Church – or Religious Social-Club?

It should have been an older Pastor’s ultimate “gravy-job“. It was a large church, in an affluent part of a major city, and they were looking for a Senior Pastor. The salary and benefits package would have done many corporate CEO’s proud. It really WAS a “plum-job“, for the right Pastor. Looking for a change in scenery, and hoping to retire in a few years, Pastor-Bob applied, along with a several other applicants.

A few weeks after Pastor-Bob applied, he got a cordial letter from the Pastor Search Committee of the church asking him to come candidate(preach) at the church. When he went there to candidate, the facilities were impressive, and the parking lot was full of late-model upscale cars, an obvious display of the affluence of the members, but when he went into the church, he sensed that all was not as it seemed. Many of the members were aloof, and there seemed to be quite a few cliques, because the members didn’t really mingle. They just huddled in small groups. He might have his work cut out for him if he went there, because it seemed more like a social-club than a church.

The Pastor Search Committee was impressed with his grasp of the Word, and his ability to articulate the great truths of Scripture, so they voted unanimously to call Pastor-Bob to be their Senior Pastor. That was when he began planning his “not-so-grand” entrance.

While some of the details are contrived or embellished, it is based on a true story from an American Pastor, and the church could really have been almost any church in the world.

When he walked into the church for his first Sunday as their new Pastor, his breath smelled of cheap whiskey and stale cigars. He had fished his tattered clothes and mismatched shoes out of a dumpster. His hair was long and unkempt, and he had a scraggly beard. He resembled a hobo, a vagabond, or one of the homeless people down by the bus station. He came in limping and leaning on his cane, not exactly what the church was looking for in a Senior Pastor. The only person who greeted him was the usher who shuffled him to the far-back corner of the sanctuary. Everyone else ignored him, looking away in disgust. Some even moved farther away from him when he sat down.

Only two people were in on this little skit, his wife, and the Clerk of Session. His wife dropped him off about a block from the church so that he could walk by himself into the church. She parked their older car in the back corner of the parking lot and slipped inside quietly, where she could observe what was going to happen.

As the service progressed, the congregation wondered who was going to preach, because the chair where their Pastor usually sat was empty. Finally, the only Elder who was “in the know” stood up, and said that it was his great honor and privilege to welcome their new Pastor, Pastor-Bob. As Pastor-Bob slowly made his way to the front of the church, the congregation let out a collective “gasp“. Who was THAT man? Certainly that wasn’t their new Pastor, was it? That wasn’t the man who had candidated there a few weeks before, or was it?

When Pastor Bob got to the pulpit, and shook the hand of the Elder, he faced the congregation and said “I’m not sure that I am in the right place. I thought that I was coming to Pastor a church, but what I see here is a social-club, masquerading as a church.” Then he opened his Bible and said, “Turn with me to James 2, beginning at verse 1:”

2 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

After reading from James 2, he related both his experiences when he had been there before, and what he had just experienced, and asked “Do you want to be a church, or do you want to be a social-club, masquerading as a church? If all you want is a “feel-good” Chaplain for your social-club, I am the wrong man for the job, but if you want to truly be the church of Jesus Christ, we have some work to do, but God can do it.

How we treat those around us, and those who walk through our doors matters – to God, and it should matter to us. We show the genuineness of our salvation by how we treat others, and God WILL judge us by our actions, or inaction:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

How we treat those who walk through the doors of our churches matters – to God, and it should matter to us too. Having been a Deacon in a church, I know first-hand that occasionally someone will come to our churches seeking some kind of help. While it behooves us to be good stewards of the resources that God has provided to our mercy-ministries, we can’t treat every sob-story with suspicion, because where there ARE genuine-needs, needs we should meet to the best of our ability. Sometimes it will be best if one of the Deacons goes with the person to get what they need, rather than handing them money which may get used for drugs or alcohol instead.

If you drive the streets of any city in America, you WILL encounter people who are homeless, particularly here in Florida, where our moderate climate makes it easier for them to survive on the streets. They may be begging on a street-corner, or huddled in an alley, but they have no place to call “home“. Sadly, many of them are Veterans, men and women who have been used-up by our Armed Forces, and dumped back on our streets, with little or no support-system or training to reintegrate into our society.

The person in need may NOT be homeless, but may be your neighbor. It may be necessary to exercise the same level same level of prudence that churches must exercise when supplying needs. I used to have a neighbor who was frequently broke, but she would pay the satellite-TV bill and buy beer before she bought groceries, so I didn’t usually hand her money, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t sometimes take care of her needs. I did buy some of her medications and took her grocery-shopping when she was broke, not because she had mismanaged her money, but because she didn’t have any income due to illness or injury. There was a difference.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, WE are the church, and we bring our attitudes towards those who are less fortunate than us into that building we call the “church“. The problems that Pastor found in the church in the story were amplified-symptoms of the attitudes of its members. While there were homeless people on the streets trying to eke-out their existence, church members were well-fed, lived in virtual-mansions, and drove cars that cost more than many houses, and they didn’t care. After all, they HAD earned that “right“…

I don’t live in a mansion, eat steak and lobster every night or drive a luxury-vehicle, but I DO have a place to call “home“, eat well, and have a dependable vehicle, which is far more than homeless people can enjoy. Maybe I SHOULD keep some extra cash in my vehicle to give people in need, and take that giving-attitude to church with me. How about you?

Church – or Social-Club?

The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Do You Need Help?

Sometimes that question is music to my ears, but at other times, I hate that question with a purple-passion. Say what? Yes, there are times when I legitimately want and need help, but there are times when I could use some help, but am loath to admit it.

Thanks…

I wrote “Tired Of Being “Tough”” a little over a year ago about my struggles with handling all the losses I have had in the last several months. That is one time when I am very grateful that help IS available, because since I wrote and posted that piece, I have had several more traumatic-losses, which now brings the number of significant-losses to four. The most recent loss was in July, when I lost my brother. That is a LOT of losses for one person to process and handle at the same time. I am still seeing a mental-health counselor once a quarter, and I am thankful that he is there for me.

We have all been in stores when we can’t seem to find ANYTHING, at least not what we are looking for. WalMart is infamous for rearranging their stores in a seemingly-random manner, and even if we have been in that same store dozens of times, there is always something we can’t find, and only store employees know where it is. That is when I don’t mind asking, or getting asked, if I need help. I have even been known to ask another customer if they know where what I am looking for is. Sometimes it is almost right under my nose but I was too blind to see it.

I was in Staples recently looking for a new desktop computer, and one of the employees was there to explain the differences between the various models they have, and make recommendations about which one would best suit my needs. Thank you very much! A new computer will have to wait a while, because I have several more important issues to take care of first.

I called Tire Kingdom a few days ago about two tires for my vehicle. The store manager graciously helped me select the tires that would best suit my needs, based on his many years of experience in the tire business, and what he runs on his personal vehicles. His recommendations verified my own gut-feeling, so my new tires are being shipped in from their warehouse. Thank you very much!

Thanks, but no-thanks…

There are also times when I DO need help, but I am too stubborn to admit it. Maybe, it’s more like, too PROUD to admit it. I have needed those tires for several weeks, but haven’t had the money to buy them, so I have kept putting it off. Now, it is crunch-time, because I just don’t trust them, particularly on the highway, any more. I made the mistake of admitting to one of my church’s deacons that I need two new tires but don’t have the money for them, so he offered help from the deacon’s fund. I declined.

Last year was a different story. My refrigerator died suddenly last March, and I didn’t have any choice about accepting help to buy a new fridge because I didn’t have the money. I was able to maximize the help by getting my new fridge on sale. That helped me be a good steward of the resources God provided through my church.

Why is this year any different? I know that I wasn’t as frugal with my resources in the last year as I should have been, but, then again, I was counting on some income to help pay me extra expenses which never materialized. That left me in a bind as far as taking care of my own needs.

I have been taught to “own” and accept my choices and decisions, for better or for worse, and to deal, as best I can, with the outcomes. Maybe I am too stubborn, or maybe I am too proud, but I can’t accept financial-assistance to buy my tires. Thanks, but no-thanks!

That brings us to the story of a man who WASN’T shy about asking for help:

Bartimaeus Receives His Sight

46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” 50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road. (Mark 10:46-52)

Bartimaeus couldn’t have descended much lower of the social-scale. He was blind, and a beggar. Only lepers were “below” him, and even servants and slaves “ranked” higher than him because they could at least work for their living. When he heard that Jesus was coming, out of desperation, with nothing to lose, and potentially everything to gain, he called-out to Jesus; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus’ reputation had been spread far and wide, so Bartimaeus had probably heard many stories about His miraculous-healings. Would Jesus help him? Why did he throw aside his cloak when he was led to Jesus?

Do you detect a bit of “imagery” here?

50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!”

What did Bartimaeus call Jesus when he made his request? “Rabbi” was the typical title for religious leaders, but Bartimaeus called Jesus “Rabboni“. “Rabboni” is Hebrew for “my master“, a recognition of and submission to Jesus’ authority. Who else called Jesus “Rabboni“?

Since Bartimaeus was claiming Jesus as his master, he may have not wanted to appear before Jesus dressed as he was. That cloak may have been all he owned, and was probably little more than a rag. There was no shame attached to nakedness in the Bible, other than the shame associated with extreme-poverty or enslavement, so Bartimaeus’ only “shame” would have been his poverty, symbolized by his tattered cloak.

God commanded Isaiah, in Isaiah 20, to prophesy barefoot and naked for three years against Egypt and Cush. When they were conquered by the Assyrians, they would be led-away as slaves, barefoot and naked. Isaiah’s nakedness symbolized how they would be treated when they were conquered. It was also to serve as a warning to Israel, which had, contrary to God’s command, made a defense-pact with Egypt and Cush. It was not “shameful” for Isaiah to prophesy naked, but they would be shamed in their captivity.

After Bartimaues made his request to Jesus, Jesus healed him immediately, saying; “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.

Following Jesus, in gratitude for what He had done for him, was the natural-result of this incredible miracle. There are many other instances when Jesus healed people and they became His followers.

What about us?

We are constantly putting on a “show” for others, and ultimately for God, but why? We try to pretend that we have it all together, that we are self-sufficient, and that we have everything under control, and while we may fool the people around us, we can’t fool God. He sees us naked, as we are, stripped-bare of all of our pretenses, so why do we try to fool Him too?

Regardless of the resolution of my financial-situation, there is one person I, and you, need never be ashamed of asking for what we need – God. He already knows our needs before we ask Him, so why aren’t we willing to take our needs to Him? He won’t ever embarrass us, and He has far more resources than we can ever imagine. No, He probably won’t lead you to what you are looking for in that store, or get that item at the back of the top-shelf that you can’t reach, but He may just send someone who CAN help with what you need. Money probably won’t come raining-down from heaven, but some other provision may arrive unexpectedly. Yes, we need to be more like Bartimaeus, and less like stubborn-me.

Sola Deo Gloria!

 

“Tribalism” Is NOT a Dirty-Word

What IStribalism“?

Tribalism is the state of being organized by, or advocating for, tribes or tribal lifestyles. Human evolution has primarily occurred in small groups, as opposed to mass societies, and humans naturally maintain a social network. In popular culture, tribalism may also refer to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their social group above all else, or, derogatorily, a type of discrimination or animosity based upon group differences. (Wikipedia)

Note: Mankind has NOT “evolved” into a tribal-society. God ordained human society around the family, which grew into a tribal-society. In the Old Testament, God organized the children of Israel into tribal-units, with each tribe given their allotted-portion of the Promised Land.

Tribalism, it’s always worth remembering, is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience. It comes more naturally to us than any other way of life. For the overwhelming majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. We lived for tens of thousands of years in compact, largely egalitarian groups of around 50 people or more, connected to each other by genetics and language, usually unwritten. Most tribes occupied their own familiar territory, with widespread sharing of food and no private property. A tribe had its own leaders and a myth of its own history. It sorted out what we did every day, what we thought every hour. (nymag.com)

Tribalism is getting a bad rap in 21st century American politics for precisely the same reason it is crucially-important that we preserve and maintain our tribalism. There ARE some things worth fighting for. The globalist/socialist cabal has been working feverishly for over sixty years to destroy the most basic unit of society, the family. Family is God’s idea, not just a human-construct.

One of the first steps in destroying the family was abortion-on-demand, which meant that women no longer had to take ownership of their sexual-choices. It became cheap and simple to eliminate that “problem” if a woman didn’t want the baby she conceived. In some societies, abortion can be used for gender-selection. Want a boy, but got a girl, just abort the girl, or visa-versa. If the baby has a “geneticdefect”, abort it and don’t “pollute” the gene-pool. Some parts of Scandinavia have all-but eradicated Down’s Syndrome through abortion. Human-life has become so devalued that people have become totally-disposable. Oh, but being against abortion is “tribalistic“…

The next step in destroying the family was divorce. As I was growing-up in the 50’s and 60’s, none of my friends were from single-parent homes. Divorces were hard to get and rare. I didn’t witness the effects of divorce first-hand until I was in my teens, in the early 70’s. Sadly, that divorce happened in our church, and the offender was one of our Elders. He preferred another woman’s bed to his own, and left his wife and three young daughters behind.

Then came divorce-on-demand – “no-fault” divorce, and as a result, the divorce-rate has exploded. It now stands at over fifty-percent. Yes, you read that right. More than half of the couples who say “I do” will say “I don’t” at some time in the future. “Til death do us part” has become “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. Sadly, the church hasn’t been spared from this divorce-epidemic. Do you still believe in marriage “Til death do us part“? That too is “tribalistic“.

The next step in destroying the family was “same-sex-marriage“, totally-ignoring God’s design for marriage, given in Genesis 2:24; “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”, and also ignoring the Creation mandate given in Genesis 1: 28; “28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Belief in traditional marriage is also “tribalistic”…

Along with “same-sex-marriage“, we are now seeing “gender-confusion“, again, ignoring God’s clear designs for humanity in Genesis1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” People are now free to pick their gender, or none at all. Think it isn’t happening? A man, who I have known for several years and met in person, now believes that he is “transgender“, even though he is still clearly a man. He proudly displays pictures of himself dressed in women’s clothing, and is proudly leading his grandson down the same gender-confused path, including displaying pictures of his grandson dressed as a girl. I met a younger woman recently who is raising her baby, a boy, “gender-neutral“. Just wait until he is old enough to figure out that what is between his legs is different than what is between his mom’s and sister’s legs… She is going to have some splaining to do… Oh, by the way, believing that God only created two genders is also “tribalistic”.

Also along with the legalization of “same-sex-marriage” came the “normalization” of homosexuality, and anyone who is not “LGBTQ-friendly” is seen as a “bigot” and “homophobe“. There are “gay-pride” events and parades, but God help us if we had a “straight-pride” event or parade. Disney World, in Orlando, Florida is largest employer of gay individuals in the state, and it hosts week-long “gay-pride” events every year. Disney’s movies – for children, have become notorious for their satanic imagery and gay themes. I wonder if Walt Disney would approve, or is he turning over in his grave in disgust?

While all of these problems are significant, they are only the tip of the iceberg, so what is the REAL problem? If you look at every one of these problems, and the ideology behind them, the unifying-thread is that they are all godless. Once they threw God out of our society and civil discourse, the sky was the limit and all hell broke loose, and we have been reaping what we sowed, but to even mention that is also “tribalistic”.

Beginning sixty or so years ago, God has been methodically taken out of our schools, our courts, and even our cities and cemeteries. It is still “okay“, for now, to practice our religion in private, but heaven-forbid we do anything in public. Forget praying before a sporting event, such as a football game.

Schools, from pre-K on up, have become institutions of indoctrination, NOT education. My niece was in middle school last year, and on her first day of school, they were all handed TEN PAGES of rules. No school needs ten pages of rules, but they were to be graded on how well their teams of four students did in reciting their assigned section to memorize. They weren’t being educated, they were being turned into useful-idiots who will willingly do the bidding of the state. Is it any wonder that so many parents, particularly Christian parents, are home-schooling their children? At least the parents get some say in what their children are taught and learn, unlike the public schools which give the parents NO say in what their children are taught. Another option for parents who can’t home-school their children, but have the financial resources, is private schools, particularly Christian schools. If you oppose public-school indoctrination, you are also part of the wrong “tribe”.

While taking a strong, biblical, Christian stance on all of these issues will get you labeled as a “tribalist“, and our overall ideology is considered “tribalism“, the reality is that those who espouse these non-Christian ideologies are also “tribalistic“. We just happen to belong to different “tribes“, “tribes” that have very different ideologies and value-systems. The major political parties are just large “tribes”, comprised of many smaller “tribes”, so regardless of where you stand on any issue, there is a “tribe” for you.

Did you realize that Christians are “tribal”? Christians have divided ourselves up into numerous “denominations”, “tribes”, each with its own distinctive belief-system. I cannot be a member of a Baptist Church because I haven’t been “immersed”. I cannot take communion in a Catholic Church because I am not Catholic, nor may I take communion in many Orthodox Presbyterian Churches because I don’t belong to THAT church, even though I am a member-in-good-standing in a PCA Church. I cannot be an Elder in an Evangelical Free Church because I don’t subscribe to their system of Eschatology. Ironically, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is one of the easiest churches to join, because we accept people from all religious backgrounds.

I probably cannot be an officer in any PCA church because I reject some aspects of their Book of Church Order (BOCO), particularly their emphasis on the primacy of the Presbytery. I believe in the primacy of the local church, as taught in Scripture, NOT the primacy of the Presbytery. As a former Elder in a PCA church, I believe the BOCO has that backwards. Yes, some of my views have changed over the last twenty years.

Even “non-denominational” is “tribal”, because they reject membership in any major denomination.

Make no mistake about it – the battle-lines are drawn, and we are at war, not a shooting-war – yet, but a war of words and ideologies. The globalist/socialist cabal declared war on Christianity and traditional American values many years ago, so they are years ahead of us. So far, it looks like they are winning, but the battle if far from over. Don’t forget that there ARE some things worth fighting-for.

There is one more thing I need to mention – our right to self-defense. The founders of our country and the framers of our Constitution realized that the last defense against a totalitarian state was an armed populace. The Army that won the Revolutionary War was NOT a “professional-standing-army”. It was an army of citizen-soldiers. We have seen time after time that the first step a totalitarian wannabe dictator always takes is disarming the populace. Once the populace is disarmed, it is easy for the state to crush any dissent because the state has all the weapons. Foreseeing this possibility in the future, they enshrined our RIGHT to keep and bear arms in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which is under continuous-onslaught by those who believe that they are the only ones who deserve armed-security. Even the “celebrity” who organized a small protest outside the NRA Convention in Dallas this year had several bodyguards who were conspicuously-armed. The hypocrisy runs deep in that tribe. They don’t believe that we are smart enough to safely take charge of our own protection, but, in the words of Grady Judd, Sheriff of Polk County, Florida, “When seconds count, help is minutes away.” Who do YOU trust with your personal-security? Oh, but “clinging to our guns” is “tribal”…

Whether from political leaders or from those who shape the cultural ideas of the moment or from our neighbors, we are reminded that the message of God’s Word is rarely welcome in the public square.”

Take courage, God is still on His throne, and He still reigns supreme.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Who Are The Religious “Elite”?

If you thought that the religious “elite“, which Jesus denounced in Matthew 23, the “scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the Law“, had gone extinct, you would be sadly-mistaken. As there were in the time of Christ, there are people who consider themselves the religious “elite“. They don’t call themselves by those titles anymore, but make no mistake about it, the religious “elite” is alive and well. They have just “re-branded” themselves. Rather than “scribe“, they are “DOCTOR“. Rather than “Pharisee“, they are “President” or “Dean“. Rather than “teachers of the Law“, they are “Professor” or “Fellow“.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)

From Jesus’ description of them, it is easy to imagine them as a bunch of Bantie Roosters strutting around with their noses in the air. Oh, but that couldn’t be describing any of the religious “elite” today, could it? Yes, and they are easy to find, particularly on Twitter. If a person knows where to look on Twitter, they can compile a list of the religious “who’s-who“, the “elite“, in just a few minutes.

That list will include who is racking-up more frequent-flier miles than an international business-mogul, who has just published their latest book and how many books they have written, who is appearing at what conferences, oh, and who just got their latest honorary doctorate degree. Their face will be plastered prominently on Twitter, as if we need reminding of who they are and what they look like, AND, they will always have DR. in front of their name, along with whatever titles they have accumulated. They tend to run in “packs” wherever they go, patting each other on the back and reminding everyone how “important” they are. If you REALLY want to be impressed, look for them in their pictures in their academic gowns. WOW!!! Color me impressed – NOT!

One such popular preacher, teacher and writer has almost a million “followers” on Twitter, many of whom hang on his every word. Unfortunately, not all of his “theology” is biblical or reliable. May the buyer-beware, because he has plastered a religious-veneer on some very man-centered “theology“. If this particular “theology” is SO “biblical“, as he claims, why haven’t more theologians, teachers and writers picked it up? I have Googled it before, and all links lead right back to him, because nobody else will touch it with a ten-foot pole. Maybe it isn’t so “biblical” after all.

It is easy to become “addicted” to the popularity, adoration and adulation, but Scripture would caution them to take themselves off of their pedestals, lest God do it for them, and they lose more than just their “good-name“.

Are they REALLY the religious “elite“, or are they really “legends in their own minds“? Sadly, we have also seen way too many of them fall, and fall HARD, and the higher their pedestal, the farther they fell. Whether it was gross sexual-misconduct or a DWI, they AND their pedestal came crashing to the ground. BUT, if they keep their noses clean, they may even get a “chair” named after them at some religious institution.

Note: I am NOT commenting on anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church. They are their own thing, with their own problems, beginning with their man-made religion.

If I was the only person who has noticed this, I might be dismissed as some “kook“, but I’m not. A friend, who is an Elder in the church I attended in Lake City, commented on this on Twitter quite recently. He gets around quite a bit too. There really are, within Evangelical Christianity, a LOT of “personality-cults” which have grown around some of the more visible religious “elite“.

I just have one question: Who are they pointing people to, themselves or Jesus Christ?

Sola Deo Gloria!

Do Firearms Belong In Churches?

Several high-profile church-massacres in recent years beg the question; “How should we protect our churches and their members?” While we expect that our homes and our churches will be “safe-spaces“, home-invasions occur every day, and church shootings are occurring all too frequently. The church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Fall drove this point home to me. The only thing that ended that carnage was a few well-placed shots made by a “good-guy-with-a-gun“. Are there really any “safe-spaces” left?

Any time there is a massacre in a place where we should be able to assume is a “safe-space“, there are always questions about what went wrong and how best to prevent similar incidents in the future. One thing we know for certain, is that bad-guys always select “soft-targets“, because the last thing the bad-guy wants is to become the victim of his own chicanery. “Soft-targets” are “easy-targets“, regardless of where and what they are, and a “No guns allowed” sign is like a “Welcome Mat” . One of the questions is “How “hard” is “hard-enough”?”

You can’t get into the capital building without passing a controlled entrance, metal detectors & capital police. How far would you get walking into any other government building, court house, major bank, sports or entertainment venue, media headquarters, or airport with a weapon? Disney, the “happiest place on earth“, uses metal detectors and has armed-security. If these places have been made into “hard-targets“, are they more “important” than the other places we go? Are they more “important” than our churches? Money is transported in armored trucks protected by armed-guards. Is money more “important” than human life?

The White House is protected with multiple-layers of security, controlled by the Secret Service – armed to the teeth. Our politicians are surrounded by an armed-web of security. Are they more “important” than the rest of us? What about our entertainers? The Oscars was crawling with armed-security, some of it visible, some of it hidden. Are the “stars” more “important” than us and our families? They would have us believe so…

While this is about churches, not schools, the recent wave of mass-murders in schools has many people asking how we can protect our children from harm. Some would-be killers have been intercepted by armed-security, limiting the impact of their intentions. Armed-security works. It is of course, an extremely sad commentary on our society that we would need to harden the schools populated with our children. But at some point, we will almost assuredly ask the question we’ve asked about these other facilities. It’s not why would we do it, but why did we wait so long?

Let’s end the gun control debate & just protect our children & schools like we do elected government officials.

As we have seen recently, not even restaurants are safe. There was a shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and a bombing at a restaurant in Canada. Can’t we at least eat in peace and safety? Apparently not. No place is immune…

NOTE: This is NOT about “gun-control” or “reasonable gun-laws“, because we already have way too many laws on the books and more won’t change a thing. Criminals don’t obey the law, or they wouldn’t be criminals, so more laws are worthless except to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some dear friends of mine belong to a church which has armed-security every time the doors are open. They have also restricted access to the main-entrance only, particularly during services. They live in a state where it is way too easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I well know from living there for several years. Yes, the threats are real. Does that mean that they don’t trust God to protect them? No, but they aren’t stupid either, and God sometimes uses “means” for self-protection.

There are two polar-opposite “camps” when it comes to “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions. On one side are those who have no qualms about “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions, including having armed-guards. Some even post signs indicating that there is armed-security on the premises. On the other side are those who believe that they are “honoring God” by refusing to protect themselves, thus “proving” that they are more “spiritual” than those who arm and protect themselves. My question for the latter group is “Are you courting martyrdom?” Do they even lock their doors? We can stick our heads in the sand, or we can acknowledge that churches require security from criminal assault just like every other organization.

When King David retrieved the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been stored after the Philistines returned it, it was escorted by thirty-thousand armed men – an army. (2 Samuel 6)

Even while Jesus was preparing to be arrested, He started preparing His disciples for their expanded-role in spreading the Gospel. While the Parable of the Good Samaritan was indeed a parable, it represented a real-life problem in that part of the world. There WERE thieves and robbers, and they would prey on anyone they could, particularly if they were defenseless. There was safety in numbers while they were all together, but that wouldn’t always be the case. They needed to be prepared.

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

Some commentators interpret “It is enough.” as “Enough of this nonsense“, as if Jesus didn’t REALLY just say “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”, but in this context, that interpretation is playing-off of their own cultural-hangups, not the clear-meaning and spirit of the text. Neither Jesus, nor the rest of the Bible, ever denies a person the right to lawful self-defense, and Jesus never told His disciples to leave their weapons at home. Evidently Peter wasn’t the only one “packing-heat”.

Maybe you are questioning the wisdom of having weapons in God’s house, but we haven’t always been this hesitant to protect what really matters – God’s house. The Gospels include many references to “temple guards” and “officers of the Chief Priest“.

When Jesus was buried, the Jewish religious leaders were afraid that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He was alive, so after getting Pilate’s approval, they set a guard over His tomb. (Matthew 27:62-66)

After Jesus rose from the tomb, the Jewish religious leaders paid-off the guards to lie about the resurrection. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Captains of the Temple” is mention during Jesus’ arrest. (Luke 22:52)

Officers sent to arrest Jesus failed in their mission. (John 7:32, 44-46)

Part of the mob that arrested Jesus included “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” (John 18:3)

In the 1st Century, Herod’s Temple was incredibly-ornate, not to mention, fabulously-wealthy. All of the articles used in worship were solid-gold, and there were hundreds of them. All temple-taxes and donations were in cash and there were no banks to deposit that money in, so it had to be kept in the temple-treasury. Thus, 24/7/365 armed-security was an absolute-necessity. The temple guards also kept order in the Temple and enforced the segregation-regulations.

Segregation-regulations“? Yes, there were three “courts” in the Temple. Only Jewish men were allowed in the inner-court, closest to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The second-court, or the “court of the women” was for Jewish women. The outer-court was known as the “court of the Gentiles“, so someone had to make sure that nobody went where they didn’t “belong“. The Jewish leaders weren’t beyond requiring a “robe-check” to make sure Gentiles didn’t get where they didn’t belong.

Do you remember where the first mention of an armed-guard is in the Bible? Would you believe Genesis 3:24, in the Garden of Eden? After God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He placed an angel with a flaming-sword at the entrance to the Garden. Because God met Adam and Eve in the Garden, it could rightfully be considered “God’s house“.

Yea, but… but they didn’t have firearms back then… No, they had swords, spears and bows – weapons. Firearms are simply updated-weapons. Weapons technology has come a long way in the past two-thousand years.

The Vatican, which is entirely-within the city of Rome, has its own security-force, and the Pope has his own personal body-guards, the Swiss Guards. The Pope is the most powerful religious-leader in the world, and his beliefs and opinions aren’t always popular.

“After-action-review” or “Arm-chair-analysis”…

I don’t usually like to do “after-action-reviews” or “arm-chair-analysis” on recent events, but there are way too many obvious lessons to be learned from them. Let’s look at what we know about these recent shootings, notice what went wrong, and what could have been done better. Note: I don’t have any “insideinformation“, so everything I know is based on whatever information is publicly-available.

Louie’s Lakeside Restaurant – Oklahoma City

While this shooting was stopped fairly-promptly by two men with their own guns, they had to retrieve their guns from the trunks of their cars first. Neither one had a Concealed Carry Permit, and the Governor of Oklahoma had just vetoed a “Constitutional-Carry” Bill which had been passed by the State Legislature. The Governor had gone against the will of the people as expressed by the Legislature. Had their guns been immediately-available, the outcome might have been even better.

The shooter had exhibited bizarre-behavior and had come to the attention of the FBI, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a Licensed Security Guard with the right to carry a weapon. Why?

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – Parkland, Florida

A security-analysis of MSD High School had been done by a retired Secret Service agent two months prior to the event, but it was ignored, swept under the rug. The School Board had Grant Money available for school-security-upgrades, but hadn’t used that money for what it was intended for. Authorities at all levels, including the FBI, had ignored all the warning-signs that the shooter was a serious-threat… because he was a “minority“.

The Sheriff’s Deputy who was the School Resource Officer cowered outside while the carnage went on, as did three other Deputies. What happened to “Protect and Serve“?

First Baptist Church – Sutherland Springs, Texas

I spent many years in that part of the country, and in rural-areas, a gun-rack and hunting-rifle is pretty much “standard-equipment” in most pickup-trucks, and yet, regardless of how many hunting-rifles were in vehicles in the church parking-lot, they were worthless, because the shooter was BETWEEN those gun-owners and their guns. Those guns might as well have been at home in a gun-safe.

The shooter should have been ineligible to buy and own weapons due to his violent-past, but because he was in the Air Force when they happened, and the Air Force had neglected to enter his data into the FBI database, he never got “flagged“.

It took someone OUTSIDE the church, with immediate-access to a weapon and the skill to use it, to finally end that carnage. Texas has some of the most liberal handgun-carry laws in the nation, and yet nobody was armed. Why?

Your church – my church

Is YOUR church in a “safe-area“? Mine would seem to be, but the County Sheriff, who knows the “lay-of-the-land” far-better than I do, put out a video recently encouraging County residents to do whatever is necessary to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves. What does he know? Maybe there is only a “veneer” of safety…

The leadership of each church must analyze the level of risk, and decide how much risk is “acceptable”. As “under-shepherds” commissioned by our Lord, with the responsibility to care for the “flock”, not only spiritually, but physically while they are “on-campus”, they must decide wisely. Can they really AFFORD to not provide “sheep-dogs” (armed-security) to protect the “flock”?

Some of you may recoil in horror at the thought of even owning a gun, let alone carrying it to and in church, but there is nothing “unchristian” about protecting yourself and those you love from harm and violence. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome here.

Steve

Romans 8:28 – What It DOESN’T Say

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)

Romans 8:28 may be the most popular verse for Christians to quote when “everything that could go wrong – does“, but it may be little help to someone who is going through some kind of struggle. Rather than helping, it may be like “pouring salt on the wound“, because while what it says is true, what it DOESN’T say is equally-true. SO – what DOESN’T it say?

We are “planners“, and so is God, except that God’s plans always trump our plans, whether we like it or not. When I planned my month-long trip last year, I calculated the mileage of each leg of the trip to within less than five miles. That gave me a good idea of when I would need to refuel my truck and how long the drive would be, except that I couldn’t control the weather. A tropical storm “happened” to park itself off the Gulf coast, so I drove through torrential rain for much of the second leg of the trip. That increased my drive-time and reduced the fuel-economy of my truck, so I had to refuel sooner than expected. Did it REALLY matter? No, except that as I refueling my truck, I was able to talk with an Alabama State Trooper who gave me exact directions to my motel and told me what kinds of restaurants were in that town. No, there wasn’t a Chick-Fil-A. Shucks! God knew what I would need, so He “arranged” that meeting, “courtesy” of the weather. The Trooper pulled into that fuel island less than thirty-seconds after I did. How’s that for coordination? Things don’t always turn out that neat-and-tidy.

The first thing we need to notice is that God is the “active-agent” – “God causes…“. God didn’t consult us when He laid out the plans for our lives, because, according to the Psalmist (Psalm 139:13-16), God’s plans were made before we were even born. I would have had some serious qualms about God’s plans for my life, but He didn’t ask me first. Does He take our “preferences” into account when He makes our plans? Maybe, maybe not…

The next word that hits us between the eyes is “all“. We might be okay with “some“, but we have serious reservations about “all” – ALL! Sure, some things are “okay‘, but some of them really stink, such as an unexpected-death or unwanted-divorce. I have experienced both, and then some…

How about “good“? Romans 8:28 doesn’t even give us the right to define “good“. God wasn’t, and still isn’t hiring consultants to help Him define “good“. Defining “good” is His sole prerogative. His definition of “good” is final. Yes, even death and divorce. Because God sees, knows and ordains the outcomes, sometimes the “good” is the GOOD of someone else whose life we will be able to impact, even though OUR perceived outcome was less than “good“. I have experienced an extended-period of intense-struggle during which I was given the opportunity to do a lot of “good” for another person. While I struggled, I was able to help another person through their struggles. That must have been part of the plan…

Also conspicuously-missing is any form of “time-line“, so we don’t even get to pick WHEN the “good” will happen. It may happen in this life, but there are no guarantees, written, expressed or implied. God is, once-again, the sole-arbiter of that “time-line“. It has taken over twenty years of “train-wrecks” to get me to where I am now. Twenty years, and some of the messes are still not “cleaned-up“. Some of them may not be “cleaned-up” in this lifetime. Twenty-plus years of debris…

“to those who love God”: How well do we show our love for God? If you are anything like me, my love for God waxes and wanes. We are called to humbly trust God, as we progress towards loving Him with all of our being. Only Jesus accomplished that daunting-task perfectly.

to those who are called according to His purpose.“: Also conspicuously-missing is any say on our part in defining God’s purposes. As mentioned previously, God laid out the plans for our lives long before we were even a gleam in our parent’s eyes. God’s purposes are eternal.

Final thoughts…
Romans 8:28 is NOT a “feel-good-pill“, and it may be “cold-comfort” to someone who has or is going through some kind of traumatic-event.

Romans 8:28 doesn’t say that “God is going to make it all better“, because in many cases He doesn’t.

Seeing the “good” may have to wait for Heaven.

Don’t throw Romans 8:28 out there when it may cause more harm than good. It is far-better to simply love the person during and through their hard-times.

If you preach it to yourself, as I have many times, keep in mind that it doesn’t always explain the unexplainable. I still have many unanswered “Why?” questions, and you may too.

God ordained the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the most evil, vile act in human history, for OUR good“, that we may be saved.

God is at work accomplishing His plans and His purposes, and He may use us to accomplish His desired-ends, but He doesn’t have to ask our permission first.

Sola Deo Gloria!

On Death-Row

I am a prisoner on death-row, convicted, not by some criminal court, but by the court of my own memories and the memories of the people I have wronged. While the bars that restrain me aren’t physical, they are far stronger than any physical bars will ever be, because no matter where I go, they are still there, invisible to you, but very real to me. There is no escaping this prison.

As surely as the triple-murderer will never breathe the fresh-air of freedom, some of our past actions have lasting-consequences. My dad had several diseases when he died, but the only one that wasn’t curable was syphilis. Had it been caught and treated at an early stage, it would have been treatable, but by the time it was discovered, it was long-past being effectively-treatable. His past actions were part of his ultimate-demise.

While I don’t have an incurable-disease, some of my past actions DO have enduring-consequences. Yes, I know that, in Christ, my past is forgiven, but God doesn’t always release us from the temporal-consequences of our past. That I wasn’t as good a husband and father to my first wife and children had consequences then, and it has ongoing-consequences now. I became a suicide-survivor and widower in 1997, and my own children also disowned me in 1997. I lost my whole family in one fell-swoop.

That STILL hasn’t been resolved. My two younger daughters blocked me on Facebook immediately after I messaged one of them to notify them that their grandmother had just died. No response, just BLOCKED.

Recently I discovered that I now have six grandkids, by looking through my oldest daughter’s pictures on Facebook (the only one who hasn’t blocked me – yet). When I mentioned this to my brother Steve, he told me that I shouldn’t be doing this to myself. Am I supposed to forget my own flesh and blood?

I wish that I could say that everything has been peachy since then, but it hasn’t been. I still don’t have this “marriage” thing figured out, that is, how to make it last, because I have been married three times since then, resulting in two divorces and one permanent-separation. Permanent-separation? Yes, my wife moved-out of my house over five years ago and moved-in with another man forty-one days after we got married, and she is living as if she is married to him, not to me. While she is living in adultery, my consequence is that I CAN’T “move-on“, because I am legally-bound to her “til death or divorce do us part“. Oh, I forgot that the “or divorce” wasn’t part of our marriage-vows, so that means “til death do us part“. Do you get the picture?

Numerous people, including my counselor at the VA, have told me that I just need to “move on“. Try telling that to a death-row inmate…

Maybe you are thinking to yourself that I am being a bit over-the-top dramatic, but you haven’t walked a mile, or two or five, in my moccasins. Every time I start to experience a sense of “normalcy“, the defecation-hits-the-rotating-blades (SHTF) – again.

Christians are fond of quoting Romans 8:28 to each other during times of trial and distress. I’ve done it to myself quite a few times, but is it REALLY the right thing to say in the moment?

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)

This is wonderful theology for the long-haul, but poor comfort in the short-run. This verse has a decidedly futuristic-vision, a vision of glory in eternity that will make all of our earthly-troubles pale into insignificance, but it doesn’t deny that we still struggle.

Please, please, please, before you quote this verse to someone who is going through rough times, enter into their grief and pain for a while, be their comforter when they need one, and avoid pouring more gasoline on their fire, because, in the wrong context, Romans 8:28 can feel like a cruel, sadistic joke to someone who is going through hard times.

We are NOT promised that, in this life, we will ever breathe the sweet air of freedom. Many of us will die “on death-row“, never having experienced relationships restored, never having experienced a “good” marriage, never having experienced what most people consider “normal“.

If things are going fairly-well in your life, give thanks to God, and while you are thanking God that you have a good situation, pray for those of us who are still living “on death-row“. If you meet one of us, please be gentle with us. We need care, concern and understanding, rather than a theology-lecture.

In John 11, Jesus didn’t give Mary a theology-lecture. He entered into her pain, John 11:35. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is loaded with meaning. Even though Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He took time – first – to enter into their grief.

Blessings
Steve

Happy New Year!!!

Yeah, I know, I am fifty-four days late, but better late than never. HAH! Just kidding… Actually, I am NOT kidding. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! This is a new year. This is the first day of the rest of my life!

Last year was a disaster just about from start to finish, but that disaster didn’t magically resolve-itself January 1st. Lest you have forgotten, I lost my mom to cancer April 4th, and a friend to suicide October 12th. His funeral was October 21st, the day before the 20th “anniversary” of Connie’s death by suicide, October 22, 1997. We had a memorial service January 13th for a friend who had been a part of Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship, and who passed away between Christmas and New Years. That means that 2017 really wasn’t “over” until after January 13th, or was it?

My Brother is STILL in Shand’s Hospital, after having been either in a hospital or a rehab-center for over five months. He has been an inmate in three different hospitals and four different rehab-centers. Yes, you read that right. He hasn’t been HOME in over FIVE MONTHS, and no, he hasn’t been “deployed” somewhere. SO, I have moved MY New Year’s celebration up to February 23rd, my birthday. No, I don’t want my birthday made into a Federal holiday. I’m not THAT important.

As I sat by the pool at Cypress Cove chatting with friends, walking by the lake, or soaking up some sun in the pool, wearing nothing but a grin, a hat and some sunscreen, I thought; “What a great way to start this new year.” I am hoping to get a lot more of that “sunshine-therapy” this year. It is good for both body AND soul.

While you may be thinking that I have lost my mind, I am hoping and praying this new year, beginning today, will truly be a new and better year than last year was.

Life is NOT always a “bed-of-roses” because rose-bushes are guarded by thorns, so to get to the beauty, you have to go through the pain. Reinhold Niebuhr captured these thoughts very elegantly in the “Serenity Prayer“.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

Blessings!
Steve

The LORD is my Shepherd…

As we prepare to bid “Adios” to 2017, a year that, for many of us, has been very difficult, we need to be reminded that the same Shepherd that King David trusted in three-thousand years ago is still on His throne and will lead us onward into and through 2018.

I lost my mom to cancer April 4th of this year. She spent the last 2-1/2 weeks in a Hospice facility, and when I went to see her, I read the 23rd Psalm to her right before I left each time. Even though her thinking wasn’t very clear and she was minimally-responsive, when I read this Psalm to her, she would get the most peaceful-countenance about her as she imagined being led by her great Shepherd. It was all I could do to read the 23rd Psalm at her memorial service without breaking down.

Several of us lost a friend and brother to suicide October 12th. He left his young, pregnant wife and three adorable daughters behind. Other close friends also lost family members this year.

October 22nd was the twentieth anniversary of the death by suicide of my beloved wife, Connie. That kind of loss never goes away, and it is a loss that you don’t just “get-over”.

The 23rd Psalm is the best-know passage in the whole Bible, and even unbelievers want it read at their funeral or memorial service, because it speaks of the kind of comfort and security everyone craves. This is a phrase-by-phrase, part-by-part, meditation, and I hope to open up the richest meaning we can get from this marvelous Psalm.

King David, the author, had been a shepherd long before he was anointed as a king, so he knew intimately what the responsibilities of a shepherd were. As he applied it to us, as sheep under God’s shepherding, he has told us both what our Shepherd will do, and what our response should be.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23)

The LORD – The LORD – Yahweh…the most personal name of God, the great I AM. This was the marvelous name God told Moses to use when he went back to Egypt to carry out the mission God commanded him to do…liberate the children of Israel from bondage.

Is my shepherd – The supreme God of the universe is the One who has taken on the task of being my God, provider, guide and protector. There is no higher authority…no better provider.

I shall not want – I shall not lack the necessities of life. We have become a seriously materialistic society, and we often confuse our “wants” with what we actually need. God is the provider of our needs, and we should be thankful for “our daily bread“.

He makes me lie down in green pastures – Lying down in green pastures is a picture of rest…rest in abundance.

He leads me beside quiet waters – In all the hustle and bustle of life, God wants to lead us to a peaceful place, a place of refreshing…quiet waters.

He restores my soul – Our souls are in turmoil. We see nothing but bad news…broken relationships, violence, wars, and personal brokenness, but God wants to repair and heal our brokenness, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.

He guides me in paths of righteousness – Our first parents left us with a legacy of sin and despair. We are sinners by birth, and sinners by choice, but God wants us to depend on Him for our righteousness. Then, with His enabling, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

For His name’s sake – God has staked His own reputation on us, and if we do what is right, we are a positive reflection of Him. We should do everything for His glory, not our own.

Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death – We will all face the valley of death, and maybe many times, as we lose friends and loved ones, but our Lord Jesus has already trod and conquered that lonely valley, and He will guide us safely through. Even though we all will die, unless our Lord returns beforehand, we should see our death not as an exit from this life, but as an entrance-ramp into eternity.

I will fear no evil – Evil IS everywhere around us, because Satan is on the prowl, but his days are numbered. Our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head on the cross, and in so doing, gained the victory over sin and death. Even though evil men may kill us, our victory is assured in Christ. We need not fear the evil one or any of his schemes.

For you are with me – Is there any better assurance? God is with us, and if God is with us, who can successfully be against us. He is our guide, and He walks by our side and carries us when we need to be carried.

Your rod and your staff – These are pictures of both protection and guidance. The rod is a tool of protection from our enemies, and the staff is used to gently guide and direct us in the path.

They comfort me – What greater comfort can we have, than that we are both protected and guided by our faithful Shepherd, even though the path may be rough and steep. This life WILL bring tough times our way, but our comfort must come from the LORD.

You prepare a table before me – This is no ordinary table. It is a lavish banquet table in a magnificent celebration hall, set and prepared by the LORD Himself. We are His honored-guests.

In the presence of my enemies – Our enemies seek to do us harm, but when we are in God’s banquet-hall, all they can do is fuss and fume on the sidelines. God’s banquet-hall is a place of perfect safety and security. We are better-protected than any president ever will be.

You anoint my head with oil – Anointing carries with it a two-fold picture. It is a picture of healing, and also a picture of honor. Priests were anointed for their holy service, and we are anointed both for holy service and as a badge of honor in God’s house.

My cup overflows – A never-ending supply, and a permanent place at His table. There is a limitless supply of His wine of grace.

Sure goodness and mercy – Goodness and mercy=blessings and salvation, which come only from the hand of God. They are not things we can earn or merit.

Will follow me – They will not only follow me, but they will also surround me and en-dwell me.

All the days of my life – God, through Jesus Christ, has guaranteed these blessings for as long as we live.

And I will dwell – Live safely and securely.

In the house – We will no longer be out in the “fields” of life. Instead, we will be HOME, never to be put out to pasture again.

Of the LORD – Our eternal LORD is the provider of our “forever-home“. This reminds me of a child who has been in foster-care for many years, and who has never really had a place to call “home“, but when they are adopted, they are taken to their “forever-home“…the home of their new parents. We have been orphans, but God has adopted us, and He will take us to HIS home…our “forever-home“.

Forever – Do we really comprehend “forever“? If we see someone we haven’t seen in a long time, we may tell them: “I haven’t seen you in forever“, which to us means “a long time“, but that time isn’t even a pin-prick on the time-line of “forever“. The problem is that our minds are constrained by MEASURABLE time, so IMMEASURABLE time is incomprehensible. “Forever” is immeasurable, and we can’t wrap our brains around it, but in fact, that is how “long” we will dwell in the house of the LORD.

Is this LORD your shepherd? I pray that He is, and that you find great comfort in knowing that, no matter what kind of trials come your way, you are in good hands…the hands of the LORD.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Life Is Short – Love Well

You may be thinking that I should say “Life Is Short – Live Well“, but my friends, the key to living well is to love well. How many of us truly “love our neighbor as ourselves“? How many of us truly love our spouse and other family as ourselves? Do we REALLY place their needs and interests ahead of our own desires?

As someone who hasn’t always loved those dearest to me as myself, that is one of my deepest regrets in life. Unfortunately, I more often put my desires ahead of my family’s needs far too many times but I can’t live that way any longer. There is way too much at stake, and just because I lived that way for many years doesn’t mean that I am doomed to live that way for the rest of my life. I have the opportunity to love well, so I don’t want to squander that opportunity.

I am no stranger to death and dying. When I was five or six years old, the teenage son of my dad’s work partner was badly injured (burned) in an on-the-job accidents. The father was badly burned and had a very long recovery, but the son died of his injuries a few days later. My grandfather McFarland died on my eleventh birthday. We lost a dear family-friend in 1973 as they were prepping him for a surgery that would have given him a new lease on life and returned him to the tennis court. Since then, I lost a brother to cancer in 2011, my dad in 2013, and my mom this year.

I was a bagpiper for several years, and during that time, I played services for everyone from a 15-month-old baby, all the way up to people who were in their 80’s. Regardless of who I helped bury, I was affected by each one, not as a disconnected-observer, but as someone who identified with their grief. Death leaves an indelible-mark on our hearts, one that will never go away.

Yes, life IS short, even if a person lived along full life, because God didn’t design death into His original blueprint for mankind. We were meant to live, not die, but the Fall brought death into the human-experience.

Make no mistake about it, “loving-well” is NOT the “easy-path“. It is tough, it is costly, but it is supremely worth it in the end. Our supreme example, Jesus Christ knew from eternity-past what it would cost Him to show God’s love in this way. He knew, before He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, that a “cross-shaped-shadow” would follow Him from the moment He was conceived until He died on the Cross. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him“(Hebrews 12:2), He did it all, for me, and for you. What was the “joy that was set before Him“? That “He would bring many sons (and daughters) to glory”(Hebrews 2:10). He could bear suffering as our sin-bearer more than He could bear eternity without His chosen-ones – us. How would YOU like to know your destiny before you were even born. Jesus did, and He carried out God’s plan anyway.

How did Jesus command us to love each other? 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35). “As I have loved you”… How did Jesus love His disciples (and us)? He gave His life for us. 12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13) “Lay down our life for our friends”? Yes, that is what true love means, putting their needs ahead of our own, and even being willing to lay down our lives for them.

How can you “love well“? Start by holding your money and possessions loosely. He who dies with the most toys does NOT win, he just dies, and leaves those toys to others. Live modestly and within your means. You do NOT have to go into debt for the latest goo-gaw or play-pretty, and trying to “keep up with the Jones” will only result in more headaches and grief. Use your “spare” money to help someone less fortunate than you, and do so gladly. The Jones don’t care, but God does. Do what you do out of love, not because you “have-to“.

Perhaps the hardest part of “loving-well” is “being-there“, and I mean really “BEING-THERE” for those you love. Being “present“, “in the moment“, is very difficult when what they need most is a “listening-ear“, someone who will truly LISTEN to them with understanding AND without judgement. What we think or what we believe is NOT their “reality“, so unless you are asked for your opinion, don’t offer it. Keeping our mouths shut is one of the hardest things in the world, but we have been given TWO ears to listen, but only one mouth, and it MUST be connected to our brain. Don’t speak before you think – a LOT about what you are going to say.

That is what it means to “love-well“.

In Christ,
Steve