I Survived and Lived to Be a Difference – #isalt


Over 80 years ago, there was a movement that would change the course of history.  A charismatic leader began to speak to the public, promising a life filled with happiness and security.  Many times, this leader would speak with children by his side to show his support of the furtherance of securing the children’s future.  The problem was not what was promised, but rather the method by which he felt this security and prosperity would occur.

In 1923, this same leader wrote a book, while in prison, called Mein Kompf (My struggle) where he filled the pages of why he hated Jews so much.  In this horrific text, Adolf Hitler gives his hate-filled explanation that Jews were the reason why Germany was in so much trouble.  Obviously, this was influenced by the Prince of Darkness, Satan, himself.  However, out of this terrible time period of history, influenced by evil, there were countless stories of survivors.

Some had survived mass military style executions.  Some had survived the concentration camps.  Others ran for their lives and hid while their families were gathered for execution.  Regardless of the stories, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their survival, there seems to be a common theme among each of these survivor stories – they survived and wanted to make a positive difference.

Have you gone through something so traumatic, so horrific that you wondered why you survived?  Do you think it may be possible that your survival was meant for something so much more?

These questions came to mind after my experience in 1993.  After I had survived an attack while someone was attempting to steal my car, I began to look at my life and ask myself some questions.  Why did I survive?  What was I supposed to learn from this?  How can this be used to benefit others?  I also began to look back at my life and realized something, God had been (and continues) protecting me all my life.

In 1972, as a young toddler, I pulled a piping hot coffee pot onto me.  I had been burned on most of my chest.  When I was a little bit older, I had a habit of climbing up into trees that swayed freely in the wind on branches that shouldn’t have held me.  As time went on, I had fought every day for 3 straight years because I had been fed up with being bullied.  Right after high school, I had made a trip to Haiti with my church only to find out that within minutes of taking off to leave Haiti, a coup had occurred and our safety would have been in jeopardy, had we stayed or been delayed.  Even after all of this, God allowed me to survive the attack in 1993.  It was because of this, I concluded that God had been saving me for a purpose.

As I began to pray and reach out to God, he graciously began to reveal why I had been allowed to survive.  He showed me the story of Peter drowning but surviving because Jesus Christ had pulled Peter to safety.  He showed me the stories of Paul, who was shipwrecked at sea and stoned for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Both of these men had once rejected God, rejected the Savior and yet it was the same Jesus who called them into a relationship with him and allowed their survival to have a purpose, to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  It was through these stories that I realized my life was not my own.  In fact, my life was saved for the same reason as Paul and Peter, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, before I could share the Gospel, I also needed to realize that my life was not where God wanted it to be either.  It was then I began to make the commitment to grow in the faith given to me so that I can help in fulfilling the greatest commission ever given to mankind:

“Therefore, go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

It was during this time of learning that I found out how inefficient I was at sharing the message of Jesus Christ.  God allowed me to realize I had preconceived ideas about people groups and philosophies.  He showed me that to neglect those who are considered the lowest of my time is to reject Jesus Christ and His message.  It was revealed to me that my prejudices, my dislikes were not toward a specific action but toward a people who were different than I.  How could I make a positive difference if I held so many sins in my life?

You see, I learned my life was an anger filled, hatred, bigoted and filled with lies.  I was able to convince people of things that never even happened in my life.  The process of learning who I was, was not easy.  It hurt.  It was very painful but it was necessary.  It was necessary for me to allow God to destroy the wickedness inside of me to produce a branch that had good fruit on it.  This good fruit would benefit others in a positive way by leading them back to the Savior.

Through Scripture I learned that I was a new creation in Christ.  The old me had passed away and the new me was birthed.  This then led me to the painful journey of evaluation.  I needed to ask God, what David asked of him, to destroy any wicked way in me.  From there, I needed to realize that those who tried to take my life, did so out of ignorance and blindness.  The book of Romans teaches that all have sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God.  Therefore, the only difference between me and my attackers were that Jesus called to me and I responded.  They have yet to respond to His calling.

After this, I learned that Jesus ate and spent time with people who were thought to be useless in society.  He had healed those who had ailments from birth, sickness for many years, people who were thought to be property and not people.  The leaders of his day asked how he could eat and spend time with such people.  It was then Jesus showed his compassion by saying that the sick need a doctor, so these people need him.

You and I need Jesus in our lives.  We need to rely on His power, His strength and His wisdom to get us through each and every day.  We may struggle with being a survivor, with anxieties and paranoia but we also are called by Jesus to be His because He loves us.  Survivors, like us, are meant for something bigger.

Over the past few years, I have watched as people I know have passed away for various reasons.  Some from cancer or accidents or old age.  I evaluated the lifestyles of each of these and came to the following conclusion….life and death are in the hands of God.  It is not up to us how long we live, it is up to God.

Being a survivor means, God has given us the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  Being a survivor means, that we have a purpose greater than ourselves.  Being a survivor means we have been saved to share that experience with others to lead them straight to the cross of Jesus Christ.

If you ever wondered why your life was spared, read the book of Acts.  Read about those who survived many trials and tribulations, yet had the fortitude to proceed with the responsibility that God placed into their hands.

Hopefully, you and I can also live lives that God is not only pleased with but that will make a positive difference in others.  So what do you say?  Are you ready to begin the next phase of your journey?  Are you ready to help others?  Are you ready to share your story?

How has your survivor story positively influenced others?  Share your story in the comments box.

May God continue to use you as He sees fit.  God bless and encourage someone today.

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I Survived and Lived to Grow – #isalt


As I lay in the hospital bed, I could not help but think, “Will I ever be able to use my hand and leg again?”  When the doctors checked for feeling, I could feel the pressure of the needle but my body would not react to its force.  Depression began to worm its way into my psyche.   The doctor had told me that I would probably get most of my motion back but could not guarantee it.

After my release from the hospital, I continued to drag my right leg and watch as my right arm flapped in the wind.  Depression continued its work.  I began to wonder what life would be like with one less arm and one less leg.  No matter what happened, my arm and leg would be a reminder of my stupidity that fateful night, the night I was hit over the head with a hammer.  During my internal battle of and sorrow of “Why me” syndrome, I was reminded of my past.

When I was younger, I had made fun of people with physical disabilities.  It wasn’t because I enjoyed it, but rather to hide the pain inside of me for being different than other kids.  Instead of feeling compassion, I was a fighter.  I physically fought others for many years.  In my mind, if I made fun of others for their problems, mine would just go away.  However, I was so wrong about that.  Here I was, disabled, possibly permanently and began to understand the hurt and pain I once caused in others.

It was then I decided to plead with God.  I asked Him to give me back my leg so that I wouldn’t have to drag it everywhere, but if He felt I didn’t need my hand or arm, He could keep that.  Although I continued to fight the depression and anxiety of PTSD, I also knew that God would answer me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted.

The very next morning, I got up out of bed and realized something incredible.  I didn’t have to drag my leg anymore!  My prayer had been answered.  I was able to skip, hop, jump and walk like I did before my “accident”.  God had given me back my leg.  My hand and arm were a different story.

As time went on, I went to physical and occupational therapy for my arm and hand.  Today, I have full motion of my arm and most of the motion in my hand.  It was in this very situation, God taught me “I survived and lived to grow.”

Most of us survivors will wonder and ask the ‘why me’ question.  Why did I survive?  Why didn’t God take me?  Almost always the ‘why me’ question is not one of selfishness or pride, rather it is a way which we express our desire to grow.  We want to grow.  We want to become better than we were before.

Psalm 1 shares this very thought of living to grow:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Have you ever gone camping and looked at a tree that grows next to a river?  Usually, the root structure is deep, the tree is properly nourished and if it is a fruit bearing tree, the tree has good juicy fruit.  If you look into the reason why, it is because of its deep roots.  The deeper the roots of a tree grow, the more likely it will withstand the hurricane force winds when the storm comes.

The same is true for us.  When we survive tragic events, if we have shallow roots, we will sway with every emotional thought that crosses our mind.  If our roots are deeper, we may falter with our emotions for a short time, but ultimately, we will stand tall once again after the storm is done.  We do not survive because we have deep roots, we survived so that God can teach us something and make us grow.

Just as the Psalmist stated, if we do what is right, if we avoid sin and if we read and study His word, our roots will grow deeper and our lives will become healthier.  This doesn’t mean we will heal physically completely, but it does mean that our mental and emotional state will be better because we have grown to trust in the Lord.  When we trust in Him, our lives will prosper.

When you have an opportunity, read Psalm 1 but also read Psalm 116.  The writer of Psalm 116 clearly shows how focus on the Lord is the very reason why we survive.  Below is an excerpt from Psalm 116…

I love the Lord, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

 

When God spoke with Jeremiah, he stated the following in Jeremiah 26:11 (NASB):

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

God never intends for us to continue to suffer in the midst of our tragedies.  God intends for us to grow from our situations and grow closer to Him.  God does not intend to hurt us, in fact just the opposite.  God wants us to understand that He has a plan for us.  It is a plan to allow us to grow, bear fruit and help others with similar situations.  Growth is not something we do, rather it is the result of our relationship with God.  When we get closer to Him, we grow.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we grow.  When we read, study and pray, we grow.  When we let go of the feelings and emotions that keep us slaves to our situations, we grow.

Our lives have a purpose.  God desires for us to walk with Him toward His plan for our lives.  The question becomes what we will do with what we have been given.  As survivors, we have a unique opportunity to positively affect others through our growth.  We can express our compassion, explain our lessons and encourage others to continue to fight in this battle of survival.

Recently, the subject of growth has come up again.  Over the last few weeks, our church has seen two of our oldest trees collapse from wind and rain.  In both situations, little to no damage occurred but one of our Elders noticed something.  He stated that both trees didn’t have a good root structure.  Their roots were too shallow.   If the trees had deeper roots, then the tree would not have fallen.

The same holds true for us.  As we grow from our situation and grow toward God, we will discover at one time our roots may have been shallow, but now they begin to grow deeper toward the nourishment that God provides.  However, if we reject this growth, if we reject His plan for prospering us, we will end up like the fallen trees with shallow roots.  On the outside, we will appear healthy, but because our roots are shallow, our lives will fall and potentially hurt others.

If we grow in our relationship with God and move our lives closer to Him, He will give us water and nourishment which will make our roots grow deeper so that when tragic events occur, we will be able to withstand the storm.  The question becomes what will you do next?  Will you allow your tragic event to become a crutch toward depression or will you grow from it so that God can show His love toward others who are suffering the same way?  It’s your decision.  What will you do?

To hear what our pastor shared with us concerning growth, just use the link below:

https://www.facebook.com/lifechristhope/videos/1022463191227667

God bless and encourage someone today.

I Survived and Lived to Forgive – #isalt


On June 4th, 1993, I went to bed as if it were any other night.  As I slept soundly, I suddenly heard the scream of my mom as she burst into my room yelling, “Someone is stealing your car!”  This must be a dream.

I jumped out of bed and ran towards the door.  I thought to myself, “This must be a dream and if it is I can do anything and not pay for the consequences.”  Running out the door, I began running toward the street.  As I approached my car, I saw the figure of a person halfway inside my car.  I yelled an obscenity or two and decided in that moment, that I would kill who ever this person was.  It was my dream, so I would have superhuman strength to overcome my foes.  As I came to the passenger door of my car, the person suddenly stood up.  There was no where he could go.  I had him.  All I had to do was to grab him and snap his neck.  Then I would wake up and I would chalk this up to another nightmare.  As I went to lunge toward him, I hesitated for a moment.  It was in this moment, that my dream would change my life forever.

As I woke up from my dream, I heard a voice say, “One, two, three, lift.”  I couldn’t move.  What was happening to me?  Why couldn’t I move?  I began to scream out and fight my restraints.  The voice said to me, “Joe, if you don’t calm down, you will die.”  It was then I immediately realized, my dream was not a dream at all, but my reality.

I could feel my heart pounding through my chest.  One EMT was working on me, while the other drove, racing me toward the hospital.  Was I going to die?  Why me, why now?  I hadn’t even begun to live yet.  I cried out to God, “Lord, please don’t let me die today.  Please calm me down.”  No sooner did I utter these words that I felt a hand upon my shoulder.  I suddenly had a peace I could not explain.  Immediately, the EMT uttered, “Whoa.  What just happened?”  When I asked him what happened, he said, “Your heart rate just went from critical to normal.”  Then a song entered my heart and I could not help but sing, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way.  To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

I knew I had a long road ahead of me, but I also began to understand what forgiveness was about.  But what about those who did this to me?  Could I really forgive them after what they did to me?  It was then I was reminded of what Jesus had done for me.  His life was filled with helping others, loving others and spreading the Good News to those around Him.  Yet in all of this, there were still those who wanted Him dead.  They beat him, laughed at him and beat him some more.  They took his tattered and torn body and hung it on a criminals cross.  In all of this turmoil, in all of this strife, He still uttered these words as He looked toward heaven, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  How could I do no less?  How could I not forgive them?  Maybe they were on drugs.  Maybe they had been convinced that the criminal lifestyle was their only choice.  Either way, I was lost at one time.  I was violent in my younger days and yet in all of this, God still forgave me.  It was my responsibility to show them the love of God in the same way, by forgiving them.

Our tragedies are not there to make our lives easy or simple.  They are situations which are there to teach us valuable life lessons.  Sometimes we have placed ourselves into those tragedies by our bad decisions.  Other times, we are placed there by other individuals.  No matter how we enter into those tragedies, we need to realize there is a greater plan for our lives that we may not fully understand.  For me, I needed to be reminded of the valuable lesson of forgiveness.  In Matthew 18, Jesus taught this same lesson to his disciples:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” – Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

Right after this, Jesus tells a story of a man who owed his master a lifetime of debt.  The master forgave him of his debt, yet when someone owed this same man a day’s wages, he became violent and refused to forgive the man of his debt.  At this, the master heard about the man and threw the man in jail because of his lack of compassion that was shared with him.

What I found astounding about this story is that Peter did not ask about forgiving strangers.  He asked about forgiving his own people, his brothers and sisters.  Yet Jesus shares a story about a master and a servant.  This leads me to believe that Peter and Jesus were on two very different pages.

I think Peter thought that he was asking a great question.  He probably thought to himself, “Well if I forgive my own people seven times for the same sin, then I must be a good person.”  Yet Jesus’ response was quite different.  Jesus responded “seventy-seven times”.  What Jesus was saying was, “I know you think you’re being a good person by forgiving seven times, but really you should forgive them every time.”   In some translations, they record Jesus’ response as “seventy times seven”.  Either way you look at it, Jesus wants us to forgive unconditionally and freely.

Not just that, but Peter thought his question was supposed to be for those he knew, his friends and family.  I’d like to think that Jesus was using His coaching expertise when He responded to Peter.  Instead of answering Peter’s question concerning his friends and family, he told him a story about a boss, his employee and a stranger.  Jesus wanted to let Peter know that it doesn’t matter whether you know the person or not.  It doesn’t matter if they are your employee or your boss.  It doesn’t matter if they are family, friend or stranger.  Forgiveness is to be given out to everyone.  No one is beyond forgiveness.

When the criminal, on a cross next to Jesus, repented and asked Jesus not to forget him, Jesus responded, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.”  In his last dying breaths, Jesus forgave a total stranger who deserved his punishment.  The criminal deserved to die for whatever he had done.  His punishment was just, yet in all of this Jesus still forgave him.  AMAZING!

Likewise, we need to forgive those who’ve wronged us.  We need to forgive them like Christ has forgiven us.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (NIV)  Jesus expects us to forgive each other.  We need not to hold any grudges.  Holding grudges will only lead to more pain and suffering.  Haven’t we suffered enough in our tragedy?  Haven’t our anxieties, our fears, our anger toward others been enough pain?  Then why not forgive?

To get us from a place of fear, anxiety and anger, we need to forgive.  Forgiveness is not a simple step we take, but is a lifestyle which Christ commands.  Forgiveness is how we view the other person in light of Christ.  Even if the person is unrepentant, our job is to see them as Christ desires for them with His forgiving heart.

This world is filled with people who refuse to forgive.  If you take a look at the news, you will find person after person who refuses to forgive others.  Our society is treading down a path of unforgiveness, so it is now our time to shine!

We not only need to forgive others because it was commanded, but we need to forgive others so that the light of Christ may shine!  Yes it is true that our situations may be tragic and life altering, but that doesn’t mean we can’t shine in this time of darkness.  The light of Christ can shine through the darkest of times in the darkest of places.  The light of Christ can show the world forgiveness is possible regardless of our past or current situation.

Yes forgiveness is hard but it is so worth it.  When you forgive others, you will have a peace you won’t be able to explain.  It took me a while to discover this.  Even after I left the hospital, I got so angry at times that I literally beat a tree with a baseball bat.  One year later, that same tree died.  I thought I killed it.  But yet again, God reminded me that forgiveness is necessary.  From that point forward I decided to see people in light of Christ.

We are all lost at some point in our lives, yet Christ saved us.  We all do something that is sinful and against all that Christ stands for, yet Christ forgave us.  We all think we are in control of our lives, but through our tragedies, Christ still guides us.  We all suffer in this life, yet Christ still reigns.

Don’t allow your tragedies to stop you from forgiving others.  Don’t allow the anger, fear or anxiety to define your future.  Allow Christ to show you that you are worth the effort and in return show others they are worth the effort by forgiving them.  Forgiveness happens when we give up our anger, fear or anxieties to Christ and in return, He teaches us how to forgive those who have tragically harmed us.

Remember, you and I survived and lived to forgive.

God bless and encourage someone today.

#isalt


Have you ever wondered if tragedy in our lives were meant for something bigger?  What if the terrible circumstances we faced was simply a lesson to teach us?  How does depression, anxiety, cancer or other life problems play into our happiness and joy?  Do you believe God has forgotten about you during the dark times of your life?  Does the darkness in your life create a sense of hopelessness rather than hopefulness?  Have you ever asked God, “Why is this happening?”  If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked these questions and more.

If it tragedy hasn’t happened to you already, don’t worry, it’s coming.  Tragedy happens to all of us.  Whether we find out our child is a drug addict to our spouse cheated on us.  In more recent days many have had the horrific experience of trying to hide or escape from an active shooter.  Others have been told that they only have a few months to live.  Maybe you have been falsely accused of a criminal act and are in the process of trying to rectify your situation.  Regardless of your tragedy, does it control you or do you grow from it?

Many years ago, I had to face similar questions.  I was sent to the hospital due to a hammer blow to my head.  After my stay in the hospital, I had to deal with the post-traumatic stress that ensued.  For months, I had to deal with the anger and fear of hearing ambulance sirens.  I even beat a large tree in front of my parents’ house with a wooden baseball bat (a year later that same tree died…maybe I hit it too hard…).  I had to deal with my past actions, my present situation and my future all within a short period of time.

Like most people, I have had to deal with seeing someone die, a child needing surgery, the loss of a close friend and relative(s), car accidents, anxiety/depression and unemployment, just to name a few.  However, within all of these circumstances there were valuable life lessons to be learned.  Sometimes, it was to trust God more.  Other times it was to point out areas I needed to clean up in my life.  Yet no matter the tragedy, no matter the lesson, I survived for a purpose.

#isalt is an acronym for “I survived and lived to..”  Yes, the rest of the sentence isn’t there.  I did that purposely.  Why?  Just because you survive something doesn’t necessarily mean you understand the reasons.  What do you do with your experience?  How do you handle the tragedy and help others?  Do you help others or do you wallow in the fear and anxiety because of the tragedy that befell you?

This series will hopefully help you not only to understand the reason for the tragedy but also move forward from it.  Tragedies should not hold us back from moving on.  They shouldn’t create a sense of paralyzing fear but rather a sense of purpose.

Our lives have a purpose.  You and I have survived all this time for a reason.  There is a purpose for our lives, whether we believe it or not.  The question is, what are you going to do with your tragedy?  Will we recognize the purpose or just live with the pain?  How can we move forward in the mist of the tragedy?  Hopefully, #isalt will answer at least some of these questions.

Beginning next week, you will see titles with the (#isalt) next to it.  As we move forward together, I will be tweeting using #isalt to make it easier for you to see.  If you’d like, please share a snippet of your story so that others may benefit from knowing that we are not alone.  We are survivors.  We are loved.  We are created in God’s image and He has a purpose for our lives.  We live so  that others may hear the wonderful story of the love of God, through Jesus Christ.

God bless and encourage someone today.

#isalt

Understanding the Pain


Throughout the generations, we have all read or heard some profound words from some amazing individuals…

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“My story is a freedom song of struggle.  It is about finding one’s purpose, how to overcome fear and to stand up for causes bigger than one’s self.” – Coretta Scott King.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success” – Henry Ford.

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

Each one of these quotes muster a sense of deep understanding, a sense that there is more to life than what exists in the realm of our eyes.  When we read these quotes, we begin to realize that life is more than what we live, it is who we impact, how we progress forward and ultimately, who or what we place our faith and trust in.

Many of us, for years, have placed our trust, our faith in things that don’t last.  We work hard at our careers only to find out that we have lost our family.  We hold onto our savings to the point of hording, only to succumb to a death, realizing we can’t take it with us.  We hold onto our children, so tightly, that they rebel and fight us because we suffocate them with pressures that do not exist in reality.  We identify ourselves with our spouses, only to lose ourselves when they leave us, whether by divorce or by death.  We hang onto our health, eating the right foods, exercising daily only to find out that cancer has overcome our bodies and we only have a short time to live.

But there is one passage I read that has a profound impact on my life.  It is not a quote from a famous individual or a passage from some scroll found in a cave.  It is a simple two word verse from one of the most famous stories in Scripture….

“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35

These seem like simple words, words without much impact, but I would argue that these two words show not just the humanity of Jesus Christ but also the deity of Jesus Christ as well.  Here is a bit of background that led up to these words…

Imagine for a moment, you were living in ancient Israel.  You had heard of this man called Jesus but were not sure what to make of him. The religious teachers called him a blasphemer and heretic, some called him a madman and yet some followed him, learning from his teaching.  You had heard that recently Jesus had healed a blind man, who was blind from birth.  It was said that as he looked toward the man, he had compassion on him.  You had also heard that his followers were asking, “Who sinned, him or his parents?”  Yet in all this, Jesus still had compassion on this man.  He had so much compassion; he healed the man and now that same man who had never seen anything but darkness, now could see the light surrounding him.  Yet even though this was the story, the religious leaders still called him names and wished him dead.  Something didn’t make sense.  How could a man heal so vibrantly, especially someone who appeared to have suffered from either his sin or his parents sin.

Then you heard that Jesus responded to his followers, “Neither this man, nor his parents.  But this was done to show the glory of God.”  How could this be?  We were taught from a very young age, that if someone was sick, born blind or had leprosy, there was apparent sin in their life or they were suffering from past sins.  Didn’t the Scriptures say, “I will repay the wicked to the third generation?”  So how could a man claim such a thing?  Maybe the religious leaders were right?  Maybe this Jesus was really a madman.  So what was the truth?

Just as you pondered these things, you way Him, Jesus.  He didn’t look any different than anyone else.  He wasn’t necessarily taller than anyone else, nor was he anymore good looking that all the others.  He looked ordinary.  He did not have the eyes of a madman, nor did he appear to be deity.  Still, there was something about Him that drew many.  Finally, you were going to hear the words of this controversial figure.  Just as you approached to hear his words, a woman rushes in.  She appears to be in tears.  She says to Jesus, “Your friend Lazarus is sick and needs you right away.”  His response was odd.  It was if he didn’t care.  He told the messenger, “The sickness will not end in death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Did you hear it right?  The messenger said, “Your friend is sick.”  It seemed like Jesus was just brushing off the fact his friend was sick, really sick.

Two days later, as you were listening to Jesus teach, you ask yourself, “I wonder what ever happened to Jesus’ friend?”  It is then you hear Jesus proclaim, “Lazarus is dead.”  He let His friend die?  You heard him say that his friend’s sickness would not end in death.  You think to yourself, “He must be a liar or a madman.”  But you decide to follow Him and listen to Him anyway.  Maybe there are some teachings you could benefit from.

As you follow Him, Jesus approaches the city of Bethany.  By this time, Lazarus is already dead four days.  To you, as a Jew, this means that Lazarus’ death is final.  He is truly gone.  As you approach the crowds, you notice the women consoling two other women.  They must have been Lazarus’ relatives.  They looked pretty young and you realize that Lazarus was also young.  You notice Jesus talks with one of the two women who were being consoled.  He appears as if He was consoling her as well.

Jesus is then led to the tomb where Lazarus’ body was laid.  At first, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”  At this point, you have determined this Jesus was a madman and a liar but now He is claiming to be God?  Only God could resurrect the dead.  But you notice something.  You notice Jesus’ voice isn’t as strong as it was before.  You then see him do something; men shouldn’t do in your culture.  Jesus weeps.  He just doesn’t cry.  He truly loved this man.  Jesus felt the pain of loss, the pain of suffering.  He reacts the same way you have.  Jesus weeps.  And in that weeping He staggers to say, “Roll away the stone.”

This Jesus really believes He can raise the dead?  Does this Jesus really believe that He is God?  The impact of watching Jesus weep for His friend brings you to a point of interest.  Now is the time for Jesus to prove who He claims to be.  Does He prove Himself to be a madman or a liar?  Lazarus is dead and Jesus claimed this wouldn’t end in death.  What will happen?

You notice a large stone you could pick up and hide, just in case Lazarus stays dead.  For if Lazarus stays dead and this man claimed to be God, you have the authority to stone him for blasphemy.  You hide the stone in your cloak and watch at a close distance.  After Jesus finishes weeping, you hear Him exclaim, “Lazarus!  Come out!”

Immediately, a rumbling happens inside the tomb.  Was it an animal that got in there?  Then you see what others said was impossible.  A figure of a man comes forth, waddling, trying to get the rags off of him?  Lazarus was alive!  How is that possible?  How is it that a dead man, who was dead for four days, whose soul left this place to enter eternity, is walking and breathing again?  At that moment, Jesus hugs his friend, turns around and looks at you with a smile.  It’s as if He can see to the very center of your being.  You have only one response.  The stone you held is dropped.  You rush to his feet, bow down and say, “Savior, forgive me.”

So what changed you?  What was it that brought you to this point?  The beginning of the journey seeing Jesus have compassion on someone, then it was His radical claims, leading up to this pivotal point.  Jesus wept for his friend.  He showed His humanity by allowing Himself to feel as we do when we lose someone.  He wept because He felt loss.

The last couple of weeks have been very tough.  The compassion I have felt for my wife’s friend as her husband was killed doing his job.  The remembering of my friend, who now is in glory, yet still hurting as I remember the suffering I witnessed.  Last evening, I witnessed my 90 year old neighbor slip away into eternity and even this morning, I was told of a friend of the family who lost their life to a possible heart attack.  Yet, I take hold of the two words John wrote – Jesus wept.

I now understand that Jesus felt the same things I do.  He felt loss just like me.  He felt compassion on others who are also mourning.  He wept just like I do.  But unlike Jesus, there are times I feel hopeless.  Hopeless because there is nothing I can do when I lose someone.  I can’t raise them from the dead.  I can’t talk with them anymore.  All I can do is weep, just like Jesus.  But even though Jesus wept like us, He never felt hopeless.  He knew what He was there for…to ensure God is glorified.  This is where His deity is displayed.

Jesus claimed that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death.  He also claimed to be God with the ability to resurrect the dead.  He claimed to be the holder of life.  And all of this was proven positive.  Lazarus was raised from the dead.  His sickness did not end in death.  In fact, Lazarus’ death was necessary.  It was Jesus who allowed Lazarus to die in order that He might glorify God and show who He really is.  As life and death are in the hands of God, the sheer fact that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead shows Jesus is God.  It was in this act that Jesus proved he was 100% man and yet 100% God.

I think we forget sometimes that Jesus felt what we felt.  He felt compassion, loss and pain.  He willingly suffered and died so that we might have a way back to God.  Yet in all this, Jesus again proved His deity by rising from the dead.  He did this for you and I because He has compassion and love for us.

I don’t’ know this for sure, but I would suspect that Jesus cries for those who don’t accept Him as Savior.  I’d like to think that he momentarily cries when His creation rejects Him and once they die, He has to send them to an eternal place without Him, hell.

However, for now as you are reading this, this means you are still alive and have a chance to cry out to Him.  If you cry out to Him, He will respond.  If you cry out to Him, He will save.  Jesus does not want any to suffer.  His desire is that everyone comes to know Him as Savior.  So why not?!  Just give your life to Jesus and He will prove to you not only does He have the ability to save, but that He rejoices in that same work.

What other proof do you require?  He showed his humanity by weeping and His deity by controlling life and death.  Call on Him and you will be saved.

God bless and encourage someone today.

The Hiking Trail


Have you ever felt lost?  For a moment, pretend you are hiking in the woods.  You are on a trail and understand how to read the trail marks.  As you follow the trail, you notice several intriguing items, a bird perched on a branch of a tall oak tree, the river which flows continuously and feeds all plants and trees by it or even the chipmunks which scurry around.  Just as you are admiring God’s creation you realize something, you’re no longer on the trail.  To add to your worry, you can’t see the trail marks either.  As you wander in the dense foliage, you come across another hiker (or so you thought).

The “hiker” tells you to turn around go back about 100 feet and look for the small birch tree.  It has a marking on it.  You turn around, run to the small birch tree and see the mark, only it isn’t a hiking mark.  There are four markings, long deep lines, stacked upon another.  You look at the hiking book you have and realize those are not just marks, they are the residual of a bear scratching at the tree.  Your anxiety kicks in.  Not only are you lost but the “hiker” just sent you into bear territory.  You need to move and quickly.

You turn left and decide that going in a straight line is best.  You look up to see the sun, but cannot.  The forest is so dense that it cuts out almost all of the sunlight.  It is as if the canopy of foliage has swallowed up the heavens, hiding the glory of the Most High.  Your anxiety begins to heighten.  Thoughts of dying in the woods from starvation, getting eaten by a bear or mountain lion and even drowning begin to the thought process.  You begin to wonder what your family is thinking.  Are you okay?  Are you hurt?  Are you still alive?  It is then you look up to the sliver of light creeping through the foliage and cry out to God.  You say, “Oh Lord, I am lost!  Get me out of here!  I can’t do this!  Please Lord, help me.  I’ll do anything you want, if you get me out of here!”  As you sit in silence, you wait and listen.  No response.

After a moment’s rest, you get up and begin to journey further.  You come across another would be hiker.  You ask, “Can you please help me?  I am trying to find the hiking marker so I can get back on the trail.”  The hiker turns and says, “Turn left and go about ½ mile.  There you will find an old oak tree with one of the markers you are looking for.”  You thank the hiker and begin moving toward the place he pointed out to you.

As you approach the area the second hiker told you about, you remember the first “hiker”.  Would this hiker also send you into a den of horror and terror?  You begin to have second thoughts.  You stutter for a moment, but remember your family needs you, so you continue to approach the area.  You see the tree from a distance and run toward it.  At this moment, you see a marking on the tree.  It is a small hole.  As you look closer, you notice there are several small holes all over the tree.  At that moment, you take a look at your hiking book and realize those are woodpecker holes.  You read that woodpeckers create these holes when looking for bugs they can eat.  It is then you realize the old oak tree is not even alive.  It may look alive, but on the inside, it is as rotten as an apple sitting in the sun on a hot summer day.  Your anxiety peaks.  Your heart feels like it could come out of your chest.  Nausea enters your stomach, your hands begin to tremble and sweat drenches your shirt, your greatest fears become an alternate reality for you.  You cry out to God again.  “Lord!”, you scream.  “Please, please, please, get me out of here!  I’m sorry for going off the trail!  I’m sorry for whatever I did to get here!  Please Lord, get me home!.”  You again sit in silence, waiting for a reply, but none come.  Only the sound of the gentle breeze or an occasional chirping bird is all you hear.  You begin to doubt.  “Why won’t God answer?  Why has He left me here?”  You begin to cry in desperation.

As you sit and wonder what your death will be, you open your bag for a small snack and water to try and get rid of the nausea.  As you rummage through your bag, you grab a bag of trail mix and yank it out of the bag.  But something else came out with it, your hiking book.  It falls on the ground.  As you eat your snack you stare at the book.  Two thoughts come across your mind.  The first thought says, “Pick it up and read it.”  The second thought says, “It didn’t help you before.  What makes you think it can help now?”  You toy with each of these thoughts trying to make sense of each of them.  On one hand, if you read the hiking book, you’ll learn a lot, but will that help you in this predicament?  On the other hand, it only told you about what you see.  You don’t ever remember reading about trail markings.  Both thoughts seem hopeless.  Both thoughts have the same risk factor.  One thought may lead to safety, while the other one may lead to your demise.  But which thought was which?  Which one will lead you to safety?

The story isn’t quite finished, but I wanted to pause to ask you, as you read this story, how did it make you feel?  Did you begin to worry?  Did an actual situation come to mind?  Maybe you felt nauseas?  Maybe your hands began to tremble?  Did your heart race while you read this?  Did a panic attack begin?  Which thought do you feel is the correct one?  Should you look at the hiker’s book or should you discover another way?  Which would you choose?  Let’s get back with the story to find out.

Suddenly, there is a refreshing cool breeze.  The feeling of calmness begins to take root inside your mind.  You close your eyes and begin to count backwards from 10 to 1, taking slow deep breaths with every number counted.  The thoughts in your mind begin to have an order.  Instead of irrational thoughts leading to irrational behavior, you begin to put the pieces of this crazy puzzle together.  You look down and notice something odd, something you never noticed before.  There is a hand-written note on the inside cover.

You pick up the hiker’s book and read the inscription:

Dear Reader,

This book is based on what I found while hiking these trails.  It contains all you need to survive your journey, no matter what trail you are on.  This book contains which foods you can eat and which ones to avoid.  It will guide you from one trail to the next in order to ensure you avoid any potential threats, such as bear and mountain lion dens.  It will also guide you as an educator so that you will not be surprised at what surrounds you.  This book is my gift to you.  I have sent this book to other hikers as well.  If you come across another hiker but they do not have or listen to my words contained in this book, avoid their advice.  They do not have your best interest at heart, no matter how nice they may be.  I know these woods and trails, because I created them.  I paved the way for you to enjoy what God has created.

                                                                                                       With love and affection,

                                                                                                                     The Trailblazer

At that moment, you realize you had the answers all along.  You begin to study the book, rather than read it.  You notice chapters and notes that you had not seen before.  You read about the delicious fruit on one trail and the refreshing waters on another.  You read about the dense forest and its beauty but also recognize the warning of darkness on this trail.  It is then you realize, the trail you need is less than a mile away.  Now instead of anxiety and worry, you feel a peace you have not felt for some time.

You begin to remember how you received this book.  The older gentleman who passed it along to you, telling you to read and study the book before you journey into the forest.  He said he was like you and someone had passed this to him and now he would like to pass it to you.  You remember his joy and excitement to tell you what he had seen along his journey.  You remember his excitement easily flowed from his being to yours.

Upon graciously accepting this book, a joy and excitement about your journey came over you.  You couldn’t wait to prepare and begin.  Memories of the countless hours you spent preparing for this journey.  You remember what it felt like to be a kid again.  Never did you think your journey would end up like this, but now you remember the hope you once had.  It was because of this book that you were able to find your trail and continue on your journey.

Just like the Trailblazer’s hiking book, we too have a book that will guide us on our journey in this life.  It is called the Bible.  The Bible has everything we need to not just survive this life, but thrive.  It shows us where the nourishment is and what places, things or people to avoid.

2 Timothy 3:16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

16 (A)All Scripture is [a]inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for [b]training in righteousness…

This means that no matter our situation, no matter how struggle, no matter our mountain top experience, the Bible has everything that we need.  It contains encouragement during our times of struggle.  It contains praise during our time of flourishing.  It contains words of wisdom for advice and words of rebuke for our rebellion.  The Bible gives us the guidelines for a prosperous life and warnings of problematic one.

Just like in our story, we have a trailblazer as well.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He created this world, came to this world in order that He might trailblaze a way back to the Father.  It was His life, death and resurrection which allow us to live this life (and the next) with confidence, love and servitude.  It is only because of what He did that we can have eternal life with Him.

This Sunday is Resurrection Sunday.  It is a time where we reflect and rejoice on what Jesus Christ did.  We will hear about His sacrifice but rejoice in knowing that He lives!  Not only that but we can also rejoice because He will return and make all things new one day.

Revelation 22:12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

12 “Behold, (A)I am coming quickly, and My (B)reward is with Me, (C)to render to every man [a]according to what he has done.

Like the hiker in the story, all we need to do is open up the Bible, read and study its words and ask God to guide our hearts and minds into whatever He desires for us.  Everything we need for this life is contained in the Bible and the greatest part is that our “trailblazer” lives and wants us to know Him better.  Take time this week to open up the Bible and discover the greatest story ever written….  Jesus Christ is alive and well!  He has Risen!

God bless and encourage someone today.

Gun Control, God Forgotten


Over the past week, we have seen the tragedy of children being gunned down by one, who portrayed evil in a physical form.  From this, discussions of gun control, amped up security, school safety and insults from all sides have permeated our lives through social media and news agencies.  We have seen the ugliness of hatred, the fearfulness of insecurity and the inability to think in a productive manner.   Political leaders, law enforcement officials and those we view as “in the know”, have inappropriately blamed agencies, people groups and individuals for a heinous act which was caused by a single person, who clearly had mental illness and emotional problems.  No matter who you may be, no matter where you may be reading this, we have all been affected by this tragedy.  But have you considered the problem within our society is much bigger than gun control, school safety or individuals whom we feel have allowed this system of hatred and bigotry to continue?

What about the other immoral behaviors that permeate our society?  I’ll give you a few.  Millions of unborn babies are massacred annually.  Immoral sexual behavior oozes out of the pours of our TVs and movies.  Violent behavior has become acceptable since the birth of video games.  We have allowed our evil fantasies to become our reality.  So why would we allow this to occur?  Why do we thrill on the ills of others?  How has our society come this far this quickly?  Simply, we have rejected the message of the Good News.

The issue concerning all of our society’s problems is not with the individual evil acts we might be marching against, rather it is our broken hearts.  Hearts that have forgotten in Whom we have been created in.  Hearts that have blocked out love.  Hearts that have become corrupted by fantasies and wonders of amazement which have tried to destroy a belief in an Almighty, Ever-Present, All Knowing God.  Our hearts have become blackened by evil desires, temporarily trying to fill the God sized void we all have inside of us.

Do we need to discuss how to make our society safer?  Yes.  Do we need to debate gun control?  Sure.  But we also need to discuss mental health issues, insurance involvement, over taxing, over spending and even political offices and the corruption involved there.  But let me ask this question:

“For what profit is it to a person if they gain the whole world, and lose their own soul?  Or what will a person give in exchange for their soul?”

These questions were brought forth by a man long ago.  His society was similar to ours.  His society said, “You can take the life of your enemies”, yet he taught to pray for those who persecute you.  His society said, “If you want to divorce your wife, just give here the paperwork”, yet he taught what God has joined together, let no one separate.  His society taught, “Don’t waste your time with beggars and diseased”, yet he spent time with them.

Don’t we say the same thing?  Our society says, “Destroy entire groups who are violent.”  Yet He says, “Lift your enemies in prayer and pray for their eternal souls.”  Our society says, “Love whomever you want, whenever you want, how you want.”  Yet He says, “Intimate love is between a husband and wife.”  Our society says, “Play your violent games, listen to your hate-filled songs, enjoy everything while you can.”  Yet He says, “Out of the heart of a person, the mouth speaks.”  Our society says, “Separation of church and state.”  Yet He said, it is God who places those in power.  Our society says, “Remove ‘In God we trust’”.  Yet He said, Trusting in God is the only thing that can keep your society in place.

The heart of the matter in our society today is we have removed God from everything.  We no longer allow our children to pray in school.  We no longer stand up for Godly, moral behavior.  We no longer promote civility.  We no longer promote family values.  What we do promote are things that take God out of the equation:

  • Evolution: God is removed when we believe we evolved from primordial slime.
  • Sex: God is removed when we allow ourselves to be led by emotions rather than His Word.
  • Music: God is removed when our lyricists promote drug use and violent behavior.
  • Family: God is removed when we spend more time at our jobs than with our spouse and children.
  • Church:  God is removed when we forget our mission to lead others to the cross of Jesus Christ and make decisions based on our own desires.

We have removed God in all aspects of our lives and these are the results that we see today:

  • Increased violent crimes
  • Increased disease
  • Increased natural disasters
  • Increased drug abuse
  • Increased hatred
  • Increased feelings of hopelessness

God said, “Whatever a person sows, they also reap.”  We are reaping the fruit of removing God from our lives.  But we don’t have to stay there either.  We can change but we also can’t make this change alone.

The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  When we call on Jesus Christ and acknowledge His sovereignty, His sacrifice and His love, our old ways get changed.  They become new.  It is Jesus Christ who can change us, make us into a people He desires us to be.  Only He can make an old life into a new life.  Only He can change the hearts of people, like you and I, and make us into a new creation, giving us a new heart and a new mind.  It is only by the power of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit can we change.

We can debate all we want.  We can discuss any topic you wish.  We can encourage and we can discourage.  We can build up or we can destroy.  None of these matters if we do not have the love of Jesus Christ in us.

1 John 5:1-2 says, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”

If we love God, then we will love others.  If we love others, we will not go out of our way to destroy them.  We will not feed off of the divisive media.  We will not allow our children to continue down a destructive road of pornography, abuse and violence.  If we love God, we will bury our misery of bigotry and cling to the double-edged sword, which is the Word of God.  If we love God, we show that by our actions.

We must stop this bickering, this divisive spirit and embrace the only One who can save us, the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Without Him, we will continue to go down a road leading to the very pit of hell.  Instead, let us show how much we love God by showing love toward others.  Praying for those who persecute us.  Feeding those who are slaves to drug addiction.  Caring for those who cannot care for themselves.  Helping others become who God sees them as, a person made in His image for His purpose to exclaim His glory.

For those of us who claim to be Christians, we must follow Christ.  This means giving up our dreams for His.  This means no longer doing what we used to do.  This means spending time with Him daily, learning more about Him.  But this also means our actions have to match our faith.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” – I Corinthians 13:1-3 (NKJV)

Without the love of Jesus Christ, all we do is like a loud obnoxious sound.  Like the nail scrape of a chalkboard, so is our actions without the love of Jesus Christ in us.  We need to love.  We need Jesus Christ in order to love.  Without Jesus Christ, our society is hopeless.

Jesus Christ changed the world using 12 men who were thought to be nothing in their society.  First He had to change each of them before they could help change the world.  The same holds true for us.  If each of us were to allow Jesus Christ to change us, then in turn we can point others toward the cross of change, the Cross of Christ.  Our country, this world can be changed, if we first allow God to change us.

The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step.  Make that first step and allow Jesus Christ to change you.  Once we move toward Jesus and away from our ideals, we will learn that nothing can change our society better than the love of Jesus Christ.  It starts with us first.  Then it flows out to others.  Pray, right now, for God to change you through the power of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Then He will give you His Holy Spirit and He will change you from the inside out.

God bless and encourage someone today.