Praise God From Whom ALL Blessings Flow…

These opening words from the Doxology reflect where I am today, pausing for a few moments to reflect on what God has done in my life over the past two-plus years, and praising Him for His continued grace, mercy and blessings. This time in my life has been very difficult in many ways, and God has used these difficult times to teach me a few lessons and work towards making me the kind of man who He can use for the spread of His kingdom.

When I posted “The Old Knight” on December 31, 2013, I had no real idea where this blogging journey would lead, and 100 posts later, I can see God’s hand at work in nearly every post. It has been a bumpy ride so far, but this journey is by no means over. Even though I just posted “Time-Out“, I don’t plan to take any time off.

I want to say “THANK YOU!!!” to you, my faithful readers, because you make my efforts worthwhile.

God is in charge of “distribution“, and He has promised:
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

The future…
Only God knows the future, so only He knows the future of this blog. I have some ideas. I want to continue with my studies of the life of Christ and His parables. I would like to do a series of studies on the book of Ruth, which I find quite fascinating. Lord-willing, I plan to keep this keyboard on rock-and-roll.

In the mean time, I invite you to marinate your heart and soul on the words of the New Doxology:
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him, all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Let earth and heavenly saints proclaim
The power and might of His great Name
Let us exalt on bended knee
Praise God, the Holy Trinity

Chorus
Praise God, praise God, praise God, Who saved my soul
Praise God, praise God, praise God from Whom all blessings flow

Praise to the King, His throne transcends
His crown and Kingdom never end
Now and throughout eternity
I’ll praise the One Who died for me!

In Christ,
Steve

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Time-Out…

Sports teams take them in the middle of big games, and they may play a major role in a team’s game-winning strategy, but when was the last time you took a “time-out“? We live in a fast-paced society where we are expected to give it all we have, and then some, but as the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy“. We are dulled by our constant activity such that we are never really at our best. This is called “burn-out“…

In Mark 6, after two very stressful events, Jesus recognized that His disciples needed a “time-out“. His disciples had just returned from their first short-term missions trip, and they had just learned of the death of John the Baptist. They were physically-exhausted and emotionally and spiritually spent. They had been subsisting on “fast-food” and hadn’t even had time for a family-meal. They needed more than just a huddle with the Coach and a couple of sips of Gatorade. They needed a break…

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. (Mark 6:30-32)

As usual, their “time-out” was short-lived, because as soon as the crowds figured out where they were, they were mobbed again.

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. (Mark 6:33-42)

After they fed the five-thousand, Jesus called another “time-out“…

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. (Mark 6:45-47)

Jesus took His own “time-out” to commune with His Father, because He too grew tired and needed a time of refreshing.

Our “time-outs”…
We need “time-outs” also, because we can’t be at our best or give our best when we are worn-out. Vacations are wonderful, but how often do you take one? For some people, even taking a long weekend is hard to do. That is one of the reasons why I like, no…LOVE to be in church every Sunday morning. I need that untouchable “timeout“.

The pastor of my church is preaching a series of sermons on “Worship“, and this past Sunday, he invited one of the men to give his testimony about what “Worship” means to him. Dave was in the US Navy for several years, and he served aboard a nuclear submarine. The submarine’s primary power-source was a small nuclear reactor, but if they had to shut down the reactor for some reason, they could run on battery-power…for a while. If they ran the batteries down too far, they couldn’t restart the reactor, leaving them dead in the water. Dave likened “Worship” to being our primary-power-source. We can only run on our spiritual-batteries for just so long before we need to reconnect in a meaningful way to God, our spiritual power-source. Dave’s testimony is mine also, because I REALLY miss going to church when I can’t go for whatever reason.

Another of my “time-outs” is my devotional time every night before I go to bed. When I miss this time because I am too tired, I really do miss it. My devotional-time is when God and His word get my undivided-attention, because even when I am working on an article, it doesn’t even get my undivided-attention.

Retreats…
Why does the church think that retreats are only for young-people? Christian retreats are a wonderful way to recharge our “spiritual-batteries“. When I went to the Christian Naturist Festival a few weeks ago, it felt like a Retreat and an extended “time-out“. Even though it went almost non-stop, it wasn’t tiring, because we were studying God’s word and the Holy Spirit was working in our midst. There is also no substitute for Christian fellowship. Even though I missed being in my home church, it wasn’t the same as missing church entirely.

Your “time-outs”…
When was the last time you had a meaningful “time-out“? Jesus wasn’t just speaking to His disciples when He said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”, that message is for us also.

Come away and rest. Take a “time-out”.
Steve

Caught In The Act…

Have you ever been caught doing something that you weren’t supposed to be doing? Have you ever been caught with your hand in the cookie-jar? Have you ever been caught with your pants down? People are caught all the time doing something wrong, and two-thousand years ago, a woman was caught with way more than her pants down. She was caught in bed with a man she wasn’t married to.

2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The backdrop…
Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which was also known as the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles was a week long, and commemorated God’s gracious provisions for the children of Israel during their forty-year wilderness wanderings. It was also the longest of the major annual Festivals.

Jesus, as was His habit, went to the Temple early in the morning to teach the gathered worshipers, and by this time in His ministry, the Scribes and Pharisees were itching to catch Him saying something “wrong” so they could do away with Him.

The raid…
The Jerusalem “Morality-Police” had made an early-morning raid, perhaps to the woman’s house, and they caught her in bed with a man she wasn’t married to. Was she a known “SINNER“? She may have been, and the Scribes and Pharisees thought that this was a good opportunity to finally “get” Jesus. I doubt that they even gave her the opportunity to cover up before they dragged her out of the house. Besides, she wouldn’t be needing her clothes when they stoned her…

The trap…
The Law of Moses required that someone who committed adultery must be stoned to death. Under Roman law, only the Roman government could execute someone, so if Jesus gave them the “thumbs-up” to stone her, He would be going against Roman law, and if He refused to allow them to stone her, He would be going against the Law of Moses… It seemed like the perfect trap.

The trial…
Could this fraud of a “trial” have started any worse for this poor woman? She had been dragged, likely naked, through the streets of Jerusalem, and was thrust into the middle of the Master’s morning Bible-class. The “Morality-Police” had caught her in a very compromising-position, and now this…

They made their case, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” As far as they were concerned, she was guilty-as-charged, and all they needed was permission to carry out the sentence. If this scene was re-enacted today, they would even have video-proof.

The problems…
I see a couple of serious problems with this case:
1) What were the “Morality-Police” doing snooping in her bedroom?
2) Where was her “partner-in-crime“? The Law of Moses required that BOTH adulterers be stoned.

Handwriting on the ground…
Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground. We aren’t even given any hints as to what He wrote. Perhaps, as His fingers touched that earthly dust, He was reminded of the first time His hands touched earthly soil, when He created Adam out of the dust of the ground. Whatever He wrote, the “MoralityPolice” were annoyed that He didn’t give them the answer they wanted IMMEDIATELY.

He who is without sin…
The Sinless Son of God gave them the go-ahead, IF, they were also sinless. Jesus wasn’t picking up any stones, not that day, not ANY day, and He gave them a lesson in humility, a lesson that should make us wonder whether we have any right to be judging others. If stones didn’t fit His hands, I have no business picking them up either.

The verdict…
Jesus knew their hearts and their malicious-intent. The woman was merely a pawn in their game, and whether they would have actually stoned her is immaterial. They wanted Jesus gone, and they were willing to go to any lengths to accomplish their goal. Rather than judging the woman, Jesus had put her accusers in their place.

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Our accuser…
We also have an accuser hissing in our ear. Satan would love to keep us enslaved to our past and fearful of moving on. He loves to drag us and our name through the mud, and if possible, cause us to even question whether God could ever love us. There is but one not-so-small problem, and that is that Satan isn’t our judge, he is merely our accuser.

Do you feel like you have written way too many checks on God’s grace-account? Satan would like to make us think so, but God’s grace is so far beyond our comprehension that there is no such thing as a “bad-check“. If we allow Him to, Jesus will stand between us and our accuser as He stood between that woman and her accusers almost two -thousand years ago.

The verdict…
As Jesus said to her, He says also to us, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Steve

Who Is My Neighbor?

Do you REALLY want to know who your neighbor is? Almost two-thousand years ago, a man asked Jesus this question, but the answer he got caught him off-guard.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Who is my neighbor?
The man who asked this question was an expert in the Law of Moses, a lawyer, and he was under the mistaken notion that if he used the Law as a “checklist“, God should be pretty pleased with him. He thought that he could earn his way to heaven by his own efforts. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus did humor him a bit, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”, before He dropped the bomb on him. Yes, the man knew the Law, but… 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus quickly reminded him that keeping the “rules” wasn’t good enough, because he still had a serious “heart” problem. “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

This is where it gets messy, because there is more to “love” than mere “good-feelings“. As Jesus told this Parable, two “good” people, a Priest and a Levite, passed the injured man without helping him, because helping him might make them “unclean“, and besides, it was “below their pay-grade“. They were “holy-men“, not field-medics. Besides, the road was dangerous, and they sure didn’t want to put themselves in any danger. Perhaps they mumbled a prayer as they scurried by, but they certainly weren’t going to get THEIR hands dirty. Sorry, but the injured man WASN’T THEIR PROBLEM.

The Samaritan didn’t consider helping the man below HISpay-grade”, and he went out of his way to take care of the man’s immediate needs AND to make sure the man was well cared-for while he recuperated. Imagine taking someone to an Emergency Room, them being admitted to the hospital, and picking up the tab also. I have taken a sick person to an ER several times, but I don’t have the resources to pay their bill. This was sacrificial-love.

Jesus asked him “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?

Jesus was looking for a direct answer, but the man couldn’t stand to even say “Samaritan“, so he said “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”, which isn’t just a “suggestion“, it is a command. Jesus was calling for sacrificial-love, not just lip-service.

My neighbor…
Jesus wasn’t just calling for a “feel-good” love, the “warm and fuzzy” variety, He was calling for ACTION. This is a “get your hands dirty“, “boots on the ground” kind of love, and it may be “inconvenient“, time-consuming, and may involve long days and short nights. It is self-giving love.

The answer to this question has far-reaching implications, because, as Jesus taught us, our “neighbor” isn’t just the person who lives next door to us. Yes, the person who lives next door to us may be the “neighbor” we should help, but that isn’t the limit of our love, and rather than repeating what I have written already, I invite you to read “Have You Done It For Jesus?“.

I also invite you, my readers, to tell the stories of people you have loved sacrificially, so that we can all be encouraged by how God is working through you in someone’s life. We are neighbors, even if we are on opposite sides of the globe.

Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
Steve

Sir, Are You Jesus?

What a humbling question… It comes from the well-known story about the traveling business-men and the blind girl who was selling apples in the airport. How often do we, as Christians, pause to realize that we may be the only “Jesus” some people may ever see?

Several years ago, the “WWJD” bracelets were everywhere, reminding people to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” in every life circumstance, but they went the way of most fads, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw one. Even though that girl couldn’t see the business-man who came back to help her, the eyes of her heart saw Jesus. When she realized that her table had been dumped over, she had asked Jesus to send someone to help her. She imagined, perhaps from Bible stories that she had heard, that if Jesus was there, He would help her. Her prayer was answered almost immediately.

Even though that business-man missed his flight and didn’t make it home in time for supper with his family, he had the priceless experience of being “Jesus” to that blind girl.

When was the last time YOU were “Jesus” to someone?

Blessings!
Steve

In Memory…

Death is UGLY, and calling a funeral or memorial-service a “Celebration of Life” is like chocolate-coating a turd. It may look nice on the outside but it still stinks in the middle. I attended the funeral for the mother of a close friend, and even though the funeral was short, as funerals go, it was still too long. As the pastor and a friend of the deceased recited a litany of her life well-lived, it was poignant-reminder that she is gone. As her lifeless body laid in the casket before us, we were reminded that caskets are made for the dead, not the living. Nobody goes to a funeral home and “test-drives” their casket before they need it. A casket is usually selected after the person dies, when the family is not in any position to protest the outrageous prices of caskets or the ridiculous prices funeral homes charge for their services.

The death of a loved-one may bring out the best in their family and pull them all together to support each other in their time of grief, or it may bring out the worst as family-members jockey for position and start dividing up the “spoils“. I wish I could say that the members of that family were on their “bestbehavior“, but they weren’t. It brought out the worst…

Does anyone ever live “longenough“? Death has been part of the human-experience since the Fall of Adam and Eve. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Adam and Eve didn’t die physically, but they did die spiritually, and they brought death to all mankind. Everyone who has ever lived has either died already, or will die if Christ doesn’t return before their death. Yes, there were a few people whom God took directly to Heaven without dying, but they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Lazarus died twice, as did Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43) and the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15). Miraculous resurrections didn’t keep them from dying again.

The Grim Reaper has our number, but we don’t know when our number will be called. The Bible says “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

Shouldn’t we be celebrating lives well-lived while the people are still alive so they can enjoy the party too? Maybe we should turn “Birthday” parties into “Celebration of life” parties. Have you lived a life worth celebrating? I pray you have, but if you are reading this, it isn’t too late to start living your life in a manner that will glorify God and be a life well-lived.

Blessings!
Steve

So You Want Opportunities…

I usually don’t like to talk or write about social issues, but I am fed up to my eyeballs with the crap that is coming out of the mouths of our politicians and other “community leaders“. I am also fed up with the crap I hear on TV from “protesters” and other malcontents. If you are living and breathing, you DO have opportunities. These are the observations of an older white American, who has paid his dues and is enjoying the fruits of his labors.

Being poor is no excuse, because I am poor also. I grew up poor, and I have been poor all my life. Sometimes I was a little less poor, but I never made it to “middle-class“. I scrape by on my retirement, which BTW, is NOT an “entitlement“. I WORKED for my retirement. I can’t afford steak, seafood or alcohol, and I get too much to qualify for food-stamps. I own my own “home“, all 300 square-feet of it. I own my 12 year-old vehicle free and clear, but it doesn’t have a stereo that you can hear from two blocks away or expensive custom wheels and tires. I have made do with even less.

I don’t have any “designer” clothes or name-brand shoes, unless BDU’s and T-shirts from the blood center count as “designer” clothes. I don’t have a problem with wearing 2nd-hand clothes, and free-be’s are even better. If you can’t feed your family, but you have all these “status-symbols“, your priorities are SCREWED UP. My kids always had clothes, even if they came from a yard sale, thrift store, or were hand-me-downs. They never had to go barefoot or without clothes, but their clothes didn’t have designer-labels either.

Being lazy is a sin. I learned to work by the time I was five years old, and I worked until I was no longer able to work. My dad told me “Learn a trade and you will never go hungry“, so I learned four trades. Dad taught me the basics of plumbing, I took welding in Vo-tech, and I learned carpentry and electrical on the job. I also learned to make usable drawings. Oh, BTW, I read, write and speak good English. I was mowing lawns before I was old enough to get a “real” job.

All of my kids knew who their parents were, and they all had the same mom and dad. We were a family. As I was growing up, none of my friends were from single-parent families, because couples stuck together, even if it ws only for their kids. They also knew how to work, because there was no such thing as “Food-Stamps” or “Aid to Families with Dependent Children” (welfare). Having more kids means more responsibility, NOT more free-be’s.

Language…
If you want to live, work, and have opportunities in the USA, learn our language, which is American English. We DO NOT owe you documents in your language, and we shouldn’t have to “Press 1 for English” when we make an official phone call. My ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland and Germany, plus England and an assortment of other countries, but they all had one thing in common; if they didn’t understand English when they moved here, they learned it and taught it to their children. Some of my ancestors were Cherokee Indian, and they learned English before they even had their own alphabet and written language.

I don’t understand seventy-five percent of the people in the stores I shop in, because most of them are either speaking Spanish or Ghetto. Spanish is self-explanatory, and Ghetto is the butchered “English” that many “African-Americans” (blacks) speak. If you want the opportunities this country offers, learn to speak real English.

Immigration…
I am not against legal immigration, because, as I said before, most of my ancestors came from other countries also. They also came here legally, rather than sneaking across the border. This is a land of opportunity for people who come here legally, learn our language and become productive citizens, but we don’t “owe” illegal-immigrants ANYTHING except a return-trip back across the border. I have friends who are immigrants. They are here legally and they all speak fluent English, even though English is not their native-language. One couple is from Holland, and they are tri-lingual, English, Dutch and Freisian. She is a retired Nurse and he retired from being a commercial baker.

Work…
So you want the “better” things in life? Learn to work for them. Nobody OWES you anything. I was helping my dad dig ditches and plumb houses when I was in grade-school. Oh, and he didn’t have a back-hoe or Ditch-Witch. We dug ditches by hand, with a pick and a shovel. My parents didn’t buy me my first car or any vehicle since then. I worked for them and bought them myself. Oh, and my first car wasn’t new either. They didn’t pay for my car-insurance, and I wasn’t allowed to drive their car because they couldn’t afford the extra insurance. If you want something, WORK for it. I did.

College…
So you want to go to college? Have you ever thought about working for that opportunity? In my opinion, going to college straight out of high-school is a big mistake, because most 18-year-old kids don’t have their heads screwed on straight-enough to make the best use of their college experience. Taking “Underwater Basket-Weaving” may sound like fun, but it won’t get you a job. I served in the Military for three years BEFORE I went to college, as did many of my classmates. We made the best of our college experience, and many of us were recruited by top companies right out of college. Nursing and most Engineering disciplines will get you jobs for the rest of your life, but there are a LOT of college-majors that are only good for a piece of paper to hang on your wall. Math is great, if you want to be a teacher for the rest of your life, and so are History and English, if you want to be a teacher for the rest of your life. Music is WONDERFUL, but 99.9% of music-majors never make it to the big-time and end up teaching to pay the bills. I played in an Army Band with folks who had Master’s Degrees in music and couldn’t make a living with it otherwise. Careers in Medicine will always be in high-demand, as will the trades.

“Income-inequality”…
I cringe every time I hear a politician mention “income-inequality” because they act like it is evil or a cancer on society. Folks, someone has to make more than you so they can afford to pay you to do a job. It is as simple as that. Unfortunately most politicians intend to “solve” income-inequality by stealing (taxing) from the “haves” and giving that money to the “have-nots” who HAVE NOT worked for it. They CANNOT create prosperity by taxation. It doesn’t work. It never has and it never will. Of course the politicians also refuse to reduce the size of the gravy-trains they are on. The top Presidential-contenders are projected to spend at least FIVE BILLION DOLLARS on the 2016 campaign. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

“Entitlements”…
You are ONLYentitled” to what you EARN. Everything else is a HANDOUT.

Opportunities…
Yes, there ARE opportunities, but they all come at a cost, the cost of YOU doing what it takes to make them your own. If it sounds like I am being harsh, look at where I came from. I grew up in a generation of people who knew how to WORK. Our parents WORKED. Their parents WORKED. My dad WORKED his way through college as a plumber. His dad WORKED as a line-crew foreman on the railroad. I WORKED part-time while I was in college, which was paid-for by the GI-Bill that I EARNED. If you want it badly enough, it is available to you, IF you are willing to WORK for it.

Dr. Ben Carson, the internationally-known Christian pediatric-neurosurgeon who is also a Presidential-hopeful, didn’t let the fact that he is Black and came from poverty and a broken-home keep him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a Doctor.

What is YOUR excuse?

Steve

Good?

What is “good“? There are as many answers as there are people, because everyone has their own ideas of what is “good“. Some people love saurkraut, but I can’t get it past my nose. I love chocolate! I think that chocolate is one of God’s finest gifts to mankind, and one of my all-time favorite desserts is “death by chocolate“. We find the same principal at work in our human experiences. When my friend is in pain and goes to her doctor for a pain-shot, the shot HURTS, but the “good” is the pain-relief later on. We have events in our lives which can in no way be considered “good“, and that brings us to a verse which is both difficult to understand, and at the same time, comforting.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

The most difficult word in that verse is “all“, because it trips-up our ideas of what is “good“. If that word was “some“, it would be a lot easier for us to accept, but it isn’t. “All” means “ALL!!!” What was “good” about my wife committing suicide in 1997? What was “good” about her family taking my own children and turning them against me? What was “good” about my current “wife” moving out six weeks after we got married? I can see some “good” in that last event, but I am still scratching my head about the other two. I have had a LOT of that kind of events, maybe not as dramatic, but still “Romans 8:28 events“.

Our problem…
Our problem is that we are NOT God, and God often has very different ideas of what is “good” than we do. Sometimes the “good” God has for us is what He wants to do in our own life, and sometimes the “good” God has for us is to do something “good” for someone else. My latest “adventure” combines both of these.

Perspective…
If I wasn’t where I am now, this blog would not exist, because this blog is growing out of what God is teaching me day by day. Yes, I am hard-headed, and sometimes God has to use a two-by-four to get my attention, but He isn’t shy about using it. I have learned some hard lessons in the last two-and-a-half years.

God also had a mission for me, one that I never could have done where I was, and that is to care for my friend and neighbor. Sometimes caring for her takes my undivided-attention. I have become her “support-system” because the only person in her family who actually cares is her father. Caring for her is part of the “good” in my current situation.

More “good”…
If we “divorce” Romans 8:28 from the next two verses, we miss God’s ultimate “good” in our lives.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Do you see it? Does this passage “rearrange” some of your “furniture” and change your perspective? God isn’t content with leaving us where we were at when we accepted Jesus as our Savior. God wants us to become more and more LIKE our Savior. He wants us to talk and act like Jesus, because He wants sons and daughters, not rebels, and His ultimate goal is to bring us to glory.

The “GOOD NEWS”…
If you are a follower of Christ, a Christian, you didn’t get there by accident. God claimed you before you were born…

After God claimed you, He called your name…

God didn’t put your name on His “wish-list“. When God claimed and called you, it was a done-deal, even though you may not know it until you are on your death-bed. If you haven’t accept God’s free offer of salvation, He will keep calling your name until you do. God is persistent, because God ALWAYS gets what He wants.

I think it is important to note that all of God’s actions are in the past-tense. There are a done-deal. If God has called you, there is no way that you can slip away from His grasp.

More “GOOD NEWS”…
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

As much as Satan would LOVE to trip us up and keep us from God, he doesn’t have a snow-ball’s chance in Hell. As much as Satan would LOVE to make us think that we are not “worthy” of God’s grace, he is right, but the GOOD NEWS is that it isn’t our own “worthiness” which matters. God has claimed us, and He is the One who makes us “worthy” in Jesus Christ.

When we face God in the Courtroom of Heaven, Satan will do everything in his power to convince God that we don’t belong there, but at that moment, Jesus will step in and say “His debt is already paid. I paid it for him.

God claimed you!

God called you!

You belong to Him!

NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!

It is a done-deal, even when there are events in yours and my lives that don’t seen very “good“. We are promised that ultimately “GOOD” will come from them. If you are in Christ, I will see you in Heaven if I don’t meet you here before then.

If you are not in Christ, I tearfully-plead with you to accept God’s free offer of salvation, because even if your life here in Earth seems to be Hell-on-Earth, the GOOD NEWS is that Heaven awaits you.

In Christ,
Steve

Unity…

Is it any wonder that the Church seems powerless? Is it any wonder that the Church seems to be having less and less impact on society? Is it any wonder that there are more and more “churches” but fewer and fewer Christians? We all claim to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but you would never know it by the way we act. Where has our Unity gone?

The more the New Testament church spread, the less unity it exhibited. By the time the Apostle Paul came back to Jerusalem in Acts 15, the seeds of discord had already been sown.

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

What followed that was the Jerusalem Council, which was convened to iron out their differences and formulate a uniform “standard“. The legalists were already making their voices heard and their presence felt.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

If the legalists had their way, “salvation by grace through faith” would have been replaced by “Get circumcised, and keep the Law of Moses” so you can be saved. Do you remember the Pharisees from “Traditions…”?

“Issues”…
There are a lot if “issues” which divide Christians, even though we claim to read and believe the same Bible, and first “issue” is about which translation/Bible is the “real” Bible.

Bibles…
How can we have so many “Bibles” when they are all supposedly translated from the same “original” documents? Do the same original words mean different things to different people? Every church and denomination has its favorite. A few of the more familiar ones are:

King James (KJV) – because the “Apostles spoke King James English“. Many Baptist churches are KJV-only.

New King James (NKJV) – King James without the obsolete language.

New American Standard (NASB) – an updated translation using more modern English, and favored by many Reformed churches.

New International Version (NIV) – an updated translation done by an international group of scholars.

English Standard Version (ESV) – came on the scene recently, and is favored by many Reformed churches.

Even though this should be a “non-issue“, many churches and denominational-groups make it one.

Baptism…
I heard a “Reformed-Baptist” pastor say “Every time the word “baptize” is used, it should be translated “immerse”. Is how a person was baptized more important than that they WERE baptized? Many churches, particularly Baptist Churches, believe that it IS a BIGDEAL how a person was baptized, because they believe that a person hasn’t really been baptized until they have been immersed. I could never be a “member” of one of those Baptist churches because I was sprinkled, rather than being immersed.

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) churches accept all modes of baptism as valid, even though they traditionally use sprinkling for baptisms. Is it any wonder that many PCA churches are “melting-pots“, welcoming people from many different religious-backgrounds?

Eschatology…
Why do so many churches and Bible-scholars think it is SO important to analyze every scrap of prophesy to pin down “exactly” how and when the End-times events are going to happen? Do they not have anything better to do, such as spreading the Good News of the Gospel? Can’t we accept that Jesus said that He didn’t even know the time-line? Can’t we just allow God to be God, and leave it to Him to determine how and when?

The Evangelical-Free Church has their eschatology-position as the last point in their ten-point Statement of Faith, and every candidate for church office must agree to all ten points. My wife and I were members of an E-Free church for a while, but I didn’t agree with that last point, so I couldn’t be an officer. The E-Free denomination courted my dad to become an E-Free pastor, but he also didn’t agree with their eschatology position. They missed-out on a very well-studied and scholarly pastor.

God’s desire for unity…

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
(Psalm 133)

The reference here is to the special oil which God commanded His people to make and use ONLY for holy purposes. Aaron, the first High Priest, was anointed with this special oil when God ushered-in worship in the just-completed Tabernacle in the wilderness.

The “dew of Herman falling on Mount Zion” represents God’s blessing when His people live together in unity. That is how much God values unity…

Is it any wonder that the Church seems powerless? Is it any wonder that the Church seems to be having less and less impact on society? Is it any wonder that there are more and more “churches” but fewer and fewer Christians? We all claim to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but you would never know it by the way we act. Where has our Unity gone?

Isn’t it time we quit bickering about things that don’t matter and get on with fulfilling the Great Commission?

In Christ,
Steve

Traditions…

We all love our family traditions, particularly those traditions that we observe during the major holidays. We dress in our finest spring outfits for Easter. We have a big family cookout before popping of a lot of fireworks for 4th of July. We gather around the family table for Thanksgiving. We go to a candle-light service on Christmas Eve before polishing off a couple of rounds of spiked eggnog. Our kids wake up early on Christmas morning to open a mound of presents before we gather around the family table for another feast. We stay up late on New Year’s Eve to watch the great ball in Times Square drop signaling the ringing-in of a new year. These all seem like beautiful traditions, but what if there was a dark-side to each of these events? Would we really still love these traditions in spite of the dark-side?

Two thousand years ago, our Lord’s favorite pests, the scribes and Pharisees, came to Him and asked Him why His disciples didn’t keep their traditions. It seems that they “forgot” to wash their hands before they ate. He pointed out an even bigger problem with their traditions to them.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Matthew 15:1-9)

The Pharisees…
The Pharisees were a Jewish religious sect that emphasized “personal-holiness” based on law-keeping. God had given a fairly-detailed set of laws through Moses known as the Torah. The Pharisees weren’t content with merely keeping the laws in the Torah, they thought that God had left quite a few “important” things out, so they compiled an even more detailed set of laws known as the Oral Torah, alias “the traditions of the Elders“. A couple of problems with “the traditions of the Elders” was that the Pharisees thought that their laws were on par with God’s laws, and if there was a conflict between “the traditions of the elders” and God’s laws, their “traditions” always won out. They saw no problem with disobeying God’s law to keep theirs, and this is the problem Jesus pointed out in this passage.

They would count out spice-leaves for their tithe while their brothers and sisters went hungry, and they expected Jesus and His disciple to wash their hands before dinner while their ignored their responsibility to take care of their parents. Neither counting spice-leaves nor washing their hands before dinner were in God’s laws, but feeding the hungry and taking care of their parents definitely was.

Traditions…
The Pharisees are still alive and well today, although very few are Jewish. They can be found in almost every Evangelical church and they have made their presence felt even in the chambers of city councils and county commissions. I grew up in a very legalistic church environment, and since my dad was a pastor, I saw the worst of it. Do any of these ring a bell?

Ladies – Keep your necklines high and your hemlines low.

Ladies – You may only wear a skirt or a dress to church.

Ladies – You must wear some kind of head-covering in church.

Girls and ladies are forbidden to wear any type of two-piece bathing-suit, and all bathing suits must be “modest”. Swimwear from http://www.swimsuitmodest.com/ would fit their prescription.

Men – You are expected to be in a suit and tie, or at least a sport-coat and tie when you come to church.

Members may NOT drink any alcoholic beverage. The ONLY exception is the Communion wine.

Members may NOT use any tobacco product.

Dancing is sex standing-up.

Playing pool is sinful.

Gambling is sinful.

Rock music is evil.

If you think that I am making this stuff up, this was just the tip of the iceberg when I was growing up, and many church have an even more extensive set of rules. The anti-nudity ordinance in Polk County, Florida, where I live, even has a “bikiniregulation” which specifies how much of a woman’s anatomy must be covered up to be “legal“. The purpose behind all these rules and regulations is to enforce/protect the “morality” of either church-members or county residents. Churches and county commissions have taken it upon themselves to be “morality-police“, and all of this is based on “the traditions of the elders“, because none of it is in the Bible.

Final thoughts…
I am thankful that I belong to a church which affirms that the Bible is our ONLY guide for faith and life. Legalism never brings about true holiness. Only God, working in our lives, can truly make us holy.

Which is more important to you, “the traditions of the elders“, or the Bible?

In Christ,
Steve