Better Together


Over the last number of weeks, there has been a reoccurring theme in my everyday life…unity.

Everywhere we look, there is something or someone trying to divide us.  Whether it is CNN versus Fox News, who is for versus who is against the President, Republican versus Democrat, or one of my favorites, those who are tolerant versus those who are intolerant.  No matter where you look, there is a “spirit” of division that is increasing in strength and power and for evangelical Christians, this is becoming an increasing problem.

What problem you may ask?  Well, if you’re in any church regularly, you will find those who stand on one of the sides of the political/social fence.  The problem comes in when those same people decide to take a stand for one of those sides.  Once someone does that, another person comes around to argue how wrong the other party is.  Then over a very short period of time, this argument increases in intensity and frequency causing a division among those who are supposed to worship together.

When outsiders come in, they don’t see this behavior right away, but as they come week after week, some of them make the assumption that our churches are divided just like the rest of the world.  They question whether they should they keep coming or just stay home?  They hear about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them, but in reality, they see people who are supposed to be joyful and changed, but those same people argue over divided topics of the day.  The actions of individuals taint the Good News for plain old regular news.

So how can we change this perception?  What can we do to ensure the Good News stays good?  We need to be better together.

In John 13, we see Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet.  Then during the Passover meal, he lets his disciples know that Judas was going to betray him.  Judas immediately leaves and the rest of the disciples stay with Jesus.  Right after Judas leaves, Jesus communicates the following:

“A new command I give to you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35 NIV

Did you notice something?  This is a command, not a suggestion.  Jesus knew that his disciples weren’t going to agree on everything.  In fact, Jesus, being God, knew that over time, there would be various denominations based on how people interpret theology.  Unfortunately, He also knew that over time, the “love of most will grow cold.”  It is because of this love growing cold that division reigns and grows stronger.

So how do we love one another?  How can we show the world we aren’t like the rest of the world?  We can do what Jesus did.

Remember, right before Jesus tells them to love each other, He goes out of his way to wash their feet.  This action of washing their feet was a representation how to love, forgive and serve others.  Jesus wanted to display the kind of love we need to have with others.  First, as his new command was to love each other, he also wanted us to forgive each other as well.

Peter tried not to have his feet washed by Jesus, but Jesus told Peter that if he didn’t allow him to wash his feet, Peter could not have any part with Jesus.  Then Peter said, “Then wash my whole body.”  Jesus then reminded him that only those who are dirty over their entire body need to be cleansed.  Peter only needed his feet to be cleansed.

What Jesus was telling Peter was, “Son, I have already made you clean.  You don’t need that.  What you need is forgiveness in your daily walk.  That is why your feet are dirty.”  Isn’t that a wonderful application?  Our walk in this life is not a clean one.  Many times, we do things or say things we regret.  We shout when we should be silent.  We act when we should wait.  We look towards when we should look away.  No matter how you dice it, our daily lives need daily forgiveness.

This is where the command of loving each other comes in.  Just as Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, signifying daily cleansing, Jesus also did the washing.  When we forgive others for their sins towards us, we wash their dirty feet.  When someone forgives us for something we said or did, they wash our dirty feet.  We display our love for each other by forgiving each other.

We also display our love by forgiving the sins of others outside of the church.  If you look at any social media outlets, you will find millions of postings pointing the finger of negative news from one person or group of people to another.    We hear things like, “It’s Obama’s fault” or “It’s Trump’s fault”.  We read posts which invoke hatred rather than love.  We see images of condemnation rather than forgiveness.

Prior to Jesus’ death, he was asked, “How many times should we forgive others?  Seven times?”  In biblical times, it was thought that forgiving the same person for the same sin seven times was enough grace and mercy.  However, Jesus had a different idea towards this.  His reply was, “Seventy times seven.  This is how often you need to forgive.”  It wasn’t the number that was important but the idea of forgiveness.

We can’t keep track of how many times we forgive others, especially, if it is continual.  Jesus knew this.  So he gave the disciples a number they couldn’t comprehend, according to their tradition.  The disciples immediately knew that forgiveness should be unconditional and ever present.

What would our society look like if we stopped all the division and presented a pattern of forgiveness?  Forgiveness to those who sin against us over and over again.  Forgiveness to those who display hatred towards Christ and His church.  Forgiveness that is unconditional and ever present.  How would our neighbors react if our display of love went beyond those who look or act like us?  Forgiveness is not just for those who attend church, but it is also for those who are lost.

We also display our love towards others by serving them.  Jesus served his disciples.  He didn’t want them to wash his feet.  He wanted to wash theirs.  This meant that as a leader, He was willing to do the dirty work, while others reap the benefits.

Imagine if churches today, served their communities.  What if the church went out of its way to serve the community they worship in?  In biblical times, the temple was the epicenter of society.  Everything revolved around the temple.  Markets were all around the temple for travelers who couldn’t bring their sacrifice.  People met, worshipped, talked and lived around the temple.

In Acts 2, we find the early church serving their community while meeting in the temple for worship.  What would our communities look like if we centered everything we did around the church?  It used to be.  What would happen if we tried this again?  How would the people in our community react?

Down the block from my church is a Sheik Temple.  No matter what time of the day or evening, there is always hustle and bustle around their temple, why?  Because they believe in community living.  They live, work and shop in places owned by them.  They know that if they support each other, they also support their local temple.

This was the early churches mindset.  The early church went out of their way to help others.  They took care of those who were left for dead.  They adopted unwanted children.  They gave to those who were in need.  They supplied the needs and cares of those they lived among.  Why don’t we do the same today?  It is because we have forgotten the new command Jesus gave to love each other.

When we love each other, we will have a tendency to forgive and serve each other.  Once we do that, we then move into our communities and forgive and serve them as well.  In this way, we display the kind of love Jesus commanded and when outsiders see this, they will know we are His children.

However, when we share hateful, hurtful or condemning words, we prove to the world, that our form of Christianity is no different than the rest of the world.  Our calling was not to stand up for one political agenda or another.  Our calling goes beyond the boundaries of the United States.  Our calling goes into all the world.  Our calling is to love one another and love the lost.

We are called to live lives that are different than the rest of society.  One way we can display that difference is in loving each other, loving outsiders and serving our communities.  Once we get a handle on that, then we can discuss the differences.  Only when we display our love towards all and serve all, can we understand that the things that divide us are not meant for our good, but are meant to destroy.

Live different lives.  Live better lives.  Live unified.  Know that we are all better together when we love others just as Jesus Christ loves us.  God bless and encourage someone today.

Advertisements

Like our Fore-Fathers


Have you ever read something and just can’t get it out of your head?

Yesterday morning, as I was doing my devotions, I read through Amos 5.  Although the entire chapter was intriguing, I found a few of the verses quite compelling to my mind:

“Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?  It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him.  Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20 NASB)

It wasn’t the prose that gripped my mind, but it was the essence of what these words mean.

At this time, Israel had rejected God and gone after idols and sensuality.  They had rebelled against the very one who had rescued them time and time again from their enemies.  The kings of Israel had decided that it was better to lead the people in the ways of immorality, idolatry and ignorance.  They had experienced the temporary happiness of wealth, wine and women and forsook the eternal joy of their Creator.

However, even though they had forsaken God, they still observed the “rules” and “traditions” contained within the Torah.  They completed the festivals, burned the offerings and did each task as required, but their mindset was one of rote instead of gratitude.  We know this by God’s reaction to them in the next few verses:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24 NASB)

The Israelites continued to worship in the methods and traditions they always had.  They completed the tasks and rituals they were supposed to.  They sang the songs and recited the prayers as they had always done.  However, their hearts were not present.  So why did this grip me the way it did?  Recently, as I study church history, I noted a pattern within the church that is exactly the same in ancient Israel.

There are two topics here that are very prevalent within today’s church.  The first is concern with the End Time events.  When will the Lord return?  When will the rapture take place?  When will God’s judgement be poured out on sinful mankind?  These are the questions of today.  We discuss, debate and degrade each other when we cannot come to a consensus.  We concern ourselves with the details of the events, the bewilderment of figurative or contextual language.  We look toward the sky and cry out to God about the sins of the earth.  We sing the songs of the Psalmist and shout praises from the mountaintops.  Yet in all of this, we forget the heart of God and where His heart remains; for the lost.

This is not to say that the topic of the return of Christ isn’t important.   It is.  Paul, John, Daniel and others examine the events surrounding this time, which is yet to come.  However, as we read through the text, we seem to forget that it is not a time to rejoice in, but to mourn.  We mourn because those who reject Jesus Christ as Savior will suffer His wrath and eternal damnation.

God had picked Amos, the shepherd, to proclaim His words to His people.  God wanted Israel to know that the day of the Lord is not something to look forward to.  It is a day to beware and mourn, a day of reckoning and a day where people will run from one tragic event to another, only to find themselves in the grips of death.

Amos said the day of the Lord is like a man who fled from a lion but meets a bear as he flees.  Or after he flees the bear, he runs home, exhausted only to lean on the wall to be bitten by a snake.  Then the venom of the snake rushes through his body and courses through his veins.  It begins the process of breaking down blood cells, killing the coagulation agents and finally killing the tissue it comes in contact with.  It is a time of great suffering for those who do not believe.

We have forgotten the love, grace and mercy for the lost.  We proclaim about injustice in the world.  We cry about our rights being taken away.  We shout against Republican or Democrat, Socialist or Communist.  We forget that it matters not what party you belong to, what color you are or what social environment you are a part of.  What matters are there are lost people who don’t realize that they are headed toward eternal separation from God.

It is when we forget about the lost, that God deems our worship invalid.  When we forget the lost, our songs are just noise from our lips, not making any sense nor pleasing to the ear.  When we forget the lost, our offerings are rejected and not used, our sacrifices are looked upon as dung.  When we do not have the heart of the Father, there is no use in our worship, no worth in our worship.

When I look at social media, I find many who proclaim the rights of American over the love of Christ.  Many proclaim the evangelism of democracy rather than evangelize the lost, showing that the love of democracy supersedes their love of God.  This is the basic definition of idolatry.

Like Israel, we have a golden calf.  I love my country and know beyond any shadow of doubt that this is the greatest country in the world.  I love the stars and stripes, Old Glory.  The red stripes representing the blood spilled to unite our country and fight the tyranny of England.  However, I love the stripes of Jesus Christ all the more.  His blood which was spilt to save us who are lost.

So how do we solve this dilemma?  How do we change our mindset and actions?

First, we must repent.  Repentance is turning around and walking the opposite direction we have been going.  We must forsake our idols which so easily entangle us both individually and corporately and turn around toward the cross of Jesus Christ.

Second, we need to study.  Scripture has been given to us for our benefit.  It proclaims the love and redemption of God and provides us insight into how to proceed in sharing God’s message.  It warns us, encourages us and teaches us about the wonderful saving message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Third, we must pray.  Simply put, praying is how we communicate and commune with God.  It is how we cry out to Him when we are hurting.  It is how we proclaim His glory.  It is how we intervene for our loved ones and it is how we show our concern for the lost and our enemies.  Prayer is an essential part of our daily lives.

Fourth, we must fellowship with other believers.  This is more than just spending time together.  It is an intimate process.  Because of Jesus Christ, our lives are intertwined with each other.  We are now brothers and sisters.  Regardless of our looks, cultural background or past experiences, we are family and are to care for each other.  We are to share our struggles, confess our sins and encourage each other into a closer relationship with God.  Without fellowship, we deny ourselves the necessary nutrients for our spiritual bodies.  We starve ourselves from the relationships God desires us to have with each other.

Lastly, we must reach out.  This is more than just sharing the Gospel.  It is getting involved in people’s lives that are lost.  It is caring for those who don’t care for us.  It is loving those who have been deemed unloved.  The best example of this was Jesus Christ.  He ate with the dredge of the earth, tax collectors, adulterers and sinners.  He healed those who were hurting and freed those who were slaves.  Like him, we too must not be afraid to associate with those who are hurting, with those who are hungry and with those who are thirsty for something more than just this life.

The Scriptures have warned us.  We are not to be so enamored by arguable doctrines rather we need to be enamored by sharing the heart of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.  As we move away from our idols and toward the cross, we will find that the things we once fought for are just like a dust in the wind.  We will find ourselves loving others as Christ loves us.  We will find ourselves serving others and sharing the Gospel with those in need.  We will find that our own hearts and those of our churches will once again be transformed because of the renewing of our minds.  We will find that all we stand for can be solved if we just place our trust in Jesus Christ and His mission, to seek and save those who are lost.

God bless and encourage someone today.

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.

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.