Friday, December 24, 2010

Reflections for Christmas 2010

The True Gift of Christmas
(From my book, 101 Reflections)

When my children were small we had a Christmas tradition in our home. On Christmas morning our two boys came and got in bed with us. After several minutes of joking about Santa not being able to find our house, we went to the tree to see what gifts they could find. We respectfully referred to this special time as family union.

One Christmas following our family union time, we jumped up and raced into the living room, where the tree was located. Our eldest son was receiving a television for his room. Because of the cost of the television, he was getting practically no other gifts. The television was his Christmas.

The television was sitting on the coffee table across from the tree. He immediately wanted to turn it on. The cord was not long enough to reach the outlet. In my bull in a china shop manner, I picked up the table and the TV together and attempted to move it closer to an outlet. The freshly polished table was slick, causing the television to slip to the floor. The front hit first, breaking all of the dials and making the television useless.

You can imagine the impact on a ten-year old boy, when his entire Christmas was rendered useless. He ran to his room in tears and crawled to the foot of his bed. I joined him and we soaked his sheets with our tears. His heart was broken and so was mine. Finally, I was able to assure him the television could be fixed. I sought his forgiveness for being so careless. He was far more forgiving of me than I was of myself.

That year Christmas came on Sunday. After everyone had calmed down, we dressed for church. As we rode to church, I reflected upon the morning. I thought of the fragile nature of the things we get all excited about. We sometimes allow the commercial aspects of Christmas to detract us from the part of Christmas that is forever. I thought of the true gift of Christmas, the gift of God’s Son. I was grateful the true gift of Christmas could not be broken or taken away once it had been received. While these thoughts did not relieve my hurt for my son’s broken TV, they did give me a better perspective on the situation.

Do not allow worldly distractions spoil your Christmas. Guard against being overcome by all the festivities of the season to the point of neglecting the One it is all about. Strive to really keep Christ at the center of your focus. If you do, God will be honored and you will be blessed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reflections for December 13, 2010

The Gift Of Joy

There is a growing trend toward giving gift cards for Christmas presents, because it eliminates long hours of shopping and allows the recipient to purchase a gift he/she really wants. On more than one occasion, I have placed the card in my wallet and forgot about it. When I would finally find it, I would discover the expiration date had past, causing me to miss a wonderful opportunity of a free gift.

Long ago, Jesus came and gave us the ultimate Christmas present. He gave us the gift of Himself and promised those who would follow Him a life filled with joy. For believers, this gift is all ready theirs. They need only to open it and to appropriate it in their lives. For those who do not believe, it is available by simply opening your heart and receiving it by faith.

It is important that we do not confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is determined by circumstances. It comes and goes as circumstances change. The joy that Christ gives is internal. It is not built upon circumstances, but it is built upon a humble acceptance of Christ’s love and a willing obedience to His word. It is only when we abide in Him daily that we can experience His joy.

A believer who is filled with the joy of Christ is like popcorn. Ordinary corn placed in a skillet and heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit simply dries up and gets hard. Popcorn reacts totally different. When it is heated to 400 degrees, it expands and breaks open, allowing the pure white pulp to burst forth into a delicious edible treat that is many times the size of the kernel. The parallel to life is clear. When the heat of life’s trials comes, many people shrivel up and become embittered. For those who humble themselves and walk with Christ, adversity becomes a catalyst for them to enlarge and burst forth with blessings for those around them.

Christian joyt is the internal excitement that allowed Paul and Silas to pray and sing praise unto their God from their prison cell. It is the joy that prompted the German Christian martyr, Herman Lange, to write these words to his parents just prior to his execution by the Nazis in W.W.II, “I am, first, in a joyous mood, and second, filled with great anticipation. In Christ I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in Him more firmly than ever. Look where you will, everywhere you will find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can befall a child of God? Of what should I be afraid? On the contrary, I rejoice.”

If you are a believer reading this article, and you do not have the joy of Christ at this time, don’t let Christmas pass you by without renewing this wonderful gift that Christ gives to all who are willing to follow Him. Renew your commitment to Him and begin the New Year believing that He will help you overcome whatever your obstacles may be.

If you are a seeker, don’t let this Christmas season pass you by without at least considering the possibility of receiving this wonderful gift that Christ wishes to give to you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reflections for November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

For most people, Thanksgiving through New Years is the busiest time of the year. This year the shopping, feasting, rushing, ball games, family gatherings, and other activities may be less, because of the economic downturn we are suffering. However, I imagine most of us will still find enough things to do to leave us exhausted when it is over.

If our celebration is dampened by the bad economic news of late, we can choose to wallow in self pity or we can use the situation to lead us to count the blessing we do have. Regardless of our financial situation, we can experience the wonder of God’s bountiful gifts of grace and the wonder of God’s incarnation displayed to us in the birth of the Christ Child. We can appreciate our faith, family and friends. These are the blessings that last.

We can experience these things when we see our world through God’s eyes. He wants us to see a reason for thanksgiving in every circumstance. His Word admonishes us to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB). There is a big difference between being thankful for something and being thankful in something. While I may not appreciate a circumstance in my life, I can give thanks for not having to endure it alone. I can know God is always present and He is able to bring good out of the worst of situations.

I can be thankful God does not change whether I am in the middle of a crisis or on a mountaintop. I can take comfort in His word that says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NASB). The stock market may tank, my body may give way to aging, people close to me may break my heart, but Jesus does not change. He is always available to comfort and to see me through.

If your life seems to be filled with more sorrow than joy, more want than plenty, more difficulties than blessings, ask God to show you the things for which you can give thanks. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him to help you to develop the attitude reflected by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am” (Philippians 4:11 NASB). On the other hand, if your bucket seems to be overflowing with blessings this year, consider that God did not give them to you to hoard. He gave them to you to share. Your sharing, your gift of kindness, may well be the thing that He wishes to use to place a spark of thanksgiving into the life of someone that is having a difficult time. Not only, will you be an instrument of God’s grace; you will experience first hand the truth in the saying that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflections for November 12, 2010


Loyalty, dedication and perseverance are three characteristics that people in authority deeply desire in those who work under their direction. If earthy leaders can understand the importance of finding these characteristics in the people who follow them, is it any wonder that our Heavenly Father also expects those who follow Him to demonstrate these same traits?

The Apostle Paul points out the importance of these traits in his letter to the young pastor Timothy. He writes, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” (II Timothy 2:3-6 NASB) In this passage Paul uses the illustration of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer to demonstrate the kind of character that God expects His followers to have.

It is not difficult to understand the importance of loyalty in the life of a soldier. Who would want to go into battle with someone whose loyalty was in question? This is one of the reasons that there is such stringent training before a soldier is sent into combat. Those in charge want to know that the soldier is ready. They want to know that the soldier is prepared to follow the commands given without requesting a public forum for discussion with each command. They know that in combat situations soldiers must be able to count on the soldier next to him/her. If they can not, they lose a large portion of their confidence.

Why is so hard for those who profess to have faith in Christ to understand that He requires this same kind of loyalty from us. After all, we are soldiers in the greatest army of all. It may not be an army equipped with the latest technological weapons but it is the army of the highest authority in the universe. As the old hymn suggests we are Christian soldiers. It is hard to imagine that General Tommy Franks would have been able to conduct the war in Iraq, if his troops had only the level of loyalty that is displayed in the lives of many of the Christians who fill our churches on Sunday.

Unfortunately, many Christians leave loyalty at the door when they depart from the church building on Sunday morning. This leaves them defenseless when they must confront the world in which they live. This leaves them with no choice but to compromise principles instead of standing upon them. If we do not reestablish loyalty to Christ in the lives of His followers, how can we hope to impact our culture with His principles for life?

This would be a great time for you to examine your own level of loyalty to your Supreme Commander. If your loyalty level has been low, renew your commitment to Him and ask Him to give you the strength to engage in the battle and to become victorious through His strength.

Next week we will continue with Paul’s analogies and we will look at the lessons to be learned from the athlete and the farmer.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reflections for November 2, 2010

Finishing Strong

One of my favorite characters in Scripture is Caleb. You probably remember he and Joshua were the only two Jewish spies who returned from their mission to the land God had had promised with a report of a land waiting to be taken. The other ten spies could only see the giants in the land, causing them to counsel against crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. The people chose to listen to the ten and refused to cross. As a result an entire generation was left to wander in the desert for forty years. (Read Numbers 13 and 14 for the complete story of the Twelve Spies.)

Of the entire generation, only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to cross into the Promised Land. The first thirteen chapters of the Book of Joshua describe the conquest of the land God had promised. In chapter fourteen we find Caleb, who was eight-five years old, requesting he be given the hill country called Hebron. It is important to note this was the home of the Anakim, who caused the original ten spies to caution the people against entering the land. Listen to the words of Caleb: “I am still as strong today, as I was in the day Moses sent me, as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NASB, bold print added.) (Read Joshua 14 for the complete story of Caleb’s request.)

Since I began making definite plans for my retirement, Caleb has become one of my favorite biblical heroes. He gives new meaning to the expression “finishing strong.” He did not accept the notion that he was old and worn out. He believed God still had work for him to do. He has become a role model for how I want to finish this race called life. He has demonstrated that it is more exciting to burn out than it is to rust out. He inspires me to anticipate the next new thing God has for me to do. He reminds me that we all have a reason for being here. If God was finished with us, He would take us home. He gives me reason to look with excitement at this last season of my life rather than with dread. He gives me the desire to leave a legacy of finishing the race with enthusiasm.

Many of you reading this Reflection are either into the last season of your life or approaching it. How do you want to finish? While we may not be able to do everything we could do years ago, we can still do everything God wants us to do in the years we have left. Our best years may well be in front of us. I encourage you to join me in striving to be able to say as Paul did, when he approached the end of his race: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (II Timothy 4:7 NASB).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections for October 20, 2010

"God Of Another Chance"

The night of October 16 was an exciting time. USC Gamecocks had defeated the Number One Crimson Tide of Alabama. Following the game, I began to play out the remainder of the season in my head to determine what the Gamecocks would have to do to win their division, enabling them to play for the SEC Championship. In my deliberations, Kentucky posed one of the lesser problems to be faced.

The night of October 23 was entirely different. USC had forgotten that you had to play both halves of a ballgame. Kentucky, the team I had not considered a serious threat, rallied in the second half to hold USC scoreless and to score 21 points of their own, giving them the victory. Once again, I laid awake replaying the game. Instead of thoughts of a conference championship, there were waves of disappointment, frustration, confusion, and shattered hopes. As a result, I was not sure I would even bother to watch the game the following week, because I was afraid of another week of frustration.

On October 24 I attended church and listened to a message about God’s great salvation. It reminded me of the price God paid for my forgiveness. It also reminded me of the many times I had stumbled and fell in my life. I have not always stumbled over large boulders. Often times, it has been over the small stones in my path, the things that I least expected. I could not help but think about how disappointed my Heavenly Father must have been in me during these times.

I am glad His attitude toward me has not been the same attitude I had toward the stumbling of my favorite team. While I was ready to give up on them and cast them aside, God has always convicted me of my failure and forgiven me when I confessed my wrong. Instead of casting me aside, He has picked me up, dusted me off, and told me to get back in the game, knowing all the time I would eventually stumble again.

Although I do not have the power to pick up my team, to dust them off, and to put them back in the game, I can at least agree to turn on the TV and to cheer for them in their next game. Hopefully, the outcome will be different. More important, I do have the power to forgive others, when they have sinned against me. I have the power and responsibility to forgive them and to give them another chance, just as God has forgiven me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reflections for October 10, 2010

"Taking Out The Trash"

As my wife and I made preparation for our retirement, we made a commitment to get rid of stuff that no longer served a purpose. We gave away some things but others things had lost their value to anyone. This appears to be an easy task but most of you realize that it is not. For some reason it is difficult to turn loose of the old and to make room for the new.

As I was hauling a van load of things away, it dawned on me that discarding our clutter was much like discarding those things in our life that are not useful but that are negative influences. We all have habits, emotions, and actions that clutter our lives without adding any positive benefit. To the contrary, many have a negative influence. Yet, we hang onto them.

In the Scriptures we are reminded to put aside these things that cause us unhappiness. Take note of the instructions that Paul gave in Ephesians 4:31, 32. He wrote, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (NASB) In Colossians 3:5-8 Paul wrote, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed, which amount to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside; anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”(NASB)

The Scriptures above do not give an all inclusive listing but they cover many of the most common sins to which people tend to cling. The tighter one holds to these things, the greater the harm they do and the less chance one has to find genuine contentment in life. Yet, many choose to hang onto them.

The good news for believers is that there is help available, if we are serious about shedding our lives of these destructive forces. His Spirit dwells within us and He is more than willing to help us overcome. The paradox is that victory can only come through surrender. We must reject the influence of the negative and surrender to the positive influence of the Spirit in our lives. If we will walk in His light, the foolishness of holding onto things that destroy our happiness will become clearer by the moment. As we come to recognize the source of our discontent, He will help us overcome it. He can change our way of seeing things and enable us to replace our negative feelings with positive ones.

While we may not share the same clutter, each one of us probably has clutter of some kind that hinders our progress. My prayer for myself and for each of you is that we will replace the old clutter with the newness of God’s blessings in the coming year. We will be more content and we will also become a positive force for good in our world.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reflections for September 29, 2010

Finishing Strong

In the Book of Acts, during his comments about the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul made the following statement:For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay;” (Acts 13:36 NASB, bold print added) Later as Paul was approaching the end of his life he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (II Timothy 4:7 NASB) What a wonderful testimony to the lives of these two men.

While we may admire the faithfulness of these two men, we should also have as our life goals the desire to serve God’s purpose for our life and to live faithfully in our generation. In order to fulfill these goals, we need to understand four things from Paul’s comments. First, every life has a purpose. In a world that sometimes makes us feel our lives are meaningless, we can know that in God’s economy we all have purpose. There is no greater task for us than to discover and pursue the purpose for which God placed us here.

Second, the pursuit of this fulfillment is not always easy. Paul referred to it as a fight, implying fulfilling our purpose is a struggle. Paul’s life was filled with obstacles both within the church and outside the church. In Ephesians 6:10, 17, he identifies his enemy and depicts his struggle with him in military terms. We have the same enemy. His greatest desire is to hinder us from accomplishing the purpose God has for us.

Third, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul speaks of life as if he was running a race. If we read through his letters, we will discover that the course of his race had many mountains and valleys to overcome. He saw the end of his race as something to look forward to, not to dread. He clearly anticipated that in the end all of his efforts would prove to be worthwhile.

Fourth, our number one goal should be to remain faithful throughout our journey. Too often, we let the world define our success and in the process we compromise our principles. We need to remember that we can accomplish all the world requires for success and still be a failure in God’s economy. He measures our success, not in power or possessions, but in faithfulness.

We are all involved in the race of life. Each one of us will come to the end of our race someday. Wherever we are and however we have run so far, we can make a commitment to run the remainder faithfully and to complete the course with the same assurance Paul had. He wrote, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:8 NASB)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reflections for September 22, 2010

"Staying The Course"

(If you have not read the last two entries on my blog, it would help your understanding of this portion to read them.)

Earlier, I wrote about two lessons learned early in my search for information on being a better husband. The first was the importance of my wife knowing she had first place in my life. The second lesson showed me the many ways I had injured her spirit. This is the starting point for this final segment.

In Smalley’s book, If He Only Knew, there is a chapter that deals with the ways men injure their wives emotionally. He listed 122 things men do to injure their wives’ spirits. While I could truthfully say I had never intentionally done anything to hurt my wife physically or emotionally, I had done most of the things on the list. I had done them because I was clueless to the needs she had. I was clueless no more. It was time for me to do my part to rectify the mistakes I had made.

My attempts to rectify my mistakes were sometimes clumsy. She did not always welcome my efforts. Years of insensitivity had made her suspicious of my motives. With each two steps forward, I took a step backward. The good news is, if you follow each backward step with two forward ones, you reach your destination. This has been the mark of our marriage. While we have not arrived, we feel ourselves getting closer each day.

During our journey we have come to appreciate the term “help meet” in the Bible. It is a term that means to complete. It can be illustrated with a lock and a key. A lock or a key without each other can’t fulfill their purpose. Together, they can do all that they were intended to do.

This simple truth taught us to appreciate our many differences. I am an extremely choleric personality. My wife is a melancholy personality. I am a cognitive thinker. She is intuitive person who often thinks with her feelings. For years, we thought God must have a warped sense of humor to have placed us together. Today, we understand we need each other. Our differences make us stronger by giving us balance.

Last March, we celebrated the forty second year of our journey. For my part, the journey can be divided into three phases, ten clueless years, ten years of repairing the damage caused by the first ten years, and twenty years of moving forward as one. Each day I praise God for giving my wife and me the strength to honor the commitment we made forty-two years ago. That commitment held us together during the early years. It left us with only two options. One, we could stay together and make each other miserable for the remainder of our lives. Two, we could discover what was needed to fix our relationship and work at it. We are still working at it today. We have learned that our relationship can never be taken for granted. It is an ongoing project that we must develop each day.

It has not been easy but our blessings have been greater than our heartaches. At special times when our two sons, their wives, and our eight grandchildren join us, we count our blessings. When our boys call us a “Beaver Cleaver” family, we smile and know it has been worth all the work.

Today, we stand hand and hand facing our twilight years. My love for my wife is greater than it was the day we said our vows. I thank God each day we did not give up but stayed the course.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reflections for September 10, 2010

Healing Begins with Recognition of a Problem

(To fully receive the full benefit of this reflection you need to scroll back to last week and read it. This is the second in a series of three related reflections.)

One of the hardest things for a man to do is to accept the fact he needs help. He is conditioned his entire life to believe that he can fix his problem. I had to be brought to the reality I was not getting the job done in my marriage and I needed help. Once I accepted this truth, God began to show me that my responsibility toward my wife went beyond providing for her physical needs. If I was going to love her as Christ loved the church, I would have to venture into a place I did not want to go. I would have to enter into the land of feelings. In my clueless mind, this territory was reserved for women. Real men would not go there.

My first journey into the land of feelings came when I read Dr. James Dobson’s book, What Wives Wished Their Husbands Knew about Women. My wife purchased the book and placed it in areas where I was most likely to see it. I discovered it in a basket in front of the great white porcelain throne I visited each morning. It was always on the top of the pile of magazines. When I opened it and began to read, it was like my wife and Dr. Dobson had collaborated. It became clear that wives had needs deeper than their physical needs. They had emotional needs.

I had never gotten beyond the basic physical needs of my wife to her deeper emotional needs. It was not that I refused to meet them. I did not know they existed. Her cries to have these needs met were seen as signs of possessiveness and childishness.

After I read Dr. Dobson’s book, I began to see the flaws in my idea of the perfect husband. Most importantly, there were things I needed to learn, and I became willing to learn them. This began a journey into the emotional needs of my wife.

Later, I read Gary Smalley’s book, If He Only Knew. Many times I wanted to toss it in the trash, but a small inner voice told me I needed to hear its truths. With each page, it revealed another area in which I had fallen short as a husband. It introduced me to the basic differences between men and women. It helped me to understand that my wife and I could look at the same picture and come away with two completely different thoughts. It helped me to understand why for me a trip was something to conquer and for her something to be enjoyed. It showed me why she needed for me to listen to her without always having an opinion. It made me realize she sometimes needs a shoulder to cry upon without an accompanying lecture. It let me know how important it is for her to know her opinion is appreciated. With each page, I was confronted with a new need I had failed to meet.

From these two books, there were two lessons that stood above the rest. One dealt with the importance of my wife believing she was the most important thing in my life. In my heart, I had always felt she was the most important. My actions sent another message. I began to see the source of her insecurities. It became clear I was going to have to work diligently to make her believe what I had always known. I had to make her believe she was the most important thing in the world to me.

This was not a short term assignment. I could not establish her importance to me and forget about it. It was an ongoing task. Each passing day, I needed to let her know she was first on my list of priorities.

(Conclusion next week.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reflections for September 3, 2010

Clueless Is Not an Incurable Condition

As I drove into the driveway, it was difficult to contain my excitement. My wife, who was eight months pregnant, and my three-year-old son met me at the door. My excitement was evident as I shouted, “Guess who came to see me at school this morning?” She replied, “Who?”I responded, “Coach Varner visited me at school and offered me my old job back”. With a concerned look, she inquired, “What did you say?” When I told her that I had accepted the offer, the look on her face was bewilderment. Her lack of approval was puzzling to me. I was clueless to the insensitivity of making a life-changing decision without consulting her.

A few weeks later, our second son was born. The morning before he was scheduled for his six-week check-up a friend visited us. From the time he drove into our driveway, my mind went to work. He was driving a truck. We had secured a house near my new job. We had to relocate within the next three weeks. It all made sense to me. Truck, helper, house secured, and a free day were all the ingredients needed to move. The fact that we had not packed the first thing did not register with me as a problem. We slept in our new house that night. I was clueless to the insensitivity of putting my wife though this ordeal.

The following years were difficult. Although we rarely argued, there was always tension in the air. My work was my life. It was not uncommon for me to leave before the children were up and get home after they were in bed. Since we had chosen for my wife to work at home until the children started school, she had little contact with adults. By the time I arrived home, she was desperate for conversation. I wanted to relax. I read the paper or watched television as she attempted to share her day. The conversation often ended with these words: “You are not listening to a thing I say.” I would respond by repeating her comments verbatim. I was clueless to the difference between hearing and listening. I heard the words, but she needed for me to listen to her feelings of loneliness and frustration.

Her feelings of isolation took a toll on our relationship. She became jealous of the things she perceived to take precedence over her. She began to see herself slipping down my priority list. Her insecurities caused her to cling and her clinging caused me to feel caged. The tension grew. Her attempts to discuss the problem were met by silence. I was determined that my home would not become the verbal battlefield I had experienced as a child.

As the months passed, my wife became deeply depressed and I became frustrated at my inability to make her happy. I thought that I was a good husband. I was faithful; I worked hard; and I gave her my paycheck each month to pay the bills. My frustration drove me to my knees. I cried out to God that our marriage was broken and I did not know how to fix it. When I arose from my knees, I realized the answers to our problems were to be found outside of ourselves. It was overwhelming.

In the months that followed my willingness to learn more about my responsibilities as a husband grew. I began to seek help and God began to show me things I had never seen before.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reflections for August 27, 2010

A Parallel between a Football Team and the Church

During a sermon I shared that for nineteen years of my life football (eight as player and eleven as a coach) had been the first priority in my life. I shared to explain how God transitioned me from coach to pastor. As folks filed past me on the way out following the sermon, someone made a remark that had an impression upon me. He said, “You never left coaching. Now, you are God’s coach and you are coaching God’s people.” As I reflected the comment, I began to draw parallels between a football team and God’s church.

A football team has an owner or a sponsor. Without a school sponsor or a literal owner as in professional football, there would be no team. A Church has God as its owner. He purchased it with the precious shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You can’t belong to His team unless you have recognized and accepted the sacrifice that has been made for you. Churches that refuse to accept God’s ownership are churches in name only. They can never rise above what man can do. Those yielded to God’s ownership can look forward to experiencing God’s victories.

Every team must have a head coach and varying numbers of assistants. To be successful, they must keep contact with the owner. Their position is secure as long as they remember their ultimate goal is to please the owner. A pastor is much like the head coach. His assistants may ware the title pastor but in truth there must be a central figure to direct the day to day traffic. The role of the coaches is to determine where the players can best serve; to help them develop their skills; and to deploy them in the game at the appropriate moment.

Under the coaches are the players. They are the feet on the ground. In the eyes of the public some players are more important than others. Wise coaches know that it takes everyone for the team to reach its full potential. The team members who work diligently all week to assist in the preparation of the players who will actually be on the field on game day are as important as the ones scoring the touchdowns. Football is a team sport. There is no room for stars.

In a church the players are the folks who work behind the scenes to make sure things are ready for Sunday. They may not preach, teach, sing in the choir, etc. but they pray, visit, encourage, keep the nursery, contribute, clean, drive buses, etc. The important thing is they use the gifts they have been given to advance the work of the owner.

The spectators represent those who belong to the team but who do not participate fully. Instead, they are content to sit in the stands and occasionally give a cheer for those who are doing the work. Unfortunately, in most churches it is the spectators who make up the majority..

The parallel breaks down at this point. In football, only so many can participate on the field at a time. In the church, spectators are challenged to get out of the stands and into the game. They are constantly reminded their talents were never meant to be horded but were meant to add to the efficiency of the team.

Finally, there are the people outside the stadium. They have no interest in the game. Many have no idea the game is taking place. They often see people involved in the game as fanatics. They do not understand the thrill that comes when you know you have served well and honored your owner and king. It is the duty of those in the stadium to go into the community and to represent their owner well. It is their duty to tell others of the excitement the game of life can offer when it is played under the direction of the Heavenly Owner. Like exciting football games, the joys of fellowship in the church should be talked about in the factories, offices, homes, places of recreation, and other places by those who participate in the joys of serving the Master.

The question these parallels raise for each one of us is are we in the game or are we merely a spectator or are we outside the stadium completely? Speaking as one who spent most of the first half of his life in the stands watching, I can say there is nothing more exciting than getting involved and playing the game of life under the direction of the our Heavenly Owner.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections for August 20, 2010

"Putting Others First"

When I was a boy, Life Magazine was one of the leading publications in the country. Through the years People,, US and Self magazines have appeared. I mention these because I believe their names reflect a downward spiral in our country from responsibility for self and others to an obsession with personal rights.

I recognize that you might take issue with my assumption. You could point to the outpouring of financial support that Americans have given in response to natural disasters both at home and abroad in recent years. Your observations would be correct. There is no other nation in the world that has been more generous in these situations. However, I am not thinking as much about these types of events as I am about the day to day opportunities that we have to choose between self and others.

Our obsession with self is seen in our equally obvious obsession with our rights. It seems that everyone is conscious of his/her rights today. We hear this all the time in business, the work place, politics, marriage, church, and every other venue of human interaction. While I am for individual rights and freedom as much as the next guy, I am alarmed at how the obsession with our rights have blurred or destroyed our willingness to accept our responsibilities. When you break it down to its basics, rights are about self and responsibilities are about others. The more self absorbed we are; the less concerned we are about our responsibilities to others.

While the world promotes this fascination with self, scripture teaches us something different. In his admonition to the church at Philippi, Paul addresses this issue by writing, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3, 4) Paul is not advising that we should forget about our own personal interests. We have a responsibility to ourselves as well as to others. However, he is admonishing us not to let our personal interests absorb us. He is encouraging us to be conscious of the needs of others. He is saying our decisions should not only consider self but that they should consider the effect our choices have on others. He is saying in our listing of priorities we are to consider others first.

Few days pass that we do not have the opportunity to choose between selfish desires and the needs of others. The natural thing to do is to choose self over others. The Spirit filled way is to place others first. Imagine the changes it would make in your home or church, if everyone put into action the words written by Paul to the Philippians. I believe it would reduce the constant bickering that often defines families and churches. I believe it would demonstrate in life the words of Jesus: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NASB).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reflections for August 13, 2010

Focusing on the Things We Have in Common

Does the number of things that divide people disturb you? We are divided by race, nationality, socio-economic factors, geographical stereotyping, gender, age, politics, social issues and spiritual differences to name a few. I am not talking about society as a whole but the division that exist among those who claim to be followers of Christ. How it must trouble our Lord when He sees His Bride so divided. The sad thing is most of the things that divide us have little eternal ramifications. Instead, they have to do with our personal preferences, rather than the unchanging principles of our faith.

I am not naive enough to believe there will be unanimity among God’s people this side of heaven. There will always be differences. It is not the differences that trouble me. It is the attitude accompanying them that is troubling. It is one thing to disagree but it is another thing entirely to do so with an unloving attitude. While we may not reach unanimity, Christ did give us one directive that leaves little wiggle room in interpretation. He 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. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35 NASB).

If we are to obey the command of Christ, we must find a way to look beyond our differences and to focus on the things we have in common. Several years ago, I heard a message by John Maxwell that dealt with dealing with conflict. It was called the 101 Per Cent Principle. Basically, it challenged people in conflict to find the one percent that they could agree upon and to give a 100 percent effort to build upon that one percent of agreement. As followers of Christ, we have more than one percent to build upon. Paul wrote about our commonality in the Letter to Ephesus: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB). Notice Paul emphasized the attitude we should have toward each other before he gave us the things we share in common. If I have the attitude Paul expresses, surely I will be able to act brotherly toward others who share the common elements of our faith.

When we push our common beliefs to the background, and fight over the peripheral things we do a disservice to our Lord and we give ammunition to those who have not yet been brought into the family. We legitimize the thought that Christians are hypocrites. What is the unbelieving world to think when we preach love and demonstrate the opposite? When we consider the common things Paul said we share, it would behoove us to consider we are going to spend eternity with many of the folks we refuse to tolerate. It seems to me it would be wise to begin this side of eternity to learn how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our differences.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Reflections for July 30, 2010

"It Is Not My Call"

Following a night of severe thunder storms my wife was talking to our five year old granddaughter. She asked, “Did the storms frighten you?”

She replied, “We were out in them and they frightened me some. I said a little prayer asking God to make them stop. Then I thought that is not my call is it?”

It amazes me how, not realizing it, children can be incredibly profound. Her response had no element of fear or frustration over the situation being completely out of her hand. She was content to know it was in God’s hands. I pray that simple sense of trust will follow her and will comfort her when she grows older and the storms of life swirl around her.

Her response brought to my mind a sermon I heard at a pastor’s conference early in my ministry. I can’t remember the preacher’s name but I remember the sermon title, the scripture and the three points he brought forward. The title was “God of the Whirlwind.” His scripture was Nahum 1”3b: “In whirlwind and storm is His way and clouds are the dust beneath His feet (NASB).” His three points were God was before the whirlwind, God was in the whirlwind and God will be there when the whirlwind is over.

It appears to me this is an important message for our generation, since we tend to move from one whirlwind to another. The storms of uncertainty in our country today are blowing hard. It seems to me that the fear and frustration among our people grows with each passing day. Much of this unrest revolves around the economic conditions in the country. For many Christians, the greatest storm is the downward spiral of standards of morality. For others it is the fear brought about by medical problems. The list of possible life crippling whirlwinds could go on forever and still miss the one in your life. Whatever the whirlwind is in your life, I have good news for you.

The good news is found in Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (NASB). Whatever whirlwind you are encountering today, take a moment and think about three things. One, God is good. Two, God wants to be your stronghold. He wants to care for you. He will either move you beyond the whirlwind or He will give you all you need to weather the storm. Three, while it may appear that everyone around you is oblivious to the storm you battle, God knows you by name. He knows your pain and He wishes to provide you the strength to rise above it.

In the end, it is good for all of us to accept the truth from the mouth of a five year old girl and to realize that some things are not our call, but we can know intimately the one who is in control and He will deliver us from our whirlwinds, if we will trust in Him.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reflections for July 23, 2010

Trusting While You Wait

My first full time staff position at a church was Minister of Youth and Activities. Midway through the four and one half years I served in the position, I felt a strong leading of the Lord to move toward a preaching ministry. After I received permission from the deacons to speak on Sunday at other churches, I felt my greatest problem would be scheduling the opportunities I would have. After six months of waiting, I had received zero opportunities. In my frustration, I sat at my desk, closed my eyes, opened my bible, placed my finger on the page and prayed, “God show me what you want me to do.” When I opened my eye my finger was on Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (NASB). While this was not the anwer I wanted, it was the one I needed. After thirty years in ministry, God has shown me repeatedly the wisdom of heeding His advice and the folly of succumbing to my fears and impatience and following my own time table.

In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers there is the story of the twelve spies who went to scout the Promised Land for the Jewish people following their deliverance from Egypt. Of the twelve, only Joshua and Caleb, gave positive reports. The remainder of the spies reported that there were giants in the land and recommended that they not go into it. The people listened to the ten and the Jews ended up wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The lesson for us today is that we should never let fear stand in the way of any assignment that God gives. Faith tells us that He provides every need to accomplish every task that He gives.

In the thirteenth chapter of First Samuel, there is another story that gives us an equally devastating response to fear. In Chapter 10:8, King Saul had been given directions by the Prophet Samuel to go to Gilgal and to remain there for seven days until he came. He said that when he came he would offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. Then, he would tell Saul what he was to do. The seventh day came and Samuel was no where to be found. As the day passed, the threat of the Philistines created fear in the people and impatience in Saul. Finally, Saul took matters into his own hands and made the offerings and sacrifices himself. Immediately following his actions, Samuel arrived. For his disobedience Saul lost the privilege of his kingdom enduring forever through his heirs. The lesson for today is that we should always wait and do things according to God’s timing and not our own.

Here you have two stories that demonstrate the mistakes that people often make. First, fear causes them to dig in their heels and to refuse to move forward. Second, fear causes people to panic and to rush ahead of God’s timing. Both responses lead to disaster. These two blunders lead us to ask how we can know it is from God and is it the right time to do something.

I believe the most important ingredient in discovering and following God’s time table is to engage in intensive prayer. As we pray, it is important that we realize that God wants us to be successful in discovering and doing His will. He does not want us to fail. Therefore, if we will put self behind us and be open to what He reveals, we can be assured that He will help us to see clearly, not only what He has for us to do but when He wishes for us to do it.

As we pray we must do so with faith. It is faith that can overcome our fears and impatience. It is faith that brings us our greatest blessings. Andrew Murray said it this way, “Be assured that if God waits longer than you could wish, it is only to make the blessing doubly precious. God waited four thousand years, till the fullness of time, ere He sent His Son. Our times are in His hands; He will avenge His elect speedily; He will make haste for our help, and not delay one hour too long.” In other words, God’s time is always the right time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reflections for July 16, 2010


One of the greatest needs in our country today is leadership. This is true in churches, government, business, education and every other endeavor. Without strong leadership the best anyone can expect is mediocrity. Our nation is crying for leaders worthy of following but they are hard to find. The lack of clear, strong leadership is a primary reason for the deep dissatisfaction with government. People of all political persuasions are crying for someone to stand up and cast a vision for the future. Instead, politicians are satisfied with standing around pointing fingers and assigning blame.

There are shelves filled with books about leadership but there is no better book on the subject than the Bible. It contains powerful lessons about both good and poor leadership. As one studies the characters in the Bible, one sees basic truths about leadership put into action. There are more examples than we have space. The good leaders shared three characteristics. One, they were able to see beyond what was to what could be. This does not mean that a leader does not need a full understanding of the past and the present. It does mean he/she should not live there. Look at Moses for example. He drew strength from the past but he had a vision of the future. He kept the hope of the Promise Land before the Jews, enabling them to survive for forty years in the wilderness. Throughout the history of our nation, there have been many difficult times. With every difficulty, someone has risen to the top and has helped us to see that there was something better in the future.

Two, they were willing to take risk in order to make things better. They were willing to sacrifice in the now in order to insure the future. Read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, especially verses 38, 39. Why were these great men and women of faith willing to sacrifice so much? It was because they had a vision of the greatness that was to come. John Maxwell explains the need for sacrifice this way: “If I succeed without sacrifice, then it’s because someone who went before me made the sacrifice. If I sacrifice, and don’t see success, then someone who follows will reap success from my sacrifice.” Leaders must help people understand the risk and sacrifice of today is necessary to reach the goals for tomorrow.

Third, they had perseverance. Things do not change overnight. A leader does not change course every time the wind shifts. He sets the example and keeps his focus on the vision laid before him. Books are filled with individuals that could have given up. Instead, they viewed each problem as an opportunity for greatness. They believed and lived Galatians 6:9. It reads, “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (NASB).
As God’s people, we need to pray that He will raise up men and women who fit the description above, who are willing to stand above the finger pointing, and who are willing to paint a picture of our future that motivates our people to move beyond the bickering partisan politics that has been so prevalent in recent years and to move into the future with optimism and hope.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reflections for July 9, 2010

"A Time of Refreshing"

We have a contract with a lawn service that allows them to treat our lawn for unwanted weeds and to provide fertilizer for it at the appropriate times. It has proved to be a good investment. However, it would not have been, if we did not have the good fortune to have a irritation system to provide the needed water. All the weed treatment and fertilizer in the world would not produce an attractive lawn without water. Without water, the grass would become parched and its beauty would not be realized.

As I sat on our patio this morning watching our dog run through the water from the irrigation system, I began to see a important spiritual lesson to be drawn from our grass as it drank up the water. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when He spoke to the woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13, 14 NASB). I believe the water of which Jesus spoke in this passage was the Holy Spirit. Later in John 16:13, 14, Jesus speaks more about the coming of the Spirit. He said, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (NASB). In both scriptures, Jesus proclaims the absolute need for the Holy Spirit, who indwells believers.

Just as the grass can’t thrive without water. We can’t thrive in our Christian walk without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. We can do many good things but, ultimately, we will dry up without the reviving presence of the Spirit in our life.

Our irrigation system was placed under our yard, when the house was built. It is always there waiting to be activated. It is activated by turning the switch in the panel in our garage. The Holy Spirit was placed in us the moment we sincerely received Christ into our life as our Lord and Savior. He patiently waits, always willing to assist us as we navigate the storms of life. He wants nothing more than to make our lives beautiful by filling them with the fruit that He has for us. Paul describes the fruit the Spirit wishes us to have in Galatians 5:22, 23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (NASB).

While this fruit is available to all believers at all times, it does not come automatically. The Holy Spirit does not force Himself on us. Like our irrigation system, He must be activated in our lives. He is activated by our repentance and our complete surrender to His will. When we turn loose of the control of our lives and look to Him for daily guidance and deliverance, He never fails us and we are able to grow to our full potential in the Lord. It is then we can understand the full meaning of Acts 3:19: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (NASB).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reflections for July 2, 2010

"Living Free"

Chrysostom, a fourth century patriarch of Constantinople, was a great example of being free indeed. One of the stories attributed to him had to do with an occasion when the Roman Emperor demanded that he renounce his faith. The emperor’s first threat was to have him banished from the kingdom, if he refused to deny his faith in Christ. To this threat Chrysostom replied, “You cannot because the whole world is my Father’s kingdom.” The second threat was to take his life. Again he replied, “You cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” The third threat was to take all of his treasures. His reply was, “You cannot, for my treasure is in heaven where my heart is.” Finally the emperor threatened to drive him away from anyone who may befriend him, leaving him all alone. Chrysostom had a ready reply. He said, “You cannot, for I have one Friend from whom you can never separate me. I defy you for you can do me no harm.” Chrysostom had learned the secret of living free under the most adverse conditions.

We do not face this kind of threat because of our religious faith. We are blessed to live where we can worship as we please. While we have political freedom, many of our people have not learned to live free. They remain enslaved to their own passions, habits and fears.

Jesus provided for us a way to live our lives totally free. He said, ‘if you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…So if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed”(John 8:31, 31, 36 NASB). From these verses there appears to be three steps to realizing genuine spiritual freedom.

The first step is to believe in Jesus. In the scriptures belief in Jesus is more than an intellectual accent to the reality that He lived. Belief refers to the belief He was who He said that He was. It is the belief He is the answer to man’s sin problem. It is the belief He is the Savior and that through Him the relationship that was broken by sin can be restored.

The second step has to do with abiding in His word. While we have everything we need to live free, when we believe and receive Christ, we do not experience our freedom until we learn to abide in His word. When we abide in His word, it becomes the governing force in our lives.

The third step is to grow in our understanding of the truth. John 14:6 (NASB) reads, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’” Jesus did not say he knew the truth; He said “I am the truth.” As our understanding of Him grows, we become equipped to truly live free, because He becomes the source of our freedom.

When we walk this path step by step we come to understand what it means to be “free indeed”. Chrysostom understood. Fear of death, loneliness, loss of treasure did not bind him. He found all that he needed in Christ. We could learn from his example.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reflections for June 23, 2010

"Unbridled Freedom"

Here are three quotes Americans should heed.

"History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster."

"I believe this blessed land was set apart in a very special way, a country created by men and women who came here not in the search of gold, but in search of God. They would be free people, living under the law with faith in their Maker and their future."

"I believe with all my heart that standing up for America means standing up for the God who has so blessed our land. We need God's help to guide our nation through stormy seas. But we can't expect Him to protect America in a crisis if we just leave Him over on the shelf in our day-to-day living."

At first glance one might surmise these quotes were made in the context of a sermon delivered by a fiery eyed fundamentalist preacher, who was whining about the moral condition of our nation. To the contrary, the first was attributed to General Douglas MacArthur and the last two to President Ronald Reagan. It appeared to me that both these men understood a truth that many have forgotten over the past half century. The truth is that unbridled freedom or freedom minus a sense of responsibility leads down a slippery slope until those who seek it find themselves enslaved to the very things they have sought.

This search for unbridled freedom intensified during the sixties and has continued unabated to the present. Our society is now harvesting the fruit of such a self-centered philosophy. We see it in society’s attitude toward abortion. We see it in a multi-billion dollar per year pornography business. We see it in the shrinking list of things considered to be abnormal behavior. Rather than abnormal, things are referred to as alternative lifestyles. We see it every day on our televisions. Programming today, deals with topics during prime time that would not have been mentioned at any hour years ago. We see it in the unrelenting strive to legalize a variety of drugs. These are a few of the areas where the fruit of unbridled freedom can be seen. Space does not allow me to continue.

Those who support this road toward unbridled freedom say these things are evidence of progress that has been made. They claim these things represent a new openness and liberty. They see them as victories of the soul from the repression of religion. Others see them as a road toward disaster. They believe that this land has been blessed by God and that His blessing will not continue forever if we continue to seek unbridled freedom that forgets the basic laws He has given to us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reflections for June 16, 2010


Life is all about choices. Each day we are faced with circumstances that require us to make choices about whom or what we will serve. We sometimes act as if we can avoid these choices but we can’t. In most cases we are spared from verbally expressing our choices. The absence of verbalization, does not excuse us from choices, because our actions speak more loudly than our words. The question each one of us should ponder is does my actions reflect my allegiance to God or do they reflect an allegiance to the gods of this world?

In his book, Who Are You When No One Is Looking, Bill Hybels explains our choices this way: “Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving in for the sake of comfort, greed or approval. We choose either to take a carefully thought-out risk or to crawl into a shrinking shell of safety, security and inactivity. We choose either to believe in God and trust him, even when we do not always understand his ways, or to second-guess him and cower in the corners of doubt and fear.”

Before making our choice, it would be wise to examine our choices. In other words, we need to ask the question, “If not God; who or what?” There are hundreds of things from which we can choose, but most of them would fall into one of four categories. First, we can choose the god of pleasure. It causes us to become caught up in our own comfort and enjoyment. It does not leave room for concern for others. It offers much but in the end brings disillusionment, because no matter how much of it we obtain, it does not fulfill our deepest needs. Second, we can choose the god of popularity. When we worship this god, we forget about principle and do anything to be accepted into the group we think is most important. Popularity never brings the self-confidence we seek because we can never please everyone. This quest leaves us constantly seeking to obtain the approval of someone. Third, we can worship the god of power. It is a cruel taskmaster. It requires us to step on anyone who gets in our way as we push ourselves to the top. The problem is when we get to the top we find it to be a lonely place to live. Fourth, we can worship the god of philosophy and worship whatever the current popular trend is. Presently, it is the spirit of secularism. While it does not always deny the existence of God, it does say that He is irrelevant and that man can fix all of his own problems. All of these gods share a common flaw. Not one of them can fill the empty space within man. It is a space that cries out for fellowship with his creator.

The alternative to these choices offered to us by the world is the gift of life offered to us by our Heavenly Father. The Apostle John wrote: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24 NASB). The eternal life Jesus makes possible means more than length of life. It also means a quality of life that can be found nowhere else. The life He offers promises abundance, peace and joy. These blessings are available to all who follow Him but are realized only when we walk in obedience to Him.

Each day we are given the opportunity to choose between the world’s way or our Lord’s way. One brings at best temporary satisfaction, but it ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. The other gives us the opportunity to follow Jesus Christ and results in a life characterized by joy, peace and abundance in the things that truly matter. Who will you choose to follow today?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reflections for June 4, 2010

If things were the answer to happiness, the people of the United States would be among the happiest people in the world. Instead, the opposite appears to be true. As a nation we lead the world in most of the statistics that are not complimentary of a nation. Divorce, addictions of all kinds, incarceration per capita, mental illness, and abuse of prescription drugs are just a few of the unflattering categories that we either lead or are near the top. None of these things reflect a happy image. The obvious question is, “Why in a country that has so much is there so much unhappiness?”

The mental health professionals and sociologist have written volumes addressing the problem. Apparently, their efforts are not getting us any closer to the answer. At the risk of being simplistic, I would like to submit one important factor that is often ignored. It can be described in three words, lack of gratitude. We have become a nation of people who expect much and appreciate little. Our want list seems to always exceed our thanksgiving list. We give lip service to gratitude but our actions show that we are not really as grateful for what we have as we are covetous toward the things we see others have and we want. A simple test of our attitude of gratitude would be to time the moments we spend giving God thanks and the time we spend asking God to give us something.

It appears to me that a new word has taken the place of gratitude in our vocabulary. The word is entitlement. A sense of entitlement can be seen in every level of our society. The problem with entitlement is that it leaves no room for gratitude. Why be grateful for something that is rightly yours to begin with?

The point is that we have little for which to be grateful when we assume we are entitled to everything we have. If we are not grateful for what we have, our chances are extremely high that we will not be happy. I am not sure where the following statement originated but it expresses the problem of unhappiness in America: “There is a secret to happiness and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.”

Paul understood this concept when he wrote, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:6-18 NASB). Paul’s point was that we should always look for the things we can be thankful for in whatever situation we find ourselves. I do not know where you are today. It may be a really difficult time for you. Whatever your situation take a moment and go to God and ask Him to show you all that you have to be grateful for. It will help to replace a frown with a smile.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reflections for May 28, 2010

"Becoming Fishers of Men"
Matthew 4:19
(All scripture references are from the NASB)

Earlier this spring at our associational men’s gathering, I won a fishing trip, courtesy of the Men’s Ministry at Northside Baptist Church in Laurens. The trip was this past Saturday. I was allowed to bring my two sons and four young grandsons with me. Our guides were extremely patient with my young grandsons. With our guides leading the way and the assistance my sons, my grandsons were able to catch two large coolers full of catfish. It was by far the most fish they had caught in a day. Needless to say, they had a great time.

My job was to observe and enjoy. I observed three characteristics of our guides that enabled them to make our day a success. If we are to be successful fishers of men, we need to embrace their characteristics.

First, they had made all the preparations for the trip. They had the boats ready; they had the fishing gear for everyone; and they had the proper bait. If we are to be effective fishers of men, we too must make preparation. We must make it a matter of prayer; we must make sure we have a verbal presentation backed up by a lifestyle that models it; and we must build a personal relationship with those we are attempting to reach. I Peter 3:15, 16 provides a plan for our preparation. It reads, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asked you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”(Bold print added)

Second, our guides had studied the lake and were familiar with the best places to drop our hooks. Their expertise was evidenced by the fact we caught fish at every place we dropped our hooks. It was clear we had to go to the fish and not to expect them to come to us. There may have been a day when those without Christ came to our churches in hopes of finding the Savior, but today, few show that kind of interest. We can no longer be content to wait for the people to come to us. We must go where they are. This is not a new tragedy. In one of Jesus’ parables, He said, Go out into the highways and along the hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23 bold print added).

Third, our guides demonstrated a passion for what they were doing. It was clear fishing was not something they did occasionally. It was an integral part of their lives. Because it was a part of their lives, it was not a burden but a pleasure. Should we not show the same passion for those we know who do not know Christ? We would do well to adopt the attitude Paul had toward his fellow Jews. He wrote, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself was accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”(Romans 9:1-3 bold print added). If we had Paul’s passion, surely we would have a greater sense of urgency in our approach to evangelism.

Imagine what would happen in our churches if we concentrated on preparation for sharing, places to share, and a burning passion to share. While the world may not realize it, it is desperately in need of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. God has commissioned us to go and to tell the “Good News”. Isn’t it time we got busy fulfilling our commission?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reflections for May 20, 2010

"Growing Old Is Not A Bad Thing"

A few years back there was an article about Catherine Gay in the magazine, Mature Living. Her story was remarkable. Five days a week, she got up at 5:30 AM to join her walking group in a two mile walk. Two days a week she volunteered at the Texas Children’s Hospital. On Wednesdays she assisted with kitchen duty at her church. She had served as secretary of her church choir for over forty years. On Fridays, after registering out of town patients at the local hospital for free lodging, she delivered meals to the homebound on her list. In her spare time, she volunteered at the local Children’s Hospital, assisting the children with reading. She purchased her first computer just prior to the article. Her schedule would be remarkable for anyone, but what makes her story truly remarkable is that she was 94 years old, when the article was written.

Having recently retired, this story is especially inspiring for me. It reminds me that retirement does not mean sitting around and growing old. Instead, it broadens my opportunities of service, because I am no longer tied down to one position. It has given me the joy of pursing dreams of ministry that have been in my mind for years. It opens the way for God to fulfill His promise found in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (NASB). It provides me with a sense of adventure filled with all the unknowns present when I first began my journey. It calls upon me to trust in God’s provision and direction for the future. It is an exciting time.

Before you begin to think I have returned to the foolish dreams of a young man, I assure you I am aware of the toll the aging process can take on a person, both mentally and physically. I have witnessed it in my years of ministry, in my own family and in my own body. The knowledge that my ability to do might be removed at any time causes me to want to do while I can. Instead of sitting down and waiting for what might be, I choose to follow after the model of Caleb in the Scripture. Listen to the words of Caleb as he spoke to Moses.

“And now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eight-five years old today. I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out as the Lord has spoken” (Joshua 14:10-12 NASB)

I take heart in knowing I am not alone. There is a growing army of people like myself. Our churches are filled with them. We can all choose to follow Caleb’s example or we can sit around seeking new ways to make ourselves comfortable. If we are to become the Caleb’s of our generation, we must first understand that retirement is a societal term, not a biblical one. God’s retirement program is the greatest one of all. When it is our time to participate in it, He will come and take us home. Until then, He has work for us to do. Let’s discover what it is and “just do it.” If we do, maybe someday, someone will write a story about us like the one about Catherine Gay.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reflections for May 13, 2010

"Church Matters"

At the outset of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians Paul gives three things about the Thessalonians for which he was thankful. He gave thanks for their “work of faith”, “labor of love”, and “steadfastness of hope”. Over the course of my ministry, I have seen these things demonstrated in the churches I have served. I have seen firsthand the difference that a church family can make in the lives of individuals during times of joy and of suffering.

Unfortunately, many believers today have forfeited the comfort and encouragement a local body of believers can add to their lives. They have lost contact with their church family and have chosen to walk their walk of faith alone. This fact is reflected in the research that shows people do not put as much importance upon belonging as they once did. This lack of commitment to a local community of believers is widespread all across our country. It is especially strong among young believers. In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes describes this lack of commitment to the local church in this manner: “Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, ‘You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas-and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church attenders: ‘You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills-and I’ll go along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out-my thumb is always out for a better ride.’” While this hitchhiker mentality may satisfy for the moment, it does not give our roots opportunity to grow down deep into the fabric of the church enabling the individual the full benefits of belonging.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren listed six important benefits that come from belonging to a local body:

…A church family identifies you as a genuine believer.
…A church family moves you out of self-centered isolation.
…A church family helps you develop spiritual muscle.
…The Body of Christ needs you.
…You will share in Christ’s mission in the world.
…A church family will help keep you from backsliding.

If you have chosen to give up on church, I encourage you to consider another look. Find a church home that lives up to the love, faith and hope Paul wrote of the Thessalonians. Invest your life in a local body of believers and over the long haul, your life will be blessed. Remember the Body of Christ needs you and whether you realize it our not, you need it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reflections for May 5, 2010

"Mother's Are Special"

One could fill the paper talking about the work of a mother. They are many times she fills the role of doctor, nurse, counselor, teacher, maid, cook, taxi driver, tutor, and the list goes on and on. Those who are on the receiving end of her labors sometimes take her for granted and do not give her the praise and encouragement she deserves. Others belittle her efforts and question her contributions to society. One lady, who chose to stay home, held a doctorate degree and was perfectly capable of pursing a career in her field. She grew tired of the expressions on people’s faces when she told them she was a homemaker. Now, when she is asked, “What do you do?” she responds, “I’m socializing two homo-sapiens in Judeo-Christian virtues so they will appropriate the eschatological values of utopia. What do you do?”

While this statement may sound sarcastic, it does reflect one of the most important tasks that a mother has. It emphasizes the importance that a mother has in teaching a child right and wrong and in passing on the truths of her faith. Lois and Eunice were two such women in the Bible. Lois was the grandmother and Eunice was the mother of Paul’s young protégé, Timothy. In Paul’s second letter to the young pastor Paul wrote, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice ,and I am sure that it is in you as well” (II Timothy 1:5 NASB). Later in the same letter, Paul wrote, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of , knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 3:14, 15 NASB)

Little did Lois and Eunice know that the things they were teaching would help Timothy grow into a young man who would be remembered for centuries in God’s book, the Holy Bible. Other passages help us have a better picture of the kind of man he was. He was greatly respected (Acts 16:2), compassionate (Phil. 2:20), unselfish (Phil. 2:21, 22) and an encourager (I Thess. 3:2). Lois and Eunice were not the only people who had an influence on him but Paul certainly understood the important part they played in his life.

The message for mothers of our day is to never underestimate the importance of your influence over your sons and daughters and to not underestimate the importance of demonstrating and teaching a strong faith. You can never know what your teachings might accomplish, because a mother’s faith can have immeasurable impact on the world in which we live. Finally, never let anyone convince you that your job is not important. There is no work more important than the work of a mother. You deserve our praise, appreciation and respect.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reflections for April 30, 2010

"The Most Important Verse in the Bible"

If someone asked you what the most important verse in the Bible was, what would your answer be? I can think of many possible answers. Each time I believe I have found my most important verse I discover another one that speaks more loudly to my heart. The verse I have chosen to write about this week rarely makes the cut on people’s most important list. Yet, I believe it is the most important. The verse I have chosen is Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (HCSB).

I can almost hear the gasp of many who would ask, why that verse? If you take time to consider the magnitude of such a statement, you might understand the faith it takes to belief it. When you read further, you discover the word “let” over and over again. It is significant because it does not allow for God to gather materials from all over the galaxies with which He would create a new world. It literally means He spoke it into being. Think about the complexities of our world and you can understand the awesomeness of the one who created it by simply saying “let there be”.

Why is it important? It is important because, if one does not accept the first claim made in a book, he/she is unlikely to accept the claims made throughout the remainder of it. On the other hand, if one accepts this verse as a fact, everything else the book claims does not seem to be difficult. A God who can speak the world into existence has no problem parting a great sea, making the sun stand still, making an axe head float, making a donkey speak, sending His angels to take up one of His faithful prophets in a flaming chariot, etc. If one believes this verse, he/she is well prepared to answer the question posed by God to the Prophet Jeremiah: “Look, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me” (Jeremiah 32:27 HCSB)? For those who believe the answer is a resounding NO, nothing is too difficult for you, Lord. This means there is no problem I have that is beyond His control and ability to fix.

Once I had accepted fully Genesis 1:1, the next big question for me was, why would such an awesome God care for someone like me? Yet He does. This leads me to my second most important verse, which is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (NASB). God’s love for the world clearly includes me. While I still may not understand why he has chosen to love me, I can humbly accept His love and rejoice, because, after all, He did create this world and He can do as He chooses.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections for April 22, 2010

"Are You A Dial-Up or Broadband Christian"

In his book, Signs of Life, David Jeremiah wrote about dial-up and broadband spirituality. He wrote, “Too many Christians log on to God once a day when they have their quiet time or once a week when they go to church. They pray; they read their Bible; they’ve connected with God. And that’s good…as far as it goes. The problem with that approach to the spiritual life is that there is no sense of being ‘always on’ __ no sense of living in the moment with God once you’ve finished your quiet time. You open your Bible, bow in prayer, conduct your business with God, and then log of for the day.” (p. 17)

The reality is that there are more dial-up Christians than there are broadband ones. They pride themselves on the few minutes that they allot to God each day. There biggest concern is whether they should give Him the five or ten minutes in the morning or at the end of the day. They pride themselves on their faithfulness to this special time. Besides the time allotted, they remain disconnected for the remainder of the day unless a problem arises that they do not feel capable of fixing.

Before you start having thoughts of how judgmental this sounds, let me add that we all have the tendency to be dial-up Christians. Our mistake is to believe that we can handle most things on our own. We do not want to bother Christ with the mundane things of life. We make all kinds of decisions without consulting Him and, when our decision proves to be faulty, we blame Him for letting us fall into the mess we find ourselves in. The truth is most of the messes in our lives would never occur, if we would switch from dial-up to broadband.

Broadband Christians may set aside a special time each day with the Lord, but they understand that this time is not enough. They know that they need God’s input throughout the day. This doesn’t mean that there is a constant stream of information being passed to them, but it does mean their mind is open to receive directions anytime God wishes to send them. They recognize it is dangerous to tell God that He must wait till morning or evening to give His input.

The benefits of being broadband Christians are many. They are always open to the divine appointments that God puts in their path during the day; they are never turned off to God’s directions; and they do not miss the divine opportunities that God provides each day. As a result, they fulfill God’s command to be salt and light in their world.

It would behoove us all to make a definite commitment to broadband spirituality during this wonderful season of celebration and in the years to come.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections for April 14, 2010

"The Importance of Teamwork"

Any great coach understands the importance of teamwork. While teams may have stars that are mostly created by the fans and media, the coach understands that the star shines more brightly when his/her teammates provide the support needed. The greatest challenge for the coach is to discover where the individuals can be used most effectively to assure the team will benefit the most. In the process the coach must convince each player that his/her contribution to the team is vital. When you eliminate star status and have everyone understanding their contribution is essential for the team to be all it can be, the team has the greatest opportunity to reach its full potential.

This same principle of teamwork determines the success of the church. The major difference is the Lord Jesus Christ is the owner of the church. Through His Holy Spirit, He provides the gifts that His church needs to fulfill every demand He places upon it. Failure to succeed is never due to lack of giftedness but to underachievement by the individuals to whom the gifts have been given.

Like a great coach, the successful pastor must be able to lead the people to discover their gifts and to use them effectively for the building up of the body of Christ which is the church. Paul spells out this responsibility in his letter to the Ephesians. He wrote, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ;” (4:11, 12 NASB).

I believe these two verses teach that a pastor has three important responsibilities toward his members. First, the pastor must assist his people in discovering their gifts. One of the reasons the 20-80 percent principle (20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.) is reflected in many congregations is the people have never been taught they are gifted. Because they have had no formal training, they assume they can do nothing. Second, the pastor is responsible with assisting the people in developing their gifts. God gives the gifts but the receiver is responsible for developing it. It does not develop without the proper attention. Third, the pastor must be willing to lead the people into deploying their gift in ministry to the church and the community in which the church is located.

Is the picture becoming clearer? Christ gives the gifts; the pastor does his part; and the people do theirs. Working together the task gets done. Since Christ gave the gifts, He is the only one who deserves praise. Everyone else has done his or her part, according to the gifts that have been bestowed upon them. No one has the right to claim more importance. Only Christ is deserving of the glory.

Have you discovered your gift(s)? Are you looking for opportunities to develop your gifts? Are you using them to build up the body of Christ? If you answered yes to these questions, you are the type of team player, I believe Christ would call faithful.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reflections for April 8, 2010

"Lessons Learned from a Tree"

There is a tree in our backyard that refused to shed all of its leaves last fall. I watched expectantly as the winds of winter blew through the tree, expecting the final leaves to fall, but about one third continued to cling tenaciously to the limbs. As spring approached the sap in the tree began to rise and new growth began to appear on the limbs. The new growth gradually forced the last leaves to fall to the ground. For months the leaves had withstood the forces from without that were trying to dislodge them, but they were no match for the force of the sap and the new growth it created from within. This beautiful picture of nature serves as a great example of the struggle that goes on within the lives of Christians.

When someone becomes a Christian, the scripture teaches they become a new creature:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (II Corinthians 5:17 NASB).

This raises the question, what new things come? I believe the change involves our very core. At our core, there must be a desire to follow our Lord. I guess you could say our “want to” changes.

That said, we all find ourselves in the struggle Paul faced when he wrote,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15 NASB).

While Paul’s core had changed creating the desire to obey, his flesh had not been eradicated.

We can all identify with Paul’s struggle. Each one of us has our own battle with the flesh within us. Like the leaves on our tree that refused to give up all its leaves, we have certain things that continue to hold onto us, robbing us of our joy. Paul found the secret to winning the victory over the flesh. He wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 NASB).

I believe Paul recognized that all the good intentions in the world could not deliver us from the temptations of the flesh. While we might escape from many of them, we all have our own weaknesses. As we die to self daily and learn to walk under the guidance of the Spirit, these things will begin to have less and less sway in our lives. Like the sap, which produced new growth, forced the last leaves from our tree, the Spirit will force those tenacious sins of the flesh from our lives and will replace them with the beautiful fruit of the Spirit. Paul describes the fruit of the spirit this way:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is not law” (Gal. 5:22, 23 NASB)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me this day to die to self and to walk in the Spirit. Create in me a bountiful supply of the beautiful fruit the Spirit produces in the life of one who walks in Him. Drive out every remnant of the flesh that keeps me from being the man you want me to be. In Jesus Holy Name I pray. Amen.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reflections for April 1, 2010

"Joy or Grief"

This past week has brought forth a flood of emotions. On Sunday in our church, a man who had not walked without a cane since 1978 and had not walked at all outside of his house since 1989, walked unassisted to the front of the church and helped to take up our offering. On Monday morning, we received an email from one of our dearest friends telling us that his oldest son (40 years old) had succumbed to the cancer that had plagued him for the past year. Both of these families love our Lord. Yet circumstances dictate that one face this week with great joy and the other with hearts filled with sorrow and loss.

The first gentleman had endured four previous surgeries and none had relieved the problem. Because of the four unsuccessful surgeries, he was hesitant to consider another attempt. Finally, after the pain became unbearable, he gave permission to the surgeon to proceed and he turned the results over to the Lord. While the world may give credit to the surgeon for the operations success, the family understands that the ultimate praise belongs to our Lord. The surgeon may have held the scalpel but I am convinced God guided the hand.

The second family had stood closely by and ministered to their eldest son’s needs for the past year. They too had prayed for God’s healing but physical healing had not come. Their consolation was when the end came, it came without struggle. Their son spoke clearly to his brother who was sitting by his side and then slipped into eternity. Their second consolation was they knew he had a home waiting for him in heaven. For him, it was not an ending but a new beginning. For them, it was hearts filled with deep sorrow and loss and the question, why did it have to end this way? Why could he not have lived?

Here within twenty-four hours my wife and I witnessed two heart touching moments. The first was one of great joy. It is easy to respond to such a situation. It is a time of joy. It is a time to give thanks unto God and to praise Him for His goodness. It is a time to marvel at His greatness. It is a time to rejoice with a family who was experiencing something I believe can be described as a miracle. Words are not hard to come by in circumstances such as this.

The second was totally different. Most words seem trite. People find it hard to say anything but feel uncomfortable being silent. In their quandary they sometimes say things that sting the heart more than comfort it, that raise more questions than they answer. It is at times such as these that less words are normally the better choice. When the fog of shock and loss has begun to lift, the family will remember your presence more than anything you might say.

Knowing how shallow words can sound at a time such as this, I prayed for God to show me something to share. I picked up a copy of Streams in the Desert, compiled by Mrs. Charles Cowman. I opened it randomly and found myself at the words written for July 19. As I read, I believe God provided words to share. Here is a portion of that day’s contribution:

The most comforting of David’s psalms were pressed out by suffering;
and if Paul had not had his thorn in the flesh we had
missed much of that tenderness which quivers in so many of his letters.

The present circumstance, which presses so hard against you (if surrendered to Christ),
is the best shaped tool in the Father’s hand to chisel you for eternity.
Trust Him, then. Do not push away the instrument lest you lose its work.

Strange and difficult indeed
We may find it,
But the blessing that we need
Is behind it.
The school of suffering graduates rare scholars.

While they may not be ready to hear it, the family who is now drowning in the cauldron of sorrow may have the greater blessing. I say this because it is at the bottom of our deepest grief that we have the greatest opportunity to encounter the loving touch of the one who gave His own Son that we might someday spend eternity with Him. He too understands the immense pain of seeing His son suffer.