A virus, a stock market, and a Savior

I just checked my 401k account…down $60,000.00. If my trust was in money, a stable investment portfolio, or in a country or particular leader I would be panicking right now. But I am feeling pretty OK right now.

My trust is in a sovereign God. Whether my 401k increases or decreases…whether I stay COVID-19 free or not…whether I prosper or become a pauper, my trust is in the Lord God on high. I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

“For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Romans 1:7-9 NASB

May each of us who claim Christ as Savior have the same attitude that Paul shared in the above verses. In surrendering to God’s sovereignty, we surrender control and (hopefully) anxious living. For if I am the Lord’s, what do I have to fear from financial calamity, political problems, or a novel virus that could actually cause my death.

My prayer for all of you is that we, as Christ-followers, simply follow Christ. I pray we comfort the hurting, love those who may appear to be unlovable, and show inexplicable joy in life, regardless of how tranquil or turbulent the sea of life we experience is at any particular moment, we praise God and point others to Him.

May Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian Church apply even more so today to His Church in America:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. I Corinthians 1:3-7 NASB

The Church, Donald Trump, and Joshua 24

I have purposely tried to stay away from political discussions not only on Facebook but also in discussions in general. The division caused by politics is necessary for politics to work but unnecessary for the church – may I be so bold as to say it is destructive for the Body of Christ?

I care not a whit if you are democrat or republican. I care not if you are conservative or liberal. I care not where you have been but I do care where you are going.

Are you redeemed? is a much more important question than Are you registered to vote?  or Do you support Donald Trump? If the posts on Facebook are any indication, the Church seems much more concerned with the latter rather than the former. From magazines like Christianity Today, to pastors, teachers, locals churches, and entire denominations, sides have been chosen and if you disagree well you’re just evil, nasty, stupid, etc.

Why can’t the Church simply rally for Christ, do the work He has prescribed, and leave the politics of division to the world? I suppose this gets down to what it means to be in the world but not of the world. We can debate this ad nauseum and not come to a consensus or conclusion.

A better, more appropriate question for the Church is whether it is a good thing for those who profess Christ – those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, adopted into the family of God, given charge to proclaim the Gospel to all nations – to get to the point of calling those who oppose them politically as “nasty”, “stupid”, “loons”, and other rather ugly things. These descriptions of people extend to the character of those criticized – not just their actions. Attacking an image-bearer is never a good idea. Remember Michael’s interaction with Satan:

But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 1:9, NASB

I believe the Church is getting close to – maybe even beyond – our own Joshua 24 moment. Shall we follow Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi? Republicans or Democrats? Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, David French, et al. Whom shall we serve? Shall we serve Christ or these lesser (political) gods?

Choose whomever you will, but for me and my house, we will serve Christ.

Seeking Justice or Giving Grace

When wronged, which better describes you: A justice seeker or a Grace granter? The answer to this question, though difficult, is important.

 

Have you ever been lied about? I bet you have. I sure have. Sometimes those lies are little and don’t amount to much. But sometimes the lies can be quite large and really affect you. These lies can be considered defamation of character in many states.

When this happens – and I hope it doesn’t happen to you – what should a Christian’s response be? Should a Christian retain  an attorney and sue? Or should a Christian simply let it go on by.

And what should one do about the anger that comes with this? Oh, the anger!

But now, a few Scripture verses are flying through my heart and head…

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger…Ephesians 4:26 NASB

So I’m angry about this, but am I sinning? Well, lets consider this little gem from James

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:17 NASB

So what is the right thing to do. There is my desire for justice and vindication of an egregious lie. But there is also my impulse to show grace and mercy and walk away from it. Someone once said

 But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.  Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is thatto you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27 – 36 NASB

When I juxtapose my desire for justice with the verses above, I admit I struggle with what I should do. And I admit I’m not sure which way I’m going to end up going.

I can sue for defamation of character for the big lies that hurt or smear my name. If I do this, I can win and receive a little vindication.

I can also decide to show mercy and compassion, not sue, not win, and not be vindicated by my acts.

I’ve decided to share my journey into this decision with you. For the next few weeks I will write about what I am thinking, what the Lord is showing me and, hopefully, the decision that I make in the end.

So what happens when we are wronged and our desire for justice collides with our impulse to show grace and mercy? I think we’re going to find out soon…and in the process, maybe we can learn something about ourselves and our desires.

 

The Chalk Outline

I watch the old TV series “Columbo” as much as possible. I really enjoy it. As I am writing this article I’m watching an episode from season three (I have the entire series on DVD). For those who never watched it, it was made in the early 1970’s. It was about this brilliant detective who was less than stellar in his appearance. Even though he often played the fool, he always solved the crime. And every crime on this show was a murder. You see Columbo was a homicide detective. He was great.

When Columbo would come to a murder site, the police would sometimes draw a chalk outline where the body had been after it had been removed. It was a reminder that there once someone there. In one way, it was the shadow of that person.

When we die – and we all will – the life we lived could be marked with a chalk outline showing where we touched. I wonder, when I’m dead, where will my chalk outline be.

I’ve lived a rather full and eventful life. I’ve accomplished much in my 54 years on God’s earth. Some of those accomplishments have been pretty good. Others not so good. And still others have been downright bad. One thing they all have in common is that they were accomplished by me.

As I draw nearer to eternity I wonder what I will leave behind. What will my chalk outline be? Will it be a good one or a bad one? How will my friends remember me? My enemies? My family? My church? How will I be remembered…

I’ve come to one conclusion regarding my legacy. I’ve decided and truly hope that my legacy does not include me.

I really don’t want to be remembered. In fact I hope I’m forgotten rather easily. You see, I don’t think my greatest legacy should be that I am remembered as this or that type of person. My greatest hope is that my legacy will be that more people will remember my Savior and what He does than what I did in His name.

I hope that my life’s work will be pointing others to Christ, not to myself. I hope I live in such a way that I have a legacy that is devoid of my, and full of my Savior. Will I do that? I don’t know. What I do know is that the words of John the Baptist ring in my ears each day as I rise and as I go to bed…

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 NASB

I must – MUST – decrease.

I hope I accomplish this.

A Life Well Lived

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 NASB

 

I was sitting outside a restaurant in Brea, California in November of 1997. I had flown to California for some training for my new job in Virginia. I had lived in California from 1983 until 1997. When I found out I was going back for a week I decided to call two of my closest friends to see if they would like to have dinner. They said sure and I was waiting on them.

I had been diagnosed with type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes earlier in 1997. I found out by nearly dying from it. I am still not sure how I did not die – actually the reason I didn’t die is because God didn’t want me to die. Anyway, back to my evening in California.

I sat outside the restaurant waiting on my friends to arrive. I had mixed my insulin for my evening dose, which I would take when we sat down to eat. The timing of one’s insulin dose is important so it is peaking when blood sugar after eating is peaking. I was gently rolling  my syringe between my fingers to warm the insulin (my insulin was stored in a cold pack. Injecting cold insulin is not a fun experience). I could not believe what happened next.

A young man came up and asked me if he could sit next to me. I said I didn’t mind. He sat down and introduced himself. I don’t remember his name but I do remember him. He looked at me and began a conversation.

“I’d like to share some information with you, if thats ok.”

“Sure” I said.

“Well first” he began “I want to say that I am not judging you for your addiction”

I responded “My addict-”

Before I could finish he jumped back in saying “I see the syringe in your hand. I know what you are going to do. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do this.”

I smiled, figuring he mistook my insulin for some kind of illegal drug. “You don’t understand.” I said.

“Yes I do” he protected. “I was once addicted too but God delivered me and He can deliver you too.”

“Wait, wait. You really don’t understand. I need this to live.” I said.

He replied “I said the same thing when I was nailing up [slang IV drug users sometimes use to describe injecting heroin]. But I’m here to say, you don’t need that drug. You need Jesus.”

Well this little disagreement continued for a few more minutes until I finally said “Dude, I’m a type 1 diabetic This is insulin. See, I have a prescription for this [showing him my insulin vials]. I’m a Christian. Been one since December 2, 1984.”

He grimaced a bit. He looked sheepishly at me and apologized for his mistaking me as a drug addict. Before he could finish his apology, I stopped him and thanked him for his boldness. We talked a few more minutes, I assured him I wasn’t offended by his conduct but encouraged by it. I thanked him again for being willing to share Christ with a stranger apparently in need.

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I wonder how many of us – me included – are willing to risk embarrassment like this young guy did? Are we willing to share Christ with anyone we see, risking we may share with someone who is already a Christian? Or maybe we are worried the person we share with will be openly hostile to the Gospel. Whatever our fear, we need to get over them and share Christ to all who cross our paths – yes, that includes those e disagree with on silly issues like politics.

People around me may give me flack for sharing the Gospel. They may laugh at me for believing it. Because I am a Christian, I have not received promotions and being a Christian contributed to my losing one job. I chose not to sue or strike out against that employer because I feel like that kind of treatment is part and parcel of being a Christian.

I don’t want to live a life that is camouflaged. I don’t want people to wonder if I belong to Christ or not. My life – all aspects of it – should preach the Gospel.

Don’t just preach the Gospel with your words. Preach it with your life. And don’t just think that living an outwardly moral life is OK. Preach the Gospel with your mouth too. Really, it is as simple as Paul wrote to Timothy: be always preaching, be always ready, be always teaching sound doctrine, and know those who don’t want to hear, won’t.

In doing this simple thing, we can be assured that we will live a life well-lived, regardless of the bumps along the way. And maybe, just maybe, we will meet someone on a bench and bless them with our boldness and forever leave a mark on them.

 

 

A Stranger at the Throne

If you thought that I had everything together and didn’t struggle like everyone does, this article will surely shatter that image of me. If you realize that I am the same as you – a pilgrim trying to make it through life – perhaps you can understand this. 

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Life is a blur sometimes for my family. Shoot, often it is a blur. We are so busy we barely have time to think much less anything else. With all our commitments, responsibilities, and other stuff we barely have time to relate to each other. It seems sometimes we are strangers in our own home. And if my wife and I are having trouble finding time to  speak to each other because of the busy nature of life, how in the world do I relate and speak to God each day. You know, that prayer thing. Have I become a stranger to God’s throne?

Ouch.

Sin is a cruel master. A very cruel master.

Last week I hurt my wife and my marriage (before you speculate, I didn’t have an affair or strike my wife  but hurt her and crossed a line I shouldn’t have). It was inexcusable and indefensible. But it was entirely predictable result of my becoming a stranger to God’s throne because I became too busy with life that I forgot to commune daily with my Life-giving Father in heaven. How did tis happen?

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Sixty hours at work per week. One hour commute to work. One hour commute from work. Responsibilities here. Responsibilities there. This ministry. That ministry. An event today, tomorrow, and the next day. Football practice, basketball practice, gymnastics, and dance. A blog article is due. Gotta finish that manuscript outline. Study? Oh yeah, I need to study…and pray. But I’m busy.

Too busy…

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I have apologized to my wife, asked her forgiveness, and taken steps to prevent the sin from repeating itself. My wife has forgiven me and we are working to repair the damage I inflicted on her and our marriage.

Now I need to approach God’s throne. I feel like I don’t belong.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

Jesus invites us to come to Him with all the burdens and labors we bear. I have no doubt these burdens included the unbiblical rules and regulations that the religious leaders placed on the people of that time. I also believe that these burdens – at least as an application – can include the burdens we often carry from previously forgiven sin. Like the burden I now carry.

Will I listen to His invitation and meet Him in His throne room? Will I shrink back, hide, and cower in shame and disgust at my sin? I wish I could answer those questions. But right now, I just don’t know what I will do.

Satan is having a good time with right now. He is working overtime accusing me of this and that. He is reminding me of my past and my present. He sure is good at making me understand just how sinful I am. He is trying to discourage me. And he is doing a pretty good job of accomplishing that…

Come to me…”

I clearly hear Christ’s call to come to Him. I just don’t want to go right now.

I’m broken.

I feel humiliated.

I’m hurt.

I feel just plain wrong.

How can I approach my holy God – the Holy One seen in Isaiah 6 – with this sin? How can I bear to see Him? How can I allow Him to see me?

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14 – 16 NASB

I know, I know. All I have to do is repent (done), ask forgiveness (done), and it will be granted to me. After all, that is what the Cross accomplished, right? All my sins were washed away. Yeah, I know ’em all. If I was counseling someone as a Pastor, I would be quoting them left and right. I’d be reassuring the one I’m counseling of God’s forgiveness if he repented.

But this one…this one really hurts. I hurt the one person I never wanted to hurt. I hurt my wife. The woman who has stood by me through thick and thin. She has endured things that I’m sure others know nothing about. And now this. I feel like I need to be beaten more. I feel that I need to do something and not just move on.

Forgiveness of my sin is granted at the Cross. Though I do not feel  forgiven, I am forgiven. You see, there is sometimes a lag between the granting of forgiveness and the realization that forgiveness has already been received. My sin wasn’t just committed by the act (again, not a physical thing). It began to work in me as I drifted from the throne room of God. That was a mistake I hope I never make again.

Come to me…”

“…receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need…”

My burdens have already been lifted. My sin already forgiven. I have received mercy and grace in my time of need. To believe anything less would cheapen the Cross. It would deny the power of Christ’s sacrifice. Now I just need to realize these things are true.

Just realize it.

This is going to be tough.