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December 29, 2019, 8:27 AM

This is the Great Adventure!


If you’re old enough to remember the Steven Curtis Chapman song, “Great Adventure,” you’ll know where I’m going with this thought. As the Christmas season winds down and the new year is quickly approaching, I hope everyone can look back on the previous year and count their blessings. It has been good but very busy, especially these last few weeks. I always take some time off at the end of the year to spend with my family, to rest, and be reminded of the blessing they are. I also try to find some time in the stillness of the day to reflect on where God has brought us and seek His face as to where He is leading us. As with every year, there have been some ups and downs but God remains faithful. As I sit this morning, in the stillness of the day, with my coffee beside me and my dog resting his head on my leg, I thank God for all that He has done and all that He is going to do. That’s where the song comes in to play. As I was praying and expressing some heaviness of heart to the Lord, that song popped into my head. It was in tandem with the words recorded in Genesis 12 regarding Abraham. In chapter 11 we are told of the story of the Tower of Babel which is followed by the dispersing of the people and a listing of descendants. In that listing is the names of Abram and Sarai. We all know how God accomplished His plan through these two and how we are recipients of the that promise still today. What I find interesting is the way chapter 12 begins. Chapter 11 concludes by telling the reader where Abram and Sarai lived and established their home. Chapter 12 starts out by saying that God called Abram to pick up everything and proceed to a destination he had not yet been told. He was instructed to leave his country, his family, and his father’s house and follow God. These words, combined with the positioning of them at the beginning of a new chapter resonate in my heart. The year 2020 is just a few days away and will begin another chapter in life. The question is will we be willing to follow God where ever He leads us, even without knowing all the details or even the destination. Our flesh often necessitates knowing details before we follow but being led by the Spirit and living by faith is simply following God where He leads. God had great things in store from Abram and Sarai, but they had to move on in obedience in order to experience those blessings. So, this year, be willing to follow God wherever He leads, even if it requires a move. He may just have something special planned for you or may be protecting you from something. As you pray and seek His face and His will, let the opening words of the aforementioned song resonate in your heart and mind, “Saddle up your horses!”

Robert




December 11, 2019, 12:31 PM

Terms and Conditions Apply


 

Tis the season of shopping for Christmas gifts and being inundated with ads and commercials. As with this time of year, many phrases are repeated as a part of the advertisement for certain items. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the saying, “some assembly required” and “batteries not included.” There is one tag line that I hate more than either of those two and it seems to always come at the end of an ad. When the manufacturer has told you how you deserve to have this amazing product they are selling and that now is the best time to buy it. Or if you truly care about someone then there is no way you would pass up the deal being offered. Part of the end goal seems to be to make you feel like you will be crowned the gift-giving champ and still come out ahead in the financial realm. However, just before the commercial is over or at the bottom of the page as noted by an asterisk, are the words, “terms and conditions apply.” And there it is. That catch-all phrase that says there are multiple strings attached. Strings that if they were clearly defined would probably prevent you from giving more than a few seconds of your time to contemplating the product being pushed. There is a reason that phrases like this have led to another phrase common in society, “the devil is in the details.” I just wish sometimes things could be as simple as Paul makes salvation in Romans 10. He starts out by saying that there is no way to earn salvation regardless of how zealously religious a person may be. Good deeds and keeping the law are great qualities to possess but neither leads to salvation. He continues by declaring that salvation isn’t something that is far off in some fairy tale land or distant country. There is no distance that must be traversed in order to find it. He enlightens his readers that it is near them in the form of the words of faith he is proclaiming which is the Gospel. Paul goes on to say that this salvation is available to v.4 everyone who believes, v.11 anyone who trusts in Him, v.12 the Lord richly blesses all who call on Him, v.13 everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Also, this salvation doesn’t differentiate between color, nationality, sex, age, heritage, or anything else that divides humanity. The simplicity of salvation is based on faith, not works. Paul says in v.9-10 that if you confess with your mouth what you have believed in your heart you will be saved. When you believe in your heart everything the Bible teaches about Jesus to be true, and place your faith in Jesus Christ alone as your Lord and Savior, you will be saved. The mouth confirms what has taken place in the heart. Conversely, it doesn’t matter what the mouth says if you haven’t believed in your heart. A person who is truly saved will then begin to look more like Jesus as God sanctifies and matures them through the work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not trying to oversimplify what the Bible calls a great mystery but we must be careful not to convolute it with religiosity either. There are not secret strings attached, no fine print that requires legal assistance to understand, and you don’t walk away feeling like you traded away your firstborn or signed your life away. It’s simple, faith comes by hearing the Word of the Gospel as believers share what God has done for them. This Christmas give someone the simplest yet most profound gift they could ever receive and you might receive the gift of having beautiful feet, and I don’t mean you’re getting a pedicure.

Robert




December 5, 2019, 10:15 AM

Noisy Cricket


 

In the movie, “Men in Black”, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play the roles of two men charged with policing the galaxies. As you might imagine or may remember if you have seen the movie, the weaponry required for protecting the galaxy is a touch more powerful than what your average earthling might carry. On one occasion when chaos breaks out, Smith is given a gun that looks like a water pistol in comparison to that of his partner. The humor of the scene isn’t complete until Smith fires the “Noisy Cricket” and is blown backward by the powerful discharge. He had clearly underestimated the power of the weapon he had been given. I recently read through Ephesians 6 in addition to a book on spiritual warfare. It was a good study and caused me to remember that there is a very real and ever-present enemy that we face. This enemy, not totally unlike the enemy in the movie, moves about in ways that common people rarely see. Even Christians sometimes fail to see the schemes of the enemy and may forget that there is a battle waging constantly in the spiritual realms. The thing that stirred my heart the most was that of all the parts of the spiritual armor Paul mentions, the sword of the Spirit just might be where I’m the weakest. The one offensive weapon I am given as a believer is the area that could use the most improvement. You see, the word used in the Greek for “word” in describing the sword as the “word of God” is not logos. Logos typically refers to the written word. The word Paul uses here is rhema. This word when used in this context expresses the idea of the spoken word. The sword God gives me to defend myself against the enemy is His word when I speak it out loud. That may seem simple enough and you may be scratching your head as to why I say it’s my weakest area of defense. I’m glad you asked that question. As I was reading the book on spiritual warfare, I found one of the stories told by the author about his personal experience to be interesting. He said that on one particular occasion when he encountered the enemy, he defended himself by quoting Scripture out loud as it pertained to the particular circumstance he was enduring. This caused me to begin to think of what I would pray out loud that came straight from the Word of God if I were faced with the same situation. I could come up with plenty of song lyrics and anecdotes I’ve learned throughout the years, but I found myself to be short in the area of Scripture. The sword Paul refers to was the type of sword Roman soldiers used in close, hand to hand combat. It was used to deliver a precise attack and when it found its mark would be fatal for the enemy. That is the way the Sword of the Spirit is to be for believers. The Word of God is authoritative and powerful and when spoken out loud in defense against the enemy can deliver the blow that sends Satan and his minions scurrying away. But the caveat is this, if you don’t know the Scripture, you can’t quote it. That’s why it is vitally important to not only have a time of personal devotional but also of extensive study and memorization of the living Word. The study of the Word may seem less important or needed but I would like to draw your mind back to the Noisy Cricket. Don’t underestimate the power of the Word of God just because other things of religious life may appear to be more important. We must put on the full armor of God lest we find ourselves defeated.

Robert




November 18, 2019, 9:35 AM

Put Your Rocks Down


 

Between our three children, our family has attended many competitive events throughout the years. Baseball, football, basketball, softball, dance, gymnastics, and on and on. One thing that you hope to find at every competitive event is a group of officials that are unbiased and fair, who will apply the same standards to all parties involved in the competition. This, however, is not always the case and when it occurs it makes me very irritated. Just recently the Tyler chapter of officials for high school football completely jilted our Indians and cost us the game. Needless to say, there were many disgruntled fans, especially when video evidence proved the call was blown. I used to serve with the guy who was the head referee and he was a good person. He served in his church, was in law enforcement and even ran for public office. None the less, he made an egregious mistake. (It’s ok Todd, I forgive you. Not sure about the rest of J’ville though.) Referees and umpires are just people and the majority of them want to do a good job and be fair. The idea that I would do any better and never make a bad call is fantasy and I need to remember that. I started saying a long time ago that I have learned to put the rocks down. Whether it’s high school referees, people on social media, or whatever the case. I still struggle with it but God has a way of gently reminding me. The idea of putting down the rocks comes from the story of the adulteress woman brought to Jesus by the religious leaders in John 8:1-11. They caught her as she was actively engaged in the sin. They took her to where Jesus was teaching, among many people gathered around Him. They had no desire to see the woman restored or forgiven. The plan was to trap Jesus by using the Law and this woman was simply collateral damage. The Law was given to the people to point out sin so that they may find forgiveness in Christ. The Pharisees were trying to manipulate the Law to condemn the woman and Jesus. Jesus’ response to the less than accurate statement of the Pharisees pertaining to the Law reflected His heart and mission. Rather than discussing the misrepresentation of the Law or the fact that they were trying to trap Him, Jesus challenged the religious leaders to examine their position of authority to condemn the woman. A challenge not based on position, but based on condition. According to the Law, the witnesses who brought the claim against the woman were to be the first to cast stones at her. Jesus’ words pierced the hearts of those casting judgment. For any of them to be able to throw a stone, Jesus said that person should be without sin, even the desire to sin, or having ever sinned. This changed the attitudes of the men because there is only one man who ever fit that description and He was sent to save the world not condemn it. Man is condemned because of his sin. Jesus was sent to pay the debt of our sin as our redeemer. John 3:17-18 explains this quite clearly. The lack of faith in Jesus Christ is what brings condemnation and eternal consequences of sin. After the men went away, Jesus, the reconciling redeemer, turned His attention to the woman. He did not condone or overlook her sin. By telling her to go and sin no more He acknowledged the sin she committed and commanded her to no longer live a life of sin. Jesus, the only one able to pass judgment on her, offered her forgiveness when the self-righteous wanted her dead. I imagine this was a completely different outcome than the woman had anticipated. This story reminds me of the amazing grace I have received and should be extending to others. Let us not be too swift to pass judgment or desire to condemn those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Remember, the Gospel is to be a tool of redemption and salvation, not something to be manipulated for personal piety or agendas. Next time you get ready to throw stones at someone who has made a mistake or is caught in sin, evaluate your own heart and motivations for confronting them. Be sure what is done is done in a spirit of humility and love seeking to restore the one who has gone astray or made a mistake. Even if it is a referee.

 

Robert




November 11, 2019, 2:40 PM

Periscope Depth


I must confess that I know very little about submarines, the ocean, or anything maritime. I enjoy going to the beach, as long as I can see my feet in the water, but that is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the sea. The thought of being in a submarine on top of the water is scary to me and the notion of being in a submarine hundreds or thousands of feet underwater causes me to have a panic attack. Periscope depth is a comparatively more shallow depth and it’s the point at which the submarine is under the water but still able to raise its periscope in order to visualize anything on the surface. Obviously this depth is limited to the length of the periscope and may vary from vessel to vessel. As I understand it, a submarine, similar to an airplane requires a certain amount of air pressure inside to offset the pressure of the water on the outside. The deeper you go, the greater the external pressure thus requiring an even greater internal pressure. At periscope depth, somewhat near to the surface, the pressure is less than that in deeper depths. It is much safer at this depth also because you are able to see your surroundings. Sometimes in my faith walk, I feel like I stay closer to periscope depth because it’s easier and safer. There is less risk involved and I can see where I’m going. But God has not called me or you to live our lives as followers of Christ at periscope depth. He has called us to go deeper into the areas of the great unknown and search out the mysteries of His word and person.

He has called us to a deeper faith that requires us to trust in His guidance system. I don’t have the first clue about sonar but apparently it usually takes much longer to acquire the rate of speed and direction an object is going with sonar as compared to radar or plain sight. When we trust in God’s guidance it also means we must trust in His timing. It may take a little longer for us to get to where He is taking us but His way is always better. His thoughts are not our thoughts and even when we see things on the surface, we can easily miss what God is up to on a deeper level. We must trust and obey, living by faith and not by sight.

Also, as we follow God into a deeper faith, we can be assured that the pressure around us will increase. The Christians of the early church knew this truth quite well. The more they tried to live as followers of Christ, the more the world persecuted them. Take, for instance, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13 are doing the work of the Gospel and sharing the Good News with the Gentiles after being rejected by some of the Jews. Verse 52 tells us that after Paul and Barnabas left, the disciples who remained were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. They weren’t filled because the persecution ceased. They were filled because they now had a faith that would not disappoint them. It’s that same Spirit that fills every believer and maintains the counter-pressure of the world and the enemy. As we go deeper, the pressure from the outside increases but the pneuma pressure increases in us making us able to endure and continue to go even deeper in our faith. There are beautiful things in the depths of the ocean that can’t be seen by those desiring to stay at the surface. There are amazing things God desires for us that we won’t experience until we dive deep into our faith.

Robert


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