supreme authority and position in my life.  God gave me life! Everything that is good in my life is a gift from Him.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30

Second, there are multiple ways to give thanks to God.  These include praying; through the written, recorded and spoken work; in song; in giving of one’s time and treasure; and in prayerfully doing good works for others with no motive other than serving God. I write this blog as a thank offering to God. There are many other ways of thanking God that area not listed here. It occurs to me that we can thank God in almost any situation we encounter throughout the day. Continually thanking God can help one remain cognizant of God’s endless presence in his or her life.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  –I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Third, we are to thank God in all circumstances, both the easy times, the difficult ones and those in between.  In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells us he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. This is a tough one. In my lifetime I’ve had some real tragedies. When tragedy strikes, it is particularly difficult to discern any good at the time.  Over the years I’ve learned to pray to God for strength to get me though the difficulties and to give me wisdom to understand.  While it was difficult to discern the good at the time, in retrospect each difficult period of my life was a time of learning and spiritual growth that helped prepare me for God’s eternal kingdom.   

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  –2 Corinthians 9:15

Finally, give thanks to the lord for his grace in offering us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Doxology

I thank you, God, for your grace, the gift of life and my salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the Godly women who helped lead me to the Savior in my childhood. Thank you for loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents who helped raise and care for me after my parents divorced. Thank you for the churches and teachers who helped nurture and train me along the way. Thank you for giving me a godly wife to share my life with. Thank you for my children and grandchildren who bring joy to my life. Thank you for friends and family who have added richness to my life. Thank you for protecting and shielding me during times of trouble. Thank you for the work that enables me to sustain my family. Thank you for this day and all my days to come. Thanks be to God!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way,

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Hymn – Now Thank We All Our God:

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Enduring truths for recent graduates

Across the country it’s graduation time. Here in South Dakota many schools have already closed for the summer. Most of those that remain open will close in the coming days. Everywhere one turns there’s another grad party. What awaits all these new grads? A decade ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent graduates. While it was aimed at high school graduates, it is also highly relevant to recent college grads. The article has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for taking the time to share 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 here. 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.

Abandoned to God

Jesus walking on the water

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31

I’m scheduled for major surgery in a few days. The procedure will necessitate a long convalescence period. While I’ve had several surgeries during my life, this marks the first time that I’ll be under general anesthesia. I’m not looking forward to it. To be truthful, my dread of this surgery has tested my faith.  Yep, I’m a little bit scared.  

For many years I have enjoyed the writings of Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers. I first discovered him through his famous daily devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest.”  You might have noticed that I frequently quote Chambers in this blog. One of my favorite pieces of his wisdom is:   

The great word of Jesus to His disciples is Abandon. When God has brought us into the relationship of disciples, we have to venture on His word; trust entirely to Him and watch that when He brings us to the venture, we take it. 

The Apostle Paul is a great example of living a life abandoned to God. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul tells the elders of the Church at Ephesus, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Throughout history, many people have chosen to abandon a sinking ship when the situation became so bad that an act of desperation appeared to be their only way out. Being abandoned to God is like jumping off a sinking ship and finding Jesus there, walking on the water and offering his hand to pull you above the dangerous waves as he whispers, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

A life of abandon is content with God, not with circumstances.  That’s how I want to live.  I close asking for your prayers as I undergo surgery on April 29. Until the next time!

Growing old and grateful

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. –Proverbs 18:22*

*All bible quotes are NIV.

I’m old enough to get senior discounts in restaurants and movie theaters, and AARP rates on hotel rooms. These are all good, but one of the greatest benefits of getting older is that I’ve developed a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inwardly, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in May 1977, at the tender age of 21. Fresh out of college and newly married, I loved the excitement of a soldier’s life.  I loved the comradery and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life. One of these was my sweet wife.

As I grew a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known. She is also blessed with the gift of spiritual discernment. On top of all this, Linda is one of the humblest and most generous people I’ve ever known.

For me, having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was eventually steered towards God. Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I feel blessed. I thank God daily for my family, friends, freedom, and faith.  Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows all these years; we recently celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Our amazing daughters are both grown and successful; we have a wonderful son-in-law who is a pastor; and we’ve been blessed with three delightful grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families living in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

Proverbs 31:10b-31

[b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Stay close to the word

“The Bible is not an option; it is a necessity. You cannot grow spiritually strong without it.” –Billy Graham

I’m shocked at how many professing Christians I’ve met know very little about the Bible. How can this be? The biblical Hebrew faith placed great emphasis on reading the Scriptures aloud and then interpreting the reading. Luke 4:14-20 tells us:

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

When the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem after years of Babylonian captivity, the scribe Ezra brought the Book of the Law of Moses before them to read. Nehemiah 8:3 tells us, “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” Not only did the people listen to the reading of the Law from early morning until midday; they paid attention; they rose to their feet when Ezra opened the book (v.5); answered “Amen, Amen,” at the reading of the book (v.6); stood in their places (v.7); they all wept when they heard the words of the Law (v.9); and the people departed with great joy “because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” on that day (v.12).

The early Christians adopted a model of the public reading and interpretation of Scripture in worship; it has remained the practice in most Christian churches through the centuries. I was raised as a Southern Baptist, a denomination that emphasizes lifelong Bible study and exposes children to the Scripture from a very early age.  This occurs through the spoken word in sermons and Scripture readings during worship services; and by studying Scripture in Sunday school, Children’s Church, Bible studies, and other settings. The sermon is the centerpiece of the worship service. Immediately following the sermon there is a call by the preacher to respond to the sermon’s message by walking to the front of the sanctuary and professing one’s faith publicly or making a public rededication of one’s life to Christ.

Today I am an Anglican. Anglican worship services focus on “Word and Table,” the latter being the sacrament of Holy Communion. As for the word, Anglicans maintain a theological position that proclaiming the word is a means of grace; the word includes the sermon, but the emphasis is on proclaiming the witness to God in Jesus Christ and on God’s grace that flows through the proclamation. This proclamation is made both through Scripture reading and preaching a sermon. Sermons usually focus on one or more of the scripture selections in the appointed Lectionary readings of the day. The idea of the word places emphasis on the proclamation of Scripture as the spoken word of God that bears witness to the incarnate Word in Jesus Christ. However, it is not simply that it bears witness. The spoken word becomes the living and active word of God so that God speaks through the spoken word of Scripture. The spoken word becomes a means of grace.

Anglicans view the living word as a vehicle for performing God’s work in this world. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ Ephesians 8:17 calls the word “the Sword of the Spirit.”  The sword imagery is significant, as a sword is a weapon used both to deflect blows from an adversary and to strike back at one’s adversary.  When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he refused Satan’s offers, citing Scripture as His defense and as a means of compelling Satan to depart from Him. Divine power flows from the words of Scripture.   

So, circling back to where I began, Christians need to study Scripture and theology! The late Rev. Dr. R. C.  Sproul explained it like this: “Many people believe that theological study holds little value. They say, ‘I don’t need theology; I just need to know Jesus.’ Yet theology is unavoidable for every Christian. It is our attempt to understand the truth that God has revealed to us—something every Christian does. So, it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound. It is important to study and learn because God has taken great pains to reveal Himself to His people. He gave us a book, one that is not meant to sit on a shelf pressing dried flowers, but to be read, searched, digested, studied, and chiefly to be understood.”

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  –2 Timothy 3:16-17

Beware of bartering the Word of God for a more suitable conception of your own.  –Oswald Chambers, Disciples Indeed

Click the link below for ideas on how to start a daily devotional habit.

 https://www.woh.org/2022/01/24/how-to-start-a-devotional-habit/

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

Helping those in need

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. —Proverbs 28:27*

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on US and global economies. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for varying pandemic-related reasons. The food service industry here at home has been hit particularly hard.  Thousands of restaurants have closed, with most having no hope of reopening. The middle class is shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots. History has demonstrated that as the middle class shrinks and the lower class grows, civil unrest often increases.

To survive, many American families have had to dip into retirement savings, placing the future in question.  When savings are exhausted, losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  The ability to pay a big mortgage, something common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of both spouses.  If even one of them loses their job, foreclosure becomes a distinct possibility! To stay afloat they must negotiate with lenders, which in the long run usually means increasing the size of their mortgages and/or tapping into short term savings and retirement accounts. Early retirement withdrawals are usually accompanied by additional fees.

On top of pandemic problems, even before COVID-19 economic globalization had given rise to thousands of large companies that are loyal to neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers, especially blue collar ones, are increasingly being treated like disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table. Highly educated and skilled working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I heard many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This can and must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when those affected are members of the church. Many churches have lost touch with early traditions. The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tell us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Even clearer instruction comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential to serving those in need outside the church.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop outreach ministries. One way for small groups to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in their church’s local area.  Charities are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.  The closest ministry filed for any church is the one inside its doors. The largest ministry field for every church is the one just outside the church doors.   

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. —Proverbs 19:17

*All Bible quotes are ESV.

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)