Tag Archives: Believing

Breaking the Code v. 3

What is grace? We have churches named Grace this and Grace that, yet many of the people inside have no idea what the name of the church refers to.

Image result for GraceA majority of the apostolic letters open with the words grace and peace to you and that greeting is ascribed to Jesus Christ our Lord. First, what is an apostolic letter and then, what is the meaning of the greeting?

An apostolic letter is a letter written by one of the Apostles (Paul, John, Peter, James, Jude) to the churches. These are letters that provided guidance to the churches that were formed as a result of the spread of the gospel through various means. Paul took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles as far as his travels would carry him on three different missionary journeys. Over the course of time, the Apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to these new believers. Their teachings have become part of our Scriptures or the collection of books we call the Bible.

Regarding the greeting, going back to the original Greek language the word we interpret as grace is “chairo.” In a spiritual context, it means the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life of the recipient. The Greek language often expresses concepts rather than narrowly defined terms. With chairo we have implications of acceptance, benefit, favor, gift, grace, and joy.

Some have explained the “grace” of God by calling it unmerited favor. It was our ancestors who sinned in the Garden of Eden. But this didn’t catch God by surprise because He already had a plan. That plan was through His grace to provide a way for us to be in eternal relationship with Him. It is because of His grace that we are saved when we place our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He did not have to do this, but by His benevolence (grace), He has extended to us the offer of salvation.

The popular song “Amazing Grace” really has it right when it says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” This song, that once was a hymn sung only in churches, is known by the masses as a beautiful tune that can be sung with passion and great artistry. Yet the true meaning of the first few words is completely lost on most who would never otherwise refer to themselves as wretches. We are indeed unworthy of God’s grace.

In considering the grace of God and what it affords us, one can’t help but be amazed and broken of all our pride. If we are honest with ourselves, this grace is truly nothing we have deserved. In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). It is God’s favor made available to us for the simple act of placing all our faith, our confidence, our hopes for eternal life in the work of Jesus Christ. It is available to every human on this earth, regardless of their current belief system. That, in itself, is pretty amazing. That is not the way people would think without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Understanding the grace of God will bring us the peace of God, because by His grace we have confidence that God has a plan for us and this world (Jeremiah 29:11), a hope and confidence in our life beyond death’s door into eternal life with Him. That should give us a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Two key passages on grace could be Ephesians 2:8-9 and Jude 4

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designate for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

So, grace is an extension of God’s love for us, not conditioned on our good deeds or behavior. But that gift must not be distorted to claim freedom to indulge in perverted lifestyles that deny the teachings of Jesus. To claim this grace, we need only to place our faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope.

God’s grace is a significant topic, one one which stirred the reformation some 500 years ago. Much more could be said, but just a few nuggets for thought.

Breaking the Code v. 2

One of the things in the church that is not well understood by many people is baptism. Baptism is one of those acts that was modeled by Christ and commanded by Scripture.
Related imageAfter Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came down initially to the disciples and then to the church, the disciples were out preaching with Peter leading the way. All those in Jerusalem were hearing these men preach in their own language. In Acts 2:38, Peter preaching to thousands of people who were in awe that everyone was hearing in their own language when he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He pled with them “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Baptism was modeled by Christ who was baptized by John the Baptist, as he began His ministry. It was important for Christ to be baptized. Luke recorded the event this way, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was about 30 years old at that time. (Luke 3:21 ff)

In Acts 19:4 ff Paul was talking to some men in Ephesus. Luke writes, “And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

So, baptism is an outward demonstration of heart level repentance and identification with Christ. Even though Christ had nothing of which to repent, nor could baptism make Him any less sinful (He was without sin), He felt it was important to model the step for all of us. When speaking of baptism we talk of following Christ in baptism. In the process of inviting Christ into our hearts, we must, by definition, repent and turn from our former way of life and thinking. New believers have a desire to follow Christ and baptism is one of those outward statements true followers want to make to the world around them.

From the earliest days of the church, baptism has been a demonstration of a new life and an ordinance, like communion, that believers participate in to identify with their Lord and Savior. The acts of baptism and partaking of communion have no redemptive or cleansing power, but rather are outward demonstrations of what God has done in the heart. Remember, man looks on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Is baptism required for salvation?

A key scene in Scriptures (Luke 23:30-41) gives us great insight into this question. Christ was hanging on the cross and the thieves on either side engaged Jesus in conversation. One hurled insults at Jesus and chided Him, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” The other admonished the first saying, “Don’t you fear God? … We are punished justly … this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Here we have the moment of truth for Christ’s presence here on earth. It is the ultimate act of sacrifice for which He came to earth. One man being crucified for his crimes recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah. Jesus, seeing the man’s heart, hears his confession and tells him that on that very day, they would be reunited in paradise (heaven). This man had no opportunity for baptism and Jesus, seeing his heart, welcomes him into the kingdom.  The Holy Spirit has seen to it that this crucial and sensitive moment, is recorded for us as an affirmation of John 3:16 which tells us that whoever believes in the Son of God, will be saved.

Baptism is taught in Scripture, yet it is practiced in many different ways. Some practice infant baptism, some sprinkle, and some immerse. The question becomes whether there is a right way and a wrong way.

Immersion is symbolic of being buried with Christ and raised again to walk as a new creation. While the Scriptures imply that people are being baptized in deep enough water to accommodate immersion, there is no specific teaching that immersion was the only method or the only acceptable method. Many churches that do not have baptistries sprinkle those desiring baptism. Here we must trust the Scriptures again and know that the Lord knows the heart of men, just as Christ knew the heart of the thief on the cross and affirmed they would see one another that same day in heaven.

Yes, churches will have Scripture to support their approach, but the one thing that remains is that baptism is universally seen as an affirmation of one’s faith. Some in the evangelical community baptize infants as identification with parents who are believers, much like circumcision was an identification for Israelite infants. Circumcision did not guarantee the child’s affinity to the faith. It was an identity with God’s chosen people. Since Christ’s atoning sacrifice, the law (circumcision) was replaced with grace (baptism) in its outward manifestation.

Baptism continues from the days of John the Baptist to represent repentance and forsaking our former ways of life. It has always represented a decision that could only be made by a person of sufficient age to consciously decide to follow Jesus.

This matter is treated much more extensively by theologians, but for our purposes here, we simply need to understand the teachings of Scripture.

Breaking the Code v. 1

In the community of Christ followers, there is a language that can be confusing and for Image result for Christianthe most part misunderstood. Just as there is a culture in any organization, there are acronyms, phrases, and words for which insiders can have differing definitions and leave outsiders bewildered, to say the least. To further the confusion, Christianity has conceded labels that are core to defining who we are to those who have distorted the truth and the heart of Christ.

I have friends who are apologists and who would write lengthy papers on defining some of these words and phrases. Still, I think there is value to putting a stake in the ground for our purposes and our discussions. These definitions are not intended to be all-encompassing but rather, what I hope will be, a biblical place to begin our thinking on such matters.

Let’s start with the word Christian. The word Christian was first recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles chapter 26 verse 28 when King Agrippa tells Paul that he is almost persuaded to become a Christian. The term Christian was used to describe people who were committed to following Christ in the days of the early church. Included with this label was the concept of those who adhered to the teachings of the Scriptures and accepting Christ as part of the triune God. Jesus claimed to be God. He said I and the Father are one. Either He was who He said He was or He was a liar and not God. So the word Christian in its original context defined a devoted Christ follower.

In Romans 12:9-21 Paul challenges the Roman church to Christian lifestyle and virtues. The ESV Bible titles this section, “Marks of the True Christian.”

Today we ascribe the label of Christian to anyone who is not Jewish or atheist. If you are not opposed to the idea of God you have earned the label of Christian. Adherence to the teachings of the Bible is no longer a part of the definition. Jude wrote in his letter addressed to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ these words, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The world is influencing the church through various means, without us even noticing, to redefine and pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ. In so doing, they have redefined, in the public square, the real meaning of Christianity. Many churches that once held to a biblical standard, have abandoned the truths of Scripture, for the logic of the “intellectual elites.” Indeed, the Scriptures are no longer held to be God’s words for mankind. This gives the world credibility as they continue to further pervert and erode the gospel and grace of God.

We have now chosen to call ourselves “Christ followers.” But make no mistake about it, I still identify with the Christians spoken of by the New Testament writers. One final word on this topic …

Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As Christians who love and follow Jesus, we need to know and keep His commands rather than distorting and perverting those commands to meet our own desires.

A Window Into Eternity

These days virtual reality (VR) is an emerging technology. With this technology, we can enter another reality by wearing devices that cover our eyes and ears to deliver sights and sounds Image result for virtual realitythat make it seem that we are in a different setting or another world. It is designed for our enjoyment in experiencing an amazing sense of being in an environment that is more pleasing or more challenging. While some use in gaming, the concept is that of being in a place other than the world in which we live, another reality.

What is the desire within us to be transplanted into another reality? On one hand, some would call it escapism, others might view this desire as a continuing dissatisfaction with the status quo or with life as this world provides it. At the core of our beings we long for a world we don’t see today.

The true, not virtual, reality is that we humans were made for a very different world. The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is 43:1) Isaiah is writing that the God of the universe created and formed us and has called us by name to be his. This means that we were created and designed to be with him. The Apostle Peter writes that we are aliens and strangers here in this world. (1 Peter 2:11) 

And so it is that in the depth of our being, we long for the world for which we were made. We know intuitively that life in this world is not as it should be. If we were called by name and declared to belong to God, our longing is to be with him. The Scriptures inform us that Jesus died, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us so that where he is, we may be there with him as well. (John 14:2-3) Our longing is to be with him for eternity.

From time to time we as believers find ourselves in places, without the assistance of VR, when we feel connected with Jesus and our place in eternity. We have a window, it seems, into the Image result for window to heavenhalls of heaven and into the place of quiet rest. Jesus invited his disciples to come away with him to a place of quiet so that they could get some rest. (Matt 6:31) These are times when we can actually sense the Presence and feel very connected with our Lord.

For me, it happens in the grand cathedrals of Europe as I sit and marvel at how the centuries-old architecture and artistry focus my attention on God, the creation, and the stories God has used to help us see him more clearly. It happens in my own church in the moment of participating in communion. It happens when I’m doing the work I was made to do. It happens when I speak with others about the hope we have of spending eternity with Christ in the new heaven and new earth. As I read the words of King David in the Psalms, I can envision Christ leading me beside the still waters in green pastures, restoring my soul.

How about you? Are you longing for that view into the world for which you were made? What are your windows into eternity? These windows require no special technology or rose colored glasses. Christ invites you to connect with him. He told us, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28) This rest will come as you place your faith and trust in Christ. He will give you that view into eternity with him.

He wants you to have the peace and confidence of the hope he has planted in each one of us. Join me … and then share that hope with someone else! Help them see the truth of the desires of their hearts as Christ has shared with us in the Scriptures.

You Won’t Want to Miss This Concert!

Did you know how loved you are by God? Do you understand how much he delights in his people? God wants his people to rejoice and be glad. There is a joy and satisfaction that Image result for god rejoices over uscomes from the peace that passes all understanding. There is a calm that he gives his people in the face of trial and trouble. Those things will certainly come our way, but if we give all our worries and anxieties to him he will lead us beside the still waters and will restore our souls.

Why does he do this? The Bible tells us he does this because he cares for us. Can you recall the last time he restored your soul? Do you know where to go to have your soul restored and refreshed? You can find safety and solace in the words of Scripture. These words contain his promises and tell the story of how much he loves us. These words, which are actually God’s words, talk of joy in the midst of trials. They tell us that he cares for us like a Shepherd cares for his flock, by protecting, leading and guiding.

Pastor Tony Evans tweeted today, “Peace doesn’t mean that you will not have problems. Peace means that your problems will not have you.” God delights in his people and wants them to place all their concerns at his feet and let him work them out. He may work them out by giving you the wisdom you need to navigate a choppy relationship, or he may change the other person’s heart. When we let him work things out we need to remember that his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than ours.

Knowing full well that this world is filled with sin and bad things are going to happen, he wants us to have joy that is unspeakable, or difficult to describe. He delights in his people. He is waiting to help us be his hands and feet here on this earth. He wants us to do good and to feel the inner joy that only he can provide.

I was reading the words of our God as he gave them to the prophet Zephaniah. Here is just a taste of what God gave Zephaniah, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17)

God is telling us not to fear. We should give all our fears to him. The picture he gives us is not to let our hands hang limp and helpless as we often feel like doing when we are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do in our current situation. If he is with us there is nothing to fear! He is might to save. There is song written by Hillsong that we have often sung in church that our Savior can move the mountains, and he is mighty to save. He will quiet us with his love. Do you remember being quieted by the love and protection of your mother or father? God’s love is so much greater and stronger and more consoling than any of us have ever felt from a family member or friend here on earth. Let your soul be quieted.

This next part is so awesome that I am not going to miss it! To have God so pleased with his people that he will rejoice over us with singing! Think about it! If you list all the best singers you could possibly name, then remember that our God made each of them and gave them their talents. Now think about this God, our God, the Creator, so happy with his people that he is going to sing over us!

I have friends out tonight at a private concert of a world renown singer. I gave one of my friends my ticket to the concert. But, tonight’s concert won’t be able to hold a candle to us hearing our God singing over us. There are no tickets for that concert. Everyone who has placed their faith in Jesus will hear this concert! No good deeds to be done. The price has already been paid. Place your faith in Jesus and come to the concert! It will be the best thing you’ve ever heard!

In times that are filled with fear, uncertainty and doubt, we need to be strong and courageous as God told Joshua over and over again, because the Lord our God is with us and is so delighted with us that it makes him sing. He will quiet us with his love. It is going to be a concert that you won’t want to miss!

Never Better

Our pastor has the license plate NVRBTR and if you ask how he is doing, his response is consistently, “Never better.” These two words describe a world view. It is a view that Displaying 20170202_130217.jpgconfidently proclaims that the day of Christ’s return is closer today than it was yesterday, so without a doubt, we have never been in better position. Many, if not most of us could learn from that perspective. We could learn that no matter what is going on in our personal worlds, keeping in mind that Christ’s return is one day closer, should be an encouragement to us. As men and women of faith, this is our ultimate hope … the Day of Christ, the Day of His return, when we will be caught up with him in the clouds into a glorious eternity that God has promised for us.

God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that because they followed the lies of the serpent (Satan), life would be hard. It would be much harder than just caring for the garden. Weeds would begin to grow, there would now be a conflict in marriage that would be a struggle for leadership for the rest of man’s days on this earth, there would be incredible pain in childbirth, and our children would be in conflict with one another. The challenges of family are not new to our society or our culture. Yes, some of the things we do, like pushing God out of our lives, exacerbate the problems, but the problems we see today, began with the first man and woman on this earth, the real first family.

This did not catch God by surprise and God told Adam and Eve that he had a plan to make a way for us to have eternal life. This was first told when God confronted Satan, Eve, and Adam after the fall and that is found in Genesis 3:15. From the beginning of time, God had a plan. This is in line with my previous blog referencing Isaiah 44-46, Be Strong and Courageous. God created everyone of us with a plan for each of us. Some of us have chosen to identify with “The Way” and others are still looking to define our own way. Those who have taken God’s Way, are in a position to live rewarding lives fulfilling God’s plan for us. I can promise you that nothing is more satisfying than to watch how God guides us in his steps and helps us fulfill our mission here on earth.

All to say that for those who are following “The Way” and are filled with the hope that really is eternal, this life is always better today than it was yesterday, because we’re one day closer to The Day!

Here’s hoping and praying that you have never been better and are experiencing the blessing of living the life God had planned for you!

Preparing our Kids on Faith and Science

We live in a world that we can no longer ignore and pretend to live separate lives. No matter how we try to protect our children from the disinformation, outright lies, and conflict in our world, our children and grandchildren will face questions many of us never confronted, either in school or in the public square.

One of my favorite bloggers is a thoughtful mom, Natasha Crain. She has written on why we aren’t succeeding at preparing our young people to engage thoughtfully in faith vs. science dialog. I offer this today as food for thought for those of us who have children and even for those of us who have grandchildren. Let’s not be afraid to train up our children in the way they should go!

5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

I’m coming down to the final six weeks of writing my next book and am very much looking forward to being on the other side of that deadline! I’ve missed being able to blog regularly during this intense writing time, so I had to take a break today and share a new post inspired by some of the topics my next book will address. (On a side note, watch for a new post very soon to reveal the cover and title of the book!)

My favorite section to write has been on Science and God, because I know so many parents are looking for help in talking about this subject with their kids. While writing the chapters in that section, I thought a lot about how we, as Christian parents, are collectively failing to adequately prepare our kids to engage with questions of faith and science. Today, I want to share 5 ways I believe that’s happening, and encourage all of us to consider what we can do better in our own homes.

1. We don’t talk about the relationship between faith and science at all.

This is, without a doubt, the number one way we fail our kids in this area—we fail to say anything at all. Not only do we need to say something, we need to say quite a lot. Over and over again, researchers have found that a leading reason why so many young people walk away from faith is that they believe they have to choose between Christianity and science. Meanwhile, other research has shown that only ONE percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year.

This is a giant disconnect.

Regardless of the fact that churches need to do a much better job in this area, parents need to take the reins. This is our responsibility, and there is absolutely no doubt that questions of faith and science will challenge our kids in some way…whether this is an area we feel equipped to discuss or not. If you do feel equipped, great—get started. If you don’t, that’s OK—start learning. Those are really the only two options.

2. We boil all “science versus faith” conversations down to one (or two) issues.

I find in talking with parents that when you say the words “science and faith,” most people quickly launch into a conversation about evolution. There’s no doubt that evolution is one of the most important topics in this category, if not the most important topic. But there are many other questions our kids need to understand, especially at the more philosophical level. For example, people throw out broad statements like “science disproves God” all the time. Kids need to know what to make of those kinds of assertions just as much as they need to know what to make of the subject of evolution.

The second section of my next book will address six of these broader questions:

  • Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?
  • Do science and religion contradict one another?
  • Do science and religion complement one another?
  • Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know?
  • Can science explain why people believe in God?
  • What do scientists believe about God?

3. We teach overly simplistic answers that ignore important nuances.

I understand that science is not a “user-friendly” topic for many people. The only C grade I ever received in my life was in high school chemistry and I’m still bitter about it.

Unfortunately, this leads many parents to either 1) ignore the science-versus-faith dialogue completely (see my first point) or 2) teach overly simplistic answers that can inadvertently do major damage to their kids’ faith later.

One of the most important ways we can avoid this is by taking the time to define key words. For example, consider the question, “Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?” If someone asked me that, I couldn’t even answer their question unless I first asked them: What do you mean by science? What do you mean by prove or disprove? And what do you mean by God? People use those words in many different senses today and you simply can’t have a meaningful discussion without understanding their more nuanced underlying question. They may be asking:

 Can a specific branch of science provide evidence that strongly challenges a specific historical claim of a given religion? (Answer: Yes.)

Or, they may be asking:

Can the field of science, when defined as the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world, say anything about the existence of God, when defined simply as a supernatural being who may or may not have created the world? (Answer: No—and even most atheists would agree.)

While we may wish we could simply teach our kids easy answers like, “Of course science doesn’t disprove God!”, we fail to adequately prepare them for this challenging secular world when we do.

4. We teach only one of several Christian views on origins (age of the Earth and evolution).

If you’ve read my first book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, you know how strongly I feel about this. There are eight chapters written to explain why Christians have varied views on how and when God created the world—based on both scriptural and scientific considerations. While many parents don’t teach their kids anything at all on this subject, many of the remaining parents only teach their kids one specific view (for example, young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or theistic evolution). Whatever view you teach, your kids will hear challenges from both other Christians and from atheists—a very confusing position for them to be in if you’ve never explained the issues at stake.

Note that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tell our kids what we believe. There’s no problem at all with explaining our own convictions. The problem lies in teaching them our views in a silo rather than taking the time to explain why fellow believers and skeptics interpret science and/or the Bible differently than we do.

5. We’re overly fearful of suggesting there’s a conflict between Christianity and science.

One of the things I found most interesting when preparing to write on whether or not science and religion contradict one another was just how quick Christians are to lay out a case for why Christianity and science are not in conflict. Much of the time, Christians jump straight to showing 1) how science can’t say anything about a Being outside of nature and/or 2) how there’s no reason to expect that science could even be done if there weren’t a God to rationally design the universe. Those things are true. But much of the time when skeptics talk about the conflict of science and Christianity, they’re talking specifically about the conflict between mainstream scientific consensus and a specific claim of the Bible that intersects with the natural world—for example, the age of the Earth (based on the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture) and direct creation (versus evolution). If we just keep insisting “there’s no conflict,” when there actually are apparent conflicts in some areas, we miss some very important discussion opportunities with our kids. Again, we have to define terms clearly.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the accurate interpretation of scientific data and the accurate interpretation of the Bible will never be in true conflict. If apparent conflicts arise, (at least) one interpretation is wrong. When we’re convicted of the accuracy of our interpretation of Scripture, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge when the Bible conflicts with scientific consensus; Scientists can be wrong. On the other hand, when there is an apparent conflict, we should be willing to thoughtfully consider the scientific data; Our biblical interpretation can also be wrong.

Rather than sweep apparent conflicts under the carpet, we can help our kids significantly by 1) confidently explaining why apparent conflicts may arise and 2) studying the scientific and scriptural considerations together.

What questions about science and faith do you most have trouble discussing with your kids? If you don’t currently have these discussions, what’s your biggest barrier?

Christmas Eve 1968

Do you know what was happening on Christmas Eve, 1968? I can tell you what I was doing. In addition to trying to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, I was celebrating the birth of our oldest daughter, Debbie, the day before. She was born on December 23rd, 1968. Last night we celebrated her birthday with all the family together. As we were reflecting on what her presence in our family meant to each of us, there were ten mini celebrations of her impact in our lives.

That was indeed a life changing event for us all in so many ways. Her arrival in this world meant that I would be exempted from being drafted into the service of our country. Those were the days of the height of the Vietnam War. Being drafted was certain to have a battlefield assignment in guerrilla warfare. Those were the days of flower children, draft dodgers and when flag burning started. It was tumultuous time in our country. Lest you think the days we are in currently are uncharted territory, let me just assure you that the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes was so right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

There was another significant event taking place that Christmas Eve. On December 24, 1968, three American astronauts were circling the moon. Many of you were not even born yet. Some were too young to remember, but many of us remember the day very well. What a historic moment! They sent back pictures of the earth and read the first 10 verses of the book of Genesis to an audience rapt in wonder and awe.

Seven months later, the United States landed men on the moon! As with so many major events, there is a back story. Eric Metaxas, who heads up the Colson Center shared one part of the back story in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Rather than restating the story, I’m providing a link to the op-ed Christmas Eve in Space and Communion on the Moon. The story shows that our battle against the powers of the air are not new. Satan, the prince of the power of the air, has been working to suppress the good news of the gospel since the Garden of Eden.

Mr. Metaxas shares the story of how that momentous arrival of men on the moon was celebrated by Buzz Aldrin with the taking of communion as the most appropriate thing he could do. He read portions of the book of John where Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches …” In light of the public pressure, even in those days, NASA advised that these actions and readings not be broadcast back to earth. Well known atheist, Madelyn O’Hair had filed suit for the Christmas Eve event. It is no wonder this story has been suppressed.

But on this Christmas Eve, I feel it is important that we hear the story of Buzz Aldrin. As so many in our country are giving their all to deny the truth of God’s word and the real story of Christmas, we should take encouragement from Buzz Aldrin’s story and his strength of faith.

Let’s be men and women who know who we are and Whose we are. Buzz knew Whose he was and could not let that moment pass without acknowledging the God of the universe. Let us take courage in our hearts to give thanks for the greatest gift EVER, the Christ child coming to earth for one purpose only. That purpose was to provide a way for us to have a relationship with the God who created the moon and the earth, not to mention thousands of galaxies that have yet to be discovered. We discover knew expanses of our universe every year, and our God created it all.

Blessings to you and your families this Christmas season. May Christ be your source of joy and peace as we give each other gifts to celebrate His birth, God’s gift to us.

On Being Thankful

All around the USA today will be a day when we pause to give thanks. We know that those who traveled here from Europe in the 17th century, together with their Native American Image result for thanksgivingfriends, paused to give thanks to God for their first harvest in this new land. George Washington issued a proclamation of thanksgiving during his Presidency. In 1863, with a country torn apart by the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared a national day set aside for “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” The setting is an interesting one for the declaration of a day of thanksgiving.

In case you were wondering, we are not the only country that takes a day to give thanks. At least 11 other countries have similar holidays. It is important to have a thankful heart. We need a time when we can set aside our anxieties and remember to give thanks. A time when we can give thanks to God for each other. A time when we can give thanks for life itself. Yes, even a time when we can give thanks for those things that God has provided for us.

I think it is no stretch to say that a thankful heart makes us glad. Happy people tend to live longer. There is another side to it as well. It’s been said, “Harboring bitterness (not being thankful) is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” A thankful heart is a healthy heart. We have so much for which to be thankful. According to a February 11, 2016 Time magazine article, happy people are not as prone to sickness, are healthier over all, and as a result live longer.

Thankfulness is an attitude of the heart. In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul writes about thankfulness and contentment. He writes, “The Lord is at hand: do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Nearly all of us face some sort of personal challenge on a regular basis, whether it be sickness, financial, work, or relationships. Yet even in this we can give thanks. Give thanks to a God who will carry us through these times. There are people in this world who are much worse off than nearly any American but they have learned how to be thankful. There is an old Dutch proverb that says, “They are not poor that have little, but they that desire much. The richest man, whatever his lot, is the one who’s content with his lot.” Where do we find our contentment? How many of us grew up dirt poor, but we were rich because we didn’t know we were poor.

Paul wrote this, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” What is that secret?

I go back to the two great commandments which are that we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. That secret is buried in these two great commandments. The first helps us know that there is a God who is sovereign, who created the universe, and cares about us at an individual level, and we love and worship Him. The second helps us take our eyes off of ourselves and our own pity party and look out for the needs of others. No matter how bad our situation, we can always find those who are in a worse position than the one we are in. In that fourth chapter of the letter to the church at Philippi, Paul gives us the foundation for his contentment and thankful heart. In verse 19 he writes, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Can we take that promise by faith. Can we believe that the God who created this universe, the far reaches of which are still being discovered, cares enough to meet your needs and my needs? If we can do that, we can live a life of thanksgiving. We can be thankful that we know our God who rules this mighty universe cares about you and me enough to make sure that all our needs are covered. Let’s choose to be thankful this holiday season.

Thanks for taking time to read today’s ramblings.

What Happens to Good People?

Every so often something happens that leaves me a bit flummoxed. Yesterday I lost a friend to cancer who was a very special person. She was smart, vibrant, energetic, an encourager, loved life, faithful colleague, and a good friend. She was what is known as “good people.” Still she had little use for God or faith. She was good at being a good person. How disappointed she must be today, having reached the end of her life and finding that her goodness was not enough.

This is painful for me as I reflect. Not because I didn’t share truth with her, because I did. But, rather, because I did share the truth of Jesus Christ with her and to the best of my knowledge, she died having made a different choice. Choosing instead to judge God and her need for God based on the pain she saw in this world and her confidence in her own abilities. As much as she and I were honest with one another, and trusted each other, she simply could not go with the truth that I had shared with her. She believed I was a genuinely good person, but could not give God credit for that. In fact, she wrote a glowing testimonial to our church elders regarding my qualifications to lead the church. Somewhere in her background, God was the purveyor of pain and suffering, but man, through his goodness, rescued himself from a cruel God.

This is a painful experience because it is real life! It is seeing the reality of “good” people who reject belief in or faith in Jesus Christ slip into an eternity of loss, death, and the torment of eternal separation from God. I’m reminded of a funeral I attended for the husband of one of my employees. The man had committed suicide and no one in the family was a believer. I was impacted emotionally for several days by the lack of hope that was present in that funeral parlor. There was no discussion of the life beyond death’s door. There was just … nothing! Poor Jim did as well as he could, but he’s gone now.

In the current situation, I would desperately like to believe that she made a last minute decision to believe, much like the thief on the cross. God’s word tells us that it is by grace we are saved, through faith in Christ, and that even our faith is a gift from God. How good we’ve been is irrelevant so that none of us can boast in how we earned our way to eternal life. Nor are we able to compare ourselves to those around us, because God tells us not to judge one another, lest we be judged by that same measure. It is God’s job to judge. It is our job to love our neighbors. He also tells us that He (God) loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to be the perfect One who, through His death on the cross, would pay the price for our (yours and my) sins. Then He says, whoever will believe in this redemption story, will not perish (suffer eternal death) but would have eternal life with God.

It’s way too simple for many people to believe, but it is truth. It is the only truth that matters in life. It is so tragic that people who have heard the good news of Jesus, decide that they would rather go to heaven on their own terms. Good people will die wondering how good is good enough. Andy Stanley has written a book entitled, “How Good Is Good Enough.” If you have this question lingering in your mind, pick up that book and read it. I think that once confronted with the question, you’ll be challenged to find some better solution.

While this may be a morbid topic for some, there are some nuggets of truth here that needed to be heard and heeded.

Hoping you have made the right decision for eternity.