Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, The Bible, Time, writings

Too Busy Getting Ready

In our house, I typically do the cooking on holidays. On Thanksgiving, I’ll have multiple alarms on my phone for the turkey, the dinner rolls, when to start boiling the potatoes, and how long to chill the cranberry sauce. It’s not exactly an art yet, but I’m working on it. Christmas morning is usually the same: I’ll be working on biscuits, eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns, and getting the ham ready to put in for lunch. I’m getting a little hungry just writing about it.

The end result is usually the same: a delicious meal and a worn-out cook. There have been a couple of years that I’ve been so occupied, anxious even, over the cooking that I couldn’t enjoy the meal, let alone any festivities afterward. I’ve wanted so much to have a good meal, a proper holiday tradition, that I exhausted my nerves, and usually those of the people around me.

It’s funny how preparing for something can cause us to actually miss out on the event itself. You hustle around the house to make it look presentable to guests you’ve invited, only to find yourself relieved when they leave. You feel like you need a vacation after simply trying to get everyone ready and out the door in the morning. Or how about that Sunday morning drive to church, where you’ve threatened everyone in the vehicle with indentured servitude if they don’t behave, only to try and calm down before entering the church building.

Luke 10:38-41, only a few verses, have such a telling story for us:

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha was doing good things, things that needed to be done. And she was getting more than a little perturbed that her sister wasn’t helping. Martha was so preoccupied with preparation and activity that she missed the most important thing: Jesus.

We all have a lot going on during the Holidays. It’s the nature of the beast. But part of preparing your heart for Christmas means not letting all the other preparations get in the way of the most important thing this season, and every day: Jesus

Maybe this year you don’t need the 3-course meal. Maybe cut back on an event or two. Perhaps this is the time to just sit back, either alone or with your family, and focus on Jesus. He is more than the baby in the nativity set, He is the King of kings.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, The Bible, writings

Course Correction

An experienced pilot was flying from New York to LA. He had thousands of hours of flight time. He knew how to fly in good weather and bad. He just seemed at ease in the cockpit. On this particular flight, he decided that he wasn’t going to use autopilot, he was just going to fly the plane himself and enjoy the trip. After all, he knew where he was going. But along the way, they hit a little turbulence. Not much, just jostling the plane around a bit. But the pilot felt his way through it and kept the plane headed west.

He was so confident that he didn’t even bother to check with air traffic control. He didn’t need their help. He knew what he was doing. Or at least he thought he did. As he descended to approach for a landing, he realize that instead of the Hollywood sign of LA, he was seeing the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. Apparently, the turbulence was just enough that without checking, his course changed slightly to arrive in the wrong city. It didn’t help that he wasn’t communicating with the ground.

Turns out that you and I sometimes need some guidance. Someone to point us in the right way. Even though we’re sure we know what we’re doing, from time to time we end up on the wrong course. For God’s people of the Old Testament, this was commonly the function of prophets. We often think of prophets as some old dude with a scraggly beard telling us the future. But more often than not, prophets spoke of the present need for course correction than the future.

Around the time of the first Christmas, Israel was different than what we might imagine from reading the Old Testament. Most Bibles go from Malachi to Matthew with only a cover page between them that says “The New Testament”. And so if we turn the page like any other book, it just seems like a new chapter to the same story. But a lot is different.

Perhaps one of the greatest differences was that for nearly 400 years, Israel had no prophet. The book of 2nd Baruch (not in our Bible but rather considered a pseudepigraphical work of the 1st century) says this in chapter 85:1-3:” Know, moreover, that in former times and in the generations of old our fathers had helpers, righteous men, and holy prophets: 2 Nay more, we were in our own land and they helped us when we sinned, and they interceded for us with Him who made us, because they trusted in their works, and the Mighty One heard their prayer and forgave us.

3 But now the righteous have been gathered and the prophets have fallen asleep, and we also have gone forth from the land, and Zion has been taken from us, and we have nothing now save the Mighty One and His law.

Despite this darkness, this time of spiritual depression, they looked forward to the time when God would once again be active and fulfill his covenantal promise.

Fast forward to the days of King Herod. Herod, who was not Jewish, but of Moabite descent, became king of Judea with the help of the Romans. He was king from 40 BC until his death in 4 BC (yes, this means that Jesus was born 4 years “before Christ” but that’s another story). We have this man named Zechariah who was a priest. Luke tells us that he was righteous before God, but he and his wife Elizabeth had no children.

One day while Zechariah is in the Temple serving, an angel appears to him and tells him that they are going to have a son. Sorry to spoil the story, but he doubts and is struck mute until the child is born and named John. Our focus here is on what the angel said in Luke 1:16-17: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

For the first time in nearly 400 years, the people of God will have someone to give them needed course corrections. Now, for my fellow protestants, one of the questions that immediately comes up, or at least for me does, is “Adam, are you saying we need ‘prophets’ today? Isn’t that dangerously close to saying that I can’t understand God’s Word and will for myself?” And no, I am not saying that at all. Today we have God’s Word available to us in ways that the common person did not have access to. We also have the Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts and minds of believers, and He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

But one thing we all often need is a correction. Sometimes we think that we have this whole Jesus & God thing figured out. Like the pilot in the story, we may feel at ease at the controls. But without communication, and by just feeling our way through life, we get on the wrong flight path. John is tasked with bringing people back to the Lord. 

So, my question is two-fold today: Who has God used to bring you back? And who can God use you to bring back to Him? Many churches are having special Christmas services this year. Invite someone. Better yet, have a cup of coffee and ask someone to tell you their story and then share with them how God brought you back to Him.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, The Bible, writings

Getting Ready

When you have 4 children, it feels like you are always getting ready for something. Getting myself ready for work. Getting the kids ready for school. Making sure the youngest can find his shoes. Making sure that the kids have coats on before we go outside. Getting ready for basketball practice or cheer practice. Always getting ready. Add in some holiday preparation and it seems like life is in full-blown chaos mode. Surely I’m not the only one, right?

It really isn’t fair to place all the blame on the kiddos. I probably make 3-4 trips back between the house and the car every morning before I leave for work. I’ll start to turn around in my driveway and realize I forgot my work bag or more importantly, my coffee. What’s really bad is when I get anxious over trying to remember if I took my anxiety medication. Man, this whole getting ready thing is for the birds!

So what does it mean to get ready for Advent, for the coming of Christ? In my background, that usually meant a revival service, an evangelist preaching on the “end times” and a full altar call. While I’m not sure that’s an inherently bad thing, I’m also not sure that’s a full picture of getting prepared for Jesus. To be frank with you, this idea of preparation is one I’d rather gloss over. But I think there is some value for us to dig down into this idea of being ready for the Lord.

In Isaiah 40:3-4, the prophet writes, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.’” Just as an aside, I wonder if these are the theme verses for the state highway department.

The voice in the wilderness is describing people getting ready to meet God. Because God is holy, all who meet him need to be holy. So this person is encouraging people to make provision for the time when all people will meet the Lord. He uses the analogy of constructing a royal road. Before a King or high official would come through, an advance party would make sure the road was free of obstacles, that any low places were filled in, and that there were no uneven grades of travel. Pre-modern heavy equipment operators and civil engineers if you like.

Now we know that God cannot be hindered physically. No tree across the road is going to stop his progress, and no pot-hole is going to make him detour. So what or who is this referring to? Matthew, one of the 12 and a writer of a Gospel account tells us that it was referring to John the Baptist (Full discloser, I prefer to call him John the Baptizer because it’s a more accurate rendering of the original and we might get confused thinking he was a Baptist in the modern usage, he was not.).

John was in the wilderness, the desert, preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” See, he’s not preparing a road for the King to traverse as he is preparing the people for the arrival of the King. Now many of us know the story of John and his own miraculous birth, which we will get into later, but how is his ministry applicable to us today?

I mean, if Jesus has already come, if he has already died and risen, what, if any, need is there for John’s message of preparation? Especially if we have accepted Christ, made him our master and Savior, what need do we have of preparing? I can easily see some of my Christian friends thinking that because they are “saved”, they have no need for this preparation nonsense. And in some respect they are right. One doesn’t need to go through Advent, or any preparation, to follow Christ, as long as they have a sincere conviction and repentant heart.

At the same time, while I know that I am “born again” and that I am following Christ, I also know that sometimes I stumble and sin. No, thankfully because of Christ, I don’t need to go through a ritual of confession or start the salvation journey all over again, I am still the Father’s child. But it’s as if I have placed a stumbling block before myself. For my sin dampers the fellowship I have with God.

Now maybe you don’t have any un-repented-of sin in your life. It’s been ages since you last swore at the person who took your parking space and at least 6 months since you last contemplated smothering your spouse with a pillow as they snored. Progress is good. But maybe in your heart, you are harboring some bitterness. Some anger. Some unforgiveness towards someone who did you or a loved one wrong. John would tell us to rid ourselves of harmful emotions. I think he would warn us that bitterness is robbing us of true joy this Christmas.

So yes, Advent, waiting, and preparation can be very beneficial to us as followers of Christ. It’s like the time of reflection before taking the Lord’s Supper. It’s the daily examination of our spiritual journey. It’s the time of preparing our hearts to daily do our Master’s will. This is one “getting ready” that is worth it!

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Preparing for Christmas

Well, we’ve made it through the first week of Advent! We focused a lot on hope during the first week, and we may come back to it from time to time, but now we’re going to focus on a new word: Preparation. That word doesn’t sound so snazzy, does it? I mean, no one sends a Christmas card with the word “preparation” written in a glittery font, do they?

But preparation is part of waiting, part of Advent, and a big part of the Christmas story. Our word prepare comes to us from Latin via French and it means to procure beforehand. Today, the dictionary says that prepare means “to make ready beforehand for some purpose; to work out the details of the plan in advance; to put together”. And when you look at the first coming of Jesus, all those definitions work in some way or another.

God the Father had been preparing for the appearance of God the Son since before the beginning of time. Imagine how strange it would have been if Jesus just randomly showed up? Nobody would have believed him. There would have been nothing to confirm his identity as Messiah. He would have seemed to have been just another in a long line of deranged false messiahs.

But God is wise beyond our comprehension. Starting in Genesis 3:15, right after sin entered Eden, God began showing that He was sending a savior. Interestingly, Genesis 3:15 promises that there is coming the “seed” or “offspring” of Eve, the woman. If you didn’t do so well in biology or Jr. High health class, let me tell you that women do not possess “seed”. They are unable to fertilize on their own the egg they carry for a child. Most Bible students, yours truly included, believe this to be a prophecy of not just a coming Messiah, but a virgin-born Messiah.

But it’s not just in Genesis 3 that we find God preparing the minds of humanity that a savior is coming. The entirety of the Old Testament is pointing ahead to the person and the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is actually the preparation and fulfillment of this preparation that gives us hope in God’s many promises.

One particular prophecy helps us to be “prepared”. And that is found in Malachi 3:1- “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Isaiah 40:3-5 gives us more detail on this messenger- “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’

There is a lot to unpack there. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to do that today. Instead, I want to zoom out a little. There are several difficult things about reading prophecy in the Bible. First, it’s largely poetic in nature, using figurative language. In other words, most of the time, you cannot take prophecy to be 100% literal because it’s not meant to be taken that way. You have to consider the environment, language, and understanding of the author.

Secondly, we spend a lot of time trying to understand specifics about prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled when often it is clearly seen through hindsight. What I mean is the people of Jesus’ day may not have understood fully that he was the “Root of Jesse”. But afterward, it would become clear as day to them. In our day, so many people are looking for specific clues in the Bible and in the news to try and pinpoint how and when Jesus is coming back. That is simply foolishness. The point of Jesus telling us signs of the future isn’t so we’d be careful to not roll out the red carpet for a coming “anti-Christ”, but rather to show us the need to always be ready.

This passage in Isaiah is calling the Jewish people to be ready and to be anticipating a day when a messenger comes to prepare the way for the Messiah. So what about us today? You don’t have to search very long for people who have made false claims about the return of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses took a failed prophecy (of theirs) that Jesus was to return in 1914 and changed their minds after the fact to say that Jesus returned invisibly (and Jesus told us his return would be visible). Harold Camping promised several dates, with the last being in 2010.

No, friends, the call for us today is to be ready for Christ’s coming. That means that we should be connected to Christ, following him, and sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. We have work to do. Let’s be prepared.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, The Bible, writings

Wiping Away the Tears

If you know me well at all, you know that Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday. I mean, it’s not even close. I think that is one of the reasons I have been drawn to more liturgical and traditional celebrations of Advent and the Christmas season because they last longer and give me the excuse to keep my music and decorations going. But while I love all things Christmas, I understand that for many people Christmas, and the Holidays around it, are challenging seasons.

I currently work at a funeral home /cemetery combination and every day I work with families who are grieving a recent loss. They are facing their first Christmas without their friend or loved ones. I spoke to a lady the other day who is going through her first holiday season in over 55 years without her husband. She told me, “It just won’t be the same.” I grieved with her. I gave her the answer that “the firsts are always the hardest” and again assured her of my support. Some of you reading this are experiencing, or have experienced, similar emotions.

I am incredibly blessed to have my parents, my brother, and my wife and kids with me. I’ve not experienced that kind of loss yet. But I will admit that at Christmas, as much as I love it, I tend to get melancholy. Part of it is the low amount of sunlight. Part of it is the emotional low after such emotional highs. And part of it is the bittersweet memories of seasons gone by.

I often think of my grandmother Will, or Mamaw. The 5 Will boy cousins would spend Christmas Eve at her house with her. We’d watch a Christmas comedy before bed. We’d wake up to a nice Christmas breakfast before going to our respective homes. Mamaw always made Christmas special. I can still see her wearing a sweater with a big red cardinal emblazoned on it. I have a few Christmas ornaments that she made, and those are very treasured possessions.

Or I think of playing on Christmas morning with the toys I got as a child, listening to my dad play Manheim Steamroller on the giant stereo system. And then we would listen to Reba McEntire’s recitation of “The Christmas Guest”. I remember Christmas cards from great aunts and uncles who have passed away. I think of Emma & Adrian, who always came to every Christmas event at Church dressed in their finest, Adrian with usually a goofy Christmas tie.

I think about how my kids will never get to open up a quilt on Christmas made by my either of my grandmothers. Or smile when they opened that card from Uncle Philip. You see, Christmas makes me smile while a tear rolls down my cheek. That’s the paradox of it all. A little sorrow mixed with thanksgiving. Hope for the future mixed with nostalgia.

When I read through the Old Testament prophets, I find similar emotions. No, they aren’t longing for grandma’s molasses cookies, but they recount how God had done amazing things for His people. How the Lord made them a people, brought them out of slavery, established them as a nation, and a golden age during the reigns of David & Solomon. But now a new generation has forgotten and because of the judgments of God, they will never experience the joyful celebrations at the Temple. They’ll not know what it means to celebrate the Feast Days as they sojourn in a foreign land.

But the prophets offer hope in the midst of the sorrow, a light in the darkness. They point to the future, where, as Philip Brooks would write, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Isaiah wrote of such a day in Isaiah 25. Look at what He says in verses 8-9:

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’

You see, even as we think about those who will be physically absent from our gatherings this year, because of Jesus, we have hope. Hope because Jesus has defeated death. And while for now we still feel its pain, it is only temporary. We have hope, a promise, that because Jesus has risen from the dead, we can have eternal life with Him in paradise. I don’t know where heaven is or much about what it is like, but I know that Jesus will be there and that He will wipe away every tear.

These verses will find their fulfillment in Revelation 21:3-4 which say, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

This is our hope. This is our God that we are waiting for. Salvation is worth the wait. The making-all-things-new is worth the wait. The sorrow that we endure for now will someday give way to a glorious revealing of Christ Jesus and our dwelling with him forever. So as you reflect this season on things sorrowful and joyful may you be encouraged to hope on Jesus, the Hope of the World.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, The Bible, writings

Live Like You Hope

What does it look like to hope? Does it mean to be superstitious? We Ohioans probably all know someone who blames the loss of Ohio State to Michigan on them not wearing their buckeye necklace or favorite jersey. Is that hope, to depend on a talisman or trinket to get you your desired outcome? What about the person who recites a memorized prayer every time they drive across a bridge? Is that hope? Is hope merely some emotion that you bury inside yourself only to bring it to the forefront in times of need?

What if hope, real hope, causes us to act? One of my favorite movie lines of all time comes from the film Facing The Giants, when a Christian man is trying to encourage a down-and-out football coach. In describing faith, he said “Two farmers prayed for rain. One went out and prepared his fields to receive the rain.” And then he asks the question: who had demonstrated more faith? Whose prayer did God answer? Faith and hope, while not the same, are intricately connected. If we are truly hopeful for something, we begin to act differently.

Hope is the reason you plan an outdoor event in Ohio because you never know what the weather will do. It’s the reason a parent of a missing child leaves the porch light on each night. It’s why you don’t throw away your favorite team jersey after they blow the game. Hope is the reason you plant seeds in the garden. Hope makes a difference.

Paul, in writing to the Romans, talks about how our hope in Christ should cause us to order and live our lives differently than people who don’t trust in Christ. In Romans 13:11-14 he says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

When Paul says that our salvation is nearer to us now than previously, he’s not talking about almost being “saved” but rather the coming of the Lord. It’s a mathematical fact that we are one day closer to either our death or the return of Christ. What does that mean? It means we have things to do. We’re not called to just sit and wait the rest of our days, scrolling Facebook or watching TikTok. We have more to do than just get through the day. No, Christian, our hope awakens us to reality.

You see, the non-Christian lives as though human history was destined to continue forever or to colonize Mars. But we know that God is the unseen mover of history, causing nations to rise and fall, and bringing history to a determined end. And so we must “wake up to reality” as J.B. Philips translates this passage. The world may be asleep at the wheel, but we’ve got places to go and things to do.

The Christian hope in Jesus doesn’t mean we put our heads in the sand or keep our eyes fixed on the sky. Rather, it means that we live a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness. We love God and love others well. We engage with a world that needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It means that we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted by the glitter and glimmer of sinful pleasures that separate us from our heavenly Father and cause us to forget our hope. The fulfillment of our hope is at hand. What began way before Bethlehem is continuing today, the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, live as if we have hope.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Hope in the Darkness

Growing up in Appalachian Ohio, I was always amazed at how either people wrote off our entire region as “hillbillies” or they thought that they could fix us. For example, people in our region often felt neglected by our elected representatives until it was election time. Then they became our champions. Or, outside groups, with good intentions, thought they could fix the problems of Appalachia with more money, new roads, and new assistance programs. Don’t get me wrong, those things helped in some respects, but many of the challenges of Appalachia (addiction, unemployment, poverty, lack of educational attainment) remain.

I think that’s because what Appalachia has really needed, for generations, is not found in funding, programs, or political power. It’s simple, really. We’ve been starved of hope. Take away a person’s hope and then they have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. No reason to get a job when they are convinced, they either will fail or that it means nothing. There’s no reason to educate the mind when the soul is parched. Addiction? Well, that is easily explained by a lack of purpose and a lack of hope. Life is miserable for someone just drifting. “Ok, Adam, nice bleak picture. What on earth does this have to do with Advent and Christmas?” Thanks for asking.

In Isaiah 9:2, the prophet foretells of a time when “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Specifically, Isaiah is referring to gentiles, people who until Christ, had been explicitly separated from God’s promises unless they went through a cultural and personal conversion to become a Jewish proselyte. Even then, they would be viewed almost as second-class. Combine that with idol worship and ignorance, and you end up with the gentiles being in spiritual darkness.

Darkness isn’t fun whether you’re talking spiritual darkness or the physical kind that causes you to stub your pinky toe on the couch in the middle of the night. While we have flashlights and candles for the physical kind, spiritual darkness requires something much more illuminating. Spiritual darkness leads to darker places. A lack of hope. A lack of purpose. A lack of truth. A lack of meaning for everything. And when I think of a people in darkness, I think of folks who have no hope. Like the gentiles of old or the despondent person of today, they sit in darkness. Waiting. Not even knowing there is light.

But when Jesus came, he shined the light of God’s love and offer of forgiveness to people who didn’t look, act, or even believe, like He did. He brought meaning and purpose to His followers, something He still does today. Each of us has people in our circle who need hope today. Maybe it’s a grieving family. Perhaps it’s a person who seems completely unmotivated in life. It could even be you—just going through the motions of life and of the season… It’s our job to share the news of hope, of Jesus.

And in case you are the person who needs a hope boost today: Remember that Jesus defines you. Not your past, not your mistakes or your failures. He has a purpose for you, a divine assignment. A reason for being. And I’m praying today that you would walk in the light of Jesus, not stumbling around in the darkness anymore. Jesus is our hope!

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

A Look At Micah 7

As I’ve been preparing these Advent devotions in advance, I’ve tried to follow an outline. My original plan was to spend the first full week of my devotions on the idea of Hope. After all, hope is traditionally the theme for the first week of Advent. But as I’ve been studying and researching, it is hard to separate the Biblical concepts of hope and waiting.

In Micah Chapter 7, we see the prophet Micah lamenting the decay of society. It’s not just a decline of the nation he sees, but of the people. Ultimately, God’s judgment on the Jewish people wasn’t because of their nation-state (a relatively modern concept), but because of the moral decline of the people. Micah 7:2 says, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among mankind;” and the next 4 verses go on to describe the immorality of the people. What he paints is a sad picture: people have disregard for their God and also each other. Because of this, they will face great difficulties from God as a punishment and a means to correct their course.

Even just a surface-level look at Micah 7 would remind us of our own time. Sadly, we’ve learned little in over 2,500 years. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Paul describes our days this way: “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

But despite the lament, despite the brokenness Micah feels and sees around him, he has hope. He has hope because he isn’t trusting in society to redeem itself. He isn’t looking for a major reform or political change. He knows that the only solution is God. Listen to his declaration in 7:7- “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

Although the word “hope” is found nowhere in that verse, you can see hope there in Micah’s statement, can’t you? In Hebrew, the words for “hope” and “wait” are closely related to words for “trust”, “believe” and the idea of putting faith in something or someone. The word Micah uses here for wait can also be translated as “hope”. The New Living Translation really does a good job of communicating this because it translates this verse as “I will wait confidently”. Confidently waiting… A pretty good definition of hope, don’t you think?

Micah is saying he is resolving to wait for His God, his Savior to act. After all, God is his salvation. And what is the Hebrew word for “salvation”? It’s transliterated as Yesha. Sound familiar? To many students of the Bible, it should. It’s the root word for the names Joshua and Jesus, which mean “The Lord Saves”. This is why in Matthew 1:21, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

And today, we sit in the middle of God’s redemptive plan. While Jesus has already provided a way for us to experience the Lord’s salvation, we await the final day, when He will make all things right and all things new. So let us, like Micah, wait in confidence, with expectation. The King who would be born in Bethlehem is still redeeming and saving.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Is There Any Hope?

In December of 1927, the USS S-4, a navy submarine, was accidentally rammed by a ship and quickly sank. The entire crew was trapped in what was quickly becoming their watery grave off the coast of Massachusetts. Severe weather hampered rescue efforts for several days until a diver reached the hull and could hear a tapping noise. 6 survivors were trapped in the forward torpedo room. They tried desperately to communicate with the outside world, tapping in Morse Code: “Is… there… any… hope?

Although a valiant effort was made, resulting in one diver being awarded the Medal of Honor, none of the crew of the S-4 survived. Without hope, they wouldn’t have made it as long as they did.

In a way, many people today seem to be crying out, “Is there any hope?” Oh sure, people may not be tapping it out in morse code or even sharing it on their social media. But people are asking that. You can tell by their actions and attitudes. It’s as if we are stuck in a sinking vessel, knowing that our oxygen supply is slowly diminishing. Only a rescue operation can save us from a desperate existence, slowly being deprived of hope and breath.

I was having a conversation the other day with a co-worker, and we were discussing why some people, especially young people, given all that we know about the risk factors, begin smoking. Sure, addicts to smoking have a need to continue, but why does anyone even pick it up? When you consider how expensive of a habit it is, it seems even more of an absurd choice. But my wise co-worker said, “Yes, Adam. But consider all the ways we try to medicate or soothe our stress. Some of us eat our emotions and that’s certainly not healthy or cheap.” She is right. We try all sorts of ways to deal with our stresses, all the while wondering “Is There Any Hope?”

It may be cliché to say, but it makes it no less true: There is hope in Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says this in Romans 8:24-24: For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We don’t see Jesus. We can’t visibly see all that He is doing. If we could, we wouldn’t need faith. Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, we wait for His Advent, His showing up and working. We wait with patience, knowing that God is faithful and that He is coming to our rescue.

But before we finish for today, I want you to think about something: who in your circle, or maybe just outside your circle, needs to know that there is hope? Who, by the way, they speak and live, are tapping out in Morse Code that they are in desperate need of a rescue?

Oh, I know you and I don’t have all the answers. But we do have hope. We have Jesus. And maybe this year is a good time to invite them to wait on Jesus along with you. Perhaps now is the time to reach out to them and say, “I’m here for you. I’m listening. You’re not alone. And I can’t make this right, but I am going to wait with you until things turn around.”

Is there any hope? Yes. Hope has a name, and He is Jesus. Today, beloved friend, keep going and keep waiting. Jesus is our hope.

Uncategorized

Hope Deferred

I asked my daughter Libby what she hoped to get for Christmas this year. She’s banking on a computer, but sadly for her, mom and dad are not. So, unless Santa has a surprise up his sleeve, I’m afraid this is going to be one Christmas hopes that is dashed. Has that ever happened to you? You wanted a certain toy as a child or maybe you were hoping for a certain gift, and it didn’t happen? I’m still waiting for that remote-controlled airplane I wanted at age 10.

We hope for a lot of things, don’t we? Kids hope for a snow day. Parents hope for an easy day at work. Hunters this week in Ohio are hoping for a chance to get that massive buck deer. Others are right now hoping for more time, with a loved one, time to study, time to just slow down. I know a friend right now who is hoping for his wife’s cancer to go into remission. Another friend is hoping to stay sober.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” When something is deferred, it is withheld for a long period of time, postponed, or delayed. The word “heart” in this verse means a person’s whole being. So, we might paraphrase the verse this way: “Waiting too long on something you’ve hoped for leads to despair.”

I think sometimes non-Christians view Christ’s followers as people with their heads stuck in the clouds or the sand, and that we aren’t grounded in reality. That, and false teachers paint a false view of God and living for Him. They portray God as some divine genie, granting wishes if you just say the right words and have enough faith. But a deeply rooted walk with Christ is one where we grapple with reality and the promise of God for a universe of eternal perfection.

As we enter the first week of Advent, our overall theme is of hope. But our hope is not just rainbows and unicorns. Oh no, our hope is more than that. As we consider the story of God and His people in the Bible, we see a people who had received promises from God and trusted Him. Some of them saw God do amazing miracles, and some didn’t witness the fulfillment in their lifetime. But almost all of them had to endure waiting.

For example, God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation took not just a while. It took centuries. It took Abraham and Sarah having a child in old age. It meant Isaac being deceived by Jacob. It meant Jacob and his family dealt with near-constant conflict both from within their family and without. In fact, it took over 400 years of slavery in Egypt before God had formed a great nation, and then they still didn’t have a land to dwell in. But in Joshua 21:43, we see where they finally took possession of “all the land [God] swore to give to their fathers.”

Yet, even once God gave them the fulfillment of their hope, they were not satisfied. They were not faithful to God. Many times, they would turn their back on Him. But even then, there was still hope. In Jeremiah 14:8, the Lord is called the “Hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble”. And we see that time and time again, God would rescue His people. His faithfulness would continually give them hope. As it should us today.

Yet what about the people of God today? Even though Jesus has come, died, and risen, do we not still need hope? As we look out at this world of brokenness, we long for God to put to a final end all distress and heartache. We hope and we wait. This is the message of Advent. And we long for the day when with all the people of God throughout all time, we can recite the words of Isaiah 25:9, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Oh, come, Emmanuel, into our worlds today!

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

What Is Advent?

As we kick off sharing the next 4 weeks together, I think it’s only fitting that we start by asking and answering a simple question: What is Advent?

I grew up in a faith tradition that wasn’t particularly “liturgical”, meaning we didn’t follow a set calendar in Church for readings or ceremonies. We did Communion every 5th Sunday and, well, that was about it. I remember a few years when someone in the Church would do an advent wreath and candles, but that seemed to be the exception. I think that, without being spoken, the idea was that those sorts of traditions would be too stuffy, too formal for us.

But as I got older, and my love for Church History grew, I began to learn that Advent was more than 4 candles and a calendar that my mom would buy. It was more than counting down the shopping days left before Santa showed up.

Advent comes to us from the Latin word Adventus, and it means coming. It refers to the coming of Christ. While the word itself appears nowhere in the Bible, the theme most certainly does. Throughout the Old Testament, we have prophecies concerning a coming Messiah. We also see in the writings of the prophets, a longing for Messiah to make all things right, to restore God’s people, and to see a renewal of the covenant with God. When we look at the history of the Jewish people, especially the last part of the Old Testament period, and in the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments, we see that this waiting moves from just a desire to expectant waiting.

So why should we, who live after Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, commemorate Advent? I think there at several reasons.

First, it helps us to remember that God has a plan and a timeline that doesn’t often coincide with our own. In Galatians 4:4, Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law,” Christ came at the precise moment the Father knew to be best. God’s time and God’s plan aren’t ours. But we must learn to wait for His perfect timing.

Secondly, Advent helps us to remember the mystery, the wonder, of the Incarnation. Incarnation simply means that Jesus became a man and lived among us. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message words John 1:14—The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. I think it would behoove us to take time, more than just a few weeks each year, to meditate on the truth that God loved us so much that Jesus didn’t just show up, he came and lived among us, experiencing life with us.

Thirdly, Advent reminds us of our mission to prepare the way for the Messiah. According to Old Testament prophecies, before the Messiah would appear, there would be individuals preparing people for his coming. John the Baptist was one, the “voice crying in the wilderness”. John 1:6-8 says this about him, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light [Jesus], that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” Now, you don’t have to be Baptist to be like John. No, you see, each of us has been tasked with helping to prepare the way for others to come to Jesus. Each of us has a role to play in seeing others place their faith in Jesus. It is during Advent that we remember we have a part in the Christmas Story as well.

And finally, Fourth, during Advent, we are reminded that Jesus is coming again. We call this the Second Advent. This is where we share in the eager expectation of the Old Testament saints of God restoring, no, surpassing, Eden and that we might dwell with our Lord. Sadly, when we think about the Second Coming of Christ today, we’ve often focused on “end times” prophecies and blood moons and hogwash like that. In fact, the “last days” began over 2,000 years ago. There is nothing to prevent Jesus from coming back at any moment. Instead of fixating on days or silly conspiracy theories or secret raptures, we can rejoice that in the end, God wins, and because of Christ, we are victors over death, hell, and separation from our heavenly Father.

So maybe Advent isn’t your thing. Hey, that’s fine. I think I’ve given you four pretty good reasons to check it out. I hope you’ll consider going on this journey with us, as we go into the Christmas season and even beyond it a little bit. Together we remember that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Taking A Step Towards Jesus: Pt. 2

Part 2 of 4

Today, I’m continuing to share some truths found in Matthew 14:22-33. This is a familiar passage to folks who grew up in a church setting. Jesus comes to his disciples in the middle of a storm and walks on water. Now, I grant you, walking on water sounds silly, right? I mean, no one can do that.

So if you’re not a person of faith, let me clue you in on something. By and large, Christians don’t subscribe to silly stories. Most of us don’t believe in fairy tales. But we do believe in supernatural occurrences. All that means is that there are things that cannot be explained naturally. We believe that miracles can and do happen. No, we don’t believe in the tooth fairy, but we believe in Jesus. And as illogical as it sounds, Occam’s Razor leads us to believe that sometimes a supernatural occurrence, like Jesus walking on water, is the most logical conclusion. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about miracles today; that tidbit is free.

So where were we? Ah Yes, Jesus is walking on the water.

The disciples were scared. Honestly, I don’t know what would be scarier: being in the middle of a giant lake in a bad storm or seeing someone walking on the waves. But scared they were.

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Now, last time I shared that a nugget of truth is that God Will Allow Us to Encounter Storms. I mean, Jesus knew what was going to happen, and he allowed those disciples to sail right into what seemed like a danger zone. But as I said, many times what seems like a setup for failure is a setup for God to show up. And that’s something we need to know: Jesus Always Shows Up at the Right Time.

I know, for those of us with some miles on us, and some life experiences, we would think that might sound cute but life would have us believe something else entirely. “That’s a nice greeting card sentiment, but in real life…” Hey, I get it. Where is Jesus when the doctor gives you the diagnosis that the cancer is back? Where is Jesus when the bills come in with a FINAL NOTICE stamped on them? Where is Jesus when you feel like you’re all alone, the only one still trying?

I’ll tell you where. Right there beside you. Do we question the promise of Jesus when he said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b)? Or do we take him at his word?

There are a lot of times that I don’t feel God with me. But ours is a belief system of faith, not of emotions. When the God who set the stars in their places says that He is with me, who am I to doubt that? It is just possible that I’m not trusting him at that moment? Overcome by worry or emotion, have we allowed the situation to cloud our confidence in our Creator?

Jesus showing up doesn’t mean the storm is always over. It doesn’t mean the journey through turbulent seas is over. But it does mean that the Master of the seas is riding along with us. And we can trust his timing and his guidance to get to the other side of the storm we find ourselves in.

Jesus always shows up at the right time.

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Devotionals, Faith, Life

Taking A Step Toward Jesus: Storms

Part 1 of 4

As we head into Fall, and a new season, it’s the perfect time to evaluate our lives, habits, and goals. As I ponder what I can share to encourage and exhort others, I keep returning to a message I shared a few years ago called Taking A Step Toward Jesus. So over the next few posts, I will be going through a familiar passage to many of us, Matthew 14:22-33 ESV:

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Quick thought here: This is a little different. Seeing Jesus walking on the water is not a normal occurrence. The disciples are scared, ad frankly I would be too. Let’s pick back up in verse 28:

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I want to unpack this passage a little bit before I get to today’s application. Jesus had just done an incredible miracle. He fed 5,000 men plus women and children. He fed this huge crowd on with just 5 loaves of bread and two fish. With a family meal, Jesus fed a city.

Everyone was so excited (you and I would be too)! They wanted to make Jesus a king. But since that wasn’t his purpose, he sent the crowd away and his disciples as well. So while the disciples sail to the other side of a huge lake, Jesus goes up on a mountain for some quiet time and to pray. But the disciples were about to encounter some major issues.

And that brings me to today’s point: God Will Allow Us to Encounter Storms.

Look at verse 24: But the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. I’m not much for boating, but this doesn’t sound good. But doesn’t life just feel that way sometimes? The wind blows against you. You try to do something, even the right thing, but it seems like you meet opposition all the time.

Remember, the disciples were doing what Jesus told them to do. Even though they followed the direction of Jesus they went straight into a storm, and now they didn’t see him with them. This wasn’t the first time they experienced the storm, but the last time they were in a storm, Jesus was physically there with them. Now? They are seemingly all alone.

God Will Allow Us to Encounter Storms. That’s not a pleasant thought. But we can always count on God to be honest with us. Life brings storms. And it can be really difficult for us to understand God’s promises of peace and provision when we have this account of Jesus sending his followers into a storm without him.

But what seems like a setup for failure is oftentimes a setup for God to SHOW UP in an unexpected way. We’ll see more about that in the next post.

For now? Remember that just because you may be in a storm doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t know or care. Even his disciples encountered rough seas. And perhaps for you, life is smooth sailing right now. Don’t take the calm for granted. Sometime soon Jesus may call you to take a step towards him, a step into the storm.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com
Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

When God Remembers

Welcome to 2022! It feels so weird typing that. What happened after 2018 just seems like a blur, doesn’t it?

I’m reading through the Bible this year with The Bible Recap (more on that later), and today’s reading is Genesis Chapters 8-11. So I began this morning’s reading right in the middle of the flood narrative (somewhat fitting considering all the rain we’ve gotten here the past few days). And for the first time in my memory, the first phrase of Genesis 8:1 jumped out at me: But God remembered Noah…

This isn’t the first time that God paid attention to Noah. Yesterday, I read in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the Lord.” In the midst of all the evil and selfishness in the world, Noah found favor with God. Not because he deserved it, because grace is God’s unmerited or unearned favor. In other words, God decided to shower Noah (no pun intended) with his blessing.

So God used Noah to save humanity and the animals. No small task for Noah and his family. I’m sure those 100 years or so of building the Ark enduring the mocking of the surrounding people had to be difficult. But Noah, through that grace, endured. The last verse of Genesis 6 (22) says, “Noah did this, he did all that God commanded him.” Wow! Now that is what we rural Christians would call a testimony of faithfulness!

But then the real test came: The Flood. You see, for 100 years Noah had been preparing for this disaster. Yet, once it began, there was no longer anything he could do to get ready. God opened the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens and it rained. It rained feet of water per hour for 40 days and 40 nights. The ark would have been lifted off the ground and everything Noah had known was now under the waves. Even the tallest mountains were covered. For 150 days, the ESV says, “the waters prevailed on the earth.”

Let’s zoom out and consider our lives for a moment while Noah floats around. If we examine our lives and search the scriptures, we see that if we are in Christ, we have experienced grace from God that is indescribable. We also see that God has a work or works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10) that will accomplish God’s purposes. We also know that He has equipped us. Maybe you’ve heard this saying: “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” There sure is a lot of truth in that.

But then comes the point that our faith and our works for God are tested. The rubber meets the road, so to speak. The honeymoon is over and now the real work of marriage begins. Our health faces a difficult diagnosis. That great job is over. Your sweet child has become a teenager. 🙂

The name Noah comes from the Hebrew word meaning rest. And here, in the midst of the tempest, that is all Noah is seeking. I’ve been on a long drive with kids before. Restful isn’t exactly how I would describe it. Now imagine what it must have been like with all those animals on board, the sounds, the smells… Life gets messy and that’s putting it mildly.

In those moments, it can feel like we’re forgotten. It feels like God somehow tricked us or betrayed us. We were told that everything would be ok but here we are, like Noah, in the middle of a sea that is strong, prevailing, wondering how long until we come to rest. It feels as if God has prepped us for nothing but disappointment and disaster.

And then we come to those precious words of Genesis 8:1- “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.” Catch that? God didn’t just remember Noah, he remembered all those who were in Noah’s situation.

Okay, let’s clear something up. God didn’t forget Noah. It wasn’t as if God was wandering around Heaven one day and snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Oh yeah! Noah’s on that boat! I better deal with that!” No, the word translated as remember, zakar, when in reference to God, conveys the idea of turning one’s attention to. God’s purpose with the flood was accomplished, so now God was ready to deal with Noah and what would take place once the waters subsided. At no time was Noah far from God’s mind. Simply put, some events needed to occur before Noah would experience the fulfillment of God’s plans.

And so you and I need to realize that God hasn’t forgotten us. We are not out of sight and out of mind. God is actively working all things for good for those who love Him and are called by Him (Romans 8:28). Throughout the Bible we see people asking God to remember them. What they are really asking is that God would take action for their welfare. So God hasn’t forgotten you or me. He’s right beside us, working in ways we often can’t yet see. Ironic, isn’t it? We need to be reminded that God remembers.


P.S. At the beginning of this post, I referenced The Bible Recap. Click the link to learn more about how you can read through the Bible in a year. The Bible Recap is more than a reading plan. It also includes a daily podcast that recaps what you’ve just read, helping you to see the application of what you’ve read as well as helping you to learn more about the God of the Bible. They have loads of free resources, graphics, and support. Check it out!

Faith, Life, Ministry, Poverty, writings

Poor in Hope

“And when I thought of the poor I had met in my life, especially in recent years, it was clear that there were poor who were only poor—very sad, often angry, and certainly not blessed.

And then again, I recalled very well, there were poor people who were quite otherwise, poor people who wore their poverty beautifully.

Poor people who had the conviction that they were being guided by God, supported by his Presence.

Poor people who were able to love, in spite of their sudden vexations—poor people who were patient in trial, rich in hope, strong in adversity.

Poor people who were blessed because they could bear witness, every day, that God was present in their lives, and that he provided for them as he did for the sparrows of the ski, which possess no granaries.”

  • From I, Francis by Carlo Carretto

Having grown up middle class in a depressed part of Appalachian Ohio, I have always been around poverty. I’ve been on both sides of the poverty level, and for the last 12 years or so have floated above and beneath it. I’ve seen people with plenty live miserable lives, and I’ve seen people with little be beacons of light and hope in an otherwise dark valley.

I hold no degree in social work. I have no deep psychological training. I have only a varied and rich lived experience to base my thoughts. But what I see as poverty is not so much the amount of money you have, if any, or the condition of your home or possessions. What I see as the real poverty is a lack of hope.

I think that by and large, that is the real failure of social welfare programs from the government. The problem isn’t mass benefit fraud, though that exists. It’s not people being lazy and refusing to work, though that is certainly an issue for some. No, the failure of the War on Poverty isn’t a lack of money but a lack of hope. The government can give out money all day long. What it can’t do is offer hope and community. That can only come from other people.

In the Gospels, when Jesus called us the salt of the earth, he meant to convey a message that we are his agents in this world. We carry out his mission. And His mission is that we make disciples who love God and love others. And while I would say you can never successfully secularize, or remove the aspect of faith and conversion, from that mission, there is the universal need of hope.

From a spiritual standpoint, Jesus is the hope of the Gospel. A person who is lost in their sin, and even made aware of that by an honest inward look, has no reason to follow Jesus unless they realize that with him there is hope, indeed something far surer than hope.

As a Christ follower and one who has theology as the heart of his philosophy, I believe that it follows that the reason for many, not all, in not seeking to live their lives to the fullest, to their God-given potential, is a lack of hope. Sure, there are some that simply need to find a good job. But how many times has that job fallen through before, or discouragement or other barriers crept into their lives, and they give up? Yes, there are those who have deeper issues that need explored with a qualified professional, but I have seen time and time again where that counseling experience didn’t work because there was no hope of a change.

Jesus said that “the poor you will always have with you.” Let’s be honest. Some of us conservative Christians have used that snippet of a verse to justify inaction on behalf of the poor. Thinking to ourselves that because the Messiah said they would always be around that there is no sense in trying to solve a problem that will never stop. And contrary to what some televangelists and faith-healers would have you to believe, Jesus did not come to this world to eradicate poverty. But he did come to give hope.

And so it is with us. We will never eradicate poverty based on income levels and financial goals. But we can work to eliminate the mindset of poverty where people have simply given up. Even some of the most stubborn, some who might be called lazy, have not found a motivation, a reason for being. They need hope. Not the hope of riches or having nicer things, but of a new mindset, one that looks for the good and that sees the good. One that can live cheerfully and as Carlo Carretto said, wear “their poverty beautifully.”

So today, let’s encourage hope. Let’s seek to lift each other up. You don’t have to be financially poor to be hope poor. Be a blessing to others, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, writings

Happy Trials to You

No, I didn’t misspell trails. I promise.

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial… I do not know about you but I’d much rather this verse read: “Blessed is the man who has come out of the trial;” or “Happy is the person who has already gone through the storm” or “It’s a blessing to get on the other side of the mountain.”

The word here that James uses makarious and it means happy, blessed, fortunate. How in heaven’s name are you supposed to be happy during a trial? And what makes it more challenging: the textual structure of this phrase means it is not a wish or a description. It is not like James is saying “May you experience a blessing during this rough season of life.” Not even a “bless your little heart.” Nope. What James is saying here is a judgement, a verdict that the person who is steadfast under trial is blessed. Let’s unpack that a little bit.

This verse should not be taken to mean that everyone who is having a bad day is blessed. It does not mean that smile should cross the face of all who encounter a “Check Engine” light today. No, there are specific qualifiers as to what kind of person is blessed. Yes, they are going through a trial. All of us go through trials. Every person you see today or whose social media you see could very well be going through a horrific trial right now that you know nothing about. We hide them well.

James does not say just a person who is going through a trial. What do we know about this person? They remain steadfast. Steadfast means to remain, to reside in place, to stand one’s ground. Some images come to mind when I think of this idea of steadfastness.

I conjure up a basketball player on defense. His legs are bent, arms spread wide, the ball of his feet planted firmly on the court yet ready to pounce at any minute. He is ready to move, but he keeps his eye on the ball, ignoring what is taking place behind him. He has one goal, to stop that ball from making it into the basket. He is steady, he is alert, and ready to plant his whole foot down to draw a charge at any moment.

Or maybe it is the teenage boy at the beach in the surf. It is amazing how even small waves can shift the sand under you just enough to make you collapse in a heap. That is what happens to a lot of us in life. Seemingly insignificant waves of difficulty come and because our footing is not secure our life seems to crumble all around us. But this boy, he is learning. He knows that the top layers of sand move with each passing wave. So, he pushes his feet under the sand. Pushing his feet down several inches under the sand, he finds security. He knows now that he can stand up to the surf and dare the waves to give him their best shot.

You and I face trials often, most days if not all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes we try to stand and endure by our own strength. Sheer determination and stubbornness are not what God rewards but often it is what we try. Our marriage has hit a rough patch and we know that we are the ones in the right, so even though we extend grace to our spouse, we hold on to the ground we think we have won. We cling to the importance of being right, in our own mind at least, and refuse to give an inch. After all, doesn’t steadfast mean to stand your ground?

I have seen many people encounter a storm of their own making. They thought they knew what they were doing or allowed pride to prevent them from asking from help. Instead of steering clear of the storms, they piloted their lives straight into the rocks. To make matters worse, they identify themselves as the victims of others and remain committed to their task, convinced of our Lord’s impending rescue. The only rescue that can occur, however, is for them to surrender control of their lives to Jesus and stop trying to captain their own ship.

No, the strength required to endure does not come from within. It can only come from the LORD. You see God does not choose the “right people” to show his power through. He uses broken clay pots to display his glory and his power. He has chosen the foolish and the weak things so that He might be reflected in our lives. For what glory is it to God for us to endure a trial on our own? For even He could be glorified in that way, we could not endure a trial on our own.

We are blessed when we endure when we remain steadfast under trial. If you recall from earlier, one of the meanings of steadfast is to remain, to dwell or abide. Listen to the Words of Jesus in John 15:9-10

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

How do we remain steadfast? We abide. We abide not in the storm, not in the tumult of our lives, but in the love of Christ Jesus. We cling to the truth that He loves us, that His love endures, and that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from His love. We confess that He is good in a world full of brokenness. We proclaim that He is faithful when all of life lets us down, and especially when we ourselves have not been faithful. He does not and cannot change. His grace is sufficient and His strength is shown to be more than enough in our weaknesses.

And so, friend, as the trials of life wear you down, remember that you are now blessed. Jesus is working in and through you to the glory of God and your ultimate good.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 ESV)

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Time

Don’t Put Your Pen Away Just Yet

One of the best habits I’ve developed in the last few years is that of journaling. I still struggle to keep track of to-do lists and reminders, but I’ve gotten good at journaling my devotions or quiet time with God. It usually goes like this: I get a fresh cup of coffee, my journal, Bible, colored pencils for marking passages, and my ink pen. If a verse sticks out to me, or a prayer forms in my mind, I try to make note of it. Each day, I fill 3/4 to a page of notes from my devotions.

But this morning, as I was finishing filling up the page (lots of good stuff this morning!), something clicked in my brain. You see, as I was finishing, I closed my eyes for a time of reflective prayer and I instinctively clicked my ink pen. After all, I was finished, I was done. I had written a whole page! I said all that I needed to say.

But what about what God wanted to say? No, I don’t hear voices and I don’t think I’ve ever heard an audible voice from God. Yet here I was, closing out the time of communication with my creator, having read his words back to him, adding my own petitions along the way, without bothering to ask if he had anything more to add.

Lest some of you more seasoned theologians worry about my beliefs concerning continuing special revelation, rest assured I don’t mean God has some massive revelation for me that I must tell the world. No book deal, no prophecy conference… But what if the Lord has something to remind me of? Have I “been still and [known] that [he] is God”? Or have I finished my prayer time, checking one more thing off the list that I have to do today? God help us when we come to the point that he is just one more item on the list.

Henri Nouwen said about time with God, “Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.” How true! Simply calling my morning routine “devotions” does not make my morning devoted to Christ. It doesn’t mean that I have listened for the leading of the Holy Spirit. In fact, if I put away my ink pen and journal, I might just be closing the door on a great blessing of the Lord showing me some grace or giving me needed assurance. It is one thing for me to tell myself that I am a child of God. It is another thing altogether to hear it from him.

So today, Christian, spend some time in God’s Word. Underline it. Mark it up. Journal. But don’t put your pen away until you’ve listened for the Master’s voice.

Henri Nouwen said about time with God, “Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it.”

Faith, Life, Ministry, Uncategorized, writings

Manure and Church Bells

The US is not the only country with a “cultural Christianity” problem…

From Christianity Today news article:

The French government has passed a law protecting the “sensory heritage” of the nation’s countryside. Vacationers and tourists will no longer be allowed to file official complaints or sue over crowing roosters, manure smells, or early-morning church bells. In 2018 a visitor to the village of Jettingen complained about a 5:40 a.m. bell. The villagers voted 427-73 to continue ringing it, though mass no longer takes place at that time. In 2019, someone sued Saint-Chartres in Vienne over the volume of the 7 a.m. bell. An estimated 5 percent of French people attend church regularly.”

Christianity Today, April 2021 Issue

Okay, so several things are going through my mind as I read this gleaning of worldwide religious news. First off, who goes on vacation to the French countryside and does not want to smell manure, hear the roosters, and wake up to church bells. That is the whole point of escaping there in the first place, n’est pas?

Who goes on vacation to the French countryside and does not want to smell manure, hear the roosters, and wake up to church bells. That is the whole point of escaping there in the first place n’est pas?

But the main thing that gets me is the last sentence. “An estimated 5 percent of French people attend church regularly.” Now, taken by itself, that is not such a surprising statistic if you know much about the religious habits of Western Europe. It is increasingly secular in most aspects, though it retains a good deal of religious customs and traditions. Western Europe in many ways has what I would call a “secular Christian” culture, but little “Christian” practice. What’s amazing to me is that the government, from the national level all the way down to the ity-bity villages, would pass laws to protect this religious heritage when many fail to practice that religion.

In the US, we have some similar trends. The percentage of those who observance of religious traditions, particularly Christian ones, has been declining gradually for the last several decades. It began accelerating before COVID and early indications are that church attendance will decline by around 15% nationwide as we (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic.

But there remains a cultural tug, especially for those of us of white European ancestry to keep certain cultural aspects in place. Especially in rural, white America, there is a religious element to much of what we do, even on a secular level. Folks who have never darkened the door of a local church building complain about sporting events on Sunday, even as those events are often led by otherwise church-attending people. There is the drumming up of support for the “culture wars” every major holiday season over whether the local municipality should be allowed to have a manger scene or not.

And my question, as a Christian Minister, is, “Why?”

I think there are several reasons, and to each their own, but what I have noticed over the years is how people are satisfied with a Christian veneer to culture if it makes no significant demands on their lives or challenges their choices. We will endure, even cherish, the 5:40 a.m. church bells if it means we are not actually expected to attend an early morning church service.

It reminds me of the religious Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Now while these Pharisees would be the ones who got up for the early service, they would also neglect matters of the heart. Jesus compared them to beautiful tombs; they seem great, but inside there is spiritual death. That is what happens when we settle for a veneer, an outer appearance, rather than the real deal.

So as a history buff I say, “Good for France!” But as a follower of Jesus, I say “Get your butt to Church!”

Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

How Thirsty Are You?

How much water do you drink everyday? Probably not enough, right?

For years, I’ve struggled with dizzy spells off and on with no known cause. I’ve been through a battery tests, from thyroid to cardiac and everything in between. Some days, after breakfast I will feel so icky, so dizzy, that I have to lay down. Maybe a nap would help, maybe it wouldn’t. Because of being overweight I was afraid I was developing type 2 diabetes and maybe it was my blood sugar. But nothing seemed to help.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I tried an experiment. I would drink large amounts of water, interspaced with a coffee or two, within the first hour of waking. I wasn’t thirsty. My mouth wasn’t dry. But I made myself drink. Guess what? It’s lessened the amount of dizzy spells I have dramatically. Yep, good ol’ H2O.

Sometimes in life we get confused, dizzy if you will. With no known cause, we feel out of it. Life seems topsy-turvy and to be spinning out of control. And I wonder… I wonder if it’s because deep down we’re dehydrated and don’t even realize it. Our souls are parched and yet, we think there is some other cause. Maybe we convince ourselves it’s because we aren’t happy or need a new car, spouse, or career. Or we tell ourselves that what we really need is to just do what makes us happy, all the while the world seems to keep spinning out of control.

God, the creator of our very personhood, knows the problem, and it’s remedy. He calls us to come to him and find rest and satisfaction. He says this in Isaiah 55:1-2:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Today, you might not even feel that thirsty, but take some time to drink from the fountain of God’s presence and His word. Filling up will make all the difference in the world.

Devotionals, Faith, Family, Life, Ministry, writings

Secret Pain

One of the themes that I’ve often connected to in God’s Word is the idea that eventually secrets will be made know. It’s something we often relish when we’ve been wounded by others: the idea that the truth will eventually come to light, either in this life or the next.

As a pastor, I’ve used the verses that back this idea. Numbers 32:23 says “be sure your sin will find you out.” Luke 8:17 says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 12:2 says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Never mind the context for most of these verses refer to the judgement at the end of time or the mysteries of the Gospel (that God would use those considered foolish by the world and accept those deemed “unacceptable”), part of us relishes the idea that right will prevail and what is wicked will come to light and be punished.

And while I at times find that comforting, I also find it incredibly disconcerting. You see, just as others have done things in secret, so have I. God is causing me to relish the thought less and less. God has been dealing with my heart that my desire for the “truth” to come to light is dangerously close to seeking revenge or a misguided belief in “karma” which is a totally wicked concept fully foreign to the Christian life.

The truth is, we all do or have struggled with secret sins. Sometimes when we hear that phrase, “secret sins”, we easily think of some salacious sin or social taboo. But in reality, any sin or temptation we don’t share with others is by definition a secret. That temptation to tell your boss what you really think… The second look you take at someone who’s not your spouse… Hating your neighbor… All of those can be secret sins. So the next time you wish for someone to get their just desserts, remember how that can cut both ways.

But there is another kind of secret that God knows about… Pain. And that’s what I really want to focus on.

God sees your secret hurts as well. David says this in Psalm 56:8, “You have kept count of my tossings (or wanderings); put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David recognizes that God is keeping track of David’s sufferings and sorrows. He knows the pain that David experiences.

God knows the pain you carry as well. The shame you struggle with from enduring abuse. The miscarriage that no one knows about. The struggle of same-sex attraction that you felt you could never open up about with your Christian brothers and sisters. The pain you carry from hearing what people “really thought” of you. The accusations that were false. The broken heart that you never even journaled about. The pain of unfulfilled dreams. The sorrow over a wayward friend or loved one. God sees this. He knows. He cares.

And someday, he will deal with not only secret sins, but he will deal with secret pains. Those apart from Christ will have their secrets made known at the judgement. But those who are in Christ have the promise that is found in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, not pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

So, friends, let’s take comfort in that God sees our pain, he knows our hurts. Jesus, who lived among us, sympathizes with us and has experienced much of the same pain we have. And someday, he will make all things new and there will be no more pain.

Devotionals, Faith, writings

Saint Patrick’s Day

I love Saint Patrick’s Day. Not because its an excuse to pinch people I don’t like (oops, I forgot, you were wearing green…).

But it’s the celebration of a culture. No, not a culture of drinking green stout. But the culture of an island people who’s story is largely unknown to most Americans. I’m proud to be of Irish descent, mostly on my mother’s side.

But St. Patrick’s Day is more than that to me. It’s the celebration of a man who as a boy was enslaved and taken from his native Wales and forced to serve pagan Irish chieftains. After escaping, and coming to faith in Christ, he felt compelled to return to the people who had treated him terribly. No, he didn’t go back to chastise them or seek revenge. Patrick went back to share the life changing message of Jesus Christ.

He famously used the shamrock as a teaching tool to teach the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagan Irish. Whether he really drove the snakes from Eire is doubtful, but he did dispel the darkness with the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That is an example to every Christ follower, Irish or not. We live in a world of darkness, but inside of ever Christ follower is a flicker of light. Let’s take that light and bring hope and freedom to others. Let’s be like Patrick, and have the desire to serve Christ and His Kingdom in any way we can, even by grace to those who have hurt or wronged us.

Faith, Life, Uncategorized, writings

Surviving

Note: This is a bit darker than some of the things I normally write or share. It’s not a happy piece. But it’s not supposed to be.

This past week I had to submit some annual reports for my church. Yes, I know, it’s late.

Anyways, one of the questions for me personally was along the lines of “What is something that you are celebrating from 2020. My answer? We survived.

I mean, think about it: Since the COVID Pandemic began more than 500,000 people in the USA have died from the virus. And yes, many may have been older or have had underlying health conditions, the fact is that some of those people would surely not have died if they didn’t contract the virus. I think of the people that I know who have passed away from either COVID or COVID complications. Some of them were older, several were residents of long-term care facilities where others passed away. Some, however, were relatively young and would have otherwise been considered healthy people.

In what was considered a few weeks ago, a study came out that showed the average life expectancy in the US declined by a full year. A full year! And it is three times that bad for people of color. It’s not just the novel coronavirus that has been killing us though.

In the middle of the COVID outbreak, the US had experienced the highest number of drug overdose deaths in a 12 month period, with some jurisdictions seeing a 98% increase in synthetic drug overdoses. Suicide statistics normally lag by 2-3 years, but modeling has suggested the suicide rate in Western European and North American countries could rise as much as 14% or more because of the effects of the pandemic. And on top of this is the valid concern of many that some mitigation efforts and lockdowns may have done more harm to emotional, developmental, and economic health than we can track.

I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture. The picture is bleak enough, it doesn’t need any embellishments or exaggerations. 2020 and 2021 have brought a season of life that 95% of us have never experienced. We weren’t prepared for it and everyone has made mistakes in responding to the multifaceted crises we’ve faced.

That’s why I am serious when I say that something to celebrate is survival. We’ve been spoiled in the United States in that for a long time we haven’t had to face a deadly pandemic. We’ve taken for granted that if we die before normal life expectancy it’s due to diet, cancer, or accidents. But this? This has threatened our sense of invincibility. It has forced us, quite violently, to realize that we’re not in control as much as we think we are. I think that is why some reacted so negatively to mask mandates because it was at least some measure of control they could maintain in a world that was looking very quickly different than the world we thought we had understood or even conquered.

Education has been a challenge for EVERYONE. Work looks different for many people. Nothing is the same right now. I’ll leave it for the clairvoyants to predict how much of it will ever go back to the same. But all of the mental health professionals I’ve talked to and those who work in social work and related professions are identifying 2020-2021 as a traumatic event. I don’t think we have come to grasp with that yet. A good deal of the people I interact with are like a person still in shock at the scene of an accident. They almost seem in denial of the pain they have experienced or are still experiencing.

We are hurting. We are traumatized. Jobs lost. Friends dead. Loved ones separated. Marriages broken up. Addictions on the rise. The sooner we come to grips with the pain, the better. And part of that is realizing all the difficulties we’ve been through. And then remembering, we’re getting through them. You may have heard this quote by Winston Churchill or maybe not, but it’s a great reminder for where we find ourselves—

“If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Obviously, the point is here, we keep going until we get through it. So let’s keep going.

Acknowledge the pain. It may mean crying. It might mean a long drive on back-country roads with the radio on blast, or it might just mean looking into a flickering candle, remembering what we’ve lost and yet observing that we’ve survived.

And that is worth celebrating.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

Thirsty For God

Thirsty:
noun; feeling or having thirst; craving liquid.

In today’s common vernacular, thirsty is used by the cool kids to usually mean someone’s desire for attention or sexual satisfaction. Yeah, I had to get that out of the way, because when I speak to young people about having a thirst for God, they give me really weird looks. But it makes sense why that has become the connotation, right? To thirst means to long for something, be it water, attention, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.

In Psalm 63:1, David writes:

"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, 
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (ESV)

This isn’t the first time David uses the idea of being thirsty as longing for God. David spent a great deal of time in the Judean wilderness (think of a rocky desert) where water was scarce and worth fighting for. He realized that just as the human body has a biological need and a drive to find liquid sustenance, so the soul longs for God. In Psalm 42:2, David writes:

"My soul thirst for God, 
the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?" (ESV)

David is longing not just for some belief or set of traditions to fill the void left in his life. He’s not looking around at the spiritual options for something to give his life meaning. No, he is looking for the truth God, the Living God, not some wish-upon-a-star superstition, but for a real relationship with the Living God. He asks “when shall I come and appear before God?” When you study the original Hebrew, you’ll find that David isn’t just longing for a worship service or to appear before God, but he is longing for God’s face. In other words, he is seeking intimacy with his Creator.

There are so many things we thirst for, but they ultimately leave us longing for more. One cup of coffee is never enough. A cost of living raise at work is nice, but oh what you could do with more! Addictions always over promise and under deliver. But God? He satisfies. He quenches the thirst.

Jesus said in John 7 that “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” In Revelation 7:16, we see this description of those who follow Jesus: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water…”

Today, don’t try to fill up on the empty promises of attention or things this life has to offer. Quench your thirst by seeking after God with your whole heart.

Life, Uncategorized, writings

What’s Best?

Perhaps one of the most important questions we can ask in our life consists of two simple words: What’s Best?

Every day through our 5 senses we receive thousands of stimuli, each ding of our cell phone or flashing light or sensation competing for our attention. But what if in amongst all those competitors for our focus we lose sight of what’s most important?

Here’s a pill that’s difficult for most of us to swallow: Everything is not equally important.

Now, that’s a statement that seems on its face to be obvious. Most people would agree with it, in theory at least. Surely breathing is more important than locating that missing sock. Eating a balanced diet is more important that what time of the day you check your email. Reading the Bible must be of greater need than scrolling social media for the 4th time today.

But even though we would nod our heads that there are things that are more important than others, many people struggle to move from agreement to alignment. In other words, we’re nodding out heads but we’re not adjusting our schedules or routines. It’s a lot simpler to agree that I need to spend more time in prayer than it is to buckle down and work on a discipline that I’ve neglected.

If we’re going to do what God has called us to do, we must recognize that we can’t do everything and we can’t possibly give everything equal attention or equal importance. To do so would make everything of equal value, regardless of what we may say otherwise. Dr. David Jeremiah, in his new book Forward says, “We become so distracted by molehills that we can’t charge up the mountain.” That sentence stuck out to me and has kept churning through my mind.

In the classic Spanish novel Don Quixote, the aged hero has imagined every windmill to be a giant, and so he mounts his stead and charges the windmill, in a vain attempt to rid the world of these would-be giants. His squire tried to help him realize that he was imagining a battle when it was just a windmill. I wonder if too often we aren’t preoccupied with the windmills, the molehills, if you will, that we miss the real battle, that we miss our dream, our calling.

So when we come to something, we need to ask, is this best? Is this what I need to give my time and attention to? Do I need to see the photo’s of Brenda’s quarantine vacation or should I spend time with my kids? What is best? What has God called me to do? Has God called me to catch the game on TV or to play with my grandkids? Do I need to finish binge watching the latest season of my favorite show or should I spend some time getting to know God better through His Word and prayer? What is best?

So for the next few days, let’s try an experiment. Let’s ask ourselves when evaluating our day, “What’s best?”

Before I let you go, I need to warn you. Asking this question will cause you to question things, and that’ a good thing. But it may also lead others to question to. Thinking like this isn’t normal. But I don’t know abut you but I don’t want normal. Normal isn’t what God has called us to. He’s called us to the best. After all, He is the best.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Critics, Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, writings

An Imperfect Bride

I am a pastor. I realize that’s a major newsflash to many of you. Many of us think of a pastor as the guy or gal who teaches or talks on Sundays at a church building and does funerals. But as a pastor, my calling isn’t just to a particular congregation or local church, but to The Church, the collective of Christ’s followers, world over.

Can I tell you a secret? Promise you won’t tell: “Church People” aren’t perfect. In fact, they are incredibly flawed. No, I’m not revealing something private, no breaking of confidentiality here. It’s an open secret. No local church is perfect. The capital C Church isn’t perfect. Here’s why: The Church isn’t made up of buildings or pews or fancy windows or steeples. The Church is made up of people. People are broken and people are messy.

And because we’re imperfect, we hurt people. We hurt each other. There are countless stories that I’ve heard– and likely you have too– about “church people” saying or doing horrible things. Ranging from all kinds of abuse to simply being rude, the spectrum of pain inflicted by “church people” is broad and can be very deep.

I’ve been hurt by the church and I know that I have also hurt the church. Folks, well intentioned I’m sure, have hurt me and I have, I am certain, hurt people. Oh it’s rarely intentional: a careless remark here, a grumpy face there, a missed call that was forgotten, a special occasion missed. It happens. It’s not right or good, but the Church is an imperfect bride.

Bride, you say. Did I miss the invite to the nuptials? (And Yes, I’ve also caused pain by failing to RSVP.)

In Scripture, the Church is called to Bride of Christ. Jesus death on the cross was, in effect, paying the bridal price or dowry common at the time. And the price was high because Jesus purchased with his blood all who would someday call on his name and follow him. And like most spouses, he ended up with an imperfect bride.

I don’t endorse all Carlo Carretto said or wrote, but man, he hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following describing the imperfections of the Church:

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you!

I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity.

I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.

And where should I go?

The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

But, Jesus isn’t content to leave us imperfect. Writing to husbands, the Apostle Paul says this in Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Friends, we’re not that Church just yet. Someday we will be. But until then, we’re broken people who tend to hurt others if we’re not careful.

And to my friends who have given up on Church but still believe in Jesus… Don’t allow the pain caused by broken people to prevent you from seeing God do something beautiful. Let me put it this way: you may love me, but if you despise my bride, we’re probably not going to be all that close, no matter how much you proclaim your devotion to me.

Yes, the Church, both local and universal is most definitely an imperfect bride. I am an imperfect pastor. And you, yes you reading, are also imperfect. Let us not excuse our imperfections, but may we ask the Lord to give us a greater love for imperfect people and healing for pain caused by them.

Just maybe, that’s the way He will remove the blemishes.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, writings

Do We Love Jesus?

“Before Jesus commissioned Peter to be a shepherd, he asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” He asked him again, “Do you love me?” And a third time he asked: “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). He have to hear that question as being central to all of our Christian ministry because it is the question that can allow us to be, at the same time, irrelevant and truly self-confident.”

“Look at Jesus. The world did not pay any attention to him. He was crucified and put away. His message of love was rejected by a world in search of power, efficiency, and control. But there he was, appearing with wounds in his glorified body to a few friends who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. This rejected, unknown, wounded Jesus simply asked, “Do you love me, do you really love me?” He whose only concern had been to announce the unconditional love of God has only one question to ask, “Do you love me?

— Henri J. M. Nouwen In The Name of Jesus

How often we seem to be intoxicated with leadership, with control, with influence. But Jesus isn’t asking us to show our results. He’s asking us to show him love. We can work hard and get people to church. We get people to sign a petition. We can even get people to share nice scripture verses on Instagram. But do we love Jesus? Not the idea of Jesus, not the American Jesus, not the Republican or Democratic Jesus… But Jesus. Do we love Him?

Don’t be so quick to answer. Reflect. Do we love Him? Are we truly devoted to Christ Jesus above all else? Or is He just a side dish on the buffet line of life?

Faith, Life, writings

A Response To My Posts This Week

i folks, Adam here. As I’m sure you’ve seen or read, I put some posts up this week, two in particular that raised quite a stir, which in total transparency was part of the intent. As a result, I feel the need to respond to those posts and the many comments, as well as the texts and private messages I have received from a lot of you.

This comes after much prayer, reading, and soul searching, as well as numerous drafts in my head. I am not here seeking to defend myself or be defensive. I’m also not here to take back my comments. I don’t wish to apologize for them, but I want to share WHY and perhaps give some clarification or better illumination as to the spirit behind those comments. This is long. And I ask that if you took to time to read my posts, creep my comments, or respond, that you take the time and read or listen to this.

First, I’d like to address a concern that several folks expressed publicly or in private text, call, or message to me. That is the issue of causing division. Yes, what I said could be divisive. How could a minister, one who is supposed to bring God’s Word to God’s People and also lead others into a relationship with Christ cause division? After all, Jesus prayed for unity. In John 17:21, Jesus asked, “that they may be one, just as you, Father are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Jesus equates unity here with the proof that Jesus has come. We must be unified. But what does unity mean? Does it mean complete agreement in all doctrines, even minor ones such as foot washing or head coverings? Or rather, does it mean, as most evangelical protestants believe, unity around a core set of beliefs: Who Jesus is, What it means to follow Him, How he transforms our lives, and the Inspiration of God’s Word? It means to be united around what the Gospel, the message of Jesus, is.

About this, we must have unity. And we must have division. “Wait… say what? You had me there for a minute.”

The same Jesus who prays for unity also brings division. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus goes on to say that he has come to bring division even among families. This does not mean Jesus came to instigate a civil war. It does mean that the message of Jesus, the commitment of life to Him and Him alone will alienate those whom we love and care about. It means that we are to be willing to die to relationships with anyone for the cause of finding truth in Christ.

I have shared what I believe are Gospel truths, Gospel inspired warnings, Gospel-driven division. I am NOT saying that people who disagree with me are automatically wrong, non-Christian, or bad people. As I work out my theology from the Word and into the world, I see fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in spiritual peril and I know in my heart of hearts that as a shepherd of the flock (1 Peter 5), I MUST speak up.

Secondly, I’d like to address the concern over hypocrisy. I will be the first to say that Adam Will is a fallen, sinful person. That I am not perfect, and even when I have good intentions, I mess up. I’m pretty open about that fact. If you know me or have ever sat under my teaching, you know that. And I strive to be humble, open, and teachable.

That being said, I have been consistent with my comments on social media for several years about the concerns I have had that were partially reflected in my recent postings. I’ve also been consistent with my messages I preach, blogs I write, and in private conversations. Numerous people can attest to that. Call me a keyboard warrior if you’d like, but that wouldn’t be a fair characterization.

Now, I said this wasn’t supposed to be about me, and I’m trying not to make it so. I just think I needed to lay a little foundation work before I get into the nitty-gritty.

I have many loves but besides my Savior, and my family, my two great loves are History and Theology. Especially Church history. As I have learned more, read more, watched more, I have seen a disturbing trend for the last 10-15 years. Those older than me have seen it much longer but I didn’t. This problem goes by many different names, and all those names describe a part of the problem but not the entirety.

I’ll do my best to describe it without a multipage volume here. But the term I’ll use is one that is currently in fashion and so I’ll use it: CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM. What is Christian nationalism? On the outset, to someone from my background, it sounds somewhat noble, maybe even good. It’s Christian, and it’s caring about our country, right?

No.

Christian Nationalism is a hybridization of political ideology, often ultra-conservative, with a patriotic flair. It is neither fully Christian, nor fully patriotic, but a bastardization of belief, whereby the mission of the Church becomes to preserve a certain culture or set of beliefs, primarily through political means. It is the equation of certain freedoms with the Gospel. It is the transformation of Jesus into a flag-waving Anglo-Saxon who embraces political power. And for decades, it is how many of us in the conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist world have gone about accomplishing the work of a non-political kingdom.

It is wrong. It is a Heresy. It is Evil. And for many, it is becoming a cult.

Jesus says in John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the [religious leaders]. But my kingdom is not from this world.”

Did you catch that? Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Now Jesus is King, but his throne is not on Earth. His kingdom has no flag, no boundaries, no international HQ. His kingdom is within his followers. And we look forward to the day that his rule and reign is recognized all over the world.

But many of us have lost confidence in Christ and have turned to political power instead. It started long before Donald Trump. It began in the 1970s with the re-election of Richard Nixon, a lapsed Quaker who longed to get the support of conservative and fundamentalist Christians. He campaigned in 1968 for law and order and in 1972 decided to up the ante.

In 1976, Gerald Ford largely ignored evangelicals who voted in large numbers for one of their own, Jimmy Carter. By many accounts, Carter was a failed or at best disappointing president. But he has done more in many years since leaving the office for poor and even Christian causes than he ever did in office. In 1980, my political hero, Ronald Regan won in a landside by convincing people that He could make America that bright city, “shining on a hill”, taken from the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus (Matthew 5-7).

Regan pushed back against the liberalism pervasive of the day. He supported pro-life measures. He was vocal about personal freedoms. He made us proud to be Americans. Maybe we might correct the rebelliousness of the ’60s and ’70s! Maybe, just maybe, with Christian leaders such as Dr. James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell Sr, and others getting a seat at the table, just maybe we were going to have enough influence to fix America!

Then came the disappointment evangelicals had in George H. W. Bush. As a good Episcopalian, Bush Sr had no idea how committed these evangelical leaders were to have their say in his agenda. In the fall of 92, they splintered, many supporting Perot, most sticking with Bush, and a few “liberals” a charismatic Southern Baptist named Bill Clinton. But in the mid-’90s, Bill Clinton was the subject of sermons and a lightning rod of controversy. Not only was he committed to allowing abortion, but he was also a man who had been credibly accused by numerous women of affairs and even rape and sexual assault.

Many of our Christian heroes rallied the faithful. No matter how great the economy was in the 90’s we said that character mattered. That we couldn’t put our benefit over what is right. And it was in this environment, in the late ’90s that I became politically active.

George W. Bush, because of both his own conversion experience and the lesson he learned by his father scorning evangelical influencers, embraced his evangelical faith in Jesus. And except for foreign policy, the early ’00s were a boom for Christian influence in this country. Churches weren’t growing but we were on TV! Our president was a man of faith and we were so excited. New public partnerships with churches were announced, which I still believe in.

We said, we’re not going to keep people on government assistance, but we’re going to help them be self-sufficient! Wow! This was great! And I sang God Bless America with pride at every event I went to.

But then something happened. In 2006, the “godless” Democrats took control of the House and Senate. Christians were devastated. And mind you, when I say Christians, I mean people who looked like and thought like I did.

I remember preaching a sermon against Ohio Governor Ted Strickland that focused on how he turned his back on his Methodist upbringing to support abortion on demand, careful not to mention his name, because, you know, that wouldn’t be proper.

And when Barack Obama was elected, I started to see the problem. I was excited for our country on a purely historical level—the first black president, though I worked hard to secure his defeat. He pushed through a radical healthcare agenda that would have forced faith-based hospitals to perform abortions. Christians had lost the war. But more than that, I saw a few (very few) Christians make fun of Obama because he was different. And I saw other Christians not speak up about this, or not say “stop it” and it bothered me. I was one of those Christians who failed to say “that’s wrong”.

In the meantime, many rural and white voters felt marginalized. There were outreaches to minorities by every political party. There were gay republican groups. Gay democrat groups. Hispanics for Romney and Republicans for Obama groups. Everybody had a group but the rural white voter. Even rural democrats were fed up. And while being white and rural doesn’t equate to being a follower of Jesus, many people would consider themselves cultural Christians (which isn’t being Christian, but the assumption that because you are somewhat traditional, you’re fine with Jesus).

In 2015 I had such hopes. 17 presidential candidates announced for the Republican nomination for president. 16 people from a traditional republican background. Any one of these 16 would have made phenomenal presidents (I mean, I would have loved President Carly Fiorina, but I digress). They represented mainstream conservativism and its different flavors. But one man had something different: Donald Trump.

Trump was known as a successful billionaire who was a reality TV star and an obsession with Twitter and ratings. He told it like it was, and people, especially people like me who had felt forgotten, lapped it up. Finally, someone was saying what we had been feeling. Trump tapped into that. Say what you will about Trump, but he knows how to market. Somehow this man from Queens became the closest thing the rural white voter could identify with. Oh yeah, we didn’t think he’d win the primary, but wasn’t it fun to watch?!

And here we sit, 5 years after he won the first contest in Iowa, 4 years into his first term in office. And Adam Will dares to call out people just like him.

Yep. And here’s why: It’s a Gospel Issue. I’ve seen for 4 years the same people who called out Bill Clinton for sexual immorality make excuses for President Trump. Those leaders got a taste of influence and power and they liked it. They liked it so much it caused them to compromise their integrity and their witness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Franklin Graham, Dr. Dobson, and Robert Jeffress are bad people. I don’t believe that they are power-hungry. I believe that they want to make a difference for Jesus, but instead of the Jesus way, they thought they could Make America Christian Again (copyright pending) by getting good judges and a conservative agenda.

But there is a problem. Jesus didn’t say “Go ye into all the world and take power and use it to make disciples. And lo, I am with thee, as long as the election is won.”

No. Jesus said we were to make disciples. Not obsess over who rules, because ultimately, no matter who is president, Jesus rules.

Here are just some of the things that have happened to Conservative Christians:

1. A Bastardization of Theology

We’ve stopped caring about what the totality of Scripture says and justify our beliefs and behavior by a few verses and here and there and no consistent, systematic approach to God’s Word. If God is against abortion, and He is, then we must do whatever we can to eliminate this horrific holocaust. Even if it means compromising other areas of doctrine. We’ve neglected the 22 verses about caring for immigrants and refugees, legal or illegal, because, well, that’s not important.

In the early 1900s, there were two major competing views on eschatology or the study of end times. Many liberal (today we’d call them mainline) churches believed in Postmillennialism, the belief that through the spread of the Gospel and Christian influence, the world would gradually become a better and better place, and then Christ would come back. Two world wars pretty much put the brakes on this once popular belief.

Fundamentalists and conservatives (evangelicals were a split-off those groups later)leaned toward Premillennialism, which had as a chief tenant that the world would continue to grow in wickedness until Jesus would rapture his church away (disappear in the sky) before he came back to deal with the sin on earth. Two world wars and the rise of atheistic communism made this by far the most widely held belief among American Protestants today.

Without getting into it too much, these views are opposed to one another. One has the world getting better, the other has it going to pot. But somehow, these two have become forged in the false gospel of Christian nationalism. We are told by Jeffress and others that if we don’t support President Trump and like-minded people, that it is the end of the world. But that is what Jeffress and others teach is SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. The whole Make America Great Again is the antithesis of what is commonly called “Left-Behind Theology”. And so, if we can somehow select the right leaders and get the right judges, we’d usher in a new era of divinely provided spiritual renewal.

But Jesus said that we are to not focus on the end times but rather preach the Gospel. Paul tells us our weapons aren’t the ballot box but the Bible. So instead of fighting for the hearts and minds of people, we’ve justified a messed-up theology that says “How Would Jesus Vote”.

2. A Cult-Like Adherence

Now, this is where I poked the bear, or so I’m told. Remember, I never said people who voted for Donald Trump were in a cult. I pointed out the domestic terror attack on our Capitol. People who were so enamored with an ideology that they would launch an attack against a symbol of the very thing they supposedly wish to defend.

I used to be a big fan of conservative talk radio. I listened to Rush and Hannity every day. But after 2008, when I committed to study the Bible more and listen to pundits less, it’s like my eyes were opened. I shouldn’t believe what everyone says, and I definitely shouldn’t get my moral compass from another fallen human. I began to see that while I agreed with them politically on almost everything, they were mean, crude, and arrogant. And the follower of Christ isn’t called to be like that.

We’re called to be humble, gracious, and kind. Standing for truth but doing so in love. Not to shout down our opponents but to do what we can to reason with them and present God’s Word clearly and compellingly.

But today, so many of us are in an echo chamber. We select our news based on our own bias lining up with the bias of the particular news channel. We decry stories we don’t like as fake news. We scroll through Facebook and Instagram as if they are NEWS SOURCES!! They aren’t.

And when someone challenges us, instead of digging or asking ourselves to think honestly, we simply delete or block those not like us. Sociologists tell us that’s dangerous. Recent events prove it’s what leads to radicalization, and the Bible speaks of us needing each other, without a litmus test to pass before I let you into my life.

When we accept a person as always truthful, despite evidence to the contrary, when we are willing to leave or delete people from our lives who disagree, and when we decry any contradictions as false flags, that is textbook cult-like behavior. It is the definition of brainwashing. And don’t take my word for it. Ask experts. I recently talked with a pastor friend who was a therapist, and she identified much of what we see as mass delusion. And this person is not some left-leaning activist.

Some of the things we have shared on social media are demonstrably false and misleading. And while you can say what you want from a constitutional standpoint, as a follower of Christ, you must present only the truth!

Because when you share what are widely debunked conspiracies or out and out lies, even if you believe them, you destroy any credibility you have. And this brings me to my last point:

3. We’re destroying our witness

As Christians, we are to strive to be above reproach. After all, the world is watching. While we are not perfect, we continually point towards a Savior who is.

One of the concerns someone has had about several of my posts is that I may be a stumbling block to non-believers, that my speech or words could hinder someone from coming to Christ. Golly, I pray that isn’t the case. You see, my whole reason for this approach is I have seen the opposite take place. I have seen people walk away from the Church and even stop considering Christ because of the actions and attitudes of His followers.

When Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship while in office and then lied about it, Christians decried that as immoral and President Clinton as no longer morally fit to be our president. When Donald Trump bragged about his sexual exploits, talked of fantasizing about his daughter, talked about the size of his genitalia, and paid off a porn-star to cover up the affair he had while his wife was pregnant, we blushed but barely batted an eye. Some “Christians” took the attitude of “more power to ‘em”. Others said, “Look, he’s not our pastor-in-chief, he’s our commander-in-chief.”

I agree. We don’t elect a national pastor. I glad. But do we not see the double standard? If it’s our guy and he commits wickedness, it’s for the greater good. If it’s the other team’s guy, though, watch out. Friends, the un-Christian is watching. And they see it. I know that because I don’t live in an echo chamber. I sit down with non-Christians. I talk to people who don’t go to church. I ask the hard questions and they tell me the truth.

We’re destroying our witness by embracing a philosophy that the end justifies the means. That has no place in the life of a Christ-follower. We are to embrace righteousness, even if it means we lose friends and followers and elections. We are to be people of principle and character.

The public school my children attend has a philosophy that “Character Counts”, and yet we have abandoned that to campion someone. Why? Because he “tells it like it is?” Because he supposedly has some of the same social views as we do?

I have seen more Christians worried or focused on the outcome of the 2020 Election than they have been about souls. While many have yelled “Stop the Steal” they have forgotten our mission to Save Souls. There can be no equivocation about this. One must trump (sorry) the other.

While I received negative feedback this time (and always, truthfully) from fellow believers, I have had numerous people who are either non-believers, or believers without a church home reach out to me, thank me, and ask how they can draw closer to Jesus.

It is our focus on politics that has become a stumbling block to many coming to Christ. And it has become an idol for far too many of my fellow conservative Christians. It is for those reasons that I feel a burning burden in my soul to keep speaking out, in love, about the deception that has blinded our eyes.

If you disagree, I mean you no disrespect. I desire that you would love Jesus more than anything. And if that means that I am a stumbling block in your life, I’m sorry, and I would ask that you remove me from your path, because when I stand before Jesus, I want to hear that I’ve been faithful, not that I’ve caused one to fall.

I love you and I don’t want to inflict any pain or cause any grief. But I also love you enough to tell you what I believe based upon the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and logic, to be the truth, God’s truth.

Thank you for reading, and may God richly bless you.

Peace

Adam

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Time, writings

God is There…

This morning as I was reading God’s Word and praying, I asked that God would be present in my day. How foolish a prayer to be taken literally, for God is omnipresent. He is everywhere.

No, he’s not everything, that’s pantheism, but He is always present.

No, my prayer that God would be present is really a request that I would recognize His being there in my day, not just in the quiet time. With love and respect to some of my more charismatic and more “excitable” brothers and sisters (and even a few United Brethren), God’s presence isn’t limited to dramatic services and hands raised during singing.

God is not limited to being “there” when it’s a “great time in the presence of the Lord”. If this pandemic teaches us anything, oh may it clarify and refocus our theology. Our heavenly Father is at all times present. We simply need to recognize it.

God is in the quiet moments of the morning with your Bible and your cup.

God is in the moments by the fireplace listening to the crackle and pop.

But God is also in the Emergency Room.

He walks the halls of the ICU.

God is there with you in your commute to work and home.

God is with you as you rush to meet another deadline.

God is there when the sirens go off and the volunteers rush to their engines.

God is there with the hospice patient.

God is there at the sewing machine.

God is there as the COVID patient struggles for breath.

God is there as you wash the dishes and take out the trash.

God is there as you disobey him, thinking you’re hiding your sin from Him face.

God is there when you repent for losing your temper or walking away from Him.

God is there as you try for the 1,000th time to tighten that stubborn bolt.

God is there when you are frustrated with your kids, spouse, dog, and/or garbage disposal.

God is there.

See, that is what I love most about the title “Immanuel” given to Jesus. Because Jesus, God the Son, came near, I don’t ever have to doubt the presence of God again. And even though He is already everywhere, for the believer and follower of Christ, there is the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit.

And yes, while we must not forsake meeting together, as is the habit of some, I am so thankful that I don’t have to go to a building or a service or a location or even a room in your home. You don’t even have to ask… Because God is there.

Now, do you see Him? No. Do you always feel Him? No. It wouldn’t be faith if you could always feel God. But if we seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him today. And we’ll discover that He’s been there the whole time. Just as sometimes our eyes don’t focus quick enough to recognize someone passing by, so often we fail to recognize that Immanuel has never left us.

Christmas, Devotionals

Reflections on “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

“Come, thou long-expected Jesus

 Born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us;

 Let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,

 Hope of all the earth thou art;

Dear desire of every nation,

 Joy of every longing heart.”

The above is the first verse of the Hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” written in 1744. It is one of the greatest hymns of the 18th century, let not nearly as familiar a Christmas song as say “Joy to the World”. Wesley wrote this hymn while considering the longings of the Minor Prophets for the Messiah who would deliver the people of God.

While Wesley wrote this song some 1,700 years after the birth of Christ Jesus, he echoes a heart cry that Jesus would come and make all things new and all things right. Historical and orthodox Christianity affirms that Jesus accomplished the redemption of mankind who would believe when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. We believe that we have a hope of heaven, of dwelling for eternity in the presence of God himself. Not just a restoration of Eden, paradise lost, but of something even more glorious.

This heart cry isn’t that Wesley would just die and go to heaven, like so many gospel songs written in the last 150 years. No, this is a prayer, an earnest petition, that the King of the World would be recognized, and that there would be no delay in his rule. For while we affirm that redemption has occurred and that Christ is King, we await the final effects of his rule and reign.

I’m pretty upfront about having never taught or preached much about the Second Coming of Christ. I know, some people base their entire ministry on that. I’d avoid such ministries. Jesus made it pretty clear in Acts 1:6-8 that it’s not our place to worry or focus on the particular aspects of his return.

In verse 6 the disciples, who had every doubt banished from their mind by seeing Jesus not only die but seeing him physically resurrected, asked in effect “Ok, is it time for you to rule and restore Israel?”

Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion, doesn’t give them a direct answer. Instead, he rebukes them, “It’s not for you to know the times of the seasons that the Father has fixed in his own authority.” Get that? It’s not our job to try and figure out God’s time-table. Not only do we not know, but it’s also frankly none of our business! I say this with respect to some incredible men and women of God, but they’ve been wasting decades trying to decipher clues and writing books and delivering lectures.

But in verse 8, Jesus tells us what we should be doing with our time: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So, we are to stop focusing on “signs” and “prophecy in the news” and start preparing the way for the coming of the King. Our ministry is in effect that of John the Baptizer (Sorry Fundamentalists, he wasn’t a “Baptist”), to make straight in the wilderness a highway for our King! To preach and live out the Gospel.

And this brings me back to Charles Wesley. What got him thinking about the cry of the prophets for the coming of the Messiah was when he considered the plight of so many orphans, he and his brother John were encountering in their ministry. He wrote a prayer in his journal one day “Oh Come, thou long-expected Jesus!” His cry was that Jesus would come, either in person or in the form of others who could meet the needs of the lowly and the broken.

I don’t read books about the Second Coming. I turn off messages by other pastors about the Second Coming. Because so many of those folks aren’t nearly as right as they think they are, and many who focus on that event aren’t living out the call to make disciples here and now.

But, I DO pray that Christ would come. Come and restore. Come and rule over the nations. Come and release us from our fears and sins. And if anything, this year has taught me, it’s that we need Jesus more than ever. He is the hope of the earth. He is the desire of the nations. He is the source of joy for our longing hearts.

Yes, I know Jesus most likely didn’t look like this… I just like the image. Golly, people.
Christmas, Devotionals

This Christmas, Let’s Climb the Mountain

“The knowledge of God is a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb—the majority of people scarcely reach its base. If one were a Moses, he would ascend higher and hear the sound of trumpets which, as the text of the history says, becomes louder as one advances. For the preaching of the divine nature is truly a trumpet blast, which strikes the hearing, being already loud at the beginning but becoming yet louder at the end.”

~Gregory of Nyssa (335-395)

Just for some context on what Gregory is referring to: the Israelites were at Sinai and Moses was up the mountain hearing from God. And the people also wanted to hear from God, but they weren’t ready. And so, we see this unfold in Exodus 20:18-19—

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (ESV)

They didn’t want to prepare their hearts. They were comfortable on the plain of Sinai. Moses, you tell us what God says. We’ll just be here doing our thing.

Oh, Church, how so little has changed over the millennia!

What Gregory was talking about is how so many people seem to want to know just the basics about the Lord. He’s not talking about special revelation given only to certain people or the gnostic idea of secret knowledge. No, he’s saying that all of us who would follow Christ have access to a deep relationship with the Lord but many, dare I say most, are not willing to make the climb even to the base of the metaphorical mountain.

This Christmas let us not be satisfied with simply the familiar story of the Savior born in Bethlehem, but let us, like the Magi, travel and seek for our King. Let us plumb the depths of His Word and let us examine our hearts in the silent twinkle of the tree.

God Speaks to Israel”– Public Domain
writings

The Little Things

The Little Things (11-25-2020) by Michael “Adam” Edward Will

I love the sound and sensation of my wedding ring hitting the side of my coffee mug

As I bring it up to my face, to drink in the morning.

The sound of the ocean playing on my speakers

As I try to drown out the many distractions already in my mind.

That smell of coffee filling my nostrils, awakening my senses

Can you smell it? It’s the scent of a fresh new day!

A chance to revel in God’s goodness

To curl up in his comfort

To press on in the fight against darkness

And to care for the hurting.

The sound of my fingers hitting the keys as I type away…

I’m rough with the keyboard but only because the passion behind my fingers.

I have to get these thoughts out before they escape, wafting through the air like the scent of coffee flowing through the kitchen

Then the question comes to mind: will I share these thoughts?

Are they for me to ponder alone or are they for others? Will I even save this or crumple it into the digital waste basket as so many before?

These are the moments that I treasure.

God, coffee, Bible, book, pen, and keyboard.

This is my refuge. This is where I am reminded that You are still God.

Will you come with me today? Walk with me as I go about my day?

To study, make calls, run errands, play with my children and embrace my wife?

Will you last with me longer than the coffee? Linger near me while I sit in contemplation.

Oh keep me from melancholy and direct my thoughts heavenward.

Lift my spirits as I follow Your Spirit.

For it’s in the little things that I find You, Oh Lord, today.

Uncategorized, writings

Defiantly Joyful II

As I sit on the couch the kids are (slowly) settling down.
My youngest snoozes beside me while my older two fight rest, though they have had such a full day.
I have Christmas music playing on my TV and a small tree is lit up in the corner of the far room.
The roast didn’t get done in time for dinner so it we had PB&J.
The neighbor dog knocked over our trash.
And here I sit, frustrated and smiling at once:
Still defiantly joyful.

Many friends are fretting that they either will miss or modify family plans.
Still others complain of government orders
While some pretend we aren’t in a worldwide pandemic.
But here I sit.
Taking in deep breaths, not knowing how to help others.
Breathing out my anxieties and remembering that Jesus is still King.
And so that is why
I am still defiantly joyful.

This year has brought a lot to so many friends and loves ones.
Death, divorce, diabetes, despair.
Job loss, education loss, and I’m sure lots of hair loss.
I’m not without scratches, dents or bruises.
But I reflect, defiantly joyful.

You see, the wonder of Christmas,
That I celebrate all year-round
Is that Jesus became one of us
To move into our community
To live, to die, and to live again.
He loved us so much he came.
And some day, he will come again.
How, no one really knows though some think they do.
But when he comes, or if I go to him first,
I’ll meet him defiantly joyful, as all melts into the worship and the rule of my King.

So I don’t know what’s racing through your mind
As you scroll through tweets and posts and pics.
It’s easy, almost certain, that you’ll get riled or miffed or peeved.
Instead, remember the one who came, lived, died, and rose again.
And that in you, oh Christ-follower, he lives as well.
And then, you too, in defiance of this broken world, may be joyful.

writings

Defiantly Joyful

As I sit in my home office and look out the window right now at 5PM, I see the light of the sun reflecting off the hills as it sets behind me.
I see the golden glow of freshly worked fields, ready to lie fallow for the winter.
I see the freshly barren trees glistening in the last bit of daylight.
I see the shadows from the houses and trees creep steadily across the fields.
I see the neighbors coming home from a long day of work, letting their dogs out to explore before all becomes dark.
I see the brown leaves settling in the brush-hogged hayfield and the deep greens of rich grasses and the barn roof.
I hear the faint giggles and joyful exclamations of children.
Did God not get the memo? It’s 2020!
And yet, I find myself
Defiantly Joyful

The week has been long and it’s only Wednesday. I am ready to curl up in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot tea and listen to piano music.
The world is in chaos. Truthfully it always has been.
Some people rise above and attempt to tame the chaos.
Not me, no I am a mouse of a man.
But one thing I am this evening:
Defiantly Joyful.

And I do not know what tomorrow brings.
Sorrow, foolhardy confidence, or rain
But one thing I will remain is
Defiantly Joyful

It doesn’t come from within
Within is in shambles.
No, it comes from without me.
From my King, Christ.
So until He comes I will be
Defiantly Joyful

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, writings

Three Types of Spiritual Weeds

There are two kingdoms in this life:

The kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness; the Kingdom of Heaven, and that of our enemy, the devil Satan. And at the end of the day, the end of your life, the end of the age, you either belong to one or the other.

But, what seems like a clear either/or proposition is not that simple. You see, in the Parable of the Weeds, or, as I am going to keep calling it, the “TAREable Parable” (copyright pending), Jesus says there is the wheat but growing alongside are weeds. The wheat represents sons and daughters of the Kingdom of God, and the weeds are people who actually belong to the kingdom of the evil one.

By studying the parable a little deeper, you discover that the weeds are a type of plant called darnel that mimic wheat. Looks just like wheat and their roots are easily entangled. In fact, it’s not until it gets close to harvest and each plant is producing its fruit, that you can tell the difference.

You see, darnel is dangerous. It doesn’t just look like wheat, but it is prone to a fungal infestation that can lead to some nasty side effects if consumed. If wheat and infested darnel are milled together and the resulting flour consumed as bread, the darnel can lead to a serious complication resulting in what appears to be intoxication only it can lead very quickly to death.

To recap: Darnel looks like the real thing but it is a counterfeit. Not only counterfeit but dangerous. Wheat=good, darnel =bad.

Fake believers, counterfeit Christians, don’t only appear to be something they aren’t but they can be dangerous. Thankfully, our Lord promises at some point to rid the world of the crop of weeds and thus ensure safety. But in the meantime, the darnel is still causing harm. And it is heart-wrenching to experience as well as observe.

Fake believers, counterfeit Christians, don’t only appear to be something they aren’t but they can be dangerous. Thankfully, our Lord promises at some point to rid the world of the crop of weeds and thus ensure safety.

As I study Scripture and learn from other believers, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a spectrum of false Christians that ranges from the deceived to the deliberately destructive. For the sake of clarification and argumentation, I’ll share the three main categories that I find in life and in scripture:

1. The Deceived. There are many people who for various reasons think they are “on good terms with God” only to be blinded. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says “… the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”. For what it’s worth, I think this is probably the majority of “weeds” in our culture in the USA.

We have so many people that think that because they have some notion of a higher power that is vaguely similar to the Judeo-Christian concept of deity, have at least a notion of “traditional values”, and celebrate Christmas and Easter that they are born again believers. They talk the talk and will even use some occasional theological terms. Heck, they may even say grace before a meal.

They are sincere, but sincerely wrong. Perhaps well intentioned, but because the Holy Spirit hasn’t changed them, their spiritual DNA isn’t going to produce wheat. If it is producing anything, it will be more of that darn darnel.

2. The Deceptive. These are folks who for various reasons, intentionally or not, fake a walk with Christ. They are more self-aware than the previous category of people. They have an inkling that they don’t measure up to the Biblical descriptions of followers of Jesus. Yet, they will put on a mask on Sunday. And a heck of a good front on social media. They will even share scripture verses and say “God Bless You!” when someone sneezes. But they know full well they aren’t living for Christ. In my estimation, these make up far fewer than the “deceived” but there are quite a few of these weeds in the field. These are the hypocrites of Matthew 23 and elsewhere.

Why? Often times it is social pressure. For decades in our culture, if you wanted to be liked or well respected, you would go to church services on Sunday and if you weren’t a genuine follower of Christ, you knew you had to pretend to be one so people would patronize your business, come to your cookout, or vote for you in the next election.

As society becomes more and more anti-Christian, we are, thankfully, seeing this idea disappear. In many places in our country it is becoming less and less culturally important to attend church, so in a lot of cases these weeds are dying off.

But we still see it in people who feel pressured by family members who are believers. Maybe it’s the wayward son or daughter from a Christian home who want mom and dad to be proud, but they are just faking it.

Maybe it is the person who began to spin a good yard of being the “good kid” and now they find themselves a volunteer or even on staff of a Christian organization or local church. They have to keep up the façade if they want to keep their job or their social circle.

3. The Deliberately Destructive. These are folks who are under the wholesale influence of the evil one. I wouldn’t say possessed, but the enemy has a lot of control and influence in their lives. These are ones who will intentionally infiltrate the flock to purposely sow discord, entice others toward sin, bring destruction in their paths.

I would love to say these people don’t exist. I mean what kind of twisted person would intentionally try to sabotage the Kingdom of God? What kind of person would intentionally teach false doctrine? Who in their right mind would do some of this stuff on purpose?

I think this is why this category, though I would estimate it to be the fewest in number of the three, is so dangerous: we don’t want to believe it is real. We want to believe the best about people we love and care about, so we convince ourselves that they are well-meaning but deceived.   

Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, talks about these people when he says, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4, ESV).

So, which kind of person are you dealing with? That person in your mind as you have read this… Which one are they? I don’t think we can fully know until harvest, until it’s too late. And that’s ok. We need to be on guard for the darnel.

But we also need to pray. Pray that if they are deceived, that the Lord would open their eyes and their hearts to Him. Pray for the deceptive to have a conviction from the Lord, a holy rebuke that brings them to genuine repentance. And pray that the Lord would safe guard us from the deliberately destructive.

I would love to tell you that Jesus is able to save all of these, that the Holy Spirit can do a work transforming the darnel into a good crop of wheat. I believe that I have seen it happen in the case of the deceived and the deceptive. What about the last category? I don’t know. I don’t doubt the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I do seriously doubt that a heart so hardened, so dark, would ever be receptive to the life-changing message of the Gospel. But I hope I am wrong.

So, friends, there are two kingdoms. But there is also some nuance. Just because someone hasn’t truly accepted Christ doesn’t mean they are a wolf. But it does mean they need to repent and trust Jesus.

So, friends, there are two kingdoms. But there is also some nuance. Just because someone hasn’t truly accepted Christ doesn’t mean they are a wolf. But it does mean they need to repent and trust Jesus.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry

Fruit Takes Time

“Ouch!” That was how I discovered I had a pear tree. Well, that’s how I discovered I had a pear tree that had actual pears on it.

When we bought our home, I was delighted to have so many trees on our property. I like trees. Sure, they’re a pain to mow around, but I love them. Our property had several ornamental pear trees, if they produced anything, it was a tiny inedible fruit that was perfect for birds.

This one particular tree in the backyard didn’t even produce these in the 4 previous years we had lived at our home. Then one morning in June I was mowing around this tree and forgot to duck. My head brushed against a branch and I was showered with 3 or 4 baby pears hitting my noggin.

We were delighted to know we had a fruit tree that would actually produce fruit! That summer we got a nice little harvest of pears, so sweet and juicy. We decided then and there to plant some more fruit trees.

But good fruit takes time. You don’t plant an orchard expecting a bumper crop in just a few months. It takes a long time for a tree to produce much, and patience is a must. I doubt the previous owners, who planted this pear tree, ever got to sample its fruit. But we’re thankful they planted a sapling that we can now enjoy the fruit thereof.

Earlier this week, I posted about the choice between fruitfulness and faithfulness. This is a continuation of that thought, if you will.

Jesus used a lot of agricultural parables in his teaching, something most of his audience could relate to. In Luke 13:18-19, He said,

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Now, if you’ve read the Gospels, you’re familiar with the idea of faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny seed that produces a large shrub or tree. In this instance, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate the Kingdom of God. A quick study of this passage will lead you to the conclusion that Jesus’s teaching, which seemed insignificant to Jews seeking a political revolution, would lead to a surprisingly large change.

But I don’t know that this is the only application. I think there is some personal application here as well. If we compare this mustard seed the the mustard seed of faith, we see that a little faith can lead to a major impact.

Mustard seeds can be tiny. Imagine trying to plant these suckers. I’d probably lose half of them. But they can develop into quite the plant. Faith is like that. Many times when a person comes to faith in Christ, the change, the difference, may seem tiny, even insignificant.

Sometimes as people of faith, we can get upset, angry even, with a new believer’s seeming lack of fruit. Don’t get me wrong, there should be fruit, just don’t expect a lot of it. Our sanctification and spiritual maturity aren’t instantaneous. In fact, in the parable of the soils in Mark 4, Jesus warns about those who immediately receive the Word with joy and spring up quickly. He says that because they have no root, they wither and die.

You see, when most seeds begin to sprout, they first send roots down into the soil to get nutrients and to find stability. This is what Paul is telling us in Colossians 2:6-7 which says:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

If a tree or bush as a solid root system, it can grow and weather just about any storm.

Over time, with a solid root system, the mustard plant will grow strong and big. It’s the same with a Christ follower. As we draw strength from God’s Word and have both a vibrant prayer life and walk with the Holy Spirit, we grow. We begin to bear fruit. It may seem little at first, just a bloom here, a bud there. But given time, consistency will lead to a bigger and bigger impact.

Eventually, this plant that was barely producing fruit will be able not only to produce fruit, but able to have a significant impact on the world around it. Nests for birds, a place of rest for the traveler, a whole ecosystem impacted.

As we grow in Christ, we will impact the world around us in ways we never thought possible. But it takes times. Good fruit always takes time to develop. The spiritual fruit of our lives, made possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, will grow exponentially. All coming from a little seed of faith. So don’t be discouraged with the lack of spiritual growth in your life or the lives of others. Pray for a work of the Holy Spirit and for consistency. After all, fruit takes time.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

Faithfulness Or Fruitfulness?

What is more important: being faithful to God, or bearing fruit? Are these options mutually exclusive?

In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus tells the story of a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard because he wanted fruit. That’s the purpose of a fig tree, to bear figs. And after 3 years of no fruit, he was ready to cut the tree down. “Why should it use up the ground?” he asked.

When it comes to people who claim to follow God, there are lots of fig trees with bright, shining leaves. Shimmering in the sun, they look majestic. But when you get a closer look, do you see fruit?

In Matthew 21:18-21, Jesus sees a beautiful fig tree and he is hungry. He went up to the tree and saw no fruit. And he cursed it. The tree withered at once. While perhaps a nice looking tree, it was not accomplishing its purpose. It was a waste of space.

Fig trees are nice to look at, but they are made to grow figs. In the same way, Christians may be nice people, but they are called to produce fruit. We may look nice and have all the outward appearances of following Christ. But upon a closer look, is there any fruit?

When I first became a minister, my first congregation was quite small. We had 17 on my first Sunday. The congregation was in a poor, rural area and these folks had experienced a lot of hurt over the years. So I don’t blame them when they considered it a victory just to keep the doors of that little country church open. After all the heartache they had experienced, survival was a victory.

But one of the tragic consequences of experiencing trauma is to view survival as the ultimate goal. The view of a few became “we’re being faithful because we can pay the bills and have a service on Sunday.” During the COVID-19 Pandemic and related shutdowns, many churches have viewed it as a defeat by not meeting in person. But the purpose of the Church is not to gather on Sundays. It is to reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ.

But the purpose of the Church is not to gather on Sundays. It is to reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what I am getting at: I fear that many Christians have confused faithfulness to events or certain standards with faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. Being faithful means to be steadfast, consistent, trustworthy.

The fig tree in our parable in Luke 13 was consistent in it’s leafing, in it’s shade. But it was inconsistent when it came to producing a crop. Okay, maybe it was consistent. It was consistently fruitless.

I fear that many Christians have confused faithfulness to events or certain standards with faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that if we remain, are consistent (read FAITHFUL) in Him, we will produce much fruit. True faithfulness to Christ will always result in fruitfulness.

True faithfulness to Christ will always result in fruitfulness.

But this leads to a big paradox. The fruit of being in Christ, of being faithful, cannot always be measured. In Galatians, we find the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I can’t take a survey of a congregation to determine how much patience we have. That’s only known by knowing someone. While fruit can be counted in some ways, such as people led to the Lord or discipling relationships, much of it is only seen by taking an up close look, like Christ did with the fig tree.

Last week, I shared about the danger of viewing God As a Means Rather Than the End. And we have must be careful that we don’t focus on simply doing things for God, and miss the importance of being consistent or steadfast in our love and devotion to Him. But the other side of the coin is that if we are faithful, there will be results of His presence in our lives.

So today, don’t settle with simply “being faithful.” Be consistent in a way that leads to fruit in your life. The best way to do that? Spend time with Jesus in prayer and Bible reading, asking the Holy Spirit to convict and encourage you. Remember, He is faithful, and He will produce fruit in your life.