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

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Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 5

John continues with his theme of “Love God and love one-another” which began earlier in this Epistle. He is no doubt recalling what Jesus said: “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)

This is where “the rubber meets the road“…

Overcoming the World
5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

This Is Written That You May Know
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5)

Keep His Commands
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; for some who read this, John is going to throw you another curve!

The curve is in verse 2: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily. We are to love God, and love one another.

John just gave us a way for us to do our own “spiritual-checkup“. You have probably heard the old axiom, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. It may look good and even smell good, but whether it actually IS good is if it TASTES good. It is easy for us to SAY that we love our brothers and sisters, even that we love our neighbor, but talk is cheap if we don’t actually demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters, and love for our neighbor. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Oh, hold on, did I forget one? Yes, thank you for reminding me, it is love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case! What was Jesus’ overarching purpose?

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I didn’t make this up! Since we have talked about this many times, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it? God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, so if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine. We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord. So what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way? Which choice demonstrates love in action?

Making disciples” isn’t just evangelism, although it includes evangelism. “Making disciples” involves “discipling” or training them. “Training them” for what? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“, which includes training them to become “disciple-makers” themselves. “The success of a church must never be measured by its “seating-capacity”, but by its “SENDING-capacity“. We aren’t called to make “pew-sitters“; we are called to make more “disciple-makers“.

Jesus didn’t train His disciples for over three years to be “Bible scholars” or “academics“. He trained them to carry-on the work which He had started. That must always be our goal.

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world. Ever wonder what that has to do with anything? What is it that would hold us back from making disciples? Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back. Got it? OK, good. Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no? How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say. In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts. Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him? No. Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world! We have overcome the world because of our faith! Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that!

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy! I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him. Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is!

Haves and Have Not’s
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text! Do you remember John’s warning about Antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.” John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses. In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body. The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said. It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Greek impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress! That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus. The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism. To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water. The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.

The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation. The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father. You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us. There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by his Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Please take a moment for this to sink in… and recall our discussion about keeping His commands.

Yes, this is what I think we need to consider. Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them. It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom!

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him. There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone. I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save. The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope! In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace. In loving relationship, many will respond to His love. We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not. Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom. Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

His Will
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things. First, we have eternal life. Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit. Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that!

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about HIS purposes, and we are HIS servants, not the other way around. So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy loses the game. In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested. There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it! Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will. Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

Thrill-packed Ending
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about? Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life. OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out. Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin! John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.” Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me. I wonder why he would do that. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh. Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the Antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive. Stay away from the Antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life. A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind. The “One who was born of God“, which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one. This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes. John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world, now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true. If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not. Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa. Hmmm, might want to ponder that for a bit. God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Idolatry
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Idolatry is rampant and insidious in our society, and even though John wrote this almost two-thousand years ago, it is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament or when John wrote this letter, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-6;
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satellite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who used to pay her Direct-TV bill even if she didn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical about three years ago because the church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have Superbowl parties…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models, and it seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

John admonishes us; “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

How about you?
Are you a “child of a  lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure?

If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Why Am I Here?

That isn’t a rhetorical question, because it gets to heart of why I am still alive and taking up space on this planet. I could say that I am here because I have a mission to accomplish, but that would only be a partial-answer. The reality is that I should have been dead over forty years ago, but obviously I am not dead yet. I am not here because I want to be here, although I certainly do want to be here. The crux of the answer lies in Who controls my life and my “fate“.

There have been enough twists and turns, and ups and downs in my life to make a cork-screw look like an eight-lane super-highway. It is those twists and turns, and ups and downs which have brought me to where I am now, and as I look back on the last forty-plus years, had my life been the super-highway I envisioned, my life would have been very different than it is and my current mission could never have come about. So, sit back and relax while I lead you through my journey through hell.

 

1975 – I was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and we had just had an ice-storm which left a sheet of black-ice in patches on the turnpike. It was snowing as a buddy and I headed south from Fort Sill towards Wichita Falls, Texas, in my Dodge pickup to see some of his family when we hit one of those patches of black-ice. It was dark, so we couldn’t see the ice until we hit it, and had it only been my driving-skill controlling that truck, we would have either been in a ditch or in the median. I still remember the rear-end of the truck fish-tailing at least forty-five degrees each way before straightening up…just as we hit a patch of dry road. Someone else was in control.

 

1978 – I had met the love of my life, and we got married on April 15th, income-tax day, with the expectation of “happily-ever-after“. Our marriage didn’t stay “happily-ever-after” for long because I was no “Prince charming“. My parent’s marriage was at best dysfunctional so I didn’t see a good marriage modeled as I was growing up.

 

Mid-1997 – I badly-needed a break, a mini-vacation, because I was working six days a week, averaging 55-60 hours a week, and the stresses both at work and at home were piling-up. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that our marriage was falling apart at the seams. I found out by “quirk of fate” (If you believe that, I have some real estate for sale, including some land that is under-water 13 months out of the year and a bridge that leads to nowhere.) about Oak Lake Trails, a nudist resort in northern Oklahoma and decided that would be the perfect get-away. I was NOT a nudist (Unlikely Nudist), but I wanted to try it anyway. It did turn out the be the perfect get-away, and I enjoyed two delightful weekends there. I still wasn’t “hooked“, but that experience planted the seed which would mature many years later. Yes, we lived in rural Oklahoma, not central Florida.

During this time-frame, I also received four death-threats, one from a man who I owed $25 to, and who was caught with explosives in his vehicle, and the other three were from a brother-in-law who thought that the best way to take care of our family-problems was to “eliminate” me. Another brother-in-law offered to pay for the divorce if my wife would divorce me.

 

October 1997 – I lost my job due to “management-streamlining“, even though I still haven’t figured out how they became more “efficient” when it took three people, who didn’t know what they were doing, to do my job. I was also forced to move out of our home and in with my parents. I took whatever day-work I could because I had no other income. I was doing some work for a friend on that fateful day when my wife decided to end it all, thus giving me an air-tight alibi that there was no way I could have been at my family’s home that afternoon. When I got back to my parent’s home later that evening, they gave me the horrific-news that my wife had committed suicide that afternoon. My plans for our twentieth wedding-anniversary went down the tubes along with any hopes for “happily-ever-after“. I was devastated.

 

1998 – I met my second wife online early in 1998, and after somewhat of a “whirlwind-romance“, we got married in August 1998. She was living in Phoenix and I was living in Oklahoma City, so after we got married in Phoenix, I moved her to Oklahoma City, where my dad and I had remodeled a mobile home for us to live in.

 

December 1999 – My wife and I flew to Florida for Christmas, and while we were in Florida, I had the opportunity to stroll on Boynton Beach – in shorts and T-shirt. We had left snow and freezing-cold weather behind and were enjoying semi-tropical weather – in December. I asked her whether she would be interested in moving to Florida, and a split-second later, she asked me when we were moving. Before we got on the plane to fly back home, she had TWO job-offers, one with a firm reporting-date. Who arranged THAT???

 

February 2000 – We arrived in Florida on Valentine’s Day, and within a few days, we were able to rent an apartment close to where my wife was going to be working – that we could rent by the month. This was important because we planned to buy our own place as soon as possible, and we didn’t want to be tied-up with a lease. I won’t bore you with the details, but less than ninety-days after we arrived in Florida, we were able to move into our brand-new, custom-built double-wide mobile home on our own piece of land. Okay, maybe a couple of details: The land had JUST gone on the market, and there was already a well and septic-tank on it, which saved us a LOT of money.

 

Fall 2006 – My wife and I decided that we did not want to retire in Florida, strange as that may seem, but with rapidly-rising property-taxes and sky-rocketing property-insurance, particularly on mobile homes, even with two incomes, it wasn’t going to be long before we couldn’t afford to live in Florida, so we decided to move to either South Carolina or North Carolina. I grew up around Greenville, South Carolina, so we started looking in that area. Unfortunately the places we really liked weren’t all that accessable, particularly in winter, and jobs, even for her, were few and far between. We finally found a home we both liked in Mount Holly, North Carolina. That area had the advantage of being close enough to Charlotte that working in Charlotte was both reasonable and practical, AND, she was able to get a job-transfer to a facility in Charlotte.

The home we found to buy had been foreclosed, so it had been repainted inside and had new carpet. It was also out in the country but in a small neighborhood. We celebrated Thanksgiving in our new home.

There was just one fly in the ointment. We still owned the home in Florida also, and that was when real-estate values were starting to go downhill very quickly. We still owed almost as much as that property was worth in the depressed market, so finding a buyer was a crap-shoot.

Another problem quickly reared its ugly head, lack of a job for me. Even though I had a lot of facilities maintance experience, I didn’t have the credentials or experience that industrial plants were looking for. I was offered one job, but when left that plant with a serious headache, I said “No thanks“. They sprayed a LOT of chemicals but didn’t have very good ventilation or exhaust in the plant. That only left one option, for me to go back to Florida where I could go back to my old job, and I could be there to more actively try to sell that home.

 

Easter 2007 – Sometime between 3am and 5am I had an eye-stroke. I had gotten up at about 3am to use the restroom and everything was fine, but when I woke up at about 5am needing to use the restroom, my right eye was blind. That nixed my plans to go to the Easter sunrise service at my church. The next day, I called an eye doctor I had seen before and was able to get right in. I had had an eye stroke, and the chances of regaining my eyesight were slim to none. He also told me to go to an emergency room ASAP, which I did that evening. I was admitted to the stroke unit of Monroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala early the next morning, and spent four days there being checked out before I got discharged, on Friday the 13th.

My wife didn’t come down from North Carolina to be with me, and she didn’t even send me a card. She filed for divorce six weeks later. In the divorce decree, she demanded and got a quit-claim deed to the property in North Carolina so that she was the sole-owner. She also dumped the Florida property on me, along with several thousand dollars worth of credit-card debt – for things that SHE kept. I also had to let my vehicle go back to the bank because I couldn’t afford to pay for it either. The home in Florida also got foreclosed, so I didn’t even have my own home to live in. Thankfully my parents had moved to Florida by then so at least I had a place to stay, and I was able to find a cheap vehicle to buy. That seemingly ill-fated move had cost me everything including my health. I had become a liability to her, so she dumped me.

 

The ink was barely dry on the divorce decree when I met my third wife. We dated for several months before getting married in the spring of 2008. I also bought a fifth-wheel travel trailier for us to live in, which I am still living in as we speak. That marriage lasted less than three years before she decided that she didn’t need me either. When I lost my job, I became a liability to her too. Ironically, she had promised that she would NEVER dump me like my second wife had. Sure, and I have a bridge for sale…a bridge to nowhere.

 

September 2010 – My dad started getting sick in early 2010, and by September, he was getting to be too much of a handful for mom to care for by herself, so I moved back in with them. When regular blood-work didn’t show any problems, his doctor referred him to a neurologist. That doctor ordered more blood-work and a spinal-tap. Those tests revealed that he had advanced-stage Lyme disease and tertiary-syphilis. Those diseases were destroying his brain. We had him admitted to Hospice on the 29th of September.

Dad wasn’t getting markedly-worse, but he also wasn’t getting any better, so right after Thanksgiving, we had him transferred to a nursing home, where he spent the rest of his days. Dad died on October 1st, 2013. I had been up to see him less than a month before he died.

 

August 2011 – I was on my way home from a month-long vacation when I was involved in an accident which should have been my last. I was two-hours south of St. Louis when a young lady clipped the right-rear door of my vehicle, sending me into a 270-degree spin at 65 miles-per-hour. My vehicle and I landed rear-end-first in a 25-foot deep ditch. I walked away without a scratch even though my vehicle was very much the worse for wear. I was seriously-shaken, but otherwise okay. My “guardian-angel” deserves “hazardous-duty-pay” for keeping me safe that day.

 

October 2012 – I met my fourth wife online, and after a whirlwind romance, we got married December 6th, 2012. A few days later, I moved down here. Less than six weeks after we got married, she also flew the coop, and moved in with another man. Thus began some of the darkest days of my life, second only to losing my first wife. I have chronicled a lot of what I went through in earlier posts on this blog.

 

Why has God allowed any of these events to happen in my life? Were they part of His plan? Hindsight may be 20-20, but that doesn’t make any of these events any less painful. Had none of these events taken place, yes, I might still be happily-married to my first wife, but this blog would have never come about, and I would not have been in a situation where starting a ministry at Cypress Cove became possible.

I have been asking God WHY He allowed my wife to commit suicide over eighteen years ago, and as strange as it may seem, I am now beginning to understand. As horrific as that event was, it was “necessary” in order that I could get to where I am now. What other horrific-event happened almost two-thousand years ago which was for our “good“?

 

Many years ago, another man went through many hardships, which culminated in him being in a position to save his family from certain-starvation. That man was Joseph. He was sold by his jealous brothers to slave-traders and wound up in Egypt. After spending some time in prison, because God was watching over him, he rose to being second-in-command over all of Egypt. God used him to save both the nation of Egypt and His chosen people from starvation during a seven-year famine. When he finally revealed his identity to his brothers, he told them something that may help us gain a better perspective on the hardships in our lives.
3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. 4 And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:3-8)

Two things ought to jump out at you. In verse 5, Joseph said “God sent me before you to preserve life.“, and in verse 8, he said “So now it was not you who sent me here, but God;“. God had a plan, and Joseph was a vital-part of that plan.

The Apostle Paul also went through many hardships, and he left us with another piece of divine-wisdom. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Neither Joseph nor Paul ever said that the events themselves were good, but that God can and does cause good to come from these events. God never lets people off of the hook for the evil events they perpetrate in our lives even if He does cause “good” to come as a result of those events. Joseph’s brothers will still be held accountable for selling him into Egypt even though the “good” that came out of that event was the salvation of their families.

The Jewish religious-leaders, the Roman government and the Roman soldiers will still be held accountable for crucifying Jesus even though the “good” that came out of that events was our salvation. Likewise for Paul, all those who opposed him and caused all of his hardships will beheld accountable for their actions even though the “good” that came out of those actions was the spread of the Gospel throughout the Roman empire and his many Epistles.

My wives and everyone else involved will be held accountable for their actions, even though you are reading some of the “good” and the ministry at Cypress Cove is part of that “good“. Yes, I will also beheld accountable for all of my sinful actions as well. One day God will settle ALL scores, and only those who are trusting in the shed-blood and finished-work of Jesus Christ won’t be condemned to eternity in Hell.

God has a plan for each of our lives, and sometimes we have to go through difficult situations in order for that plan to come to fruition. I am not here by “quirk-of-fate” or by “chance“. I am here because God brought me here, and if someone had told me along the way that I would be where I am now, I would have serious questioned their sanity. Maybe it is time for me to say what Jesus said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Preparing the Way

The Deity of Jesus Christ
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The Witness of John
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-13)

The author starts by affirming both the deity of Jesus Christ and His role in creation. As we saw in “In The Beginning“, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, was the principal agent of creation, and as such, defines who “God” is in: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1.) The Word was eternally-pre-existant with God and part of the Godhead.

Life and Light
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

We see in verse 4, that Jesus Christ, the Word, was both Life and Light. We often think of Light as a person’s presence, and may say “The lights are on but nobody is at home” when a person seems to be alive but is totally-unresponsive. When a person dies, we think of their “light” having gone out.

Light” is also about spiritual-illumination. As fallen humans, we are in spiritual-darkness because there is no “Light” in us. The Word, Jesus Christ, came to shine His Light into our spiritual-darkness.

Sent by God
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.

John came as a forerunner of Jesus Christ to bear witness of His coming. He announced the coming of Jesus Christ much as a herald would announce the imminent arrival of a king.

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

Witness to the Light
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

John was NOT that Light, but he came to bear witness to that Light, and to begin shining Light into dark hearts and souls. He was not pointing to himself as a a source of Light, but to the coming Messiah, as the one true Light. Once Jesus Christ came upon the scene, John always pointed people to Him.

The True Light
9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was to come, would be the true source of Light. When we see the Moon, it appears to be a source of light, however it is only reflecting light from the real source, the Sun. In much the same way, John reflected God’s Light to those around him until the real source of Light, Jesus Christ came and began His ministry. As the Sun gives light to all of us on Earth, Jesus Christ brought Light into our darkened world.

How did they miss Him???
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

The Jews had been set-apart by God as His chosen-people, and when Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, they should have worshiped and adored Him as their Creator and Lord, but the majority of people rejected Him. His own testimony, supported by His many miracles, should have been all they needed to follow Him wholesale, but most who followed Him did so only to see His miracles.

How could they be SO blind? In truth, as we will see later on, they were looking for a different “kind” of Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah who would come in riding a white horse and leading a mighty army. They were also looking in all the wrong places, not really understanding the entirety of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies.

One of the most important “His own” groups of His day was the religious-leadership, the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, and they rejected Him because they couldn’t control Him. As we will see later in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ had many run-ins with them.

Salvation is of God
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

As hard as people try to make themselves right before God, it is impossible. We can’t DO enough good things to merit His favor, nor can we NOT DO enough wrong things to avoid His wrath. That was what the religious leaders were trying to do, and as “good” as they thought they were, their “good” was never GOOD ENOUGH.

The ONLY way we can gain salvation is to accept that we CAN’T do it on our own and accept and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Only then will God make us His children, with all the rights and responsibilities which go with that high-status.

In Christ,
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

Welcome Home!

Is there any place you would rather be than at home? Even though I am sure that there are people with such a wander-lust that they really don’t call any place “home“, but for the majority of us, Dorothy had it right when she said “There is no place like home!“. Even though Toto was by her side, she wasn’t in Kansas. If this reference is unfamiliar to you, Dorothy is the young girl in “The Wizard of Oz“.

We all long for a place to call “home“, and if we do have a “home“, when we are away from home, there is a level of uneasiness that won’t go away until get get back home. Whether it is a mansion or a cardboard box, home is where the heart is.

I traveled a lot during the early years of my working career, and sometimes I was gone for several weeks at at time, but there was no sweeter sight than the faces of my family waiting for me at the exit of the jet-way. Even though the airport wasn’t “home“, Albuquerque was, and the airport was in Albuquerque. Arriving at that airport meant that I would be home soon, to greetings of “Welcome Home Dad!“.

I didn’t spend any of my time in the military overseas, so I can only imagine what it feels like to be HOME from an overseas deployment, particularly from a combat-zone. It must be the most wonderful feeling on earth.

In 2011, I made a 31 day, 5,200 mile odyssey across the US of A. I spent a night with my baby brother, Rocky, on my way west. His daughter spent the night with a friend so that I could use her bedroom. That was very sweet of her. I hadn’t seen Rocky since about 1974, so it was wonderful to be together again.

I spent the next few days at the home of my brother Darrell, or should I say, his former home, because Darrell wasn’t there. Yes, his name was still on the deed, but that wasn’t his home any more. Darrell was HOME!!! Cancer had claimed his body, but his Lord had claimed his soul, so Darrell was in a far better place. All that was left of Darrell on earth was a handful of ashes. The chapel at the funeral home was packed, much to Darrell’s surprise, because even though he thought that he really didn’t have many friends, he had touched the lives of many people, and through our tears, we were there to celebrate his life.

I spent the next few days with John and Sue, dear friends from my time in Albuquerque. John was my traveling-partner for quite a few of those work trips. In Spanish, they say “Mi casa es su casa“, for “My home is your home“, and they sure pulled out all the stops to make me feel at home. They insisted that I sleep in their bedroom while they slept on the sofas in the living room so that I could have private sleeping-quarters. As much as they tried to make me feel at home, I wasn’t home.

I journeyed on west to spend some time with Rich and Phyl. I have known Rich since the early 80’s, so we go WAY back. They don’t have a guest bedroom, so I slept on a mattress on the floor of Phyl’s office. Being with them was more important than where I slept. We had a great time together, but I was still over 2,000 miles from home.

I spent all but one night on the rest of the trip in a motel room. Motel rooms ARE NOT home, as nice as they can be, because that room is only “yours” as long as you pay the “rent“. None of the places I had been or stayed were “home“, because I didn’t have my OWN bedroom or my OWN place at the table.

As I pulled into the driveway of MY home, it was good to be HOME. Mom met me with “WELCOME HOME!“, because I WAS HOME.

Many people would think that the little place I call “home” is way too small, but it is “home” to me. I don’t have to compete with anyone else for any part of the house. It is not that I wouldn’t share it, but at this point in my life, I don’t have to share it.

I go up to see my mom once in a while, and even though her place is technically mine also, it isn’t really “home“. I am ALWAYS ready to come back HOME.

As much as we feel like this Earth is our home, if we are Christians, this is NOT our home. We are sojourners for a finite period of time. As with Darrell, so also with Connie and my own father. They aren’t here any longer. They are HOME. They are in their “FOREVERHOME“. They have joined a myriad of saints who have gone before them, saints who have left their earthly-dwelling behind, and are now dwelling in a place that was not made by human hands. They have already heard God say “WELCOME HOME!“.

David, in that glorious 23rd Psalm, said “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever“. The “house of the Lord” IS our forever-home. This “home“, this earthly-body wears out, gets diseased, and ultimately dies, but it is only our temporary home, because God has given us an immortal spirit which lives on even after our body is long-gone. Yes, we WILL get a new body, a body that is not subject to decay, disease and death, a body not-unlike Adam and Eve’s bodies before their fall into sin. We will be restored to our true and full humanity, because being human isn’t “bad“, it is WONDERFUL. We, among all of God’s creation, are the only beings made in His image. Jesus showed us what it is like to be fully-human, and what we should strive for in our earthly-sojourn is to be more like Him.

Sometimes I wish that God would call me HOME, but I know that as long as I am still here, He has more work for me to do. Should we “settledown” here? I believe that we should only “settlelightly“, because nothing we accumulate here will cross over with us. Only what we do for the furtherance of His kingdom and for His glory really matters. Those are what will follow us HOME.

Are you ready to go HOME? Are you ready to hear “WELCOME HOME!“?

I am!
Steve

Storms…

35 That day when evening came, He said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

Small boats and big water…
Even though some of Jesus’s disciples were experienced fishermen and good sailors, this storm was “over the top“. They had experienced many storms on the Sea of Galilee, but they thought this one would be their last.

Not long after 9-11, a friend of mine and I were patrolling in the Port of Tampa when a heavy thunderstorm blew in. We retreated to the Coast Guard Station to wait it out. After we tied our boat up to their dock and disembarked, the Station Officer of the Day met us. There had been an explosion at a power plant or sub-station in New York, but very little was known about what actually happened or whether it was an act of terrorism. He wanted us to check two power plants, one in the Port area, and one south of Tampa, and a ship which was docked at another Port south of Tampa for “suspicious activity“. After consulting the nautical chart, we agreed to take the mission. We were in a fourteen-feet, aluminum fishing-boat… Some would have said that we were crazy, maybe even out of our minds.

Even though the Gulf of Mexico is much larger than the Sea of Galilee, a storm can turn it from quiet waters to BIG WATER very quickly. We aren’t told how long it took Jesus and His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee, but it took us eight hours to accomplish our mission. Yes, at times it WAS a scary ride. We didn’t find anything “suspicious” at any of our check-points.

Storms…
We all go through storms in life, whether they are physical storms or the storms of life. We can all remember some of the great storms, Hurricane Katrina, Super-storm Sandy, and even Hurricane Charlie, which cut a path of destruction diagonally across Florida. There have been super-tornadoes that cut mile-wide paths of utter-destruction for tens of miles. Storms are scary, and their devastation is real.

My wife and I rode out the tail-end of Hurricane Charlie in Daytona Beach, Florida. If there was a “peacefulplace” in that storm, we were in it. As the hurricane approached from the south, we were on the north side of our hotel, sheltered from the storm. We watched as debris pelted the vehicles in the motel parking-lot, which was right in front of us. A piece of roofing landed on the new Mustang which was parked beside our vehicle. It made a huge dent in the roof, before slithering down the side of and Mustang and coming to rest under our vehicle. We watched as the storm tore huge pieces of roofing off of the motel just north of us. We also watched as a transformer exploded into a ball of fire. When we woke up the next morning, devastation was everywhere, but there wasn’t a mark on our vehicle. We, and our vehicle, had been in an oasis, a place of calm during the storm. Coincidental?

We rode out three more hurricanes over the course of the next few weeks. She was at her work, and I was at my volunteer Fire Station. Even though they were bee-hives of activity, they were oasis, places of calm during the storms. We pooled our food, and the parents of one of our Officers made sure that we had good meals to eat. Sleeping-arrangements weren’t very comfortable, but we made do with what we had. Even though we didn’t have running water, we had six-thousand gallons of water in our tanker. Yes, devastation was all around us, but we were safe, and none of our fire apparatus got damaged.

Storms of life…
The storms of life can be even more devastating. Things can be replaced, homes repaired or rebuilt, but losing a loved-one is permanent. A lost spouse, parent, sibling or child can never be replaced. After my first wife committed suicide in 1997, I thought that I could “replace” her with another wife, that the “replacement” would take away the pain of my loss, but I was wrong. I did remarry, and remarry, and remarry, but none of them ever took the place of my beloved. Connie had, and still has a special place in my heart, a place that is all her own. I finally wrote my “farewell” letter to her about three years ago, but there will always be that part of me that belongs to her alone.

Health-problems is another kind of “storm” that many of us deal with. I have several ongoing health-problems, but they are manageable most of the time. Some days are worse than others, but I can still get vertical, put one foot in front of the other and take nourishment, so I am blessed. My brother has been in and out of the hospital MANY times in the last three years, and we almost lost him three years ago.

There are no “perfect” relationships because there are no perfect people. Some of us are more “broken” than others, so when we enter into a relationship, we bring our “brokenness” with us. If we expected that our new spouse was going to “fix” what was “broken” in us, we quickly found out that that wasn’t going to happen. Only God can “fix” what is “broken” in us.

Who is this?
Even though His disciples had spent quite a bit of time with Him, His disciples really didn’t understand who Jesus is. Many years later, John the Apostle finally unraveled the answers to that question for us .

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

Jesus is the eternal “Word“, the Lord and creator of all there is. He had spoken the cosmos into existence, scattered billions of galaxies across the heavens, and when He said “Let there be light“, the nuclear fires of a gazillion stars lit as one, so calming the Sea of Galilee was “child’s-play” to Him. He had also knelt in the dust, taken a handfull of it, and lovingly fashioned the first man, before breathing His own breathe of life into the man. That is as “personal” as it gets.

Peace, be still!
We desperately want and need peace, but there is only one person who can breathe peace into us, Jesus Christ. He can place us in a place of peace in the midst of a violent storm. He can cause peace to surround us and ours such that, even though everything around us is destroyed, we suffer no harm or loss. God doesn’t “wave-off” our storms, any more than I could have “waved-off” those four hurricanes or the people of New Orleans could have “waved-off” Hurricane Katrina, but He can give us peace and the strength to go THROUGH our storms.

The storms of life ARE going to assail us, and there is no escaping them, but we can know peace in the midst of our storms. Do you have His peace?

Peace, be still!
Steve

Seasons

When we think of seasons, we usually think of the seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, but our lives also go through seasons. It would be quite easy to equate the seasons of our lives with the seasons fo the year, and sometimes a season in our life appears where it really doesn’t belong. I wrote about misplaced winters in “The “Winters” of Life“. I want to delve into the seasons of our lives and demonstrate that our cycle of life, or our seasons, are not only “normal“, but that they are ordained by God.

A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

A time to be born…
Spring reminds us of new life. Trees start greening-up, flowers start blooming, and it seems that new life is everywhere. Regardless of when they are born, babies are a Spring event, and one of the most joyous events in the life of a family. Babies being born speaks of there being a future, and they are the beginning of a new cycle of life.

Being born-again into Christ is also a Spring event, because we are given a new life, a life with an eternal future. Some of us who have experienced a misplaced Winter in life experience a very-welcome Spring as we emerge from that Winter experience. I am in that place now, having experienced a very brutal Winter, and I am looking forward to what lies ahead of me. I feel rejuvenated.

A time to die…
When someone we love passes on, it reminds us that we all have an appointment with the Grim Reaper, that unless the Lord returns beforehand, we will all die. That is the epitome of a Winter experience. Winter, in many parts of the world, is cold, bleak, seemingly lifeless. Thus it is with death. Life has been swallowed up by death, as the body lays cold and lifeless on the mortician’s slab. I lost my first wife to suicide in 1997. She was 45. I lost my brother to cancer in 2011. He was 54. I lost my father in 2013. He was 78. Each loss had its own unique effects on me.

It is also a time of grief. Someone who we loved has been taken from us, and it is natural for it to hurt. When someone who seemed “too young to die” dies anyway, we speak of it as an “untimely-death“, and yet ALL deaths are “untimely“. God didn’t engineer death and decay into the original “blueprint” for mankind. We were intended to live on and on. Death and decay are results of the fall of mankind into sin. At that, there were several patriaches in the Old Testament who live over 900 years. Moses was still climbing mountains, had a sharp mind, and still had good eyesight at 140 old. Abraham fathered more children at well over a 100 years old.

For many older couples, sex in their “golden-years” consists only of fond memories of days gone by, but that wasn’t in the original “blueprint” either. We know that we are dying when we have already had a funeral for our sex-life. Solomon wasn’t just talking about celebrating anniversaries when he said “Rejoice with the wife of your youth”(Proverbs 5:18b), because that follows “Let your fountain be blessed“(Proverbs 5:18a), which is clearly a metaphor for sex.

The natural seasons of life…
Our lives are pretty easy to divide up in seasons:
Spring is the first twenty years of our lives, as we grow from birth into adulthood.

Summer is the second twenty years of our lives, from ages 21 to 40. This is the time when most people get married, have children, and raise their family.

Fall is the third twenty years of our lives, from ages 40 to 60. This is the time when our children start leaving home and starting lives of their own. This is also the time when our bodies start reminding us that we aren’t young anymore. Mine started rebelling shortly after I turned 40.

Winter is usually the last twenty years of our lives. We are in our waning years. Our bodies may be in full rebellion, and even though some people are hale and hearty well into their 90’s, they are the rare exception. If we haven’t already, we start losing our own parents. I was 57 when I lost my dad, and even though my mom is still fairly vigorous at 83, she isn’t going to last forever.

A time to plant…
Planting is a late-spring to early-sumer activity, which coresponds to couples bearing children. My first wife and I put together a child-bearing “plan” when we first got married, and we were fortunate to be able to have children pretty much on “schedule“. Her younger sister, who had endometriosis, and who was married to man who was virtually sterile, wasn’t nearly as fortunate, although they were blessed with one daughter.

A time to uproot…
Uprooting” is an appropriate metaphor for leaving home. We leave home when we become adults to start a life of our own. We may also “uproot” several other times throughout our lives as we move to new jobs and new life-situations.

A time to kill…
Our lives are not static, and neither are our relationships. Some relationships, even if they started out healthy, become toxic, and we need to have the wisdom to leave those relationships behind. We may need to “pull-the-plug” or “kill” a relationship so that we can move on and heal.

A time to heal…
The person who may need to “heal” may be you or me. After going through a very toxic separation from my wife, I had a LOT of healing to do. It would NOT have been a good time for me to think about another relationship, because I was too broken and needed to heal. I am finally to a place where I might entertain the idea of “dating” or at least finding a “girlfriend“. It is NOT, as some would suppose, because I am tired of “sleeping single in a double-bed“, as I have become quite comfortable with sleeping that way. It is because I am tired of doing everything by myself. Something as basic as eating is more enjoyable when one has companionship. I enjoy going out and having dinner with friends, which I do a couple of times a month.

A time to tear down…
Tearing down” may be equated with leaving old relationships behind. When my previous wife and I got divorced, I left her alone on the courthouse sidewalk because her ride wasn’t back from doing his errands. She had filed for divorce, so she had to deal with the consequences. Her lack of a ride was NOT my problem. In order to minimize the hurt from that broken relationship, I had to minimize any further contact. I had to move on, and I did.

A time to build…
We also have to build new relationships. When I moved to where I am living now, I didn’t know a soul except for my wife, who left me a month later. I had to build new relationships. I am thankful that I was led to a good church, where I have been able to develop a few new relationships. I also have a strong relationship with my neighbor-gal, although it is more of a brother-sister relationship. Relationships are important to our emotional and psychological health.

A time to weep…
There are things that happen in our lives when it is appropriate to cry our eyes out, but I wouldn’t know, because crying isn’t part of my emotional-vocabulary. The shortest verse in the Bible says “Jesus wept“. He had just met His friends, Mary and Martha, whose brother, Lazarus, had been dead for several days. Lazarus was a dear friend, so Jesus did what was appropriate for the situation, He wept. I didn’t cry at my own wife’s funeral, nor have I cried much since.

A time to laugh…
Equally-important is laughter. Laughter is good for the soul, and the ability to laugh at yourself is especially important. Some people laugh naturally, and others have to be taught HOW to laugh. I am somewhere in the middle.

A time to mourn…
Weeping and mourning go hand in hand. When we lose a loved-one, we mourn losing them, and our weeping is a visible sign of our mourning.

A time to dance…
Dancing, in the Old Testament, was something the children of Israel did in celebration of God’s mighty acts on their behalf. King David also danced before the Lord through the streets of Jerusalem as the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into the House of the Lord.(2 Samuel 6:14-15) King David is described as only wearing a “linen ephod“, which appears to have been only a short vest, so for most practical purposes, He was wearing very little more than a grin, and a BIG grin, at that.

God did not allow King David to build a permanent temple. That would be Solomon’s job, but there was a temporary “temple” in Jerusalem, so it was very important to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and put it in the temporary temple. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s presence among His people, so bringing it into Jerusalem WAS a HUGE event, and a time of joyous celebration. King David was entitled to dance for that celebration.

In our modern culture, dancing is also used for celebrations. Wedding celebrations often include dancing, with the new bride and groom getting the first dance alone. Whether it is a slow, intimate dance, a waltz, or even a jig, it is hard to be sad when a person is dancing.

A time to scatter stones…
When would we think of “scattering stones”? What if we were preparing a new spot for a garden? Would we want any stones in our garden? That applies to our relationships as well, because “stones” can represent those “rough-spots” in our relationships, those things that cause friction. We want to “work things out” so that we have the smoothest relationships we can attain. Relationships take work…

A time to gather stones…
Stones” can also be the boundaries around our relationships, our walls, what helps safeguard our relationships. We don’t want or need outside interference in our relationships, so good boundaries are an important part of that. This is similar to the stone walls that were built to protect cities, or even to protect a vineyard, in the cultures when this was written.

A time to embrace…
What is the most awaited, and celebrated kiss in a couple’s life? We wait with baited-breath for the celebrant to say, at the end of a wedding, “You may kiss your bride“. That first kiss ALWAYS brings a round of applause, as well it should. That is the first of, what should be thousands of kisses throughout a couple’s life.

Hugs have been largely-replaced by handshakes in American culture, and many men wouldn’t be caught dead hugging another man, and will only hug their wife or other immediate-family member, and yet touch is very important to our emotional and physical well-being. I am reminded of a picture I saw recently of twin baby girls who had been born several weeks prematurely. One of the babies was doing very well, but the other didn’t look like she was going to make it. One of the nurses, in a last-ditch effort, and against hospital-protocol, placed them together in the same crib. Once they were back together, as they had been in the womb, the one that had been struggling started coming around. The picture shows the healthier one with her arm around the weaker one. Babies who are deprived of physical affection often die quite young.

The Apostle Paul said “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” One pastor I know, when he preached on that passage, said that he would accept hugs, but to not “go-overboard” with it. I have to wonder how affectionate he is with his own family.

A time to refrain from embracing…
When would it be appropriate to refrain from embracing? We certainly DON’T “celebrate” a divorce with a hug, but…

A time to search…
When we lose something of value, we are naturally going to look for it, and that goes double for lost people. I was in Search and Rescue for about a dozen years, and I was involved in over 200 search missions. The most intense missions were searches for lost children. We pulled out ALL the stops. I could write a book about my experiences in SAR.

A time to give up…
Is there ever a hopeless-case, or lost-cause? We never closed out a mission without some kind of resolution. We did suspend a few missions, pending further clues and evidence, but I don’t remember closing any out without being resolved, one way or another. If there was another stone to turn over, we left no stone unturned.

Giving up is hard to do“… There also comes a time in some relationships when it becomes painfully-obvious that the relationship is not salvageable, and that it is at a dead-end. Giving up, and letting the person go, particularly emotionally, is painful at-best. I have had to come to that point over the last couple of years, because even though I am still “married“, on paper, my “marriage” ended January 16, 2013. I have given it everything I could muster, but to no avail, so I finally had to give-up and let-go. Giving up was hard to do, but I had to for my own emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

A time to keep…
Are you a pack-rat? I sure am, and “keeping” is what I do best, often even if it is not worth keeping. But, something that is always worth keeping is HOPE. How many times have you heard it said about a person with a terminal-illness “There is no hope…“? Several years ago, I met a man who was supposed to be dead long before that, but he and his family were living in the same RV park I was in at the time. Even though his doctors had given up hope that he would survive, he not only survived, he was thriving, because someone else didn’t give up on him and gave him a cure that his regular doctors didn’t even know about. His survival would have confounded the best cancer specialists, but what he never gave up was HOPE. Keep HOPE alive regardless of what life throws at you.

A time to throw away…
We live in a very “disposable” society. People throw things away, and people throw other people away. It is one thing to throw things away, but something entirely-different to throw someone away. What we REALLY need to throw away is the excess-baggage of our past. Many of us drag around the excess baggage of regrets, “What if’s?” and “If only…”s. We need to let that stuff go. We need to hear from the lips of Jesus “Your sins are forgiven“, and “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.“, as He released the burdens of her past from that “SINNER“. Every sinner has a future, and every saint has a past.

Max Lucado, in his book, “Traveling Light“, has taken a candid look at the excess baggage we carry around with us, and addressing it from the 23rd Psalm. It is a wonderful book, and yes, I need to read it again. If you have excess-baggage, you owe it to yourself to get a copy and read it as many times as it takes to sink in properly.

Folks, it is time to take out the trash… We may just find that our step is lighter and we can hold our head a bit higher.

A time to tear…
What do you LIKE to tear up? WHAT would you LIKE to tear up? Junk-mail comes to mind in the first instance, and bills come to mind in the second instance. I have no use for junk-mail, so it gets torn up and pitched immediately. Bills are an unwelcome-reminder that we can’t live this life for free.

There is another “bill” which grows ever-larger by the minute, that is, if you are not in Christ. We, prior to coming to Christ, owe a “bill“, a “debt” for ALL of our sins, and only God can tear up THAT bill. The good news is that, if you have come to Christ by faith, God has not only torn up your “bill“, He wouldn’t even know where to start looking to find it again.

Are you in any “goingnowhere” relationships? I think we all have had a few of those. They were good, even great, you grew farther and farther apart, and maintaining that relationship wasn’t worth the effort. Is it time to tear up that “friendcard“? Maybe it is.

Many years ago, I became friends with Gary. He lived in the neighborhood and worked with his dad. I used to go over there and hang out with him. We were several years apart in age, but that didn’t matter at the time. Then, Gary met Johnnie, and they became engaged shortly thereafter. A few months later, they got married. Johnnie already had a couple of children, so Gary married into a ready-made family. Not long after they got married, I graduated from high school and went into the military. Long-story-short…I had gone my own way, and Gary had gone his own way, and even when I returned from the military, our friendship had gone by the wayside. That wasn’t what I wanted, but I finally had to tear up that “friendcard“. I haven’t heard from or seen Gary in MANY years.

A time to mend…
Do you have a strained relationship with someone, perhaps one of your parents? Regardless of who is at fault, many people DO have a strained relationship with one or both of their parents. My ex-wife had been sexually-abused by her father from her early-teens til her early-20’s, and she didn’t talk to him for many years. She finally found it in her heart to forgive him and work on mending that relationship. By the time we got together, she was on good terms with her father, so I was able to get to know my father-in-law. She notified me a few days ago that he had passed away.

I have had no relationship with any of my children for over 17 years, not because I have tried, but because they haven’t been willing to reconnect. I hope that some day they will come around and be willing to reconnect with me. We can’t help mend what the other person is unwilling to help mend also.

A time to be silent…
Sometimes there are no appropriate words to say, and our silence and a listening-ear are the best gift we can give someone. When someone goes through a personal-tragedy, such as the sudden-loss of a loved-one, we DON’T know what and how they are feeling, because we all process personal-tragedies differently. There are other times when we may not be able to add something intelligent to a conversation, and at those times, “It is better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”.

A time to speak…
There are times when it is appropriate to yell “FIRE“, but if one yells “FIRE” at the wrong time, the consequences can be disastrous.

A time to love…
Love should come naturally, but it doesn’t always. We are commanded to “Love your neighbor as yourself“, but sometimes that is easier said than done. Because I have written extensively about love in other posts, I would refer you to them for further study.

A time to hate…
What should we hate? Is it ever right to hate a person? I believe that there is a fine line between hating what a person does and hating them, particularly when what they do that we hate seems to define them, but does it? Boko Haram and ISIS do some horrible things, and abject-brutality define their movements, but should we hate those who belong to Boko Haram and ISIS, or just what they do? If one of those groups invaded my community, and was harming or threatening to harm my friends and neighbors, I would do everything in my power to stop them, including using deadly-force.

How about the doctor and staff of an abortion clinic? I abhor what they do because they are murdering unborn children, but in the US of A, they have the law on their side, thanks to Roe vs Wade. What we CAN do is lobby to get the laws changed, but killing abortion doctors and bombing abortion clinics is not going to help anything.

A time for war…
Is war ever justified? Yes, but fabricating a “reason” to go to war NEVER is. I believe in having a strong defense to protect our own immediate interests, but meddling in other country’s affairs is NOT justification for committing our military forces.

A time for peace…
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:8) Our responsibility is to live peacefully with those around us, particularly within our own family.

Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Seasons…
We all go through them, and how we respond to the challenges of each season can make the difference whether we struggle or thrive. I hope that you will be encouraged by this little study to do what it takes to thrive, regardless of which season you find yourself in. Between birth and death, there is a WHOLE LOT of living to do.

God bless!
Steve

Regrets…

As we grow older, our life starts coming more clearly into focus, and we start realizing, perhaps for the first time, how our life and decisions have impacted others, both for good and for ill. If we had gone through life making perfect decisions and always doing the right thing… Only one person ever perfectly-fullfilled that ideal – Jesus Christ. The rest of us are fallen sinners, and yes, we do make mistakes, and we do have regrets.

I just celebrated birthday number fifty-nine, which means that three-quarters of my life is behind me. Celebrating another birthday gave me the reason and opportunity to pause and look back on my life. The picture hasn’t always been pretty, but I am not here to paint pretty pictures. This is life in the ditches.

The famous American Revolutionary War hero, Nathan Hale, is reported to have said “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” as he was about to be hanged by the British. Many of us who have spent a lifetime in public service echo those words as our own. A few years ago, a dear friend (BROTHER) and I were discussing our lives as public-servants, and we concluded that our only regret was that we weren’t able to do more. Our bodies have betrayed us, and we are no longer able to do what we love, help others in the capacities we used to. If you haven’t been in the “family“, you won’t understand what drives us. Our “drummer” skips a beat, as does our heart, every time the pager goes off.

I have another, far more important regret that will go with me to the grave, that I wasn’t a better husband to my wife and father to my children. Every time I hear “Cats In The Cradle” I get a lump in my throat, because that is my story also. No, I didn’t seek fame and fortune, but I did “do what it takes” in my job, and my family suffered as result.

Cats In The Cradle
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, Son,
You know we’ll have a good time then.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets play
can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today,
I got a lot to do” He said “Thats okay”
And then he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him”

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, dad, I dont know when,
But we’ll get together then, Son,
You know we’ll have a good time then.

Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile

“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?”

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we’ll get together then, Dad,
You know we’ll have a good time then.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day……..
I said “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said “I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It’s sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you……..”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me…………..

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we’ll get together then, Dad
We’re gonna have a good time then.

Regrets…
Yes, I have them. I can’t make it up to my dear wife, because she committed suicide in 1997. I can’t make it up to my children, because they don’t have anything to do with me. They are probably also “too busy” with their own lives and families to make time for their dad. Hopefully they are better parents than I was. I just pray that they aren’t “too busy” for their own children. That is one regret that I DON’T want them to have.

I am still self-centered, self-willed and selfish. I am not the man of God that I should be or could be. I am still a work-in-progress, and it shows. This is about struggles, not triumphs, and I still struggle.

God bless!

Steve

I Am

The phrase, “I am“, seems to be incomplete, as if it doesn’t give us enough information, but in reality, it stands nicely on its own. It is a statement of being, of existence, and of personhood. “I” is personal, and it can only refer to the person who says it. “Am” signifies constants and being, and unless it is modified by some descriptor, “I am” simply means that I exist. While we aren’t comfortable with the profound simplicity of “I am“, and feel that we need to modify it to give more information, God doesn’t have our problem.

The first “I AM”…

Moses was a fugitive, a man with no country to call his own. Even though he had grown up in the palace in Egypt, as the son of Pharoah’s daughter, he wasn’t an Egyptian, and he knew it. He was a Hebrew, and he knew it. The Hebrews were despised by the Egyptians and were used as slaves. Their Egyptian taskmasters, were far from kind, and were more like slave-drivers. One day Moses came upon and Egyptian slave-driver abusing one of the Hebrew slaves, and not seeing anyone else around, he killed the Egyptian. As much as he wanted to help his countrymen, they didn’t trust him either, so he had to flee for his life.

Far from Egypt, and certainly far from any palace, Moses found himself tending his father-in-law’s sheep. He had to keep his sheep moving so they didn’t over-graze the sparse, wilderness pastures. Before long, he knew every watering-hole, every pasture and every scrap of shelter, and that knowledge would stand him in good stead before he knew it.

One day something caught his attention, a bush, but not just any bush. It was a bush that was on fire. As he turned towards it, he noticed that it didn’t seem to be burning up. The heat was also far more intense than any fire he had ever seen. Then he heard something, a voice… Moses looked around, because he didn’t recall anyone else being in the area. Then he heard the voice again… This was spooky! Was he losing his mind? Had it been too long since he had eaten a hot meal or slept in his own bed? Depending on whether the weather had been kind to the wilderness pastures or not, he may have had to move his sheep frequently so that they could keep eating. We will pick up the Biblical account from Exodus 3:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”14 And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:1-15)

We don’t comprehend eternal-presence, God’s ability to be present and in the present at all times and in all places, because we are limited by time and space. God has no such limitations, and He graciously gave us His name as “I AM” to show us that He is great enough to take care of us and all of our needs. Could God have done anything more personal, more precious, than telling us Who He is by giving us His name?

Before Abraham was…

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:48-59)

When Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am“, His claim to divinity was unambiguous. “I am” was the personal name for Jehovah God, and Jesus was claiming to be God, because He IS God. The Jewish leaders couldn’t get past His obvious humanity to acknowledge that Jesus IS the God-Man.

The Light of the world…

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Where else have we seen “light” attributed to Jesus Christ?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” (John 1:1-15)

Do you see how intimately these passage are joined together? John spoke first of Jesus Christ being the “light of the world“, and then Jesus said “I AM the light of the world“. The Word IS God. The Word IS “the light of the world“. The Word is Jesus. Jesus IS “the light of the world“.

The Lamb of God…

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ (John 1:29-30)

Does this statement by John ring a bell? John recognized that Jesus was the “Pre-existent one“. “Before Abraham was, I am”…

The Messiah…

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)

Jesus didn’t acknowledge His Messiah-ship to the Jews, because they had a very distorted idea of what the Messiah was coming to do, but this Samaritan woman had no such illusions. Not only did Jesus assert that He is the Messiah, He also said that “I am“, thus asserting His divinity. The “he” has been added by translators, but is not part of the original text. “Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you AM“… He could have simply said “I am“, and she would have understood Him perfectly well. There were no pesky Jewish leaders handy, so Jesus saw no need to veil His identity.

Do you see the other claim Jesus made while speaking to the woman? In verse 14, Jesus spoke of the water of life, which He is the source of. Where else is the River of Life mentioned?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)

The Bread of Life…

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that athe Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—46 not that anyone has seen the Father except whe who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood lhas eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As othe living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. (John 6:35-59)

This is another incredible statement from the Lord Jesus, and it foreshadows both the institution of the Lord’s supper and His crucifixion.

The Truth Will Set You Free

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

I am NOT the source, I am merely a conduit. I am NOT the message, I am merely a messenger. The truth that I try to proclaim is not MY truth, rather it is God’s truth, as revealed in the Bible, which is why I prefer to let the Bible speak for itself. It is His word which will set you free, NOT mine.

The Good Shepherd…

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:1-18)

This is an amazing discourse, because in it, Jesus takes us back to the 23rd Psalm, which speaks of the tender care of a shepherd for his sheep. We also get the first glimpse of the expansion of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles also (v16). The New Covenant, which was instituted at the cross, is one covenant encompassing both believing Jews and Gentiles into one eternal kingdom, not two separate covenants.

I and the Father Are One

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)

If there was ever any question or ambiguity about who Jesus was, He put it all to rest. At this point in His ministry, no one doubted His full humanity. What the religious leaders were having problems with were His claims of divinity. When He said, “I and the Father are one.”, His claim was unmistakable. Is your “Jesus Christ” both fully God AND fully man? If He isn’t, you have the wrong “Jesus Christ“…

The Resurrection and the Life…

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.4 Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-44)

In this incredibly tender story, we see Jesus weep, not because He was powerless to do anything about it, but because death, the ugly result of the curse, had struck close to home. Lives weren’t supposed to end this way, but they did, and Jesus had lost someone close and dear to Him, “he whom you love“. It still hurts that death robbed me of my wife, my best friend, over seventeen years ago. Death hurts, and it hurt Him too.

Jesus didn’t come trolliping into town to wave His hand and merely take care of the situation. He came to weep first, and then to conquer death, as only He could do. Before He called Lazarus from the tomb, He put Satan on notice that he wasn’t getting the last laugh this time. He proclaimed, “I AM the resurrection” and “I AM the life“. The Eternal God, the Creator of everything, was going to make things right. As the stench of decay reached His nostrils, He blew that stench right back in Satan’s face, and when He said, “Lazarus, come forth“, the stench of death was no more.

Yes, we all face the inevitability of our own death, should the Lord tarry beyond our last breath, but for those whose faith and trust is in Him, death is the entrance-ramp into our glorious eternity with Him. Yes, we will weep over loved-ones who go before us, but when we know the Resurrection and the Life, we know that we will be reunited with them in eternity.

The sisters got their brother back. Their mourning was turned into dancing. Death gave way to life, because “the Resurrection and the Life” came into town.

The Triumphal Entry

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of spalm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” (John 12:12-19)

Perhaps you are asking why I slipped this scene in here, and if you still don’t understand that Jesus Christ wasn’t here to fit the mold of the Jew’s expectations of Him, this may start clearing things up for you.

The Jews were looking for a different kind of Messiah, a conquering warrior who would liberate them from Roman tyranny and establish an earthly kingdom. Aren’t we much the same way? Don’t we have unrealized dreams, hopes and aspirations? Don’t we say, with Mary and Martha, “Lord, if only you had been here…“? In spite of praying earnestly for a loved-one’s healing, we still lose them to cancer. Broken relationships are still as broken many years later, in spite of years of praying for restoration. When we think that things are starting to “go our way“, the next shoe drops, again.

The problem is not that God doesn’t act. The problem is that, when God doesn’t act in our time and in our way, we can’t accept that God isn’t beholden to us. God does things His way, and in His time, and we need to have the faith and patience to accept that we may never get the answers we want. God is not a vending-machine or the heavenly-butler. He doesn’t always meet our expectations.

A New Commandment…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:1-11)

Jesus didn’t say that He is one of the ways. He said that He is THE way. People have been trying for thousands of years to get to God on their own terms, but that has never worked, nor will it ever work. Our only access to God is through Jesus Christ. Many people still believe that they can get to God by saying all the “right” things, doing all the “right” things, and more importantly, NOT doing all the “wrong” things. The sad truth is that we can never do enough “good” to merit God’s favor. Only through the finished work and shed blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is “good enough” for us to gain a right-standing before Almighty God.

Jesus also didn’t say that He brought some truth along for the ride. Jesus Christ is THE truth that will set you free, and there is no real freedom apart from Him.

As our Creator, the Word, Jesus Christ is the source and author of ALL life. We do not, nor can we exist apart from Him.

He is our peace…

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

The True Vine…

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as lI have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)

Do you know any “Loneranger” Christians? Have you ever met anyone who claims to be a Christian, but has no use for His church or fellow-believers? God created us to be in community, both with Him and with one-another. I know someone who would claim to be a Christian, but she has no use for going to church, and the fruit that she bears is more consistent with Satan-fruit than with God-fruit. A decision as a child may give her a fire-escape from Hell, but she isn’t bearing any fruit for Heaven. Her connection to the True Vine is tenuous at best.

He is our High Priest…

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but othey are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.1 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though jthe world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17)

I am He…

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:1-11)

Final thoughts…

We have the opportunity to serve a great and awesome God, and He loves us so much that He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. God had every reason in the world to terminate His human-experiment after Adam and Eve rejected His lordship, but He didn’t. Even as He was bringing down a curse upon them and throwing them out of the Garden, He promised them a Savior, One who would ultimately undo all the evil that the curse had brought.

We stand on the other side of the Cross and look back at the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have the benefit of all of salvation history, from His call of Abraham, through His revelation of Himself to Moses, to all of the wonders of the God-Man, who lived, suffered and died on our behalf, and Who has swung wide the gate of Heaven through His resurrection and ascention. Our flesh and blood, our great High Priest, is seated at the right hand of God the Father biding His time until it is time for Him to make all things new. The head of the serpent has already been crushed, and now we await the day when Satan will be judged and cast away forever.

What about you?

Have you had your own “burning-bush” experience, where you encountered the great I AM?

Has your spiritual eyesight been restored by The Light of the World?

Have you drunk deeply of the Water of Life?

Has the Bread of Life satisfied your deepest hunger?

Has Truth set you free?

Have you entered by the Door?

Is the Good Shepherd your shepherd?

Has the sting of death become less painful because you have met the Resurrection and the Life?

Has the Messiah ridden into your heart?

Are you strongly-connected to the True Vine?

Is He your High Priest?

Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

In Christ,

Steve