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.