The Blog

The Shack and the harshness of The Church

Years ago I had the opportunity to attend an interview with Paul Young, the author of The Shack. I along with our staff were seated rather close to him and so our perspective of the interview may have been different from others in the nose bleed section. As the conversation transpired, it became clear that by all indications he (Paul Young) seemed hurt and at times, wept openly. Much of his emotions at the time centering around the misunderstanding of his book, The Shack. Throughout the conversation, he took us back to The Shack’s beginnings and how it was birthed from his life, his imagination and more so, as a gift to his children. His purpose was that his children might grasp their dad’s journey both spiritually and to healing.

Paul Young was raised as a PK (preacher’s kid) and an MK (missionary’s kid) and yes, my heart was immediately drawn to him. As a pastor of nearly 40 years and having weathered a great many ministerial storms which often put those I love (innocent family members) in the crosshairs of every critic of their dad. And yes, I’ve had plenty … so I understood his pain. His story as has been unfolded in other interviews deals with sexual abuse as a child. It is sad to say, this is not the first time I have heard of MK’s being sexually abused while on the mission field. But what is evident, in every interview is that Young’s life is clearly filled with much heartache. And so his purpose as I mentioned above was to capture the shame which had robbed him of his childhood innocence and to personify it … in the appearance of a shack. He states, there is no greater tragedy to a child then that of sexual abuse and admits … his life looked much like the shack in both the book and the movie. Remember the shack is a place in which a horrible crime transpired in the character of Mack Mackenzie as well as Young’s. He states, the shack is a picture of my soul. In fact, he admits that his writing became a catharsis, a journey toward healing.

His story line in The Shack takes a horrible crime, a family experiencing what I would term, “a worse case scenario” … the kidnapping and murder of Mack’s youngest child (a daughter) to somehow illustrate his (Young’s) own sexual abuse as a child.

But the deeper issue in both the book and the movie is the character of God. How does a loving God stand by and allow such an injustice? For example, until you’ve sat with a child abused sexually by a parent or authority figure and them ask, “if God is good than why did He allow this to happen” … the pain of The Shack is lost. Like Job, which I am preaching through at the moment, the main character, Mack Mackenzie wrestles with his understanding of God’s character in relation to his unbearable pain.

Keep in mind, sooner or later we all wrestle with the character of God in relation to what life has dished out and more so, our pain.

A classic line is when the metaphorical figure playing the character of God is ask by Mack Mackenzie, “why did you bring me to this shack?” The response is memorable, “because you got stuck here.” The meaning is simple … we can have a pain so deep that we get stuck in it.

Again, The Shack is Young’s journey through metaphorical figures representing Father God, The Holy Spirit and Jesus … to grapple with his (Young’s) own pain and his shame. After nearly 40 years of being a pastor, US Army chaplain and missionary and counseling multitudes … the movie is deep down what we all long for to touch Him. The wish of a believer after suffering a life altering tragedy … to be able to say as did John the Beloved in I John 1, “we touched Him”.

Keep in mind that no Muslim nor most cultic groups could tolerate the movie for its clear Christian undertones.

The journey or should I say, Mack Mackenzie’s healing is refreshing and in the end, one leaves the theater, perhaps encouraged as to their own pilgrimage of pain.

But now a deeper question. What has gone wrong? Is today’s church or at least, some within her ranks, growing militant? Are evangelical leaders once best sellers grappling with reduced sales and now attempting to keep their name public by looking for any scrap (southern term for a fight on the playground)?

Are we speaking “the truth in love” or just beating up the beaten down. I remember when Rob Bell’s book came out, Love Wins. The person who was asking my opinion was no doubt probably looking for an argument. But my response took him by surprise. His question, “What do you think about Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins?” My response, “I hope so.” For a moment, he looked at me confused and then I continued, “Every believer filled with the love of Jesus Christ should hope so and work toward it.” Though my answer fell short of what his intent might have been … an argument … it was kind and with that came a measure of respect.

Today I am in my 60’s and must admit that it appears the evangelical community seems to be growing harsh, cold, void of a heart. Turning the cheek, going the second mile, giving your coat are a far cry from showing our biceps. Is there a place for biblical stands, most assuredly. Many have paid the price for their allegiance to scripture. And yet, today’s issues seem to make us more crusader than Christian. Is there a difference, yes. Perhaps this is why missionaries are returning … to remind Americans … we know well how to survive and even thrive in an alien political, moral environment. Outside of Jesus calling Herod a “fox” we don’t see much in the way of political aspirations. And for those who are amen-ing as they unleash an onslaught on our latest president … they forget too, that rather Jesus before Pilate or Paul before an endless “who’s who” in Roman government … there is little other than Romans 13: 1-2, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” I clashed with much of our former president’s ideology and yet I prayed for him, his family and trusted a sovereign God to handle him or us.

Finally I must admit that I am somewhat startled by my Calvinist friends who find themselves consumed with blogs and purchased ads in an attempt to vocalize their opposition. I leaned over to my wife in the movie and whispered, Calvinists won’t like this. I can understand their struggle with The Shack because much like C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, there is a clear commitment to the definition of love and the freedom of choice. In fact, I am not sure but there seems to be a line somewhere in The Shack which reads something like, a love that is coerced is no love at all. Young’s statement similar to Lewis’s … is an attempt to wrestle with the nature and character of God and the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

Well let me conclude by saying, perhaps The Shack and our crucifixion of it’s author is indicative of the harshness of our day and tragically some within the church. I Corinthians 13, the love chapter is a reminder to all of us that we dare not take a stand until we have first taken a knee. I often ask my wife, “did I sound unkind?” And I am sure there are plenty who might say, “yes”. But God knows the heart of both this writer as well as that of The Shack.

I’ve discovered that those who seem to be the most angry in the church, the most divisive, those who make the pastor’s calling a heartache are members who themselves are “stuck in pain”. Many Christians (and I use this lightly) are resentful, harboring a closet addiction, wrestling with a hidden sin, fighting authority, in and out of relationships, unwilling to submit to spiritual authorities are stuck somewhere in their past in pain … and usually it goes back to childhood.

 

A Respectful Answer to John Piper

After reading Piper’s article entitled, How to Live Under An Unqualified President and more so, his summation of President Trump, I felt somewhat inclined to answer if nothing more than for those to whom I pastor. My credentials are perhaps not as impressive as my companion but would earn enough respect for his consideration. Further, I must preface my comments by admitting that if John Piper is warning the Christian community as to the danger of placing our newly elected president up on a pedestal and thereby grossly ignoring his weaknesses then his warning should be heeded. However, the likelihood of an American and more so, a believer being ignorant of President Trump’s moral and ethical failures is unlikely.

Now with this in mind, let me begin with a quote by John Piper and afterwards some observations as to discrepancies of two of his articles, one written in admiration of a historical civil rights leader and the other, his most recent article written about the newly elected president. But before I begin, let me qualify my comments concerning Martin Luther King Jr. and the article by John Piper entitled, “Martin Luther King Changed My World, and I Am Thankful”. First I would agree with Piper’s summation of the life of Dr. King. I too hold great respect as to the insight of King in the area of racial inequality. And for the African American who may read this and jump to the conclusion that I am a closet racist, they would be severely mistaken. I know few preachers who have given their life to the correcting of racism anymore than the one who pens this response. I would encourage one who might prematurely judge me, to examine my sermon archives (ssbaptistchurch.com), scrutinize every facet of my life both as a pastor, missionary to Zimbabwe, Africa and Cornwall, England. To investigate my time as a military officer and chaplain and even more so, the last 20 years as a pastor in the inner city of Jackson, MS. If one were to venture such an effort, they would fail to find a single individual who would admit to any form of mistreatment due to color or for that matter, sexual preference. As to Dr. Martin Luther King, I have studied his life extensively, spoken at MLK day on one of the largest bases in Europe and have used his quotes on many occasions. Beyond this, I have a respect for his leadership both in America and around the world in the area of civil rights. He was one of the most powerful preachers in American history and yet like all of us … was flawed (Piper’s word).

But returning to the purpose for which I write, I thought it was interesting as to an article written by John Piper on the subject of Dr. King. Piper states, “Martin Luther King changed my world.” He continues, “We don’t know if the world would have changed without him, but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God.”

My problem with Piper as to the above mentioned article and his more recent composition concerning our president is his attempt to navigate the road of political correctness. For example, he continues by saying of Dr. King, “Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws”. When I read this article and compared it to his latest article, I thought John you demonstrate a broad acceptance of one man’s flaws and a much narrower view of another. This is remarkable in light of the fact that Old testament prophets were much sterner with prophets and priests than they were with political leaders.

As I compared Piper’s two articles, I was reminded of a scene in which Denzel Washington plays a true to life character by the name of Coach Herman Boone. In this movie, Remember the Titans, a Disney production based on the true story of two great football programs forced together in the time of integration, Washington looks at his white assistant coach who seeks to coddle an African American player and thereby usurping his (Boone’s) authority and states that he (Boone) is the same coach regardless of color both in coaching and correcting.

I would expect the same out of those who have gravitated to the top as spiritual leaders within the Christian community. Why bring it up because if the Church continues to divide and squabble over the results of the election, then we do a disservice to the very scripture we hold to.

Recently, I ask the inner city congregation I pastor … if anyone knew who Ralph Abernathy was? There were blank stares and such that I slightly reprimanded them (a racial diverse group) for the failure to take serious, the civil rights movement and the historical figures who make it up. I went on to explain that Ralph Abernathy was considered one of King’s most trusted friends and it was in his arms that Dr. King drew his last breath. I continued on with the message and did not explain as to the reason why he (Abernathy) has been pretty much marginalized in civil rights history. And perhaps this was what Piper alludes to when he states, “leave aside his theology and moral flaws.” Abernathy’s honesty was the source of such remarks.

However, I might forgive Piper’s middle of the road stance if we were talking about a rough billionaire businessman who according to names both Piper and I respect … is a new believer. But I find it difficult to accept John’s discrepancy in the comparison of a prominent preacher to that of an unpolished politician.

What I find sad as I compare the two articles by Piper is an inequality based on, well I really don’t know. I could guess, “we” meaning the Church or even John seeks to choose our battles, to side with popular opinion, to rouse an audience with an article that though may seem sound … in reality compared to previous articles … bleeds a double standard. Piper would gloss over the moral flaws of one leader due to his prominent place in history while siding with half the nation’s population against another.

Now let me add with a note of sarcasm, I am encouraged by this newly discovered commitment to moral and ethical integrity within America and more so, voices such as we are hearing today. I celebrate the concerted effort of many in America and the church who have with the election of our newest president seen it their moral responsibility to return “him”, I mean “us” to sound moral and ethical behavior. But the truth is the white house has had its share of scandal. I would question if John has taken the time to address the issue with previous administrations. In fact, I would think that the average believer today has learn well … how to live under an unqualified president. Think about previous administrations.

Let me repeat Piper’s words, “We don’t know if the world would have changed without him (King) but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God. Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws.” 

Now in his latest article entitled, How to Live Under an Unqualified President and specifically why as he terms it, Why Trump is Unqualified. He states, “Donald Trump’s immoral behavior in the past, and his ongoing unwillingness to renounce it as evil, show that he is morally unfit to lead our nation.” Seems I remember another president who engaged in inappropriate behavior and covered it up with perjury. Piper goes on to list the President’s deviance’s: adultery, con man ways, irrational arguments, shamelessly proud and unrepentant heart and carnal behavior dating back over ten years ago.

Piper continues to list the qualities of Leadership: “Leaders should lead … inspire emulation.” He continues, “Donald Trump is not such an embodiment of what we want the citizens of America to be. Few parents would say to their young people: strive to be like President Trump. That is a great sadness.” I agree and yet how many of our leaders have failed to lead us … much of Washington is hardly worthy of emulating. But if we are to be men of God, voices of truth then our litmus test must be broad enough to test the quality of leadership in all … past or present … dead or alive.

We have had one of the most liberal ideological shifts in our nation’s  history. Further we have witnessed the dismantling of our constitution and a direct attack on the Freedom of Conscience Act. The latter, I believe, putting us in a direct encounter with our creator. An authority figure may force a child to obey their dictates but if that authority runs contrary to everything the parent has instilled into their child … then the issue is no longer between teacher and child but parent and teacher. America has dangerously positioned herself against the divine tribunal.

Piper continues, “A leader should be dependable, trustworthy, reliable … but where truth is treated with such contempt … there is no recourse for the poor, if the powerful say that truth is what they say it is.” I agree but let me repeat the latter part of the previous quote with some of my own commentary, “but where truth is treated with such contempt … there is no recourse for the poor (let me insert in place of “poor”, “conservative Christian”), if the powerful say that truth is what they say it is.” I thought about the White House and it’s redefining of the institution of marriage … and celebrating in rainbow lights. This action clearly a statement, “there is no recourse for the poor” or might I add, a conservative Christian who holds to traditional values and biblical marriage. Further it was not an attempt by our nation’s leader to bind up a wound but rather to pour salt in it.

Piper states, “A leader should be a good example for our young people in matters of character and moral uprightness and civility.” Again, as I read your latest article, I was wondering where previous writings have been over the last several years and much of Washington’s demise. Piper continues, “A leader should not model the success of immoral behavior …”

Let me repeat Piper’s words, “We don’t know if the world would have changed without him (King) but we do know that he was a rod in the hand of God. Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws.”

I stop here to remind the reader that we (meaning preachers) are often hard on each other, quick to point out theological discrepancies and ruthless when it comes to moral ones. And yet here my brother is almost casual, “leave aside his theology and moral flaws.” John let me say; I understand the high cost, when men of God speak to the skeletons of those we admire and the cost to our popularity and position if we chose to point them out. Which let me say, I wish not to do but when we weigh your comments as to Dr. King with our present president, we can’t help but see a glaring discrepancy. In other words, I can’t understand the inequality of your comments. Hear them again, “We don’t know if the world would have changed without him (King), but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God.”

Again, I agree. King was and continues to be a rod in the hand of God. And yes, your comment is even correct as to scripture. Often God has placed into positions of power and influence, leaders who were though flawed “a rod in the hand of God.” Perhaps President Trump is such a flawed rod, a tool in the hand of God to reign in a direction that endangers our very Republic. It is no secret that many leaders even within scriputure were seriously flawed, some pagan barbarians and some who would in time, come to accept the very God they renounced. Case in point is Babylonian monarchs such as King Nebuchadnezzar or Persian Kings such as Cyrus or Darius. We also recognize that leaders are tools (a rod) in the hand of a loving God to discipline His own people or to stop a greater threat not yet identifiable. Beyond this, you and I are aware of the sovereignty of God and a passage such as Proverbs 21:1, “The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

Rather President Trump is a “rod in the hand of God” to discipline us or to correct us, I don’t know. I know this for the church to continue to divide itself over the presidential results and worse to continue to malign a public figure is to do damage and to live in disobedience. Most Christians were supportive of Dr. Ben Carson and yet his kind and gentle spirit, his docile demeanor made him ill equipped to handle the debates, let alone the stress of leadership in today’s America. Perhaps Donald Trump is the rod of correction for a time when few men could do what may be required. That last sentence may need to weigh in the hearts of the skeptic.

Further as a former missionary, military chaplain and a pastor of 40 years, I felt led to walk every state capital over the last 3 years. I encompassed each capital building seven times in prayer … praying for our nation and the direction we were heading. I read Paul’s words in his first letter to Timothy around every capital including our national capital, “I urge, then first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

If we are to weigh our leaders, dead or alive, black or white, rich or poor, believer or not … may we do so on the same scale. To excuse the moral flaws of one and list the moral flaws of another is an unclear sound from the watchman.

In the end, I will do what I have done for the last eight years, pray for my president and his family.

The Imploding of America

The word “implode” is defined as an “inwardly violent collapse”.  Any business, organization, or in the case of our discussion, an entire nation has the potential of imploding. How, by apathy, neglect or worse, an intentional effort on the part of someone or group to dismantle a nation from within. I remember years ago as I was taking a stand on the race issue, an elderly woman came up to me after a service, she was visibly angry. Her words, were forever engraved into the soul of a young pastor, “I will see this church closed before we do that.” You can guess the “that”. In other words, she would see her personal vendetta through or destroy the institution itself.

One must always ask when there is the threat of imploding an organization as the woman above or for the sake of our discussion, a nation, “who will benefit from the demise?” In her case before she would come under the authority of scripture in the area of her personal prejudice and that of the church, she would see it closed. She forgot that her position would weaken her church and thereby affect her community, her neighborhood and result in great loss to her personally. In the end, her agenda would bring harm to herself.

Today in the midst of a growing fragmentation of America, the average citizen would do wise to investigate who might benefit from the implosion of our homeland? You might think, “nations whose ideologies are contrary to our own would be a threat” and yes, you would be right. As is the case of communism or its cousin, socialism both of which stand in contrast to our capitalistic model of free enterprise. Keep in mind, that any political party, candidate, institution or citizen who holds to such views, would do well to reflect on history and the failure of such systems. Beyond that, for those liberal elements who seem to delight in their freedoms of expression by way of Hollywood’s immoral movie industry, the continual obscenity propagated through music and every other art form the cost would be great. Many of the these men and women would be arrested and incarcerated by countries in the world who hold to a system of government contrary to our own.

However, regardless of who might benefit, it would be foolish to think that America is not experiencing ripples of what may be an “imploding tidal wave”. A subtle unrest, disenchantment and worse, a growing disunity are the “lay of the land.” Keep in mind, we are first, The United States. The word “United” being critical to our strength and stamina. And if there are forces in America who seek her dismantling(implosion), they would first, attack her unity.

The adage, “divide and conquer” is a critical component to imploding anything. Rather black or white, Sunni or Shite, the capacity of a nation to survive is housed in her ability to encompass and bring together people from a multiplicity of backgrounds. But if you were in fact, seeking to implode a nation, you would do the opposite. You would intentionally create disunity. Keep in mind, the fraternal nature of a company, business, church or nation is critical to its well-being. For example, a church filled with factions and personal agendas will crash and burn.

But rather than seeking to investigate who might benefit from the imploding of America, we must first examine, is she, in fact, in danger? A moment ago, I used the statement, “ripples of an imploding tidal wave” but what are they and more so, what can we do?

If America’s unity is her strength then an attempt to fan the flames of racial Prejudice would most certainly be a cause for concern and an indicator of an implosion if not arrested. For example, I was born in 1955 in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. I grew up under the guidance of strong Godly parents who sent us to public schools and stood against any form of racial inequality in Mississippi. Yet after growing up in the 1950-60’s, living as a missionary in Southern Africa after Apartheid was disassembled and Nelson Mandela became president, living in Zimbabwe under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, I have never felt more hated. In America amidst Affirmative action and a myriad of social programs to the election of an African American President … it would appear that we are moving backwards in the area of race relationships. What’s worse, there is no logical reason for it other than a concerted effort by some whose idealogical agenda might include imploding a nation.

Whose to blame, Hollywood’s rehashing of the past, music’s attempt to capitalize on racial hatred, political candidates whose ambitions are driven by personal aspirations rather than corporative endeavors? For example, if a political leader’s ideology runs contrary to the framers of our constitution then one would suspect their power to be used to undermine unity and create suspicion and distrust between various religious or ethnic groups. If implosion is treason, then someone in America is guilty somewhere, right now.

I have spent my life battling against racial prejudice and inequality, adamant in my bringing out into the open those who would create this disparity and/or those who would capitalize on it. Perhaps there are some in our society who seek not equality but rather superiority of one race over another. The result of which is to drive a wedge into the heart of a nation, to divide it, to pit one ethnicity against another. The Church must always stand against such attempts. But remember the opening sentence of this paragraph, “I have spent my life battling against racial prejudice and inequality, adamant in my bringing out into the open those who would create this disparity or capitalize on it.” That second part, “capitalize on it” is what I wish to address. There are always groups and individuals who profit from prejudice, whose speaking agendas and organizations are able to capitalize on the problem rather than solve it. For example, does a non-profit organization solve poverty, seek a solution or instead, give up trying and find themselves content to capitalize on it? Our government may need to ask that question, the government is the largest employer in our nation and is a poor model of solving a social issue.

How is one to solve the growing prejudice? First, crime can never be excused based on ethnicity. Criminal behavior regardless of one’s race must always be addressed by any society. To fail to do so, moves a society toward anarchy. Black or white lives carry intrinsic value and to differentiate between them is to diminish them. In essence, life matters.

Once a nation devalues life, relegating the unborn to a fetal mass or the elderly to an appendage best removed … then it is no longer a matter of black or white lives mattering … none matter.

In our modern day, the issues are no longer … the right of the unborn regardless of ethnicity or the rights of the elderly to live out their remaining years or the rights of the average citizen (black or white) to enjoy a quiet and peaceful existence. Today, someone or something has created a smoke screen, fanned the flames of racial dissension … muddied the waters of “one nation under God” and successfully pitted Americans against Americans. Crime is no longer a social plight to be addressed by a community but rather a racial issue, dividing the community. Car theft, armed robbery, violence, murder, criminals who shove their way into quiet neighborhoods, driving away business, collapsing real estate values and turning homes into armed fortresses are seen as the victim.

True, a nation must seek to provide adequate education for all who wish to obtain it but must also be mindful of those who care nothing for it and may pose a threat to those who do. A child who is intent on getting an education should not live in fear nor should the teacher of those who trash the opportunity afforded them. Tragically our nation through poorly designed governmental policies has disassembled the nuclear home and thereby, weakened communities by rewarding lifestyles contrary to a Judeo-Christian ethic.

Beyond this, denominations, churches and pastors who liquidate their properties at the first sign of a demographic shift in the cities of America will be accountable before God. This single act is treason within the Kingdom of God and has sent many an otherwise, good community down the road of heartache. To rip an evangelical witness from a neighborhood and leave it church-less … is to leave deep emotional scars, not soon healed.

The first step toward imploding a nation is to divide it.

 

Robbing the Homeless

While pulling into the church parking lot, I noticed 3 young men walking from the back of our property. At a certain point, they began to run, jumped a homeless man, knocking him to the ground and then proceeded to beat and rob him. Midday, a main thoroughfare, a man being kicked, punched and robbed while noon day traffic past by apathetic and indifferent to the crime.

Perhaps the apathy was due to the fact that he was homeless, dressed in handouts and in need of a bath? Perhaps as some say, “it was due to the fear of retaliation?” Perhaps it was a concern for personal harm or injury if one were to get involved? Regardless, a man was hit in the head, three bullies pounding him senseless while the public passed as if he were a dog.

There is a saying, “evil prospers because good men do nothing.” In America we are consumed with a “do nothing” attitude, content to watch as community after community is taken hostage by drugs, alcohol, gambling … criminals who move about the streets with no concern for education or employment. City after city … held hostage by violent groups who coax the young into a satanic circle of drugs and death. Villains who fan the flames of hatred in order to create a powder keg of civil disobedience.

After 60 years of life and 35 years of pastoring, I have discovered an element of humanity who hate peace. Their agenda is to create disturbances, to broadcast the seeds of bitterness. I’ve seen these even within the ranks of a church.

I remember one such meeting of church leaders in which one man looked at another and said, “You care nothing about solving this problem or coming to some sort of consensus. Instead, you would rather throw gas on the fire we are trying to put out.” That deacon who was willing to confront, and who is now with the Lord, stood boldly and counted the cost. A good man doing something.

And there was another such meeting when I was taking a stand against racism. The atmosphere in the gathering was tense, perhaps even threatening. When out of the corner of my eye, stood a 72 year old man. He looked at the men in the room and said, “The next man who talks to my pastor like that again, I will knock your head off.” Good men doing something. I love men and women who make it clear that evil will not be tolerated here.

Law enforcement is discouraged and defeated in many cities across America because if there are good men and women, they are doing nothing. Unlike years ago, when an entire community might become involved in the stopping of a crime, now the masses watch as if the assault were a primetime feature or a video game or worse, they’re videoing the event for YouTube.

It’s funny, as I addressed the 3 thugs (Note: we are told the word “thug” is offensive and should not be used, so I looked up some alternative words for those who may be troubled by my verbiage … “bully, gangster, goon, gorilla, punk, rioter, etc.”) and put my life in danger for the sake of a homeless man, I thought of the attempt of some politicians to limit the 2nd amendment right of an American to “keep and bear arms.” Basically, the strategy of our forefathers was to ensure that future generations would be able to protect themselves in the face of a government run rabid or worse, a government unable to protect her citizens from those who would undermine the values of a society. Let me add, I don’t mind gun control as long as it begins with the politicians. Let all those who seek to limit the constitution, be willing to go about their day without any armed protection.

You see Mr. President , the average citizen is no longer convinced you nor the government can protect them. Let me explain, the call was made and 20 minutes later, the police arrive. The criminals had long since left and were nowhere to be found. These 3 who have put the local public school and its faculty through hell, dropped out and in turn, rejected GED programs, federal aid, grants for college, job corp and instead chose their financial security from the sell of drugs and petty crime are the victims? Young people who chose stealing over study. And even if we do arrest and incarcerate, they are packed away in overcrowded cells until we eventually release them back into the environment they left with no hope of a future.

Oh by the way, we are not innocent and by “we,” I mean The Church. In fact, let me apologize to an anemic government for an anemic church. The followers of Christ today are quick to jump ship, bail out, pack up and “get the heaven out of dodge” I mean, “a transitional,  demographically changing community.” I don’t mind the affluent liquidating their assets and moving to the suburbs, but I do mind when they take their churches with them. Most cities across America are in disarray due to the fact, the Body of Christ left. They forgot that our enemy is territorial and relishes conquest while “those good men I mentioned earlier are doing nothing.” Churches in many cities across America are the skeletal remains of once vibrant ministries and are either sold to the highest bidder (regardless of doctrine) or left to rot to the ground. It gets worse, denominations steer clear because as they say on Shark Tank, there is no MONEY.

Well the sound of a 60 year old pastor who won’t back down can cause 2 to run and the 3rd to eventually follow. The homeless man got up, brushed the grass from his head, teared up and said, “Thank you Brother Jeff.”

I always wondered what the Good Samaritan would have done if he had come up on the crime while in progress? We know that the victim was robbed and beaten. We understand that the Good Samaritan came along and helped by dressing the man’s wounds, loading him on his donkey and taking him to an inn. But what if he had arrived in the middle of the robbery?

 

Hell’s Resolutions

There’s nothing more gratifying than to know the aspirations and intentions of one’s enemy. The ability to out maneuver or outsmart your opponent is a powerful incentive. Last night, during the national championship, Alabama did something that is always a risk but when successful, can wreak havoc to the opposition. Following a successful drive and score, they gambled. Lining up for the kickoff, the crowd watched as the ball dribbled 10 yards and then was recovered by Alabama. The move is known by those familiar with the game as an “on-side kick”. The celebration in the stands and on the sidelines was exuberant except for one person, Nick Saban, the head coach of Alabama. Now let me clarify, he did smile but it was more of a diabolical grin, a sly, conniving expression. My thought was: here are two teams, equal in many ways, both coached by brilliant men and yet one head coach just outsmarted the “coach of the year.”

We (followers of Christ) have an enemy, an opponent who stands across the field of life formulating a game plan … to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10) … us. But suppose we were able to see his playbook. For example, imagine Clemson’s head coach, Dabo Swinney, knowing Saban’s plays and more so, what play he will call before he calls it?

God’s playbook for His team is simple, to train and condition His players into the image of His Son, Jesus. In the Greek, it is the word, hagiosmos (sanctification), the process by which our Creator, the Master Sculptor is chipping away “un-Jesus” stuff from our lives. But what about our opponent? What about his playbook?

Satan has an agenda, his playbook is simple, to counter the above … to run interference on sanctification. This past Sunday, I shared 3 plays or, we could say, 3 resolutions from Hell. What are they?

  1. Sear the conscience. Paul warn us in I Timothy 4:1-2, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” When my wife cooks a roast, she takes the meat and rolls it around in a hot pan until it is golden brown. This act doesn’t cook it, it merely seals in the juices and seals out everything else. In some ways, this is our enemy. He desires to seal some things in 2016: bitterness, unforgiveness, bad attitudes, un-Christ-like behavior, damaging habits, etc. But worse, he wishes to seal some things out … the influence of God’s Word, godly counsel and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. And yet, still deeper, when something is burned (seared), it no longer feels. For example, a friend of mine was in a horrible accident on a backwoods road. He tells of the car exploding in flames and him crawling out into melted asphalt. I still remember hearing his cries at a burn center as they removed the hardened pavement from his hands. Afterwards, he wore gloves because his hands were no longer able to feel, the nerve endings had been destroyed. You see Paul was warning all of us that our enemy, Satan, seeks to sear the conscience, to damage the spiritual nerve endings and thereby lead us to a state of spiritual hardness, apathy, indifference, rebellion and disobedience. How do we sear our conscience, by exposing it to higher and higher levels of sin until it is conditioned to it. Once that occurs, we will see the next resolutions follow quickly.
  2. Silence the Holy Spirit. Paul cautions in I Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” The Greek is often a picture and in this case, the picture is a roaring fire giving off heat and light only to have someone come up and throw a wet blanket and thereby, the fire is quenched. Oh by the way, the someone is you (and yes, I). Keep in mind, that the only product now is a lot of smoke and smoke is an irritant to those around it. Many Christians have become a bellowing cloud of smoke and nothing more. This was and still is, a serious warning from minister to member.
  3. Sorrow the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you are sealed for the day of redemption.” Wow! Think about it, this word carries the idea of, “grief, sorrow, heartache to the heart of God.” If Satan has an agenda it is to bring heartache to God. How? When you and I sear the conscience and silence the Holy Spirit … the sorrow follows.

Conclusion: Well there you have it. Resolutions from Hell, the playbook of your enemy. His game plan for 2016 is pretty simple, Satan would have the child of God sear, silence and sorrow the Holy Spirit so that sanctification is short-circuited. Don’t let him. How? By feeding on a diet of God’s Word in 2016, learn how to use your sword, according to Paul in Ephesians 6, it is the only offensive weapon you have (note Jesus in the Wilderness Temptation). Learn to pray with honest transparency, not flowery ritual but rather “gut wrenching truth” … God can handle it. And finally, get in some kind of group, to maintain a level of accountability. Bottomline, 2016 will probably be whatever you and I resolve to make it.

Chuck Swindoll recounts a story from Billy Graham, in his book, World Aflame. He tells of a “man who was driving an old Ford on a lonely road when it chugged to a stop. He was at a loss about what to do since he didn’t know much about cars. But he got out, put the hood up and began to tap here and there, jiggle this wire and that when he heard the roar of a car coming toward him. As it got closer, he saw it was a brand new Lincoln. And the fellow was nice enough to pull over. He stepped out, walked up and said, “What’s the trouble?” “Oh,” he said, “I can’t get this old Ford to go.” “Well,” replied the Good Samaritan, “let me see.” So he began to tinker inside and asked, “Do you have a screwdriver?” He adjusted something, then got inside, started it right up. “Say, thanks a lot! That’s great. Who are you?” Putting his coat back on, the man said, “Well, I’m Henry Ford. I ought to know a little bit about that car we made.”

Remember, only the creator of life has the knowledge to fix it.

SAP

Each year I challenge our congregation to do inventory, to step back and examine the previous year and in essence, determine if there has been progress in 3 areas. To do this, I use a simple 3 letter word “sap”. Though we all know that sap is the sticky substance found in trees, it also makes for a great acrostic when one is appraising the previous year and projecting goals and aspirations for the new one.

For example, the “s” stands for the spiritual areas of our lives and might include for 2016 a committed daily time in the Bible or an attempt to read through the Bible in a year or less (ex. 90 day Bible). One could be challenged to a more consistent daily discipline of prayer or an accountability group (ex. Life Transformation Group) or a greater involvement in a local church and on and on the list goes.

Harry Emerson Fosdick states, “No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” Resolutions are meant to do just that, focus our lives, get us back on track. Through the spiritual disciplines of our faith, we are able to maintain an intimate fellowship with our creator while gaining a better understanding of the purpose for which He called us. No one can know God’s will, His plan, His purpose for their individual life apart from a consistent daily walk with Christ. You may want to read that sentence again, because undoubtedly, there are multitudes today who think they can know God’s will apart from any effort on their own.

I’ve always been fascinated by Enoch to whom the writer of Genesis says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (Gen.5:34) I love what an old preacher said, “God looked at Enoch and said, ‘Enoch, we’re closer to my house than yours, why don’t you go on home with me.'” Now that’s walking close to God. 

The “s” is merely developing into our lives disciplines just like an athlete would if he were getting ready for a competition. Paul told Timothy in I Timothy 4:8, “For physical exercise is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The greek word for exercise is “gymnasia”. Does that word look familiar? It should, we get our word “gymnasium”. Just as one goes to the gym for physical exercise so too, we must go to God’s gym for spiritual exercise. Where is that gym … in the heart of every believer. Second, where is the equipment to train with? The Bible, prayer, fellowship of a body of believers are the treadmill, the weight bench and the health club by which we are strengthened spiritually.

The “a” stands for academic and implies as the old commercial use to say, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Just as we gain strength physically, we must also gain strength mentally. Think about it, today with iPhones we are able to pull up preachers, speakers and some of the most brilliant minds in the world. For example, I listen to John Lennox, a brilliant mathematician from Oxford University. His insights and knowledge are stimulating and force me to go deep in my understanding of a multiplicity of subjects. A good biography can do the same and can be like a splash of cold water on our faces. My oldest son is reading the life of Theodore Roosevelt and often he will bring up an attribute or characteristic of this man as if to say, “I want that quality in my life.”

What happens when we read the life of great man or woman? Their stories have not only made an indelible mark in history, they can instill within us, a measure of the same qualities that made them great. The danger in the life of a follower of Christ is that the “a” is often relegated to a search on google rather than a quest for wisdom and life experiences. For example, if I were raising young children, the “a” might be to teach a second language to my own kids. Kids learn language fast. If you don’t believe it, just ask a missionary. I would also (as a parent) familiarize myself with science and the readings of men and women who are brilliant apologist and are debating the opponents to our faith. Even pleasure reading is critical.

The “p” stands for physical. And yes, I think I can hear you groaning through my laptop. Why, because, for most of us, this means, stepping on scales, bemoaning the pecan pie and determining to get control of our eating habits. I think this is our mistake, we grapple toward a number on the scale rather than a healthier lifestyle. Maybe instead of saying, “I want to lose weight”, we could say, “I would like to improve my health.” For example, “this year I would like to start walking 3 days a week or eating less fast food or taking fruit to work or drinking more water.” In fact, it sounds more positive, more achievable than a random number on the scale.

It takes courage to honestly and openly look at your life and determine  to do something about those areas you are not happy with (weight, debt, health, knowledge, etc.).

Martin Luther King Jr. stated on one occasion, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations.” I agree, it will take a strong resolve to face those obstacles: barriers such as apathy, indifference or just plain laziness. But listen again to this Nobel Prize winner’s words, “courage is an INNER RESOLVE to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations.” Do you see it?

Well my hope is your SAP runs long and deep all year long.

Ms. Shiela

There are those rare moments in your life when you come across a person to whom you know is a gift from God. I first saw my wife in an adolescent psychology class, she was two chairs behind me in the same row. She was thin with long black hair, extremely shy and constantly hiding behind her hair. In fact, she had a way of allowing her hair to cradle her face like a walled fortress. Long strands hung in such a way, unless you were looking straight into her face, you couldn’t see her at all. I had only one verbal exchange with her in an entire semester of class and as far as I know the only time I heard her speak at all! So if you wonder how I can remember the exchange, now you know.

It was a beautiful spring day, when I made a public declaration, “When I get out of this class, I am going fishing.” The quiet figure who had never said a word and would never say another the rest of the year, responded, “Sounds good to me.”

The next time I would see her would be when I was walking down the hallway and glanced to my right. There she was in the professor’s office, bent over with her head nearly in her lap weeping uncontrollably. I stood there for a moment, gazing through a single pane of glass. I wondered what was wrong but nothing more happened, she went on with her life and I with mine.

The next year I was at MSU and she at Holmes Jr. College. It was fall, my roommate at MS State wanted to go by and see a girl he was dating at HJC. Let me interject here, there are those moments when you sense God is leaning over the banisters of heaven, calling a small entourage of angels to gather as he whispers into eternity, “watch this.”

We (my roommate and I) stopped and soon he was in an argument with his girlfriend and I was content to lean against the car and watch it. Then it happened, the “watch this” happened, I remembered that her roommate was the shy brunette from the year before. So with vested interest now, I played the mediator between my college roommate and his girlfriend, bringing a measure of healing for my own aspirations. Perhaps it was an indication of what I was destined to do with my life, “referee relationships”. I turned to my buddy’s girlfriend and said, “why don’t you ask Shiela if she would like to go to the park?” The Holmes County State Park was close by.

Only one problem,  we would have to wait, she was horseback riding with some friends and one being a guy. I wasn’t worried, after seeing the competition (the cowboy), I had him beat. (Where do you think my boys get their good looks? Just kidding, a little). She agreed but would have to change clothes. I sat in the lobby of her dorm, with the resident mother eyeing me as if I were serial killer. I could still hear the other half of this double date fighting softly.

I can still see her when she entered the lobby, her head not bent over but held high, her hair not straight but waves, each of which, framed the most beautiful smile ever given. (It is strange but not only do my daughters have that smile, my daughter-in-laws too!) There was something about her that was radically different, her countenance was captivating, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. What was it? I saw someone, someone I hadn’t seen the year before.

We loaded up in my 1974 Ford Maverick, all my gear was in the back seat because the lock on the trunk was broke. Crowded into the front and she nearly in my lap, I was in heaven. Once at the park, our companions went to spar and we went to spark. Old folks call it “spark” I never knew what they meant until that night because sparks were flying. At a certain moment as we walked toward the swings, I motioned with my hand for her to take it. I remembered that hebrew word of Adam when God introduced him to Eve, “Wow”.

She would later tell me about the change in her personality and more so, her friend, Karen who introduced her to Christ. Karen had told this widow of 19 (Shiela) who’s life was tragically spiraling out of control that she had a friend who could help her. “His name is Jesus.” Such a simple name but that night Shiela after her conversation with Karen returned to her dorm, knelt by her bed and invited The King of Kings into her life. She said to me, “Karen had a smile that I envied and longed for and when I got up the next morning, I had that smile.” And since then, that smile has reflected the love of God in a most quiet humble spirit as only a true saint of God can. I have seen people of all walks of life from the villages of Africa to the remnants of churches in Europe, from orphans to the homeless be drawn to the one who authors that smile and lives within her, Jesus.

Often Shiela when sharing her testimony will make the statement, “we are all filthy rags at the foot of the cross”, meaning we are all on an even plane as we stand (no one sinner better or worse than the other) at the foot of the cross, covered in filthy rags and in need of a savior. Why, because at 19 she was a widow, her life in bondage to her past, in desperate need of cleansing and healing. The world had abused her but Christ would save her. He would then in the quietness of a single life, ripped by those who had taken advantage of her, place in her heart, the one who would protect her.

Shiela is not a domineering presence but a quiet unobtrusive embodiment of Christ. She loves people and builds ministry without drawing attention to herself. When many women of our modern day, lead their husbands, correcting them, pulling them about as if on a chain, she is content to follow. Shiela cares nothing about building her own ministry, or a spiritual reputation, or for that matter, a legacy, she is content to allow Christ to do so. She like John The Baptist is comfortable with “He (Jesus) increasing and she decreasing.” There are women today who put before them, strong authoritative women, those who strain for the accolades of their followers, those who lead the latest conference or ministry, women who build up their own ego and self worth by tearing down others, discrediting doctrines that have been held sacred by the church or worse ripping apart His bride, The Church. And if it couldn’t get worse, they elevate the person at the foot of the cross (themselves) into someone not so bad thereby cheapening the one who hangs before them with such blasphemous rhetoric. To lift the one in need of salvation is to lessen the worth of the one who gives it. Paul makes it clear, without Christ we are a rotting dead corpse covered in the grave clothes of religion and our own self worth.

If there were ever a creature who understands the one who kneels at the foot of the cross in need of salvation it is Shiela.

Her roommate once said irritated by her new found relationship and joy, “you two (she meant you and Jeff) could live on an island and be perfectly content.” But I would disagree, after knowing Shiela for nearly 40 years, the “two” is not she and I but rather she and Jesus Christ. She is the purest woman I know on the earth and definitely the most humble. Let me repeat, in my nearly 60 years of life, I have known a lot of men and women around the world but no one like her.

She often refers to me as “her gift from God”. By this she means that she was a brand new Christian with little in the way of support and protection. A widow with deep hurt and baggage and no one to protect her. I told one of my sons one time, that God sometimes gives a man what I term “a broken piece of grace” by that I mean, a woman who has come to Christ, been abused by others and in need of protection. I have never regretted that role.

One day we were in the middle of an argument, standing in the kitchen, she said to me, “maybe you would have been better off had you never met me.” I took her face into my hands (I was struggling with her past), looked into tear filled eyes and said, “never say that to me again, you were worth the hurt.” Ladies, listen had she dismissed her past, excused her past, made it less than it was in an attempt to diminish her own guilt or hurt … it would have increased mine. Jesus takes our filthy rag covered lives, strips away the raiment, covers us in his robes of righteousness, takes our face in his hands and says, “you are worth the hurt”.

Zechariah 3:3, “Now Joshua (the name means salvation comes from the Lord and alludes to Christ) was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes. Then he said to Joshua, See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” My friend, his filthy raiment, that sin was not his own but yours and mine, to say or think any differently is to slander His atoning sacrifice.

Shiela thank you, I love you.

In Christ, Jeff

 

 

Ending well

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Would you agree, it is easier to begin something rather than to finish it? We start a diet, a budget, a book, a fitness program, a One Year Bible, a marriage, a child, etc … we love to begin something but find it difficult to complete it. Maybe it’s just our nature to enjoy starting something but finding it agonizingly difficult to complete it.

To be honest, I think our enemy (satan) capitalizes on this. He loves this about our fallen nature. I picture Lucifer relishing the emotions we experience when we fail to finish. Think about it, you feel worse than you did when you started. Is that not true? The devil rides your back, telling you “how worthless you are” and in time he causes you to quit before you ever start. And if he can get you on this roller coaster long enough … you stop “beginning”. You refuse to start for fear of the finish. In fact, here is a truth: The devil delights in those who not only freeze up before the finish but those who freeze up before the start.

Over 2 years ago, I began a journey to walk around every state capital 7 times and pray for the leadership of each state and our nation. Though I felt a sense of calling, a divine unction, I also thought, this is strange … me? I am an unlikely candidate. However with that said, this past Sunday, I completed the journey. I finished  … as Paul said in II Timothy 4: 7, “I finished the race”. 

Now if I remember, the last time I wrote my blog, I was sitting in Wyoming with the finish line in sight … Cheyenne, Wyoming, Denver, Colorado and then home. So I got up the following morning, went to breakfast and realized yet another lesson in life … a Bible on a table can both attract and repel “would be conversation”. By this I mean, sometimes it draws conversation but other times it can repel it. I felt like a leper. I just wanted to leave. I was tired and ready to get home and slightly hurt over the prejudicial treatment.

I drove hard, not stopping for lunch, trying to get to Cheyenne and walk the capital before the rain. God was good and I managed to do just that with little interruption. I walked in Cheyenne and was back in my truck and on to Denver. The clouds were luminous and my prayers were little more than a plea, “Oh God, please don’t let it rain in Denver.” You see rain draws a lot more attention; stares from both those who have taken cover as well as security. But I was not to be so lucky, the wind was blowing and the rain was falling.

Let me say, I had often wondered over the last couple of years, what it would be like to come to the last lap?  What would my emotions be as I walked the last capital … would I cry … or just be relieved that it was over?

In Denver I came around the capital on my 6th lap … ready to experience whatever emotion would be unleashed when out steps onto the sidewalk two Fox News reporters. I thought, “perhaps they have heard of my journey and want to chronicle my final lap.” But that was not the case. Instead, they just happened to be there … interviewing anyone who walked by as to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Specifically they wanted to know, do people have the right to use their cellphones to video law enforcement. So there I was on my final lap of this long journey, a pilgrimage of over 30,000 miles … 50 state capitals and Washington D.C. … being interviewed by Fox News.

Honestly, I felt like this was a divine appointment, an opportunity for the Kingdom of God. I stood there with my Bible under my arm and a cap that read in large bold letters SACRIFICE and below it … the passage from John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And for the next few moments, I lifted up Christ. After they finished the official interview, we continued to talk, giving me the opportunity to share further about Christ and the need of our nation. The clouds were giving way to the sun as I finished the conversation and was about to start my last lap. One of the two men seemed to be moved by our conversation. He looked at me, shook my hand and said (his eyes looked teary), “thank you”. He then handed me his business card. I finished, got into my truck and as I did so, looked at the card only to notice his first name, ANGEL. To me in that moment, I felt as if I had looked into the face of a heavenly messenger and in some way … heard the voice of God, saying, “thank you for being obedient.” I left Denver and headed home.

However, the adventure wasn’t over … the drive was horrific … bumper to bumper traffic and then a storm unleashed that was unlike few I have seen in my lifetime. My phone twice sounded with a warning “Flood Alert”. In my opinion, it was as if … all hell had broken loose. I have never in my 58 years of life seen a sky like that. I drove at a snail’s pace and watched a storm unravel as I prayed.

Because home was on my radar, I had made the decision to keep driving until I tired. I made my way south out of Denver and on to Colorado Springs. It was then that I noticed the colors of a rainbow … they were  not in the normal arch that stretches across the horizon but rather looked twisted and distorted … rolled into somewhat of a ball. I knew the rainbow was a promise but in this case, the sky seem to be saying something else. Was this judgment? Was this a sign to repent or perish? Was this a promise or a statement to me as I closed out this journey? I don’t know. I have not put any pictures on this blog but this was one I decided to allow you to see and come to your own conclusion. I hope somehow it will do justice to what I saw.

I left and drove over a 1000 miles that day … from a small town just across the Montana-Wyoming line to a truck stop in Amarillo, Texas. I slept from 2:00 am till about 5:30 am and then got back on the road. Adrenalin and the thought of home, ice tea and Shiela’s cooking pushed me ever south and east. I got home about 6 in the evening. I slipped up to a window and could see Shiela sitting at the dining room table absorbed in paying bills. I watched her for a moment and then finally tapped on the window. She wasn’t expecting me so my face in the window took her a moment to process. She got up, ran through the kitchen and out the door, crying. I was home.

Since getting home, I’ve had time to reflect and perhaps come to some conclusions about life and journeys. And, if you’ll allow to do so, I’d like to return to the conversation at the beginning of this blog. You see, I think we often fail to finish because of how we look when we do. Let me explain, at the start of a race, the runners are clean, hair and in the case of women, even make-up but the finish looks different. Sweat has erased all of the previously mentioned, the hair is disheveled and the face is contorted in often grotesque images. You see the same is true of us, we finish but not as we had hoped we’d look. Our finishes in life seem to be less than desirable … clumsy, ugly, sweaty, bloody … instead of looking like a movie star crossing the line, we look more that of a homeless man on a street corner. No doubt when Paul uttered those words “I have finished my course” … he was wasted by disease, beatings, poor diet, prison. He was most assuredly, a sight.

Jesus said those words as well from the cross, “It is finished”. Beaten and broken, bloodied and scarred … he cried out to God, The Father, “mission accomplished”. I think we often refuse to begin something because we are either afraid we won’t be able to finish it or how we’ll look when we do.

Let’s take marriage, today it is an unpopular institution … discarded by many in our society and for others merely a contract that can easily be gotten out of. Lines like, “for better or worse, richer or poor, sickness and in health, till death do us part” are sweet and old fashion … sounding nostalgic but not applicable to our modern day. In other words, to make it to the finish in a marriage seems “story book” stuff. But after 36 years of marriage, it too is like a journey. Forgive me but sometimes you weather marriage, you survive the battles, you endure the storms, you fight to stay together. And in the end … when one or the other dies … you hold their hand … knowing that a part of you is dying as well.

But you finished.

Through the years, I’ve sat with countless senior adults who after burying a spouse of 50 plus years would sit and share their memories … the joys and sorrows of the relationship. In the midst of their recollection, they disclose difficult times. And in those moments, I ask, “did you ever think of quitting?” Often they just sit for a moment as if they are really thinking about that thought … and then with a wrinkled smile and eyes of innocence respond, “no, that wasn’t an option, you didn’t quit back then.” They saw their marriage like their children … I can’t get out of this … I’m in it to the end. I would push for more information, “How did you do it?”  Their response, “By the grace of God”. Note: For those who have been beaten up in marriage and have now found love … be committed to the end.

The same is true of parenting, the child who stepped on your toes as a toddler … in time, is ripping your heart out as a teenager. And yet, you battle to finish … why … because the cost of giving up … is greater. You can’t take a child back … they are yours for life … their DNA, their looks, their adoption papers … are clearly marked, “no refunds, no exchanges, no returns.”  A parent can’t stop parenting … can’t stop praying (“men ought always to pray and never give up” Luke 18:1) … we must keep fighting to the finish … clawing our way to the line. Why? Because there is much at stake … the life of your child and maybe more, the soul of your child and even more … generations you will never see.

I have seen parents on their deathbed, weep one last time for the soul of a wayward child. I remember one precious saint, who, left a letter for her family, all of which was intended to “turn them to Christ”. Her final plea … the cry of her heart … her sprint to the finish was for the soul of her children and grandchildren.

To finish … to end a journey … to cross the line … to see two elderly figures still together after a turbulent relationship … to see a middle aged prodigal walking with Christ … is to finish well. Is it always pretty, no, not necessarily … but neither were some of the great men and women of scripture.

I want to challenge you … to begin something. Don’t let the enemy cower you down with fear or your own inabilities or even how ugly … the finish may be. Just do it. Start a diet, a book, a class, a mission, a journal, a One Year Bible.

Teach a class of children … pour your heart and soul into them.

Take on a senior adult group who are often forgotten by both their family and society.

Go on a mission trip to a place you’ve never gone before. Read a classic. Learn a language. Memorize scripture. Decide to tithe. Learn to give sacrificially.

Go on a journey to a place you’ve never gone before … AND LIVE LIFE.


Just rest son

Sometimes Shiela has to remind me what day of the week it is or the correct time. Last time I blogged, I was spending the night in Seattle and yes, I was “sleepless in Seattle”. My night was spent on a vinyl bench in the children’s play area of the airport. I woke up the next morning at 4:00 am, stumbled to McDonalds which opened at 4:30, got coffee and made my way to the terminal for the next leg of my journey. I’ve never been to Alaska nor flown Alaskan Airlines, so I was excited and if I were honest, a little nervous. I arrived in Juneau (Alaska’s capital) at about 7:30 am to a dreary, rainy day.

Note: Thank you Haley who served as a summer missionary in Juneau and was familiar with the city and where to book me a room. The shuttle took me to my hotel but again, I have to admit, the weather made it somewhat depressing. Well anyway, I wanted to attend the FBC Juneau so I got to my room, showered, shaved, ironed my jeans which I had been wearing since the morning I left Honolulu and went to the bus stop. Let me say, It’s always been funny to me how people all of the world perceive a southerner. No matter where I have lived or been, one thing is certain, people usually smile and comment when I open my mouth.

However, the bus driver was not impressed with my “ya’ll” and told me when I ask her as to which stop I needed to get off at, that she did not announce stops and I would just have to be watching … but she ended up having mercy and delivered me right to the door of the church. I guess I looked pitiful to her.

The church had about 40 to 50 or so in attendance, so you can imagine when a stranger arrives. But with that said, I was home. You see, regardless of church, denominational tag, or whatever, when I am among the redeemed … I am with family and I usually act as if I am. I had an opportunity to meet the pastor before the service began and was ask to lead in prayer in the service. After the service and visiting with my new friends, I ate with the pastor and his wife. Let me say, they were and are my heroes and were precious saints of God. As we sat eating Halibut (a fish they insisted I eat while I was in Alaska), they opened up further about the pastor’s battle with cancer and the struggles at that moment. I did what I love to do … ENCOURAGE.

We sat at the table and rejoiced around our Lord and I shared the numerous testimonies of healing that I have seen through the years. The experience in that little restaurant was something I will always cherish. At a certain point, the pastor’s wife said, “The Lord sent you.” Wow! I thought, “I am the one being blessed here.” But isn’t that what it is all about. Once again, I realized the value of this journey and more so, the lives that have been touched.

They showed me around town and a small business they share with their daughter … to supplement their income. Afterwards, they dropped me off at the capital. I felt as they drove off, I was saying good bye to some dear friends, I had known for a lifetime.

Their work stirred my heart and so convicted me as I walked around the capital in a pouring down rain … I began immediately to correspond with members back at Southside. I was texting statements such as “we must come here”“there is a great need”. You see the pastor and his wife had shared with me the enormous need for groups to come especially during VBS. As I walked the streets, I could see the need for a powerful Student led revival team to come and spend a week. I wept as I tried to talk with Shiela about the work there.

The weather was wet even for Juneau and the locals made it clear that this was some of the worse they had seen in years. Many commented that it was strange for August and yet I knew “it was par for the course”. I’ve seen a lot of strange things on this journey. Often there has been a clear manifestation of the enemy in the area of storms and peculiar weather. For those that have trouble believing that last statement … look at how often the Lord had to quiet storms.

Let me also say, only God could plan for me to arrive at both Hawaii and Alaska right before their elections and horrible weather. That’s right, just like Hawaii, Alaska was having upcoming elections! God’s timing is always right.

I spent two days walking over the city of Juneau … praying and seeing a great opportunity to join with this minister and his congregation. I hope some of you are already praying over the possibility.

The next afternoon, I was back in the airport, looking at zero visibility and clouds so low … I could have sworn … they were touching my head when I came into the building. I don’t mind flying on beautiful sunny days but when it’s raining, stormy or low visibility … when you fly through clouds and can’t see … I’m not necessarily thrilled to leave the ground.

Well anyway, I got on the plane with 3 Hail Mary’s (just kidding) and was seated next to a gentleman about my age who seem to enjoy talking. I didn’t want to talk … In fact, I wanted to say, “sir, can’t you see that we’re (me and the pilot) are dealing with here.  The pilot needs me to look and make sure “nothing is coming” … there are a lot of little planes on that tarmac and a lot of them are taking off and landing. This isn’t the Disney movie, Planes, this is for real.”

This man needed to leave me alone and let me quietly worry-pray. Oh, don’t act so pious … you know what I mean. The pilot had already said, “folks this weather requires we exercise certain protocol and fly out of here a certain way.” My worry-prayer was in full operation.

But my God is great ALL THE TIME. Finally though I was still convinced that the pilot needed me to look out the window and help him in some small way … I had no choice but to engage this man in a conversation.

Let me share that conversation with you.

I introduced myself and then ask, “what do you do?”

He looked at me, smiled real big (He looked just like my niece’s son Brady as a grown man) and said, “I am a pilot for Fed-Ex, been flying all my life.”

He continued, becoming more animated, “Boy, I love this plane, this is one of the best planes made, this plane has all kinds of safety features. This plane is used to fly back and forth to Hawaii.”

He explained the pilot’s every move and why. This man was having a ball. Then he pulled out a half dozen papers and settled back until they began to serve the meals. Airplane meals are now purchased. He whispered, “get the shepherd’s pie, it’s good”. He was right, it was excellent. He again sat back and read his papers.

God put me next to a pilot who could tell me everything I needed to know about this plane; who had been flying these planes all his life; all over the world!

As he sat reading his paper and I sitting quietly there next to the window, there was such a presence of the Lord. In fact, I found myself leaning into the window and quietly tearing up at the loving care of our God. You see, I was looking at breath taking scenes and what was now a gorgeous day.

You see the pilot had said, “folks, once were out of this, you are in for a treat, this is a beautiful day to fly.” He explained where we were, what we were seeing and how blessed we were to fly on such a day. Oh by the way, when I got on the plane, I was slightly irritated because I had ask for a aisle seat. God said, “No, give the boy a window seat.” Jesus upgraded my seat … gave me plenty of leg room and put me next to a veteran pilot.

Why did I cry? Because once I knew this man was my brother in Christ; he could read his papers and for the first time in all this traveling … I could feel the Lord saying to me, “Let me show you something.” You see, pretty much throughout this journey, I have given myself to others but it was as if the Lord was next to me saying “rest son and look at what I have created.” Mountains were just below my feet and each looked as if they had been dusted with snow … rivers were everywhere … channeling their way through chasms that our creator had whittled long ago. And when I got tired of looking down, I looked up at the bluest blue and a sunset dropped from heaven. Again, I leaned my tired head against the window and tears flowed. “Just rest son.”

Well I got to Seattle and spent the night in a comfortable room. After a good night’s sleep, I was up and on the road. This time I was heading to Helena, Montana. “Boy, Montana gives Texas a run for their money. It is big!” I traveled part of the way, spent the night in Missoula, Montana and was up early the next morning … heading to Helena. I walked the capital and then headed toward a small town just across the Wyoming-Montana border. The scenery is unbelievable.

I told Shiela, it has been hard, I am tired and lonely and my stomach has grown weary of restaurant food.

However, I did get out this evening and walk the streets of the small town where I am staying. I walked by a liquor store and prayed. A man came out, handed his purchase to the passenger and then turned and looked at me and began to curse me. I was praying silently. This was … as has often been the case … spiritual warfare.

Well I need to close. My a/c in my room is not working well and the dryer quit on my clothes … so they are scattered all over the room … hanging everywhere … drying. Tomorrow I am on my way to Cheyenne, Wyoming and then on Denver, Colorado (my last capital) and yes, I am crying as I write this. I told Shiela, “I will make my 7 laps around Colorado’s capital and then I will drop to my knees and cry and worship!” I care nothing for who may see me at that point nor what anyone says. I told Shiela these last two nights have been so difficult … he (satan) has unleashed his arsenal but my life will never be the same because of this journey.

I have discovered in this journey something I have always known but has become even clearer … We serve a great and awesome God who has proven Himself SUPERNATURALLY time and time again throughout this journey … His majesty and power. He has been there … through the little things as well as the big. I cannot begin to tell you the glorious demonstration and his divine intervention on numerous occasions from capital to capital. Tonight I want to say to all of you … I LOVE JESUS AND YES HE IS REAL AND ALIVE.

No doubt, just as Mary grabbed Peter’s weathered face in her trembling hands and locked her eyes with his and said HE’S ALIVE! PETER, HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Same old Jeans

There are those moments when what you have been called to do … is severely tested. Never forget that. Our enemy is not a cheerleader for those in the will of God nor does he relish our obedience to Christ … instead he unleashes everything in his arsenal … to turn us around. Jesus said it well, “no man builds a tower or goes to war that he does’t first count the cost.”

As many of you know, I spent Tuesday night at a truck stop. If you haven’t read my last blog, you won’t understand this next part. Remember, I mentioned that I had tried to stay in a church parking lot but ended up at a truck stop across the interstate … because I felt more welcomed among truckers than I did church folks.  I slept well in my truck and then proceeded to Olympia, Washington. Afterwards, I stayed in a hotel near the airport … where I was able to get cleaned up and ready for the next leg of my journey … Honolulu. I had found a round trip flight for $508 and had booked it Tuesday night. Shiela (who has not been with me at any point in this journey but has been my biggest encourager) and I had planned on keeping it quiet. I wanted to tell the congregation in the sermon on August 17 as somewhat of a “surprise”.

However, that was not to work out as planned when I heard that Wednesday night that 2 hurricanes were aimed straight toward Hawaii. I must admit as I sat there watching the weather channel till midnight … I was worried. I decided to keep the news from Shiela. I got up the next morning, went to Seattle’s airport and had hardly got in the door when the woman assisting me with my ticket looked as if she were about to cry and responded, “those poor people in Hawaii.” Her look of death made me feel she was related to the grim reaper. If that wasn’t bad enough … when I was walking through the terminal … two women looked visibly shaken, one was on her cell phone while the other was asking, “what’s wrong?” She said, “there are 2 hurricanes heading toward Hawaii and now an EARTHQUAKE?” Then someone else said, “that’s not all, a volcano is threatening to erupt.”

My flight was to arrive at the exact time the hurricane was to hit. I had no choice, I needed to let Shiela know. I called her and became a little emotional and told her of my concern and yet the peace I had as to this flight being God’s will. I told her to alert everyone to pray but not to call me. I wanted no emotional exchanges nor any attempt to try to talk me out of it. The only exception was Emily who called to tell me, “I was going to have another granddaughter.” I ask her to name the child “Jeffrene” in my honor just in case, I didn’t make it … just kidding.

Let me say, God had spoken so clearly … if I did not go, it would be a clear act of disobedience. I know my enemy, I’ve been waging war with him a long time. Shiela and I prayed and I assured her, I would return. My concern was not so much the flight but “how could I walk the capital in a hurricane”. Remember, in Tallahassee, Florida … I walked the capital in the remnants of a hurricane with a white rain poncho on and my Bible by my side. I could do it again, if I had to but yet, I was anxious. This would be the full brunt of a hurricane.

Donald Gray Barnhouse once said in a sermon to a Presbyterian Church in Atlanta (I have the message on a cassette tape/he was preaching on Jonah and was about to speak about Jonah’s being swallowed by a fish and vomited on the shore near Nineveh), He said, “I feel sorry for some of you, you have a small God, He’s impotent and unable to do much.” He went on to say, “My God can pick up a fish in the Pacific, put wings on him and fly over to Atlanta, swallow this entire church with all of us in it and deliver us to shores of England, that’s my God.” Wow!

My God spoke to me and calmed me as only He can do.  I was shaving the next morning when a pastor on TV was preaching a message on honoring and obeying your parents. He stated, “let me put it this way, this passage has a promise … it will go well with you and you will live a long life. Now let me explain it this way, YOUR PLANE WON’T FALL OUT OF THE SKY.” Needless to say, I had a small worship service in my hotel room. That wasn’t the only supernatural, miraculous thing to confirm my flight … not with the airline but with me.

So Thursday, I boarded a fairly crowded plane … committed myself to be a blessing and did exactly that. A elderly woman was in front of me … I could see the concern on her face. I told her what I was doing and that I would finish next week. I felt like Paul when he told the captain of a ship he was on in Acts, “no life will be lost”. She ask, “why now?” I answered, “God said so.” She looked and said, “you don’t know?” I said, “Know what?” She responded, “Our elections are Saturday.” I looked at her as we boarded, smiled and said, “well undoubtedly the enemy doesn’t want me there.”

I walked down the aisle of the plane and a man said out loud, “It is good to see the Word on this plane.” (I was holding my Bible as I boarded). I went to my seat where a 9 year old little girl was compressed against the window, curled up in a ball. The flight attendant came by and said, “she’s traveling alone.” My thought was, “not anymore.” We had a 3 row seat with the middle seat empty. Once again, I knew what God was doing, “take care of her, son regardless of what happens on this flight.” I did. By the time we arrived in Honolulu, the flight attendant said, “I bet, you’re a great grandfather.”

The little girl slept much of the trip but across the aisle from me was a 52 year old widow who was on her way home after visiting with her grown children. Because she was from Hawaii, I thought I would get her input as to what to expect when I arrived and the best way to get to my hotel. Before long, she was pouring her heart out and at times with tears. I shared with her for 2 hours the love of Christ, challenging her to sell out to Him … while we talked … others listened. There is no doubt, she will walk with the Lord in the days ahead.

You remember that BIG GOD Barnhouse spoke about … Well, He was busy while I was busy … rearranging hurricanes as if they were furniture. The hurricane had been delayed and would not arrive at the islands until about 1:00 am. (about 4 hours after I flight landed). And all God’s people said, “Amen”. I got to Honolulu, found a shuttle which was much cheaper than a Taxi and once again had the opportunity to talk about Christ with the driver who was a believer. We fellowshipped while the rest listened in.

It was late when I got to my room and I must admit that I considered trying to walk the 4 miles immediately before the hurricane made landfall … but I chose not to. I got up the next morning to unbelievable wind and rain. The wind never died but the rain became intermittent which caused me to decide to chance it and start walking toward the capital. (The walk to the capital was 4.1 miles each way … a taxi driver said he would charge me $30 one way! Thirty dollars for 4.1 miles to a man who runs 3 miles everyday … not hardly. I wrapped my Bible in plastic and headed off toward the capital which resulted in a 10 plus mile walk. When I arrived at downtown Honolulu … I found the capital and began to make my laps, praying and seeking God’s council as to how to pray. The folks at the bus stop were getting a kick out of this man walking in the rain lap after lap. I was soaked and yet to be honest … spent more time singing then I did praying. I felt God wanted worship around the capital. So it is pouring down rain … wind is howling … and I’m singing. Again the folks at the bus stop were entertained.

I finished my time and left the capital in pouring down rain, heading back toward the hotel. I met a homeless man and then remembered I had not taken my picture of the capital. So here I go … several blocks back just to take a single picture with my phone. Now some probably thought I was really crazy.

Today, I left Honolulu at 7:50 am and flew to Los Angeles and then after a 2 hour layover … flew on to Seattle. The flights were quiet … the first with an Asian woman who kept her ear buds in and stayed to herself and the second one with a young African American who did the same. However, in the case of this young man as we approached Seattle, I began to sense a strong urge to put my hand on his shoulder and say, “God wants to do something great with you.” By the stuff he was watching on his laptop and the music he was listening to … I didn’t see such a statement as relevant to his life.

However, toward the end of the flight, I said those words. He looked at me as if ice cold water had been thrown in his face. Eyeball to eyeball, he said, “I am searching right now and have studied the religions of the world and I keep coming back to Christianity as if God is going to use me.” I spoke to him about the credibility of the scripture and power of the gospel. He is a believer. I recommended Mars Hill and told him … don’t let anyone including the devil discouraged him. Then I put my hand on his shoulder again and said,

    “The next great revival to come to America may come by way of the African American and you may be the instrument God choses to use.” I squeezed his shoulder as Paul might have done with Timothy and we parted ways. But in that moment, I felt the strong presence of the Lord as if He were saying, “This is the reason you came here.”

    Tonight I am sitting in the Seattle airport, waiting to catch an early morning flight (6:30 am) to Juneau, Alaska. I have a whole terminal to myself. No I don’t, the guard just told me, I have to leave the area. Oh well.

    I must admit, I did want to go down to the parking lot and visit my Toyota. I love all of you. Good night.

    In Christ, Brother Jeff

    P.S. The title is due to the fact, I only have one pair of jeans with me and what few clothes I have are in my small back pack. Pray I don’t smell too bad … I plan on worshipping with a congregation there in Juneau tomorrow.