Friday, November 25, 2016

Simply Thanks

The quiet, serene day, mildly cool with a deep blue sky, and the emptiness of the normally busy street in front of my house made for a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday. Having lit the fire on the grill which would soon be adorned with 10 Cornish game hens, I enjoyed the peace of the moment. Normally at 10 am, I'd be working to build a 5 pm newscast, and sifting through emails hoping to book a guest for the next show. However, today was different. No ringing phone, no last minute production orders, no deadlines, and no stress.

Nope. Today was different. Today was simple. As the flames died down and the charcoal ashed over, I had little to worry about other than these birds being placed on the grill. It might take an hour to cook them, it might take more. No worries. If they took longer than expected, we'd just have lunch a little later. If the kids became hungry waiting, we had an array of snacks to tide them over.

The kids were happy, enjoying several rousing games of Uno, playing Minecraft on their tablets, or showing Papa Benjamin their latest achievements. Life was good.

It's at this time I remembered just how blessed I am. These Cornish game hens were seasoned with a new blend, and Jessica had an array of sides lined out. Today's meal was more than a family meal. It was an adventure, an exploration of new flavor, a new experience altogether. Most people in the world are denied such privilege.

My brick home, heated to just the right temperature, would provide the perfect setting for the holiday meal. My father-in-law would sit with us, having recovered from a tragic accident a year before to be able to spend this time with us.

And best of all, no stress. No deadlines. No hurry. Just relax, check the grill, and enjoy the day.

I hope your day went just as well, but if not, take heart. God's will is not for you to struggle through a never-ending series of heartbreaks, pains, and defeats. God uses those things to form you, but he never intends on keeping you there.

In Exodus 15, God led the Israelites to Marah, so named because the waters there were bitter, and undrinkable. As the Israelites complained about the water, God showed a tree to Moses to cast into the waters to make them sweet. Then, He led the Israelites to Elim, where there were 12 wells of good water.

I tell you that to tell you this. Sometimes, you find yourself in a place of bitterness. That happens in life, but like God moved the Israelites to Elim, He never intends to keep you in bitterness. He can make the bitter sweet, and then move you to an oasis.

Keep trusting Him, and shift your focus from the bitterness to the things that are good in life. This is a practice that has taken years for the Lord to teach to me, and He'll teach you as well, if you let him.

For the transformation that God has worked in my life, and for the continuing transformation taking place, I say, simply, thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Can Reality Come Between A Man, and Christ?


"Hi, I'm at Lifeway. Want anything?" My wife asked over the phone after attending one of my oldest daughter's basketball games.

"Absolutely! If they have The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan, pick it up!" I replied. She did. And over the past day and a half, I have been in reading heaven.

I first discovered Andrew Klavan by accident. Someone had linked to one of his videos on Facebook. Klavan's most recent incarnation is that of a political pundit on The Daily Wire. His daily podcast mixes satire with politics and current events. Klavan, without being risque or rude, says what we really think, and turns the turmoil of today's political corruption into a daily sitcom. The first video I watched, a rapid fire assault on the ridiculousness of the boycott on North Carolina due to their bathroom law, said essentially everything I thought about the controversy, only in a more entertaining way. 

Andrew Klavan
If I had only known Klavan for his political commentary, I'd have been a fan. However, a few weeks after I discovered him, Klavan released his new book, The Great Good Thing. The book is Klavan's story of growing from a secular Jew to a believer in Jesus Christ. The title, premise and author were enough to sell me on the book, but Klavan's commentary on his book, offered on a series of TV interviews and podcasts I found on YouTube, enticed me even more. 

During those interviews, Klavan discussed his search for the truth, his never-ending self-assessment of his motivations, and ultimately how he came to believe the truth, and to show his conversion via a Protestant baptism. 

So, as soon as Jessica returned home with the book, I opened it to the introduction. Introducing the premise of the book, Klavan discussed his struggle with converting to Christianity. Among other things (doubt as to his motivation, family heritage, etc), Klavan discussed his love for life, his fascination with the things of this world, and his attraction to what is real. 

Klavan discussed how, during his struggle with converting to Christianity, he feared he would lose touch with reality. Already well-known for writing thrillers, murder mysteries, and TV shows, Klavan was concerned that his writing would drift toward softer stories, like a little girl whose bunny turns up missing but miraculously returns. While this may seem silly to some, Klavan understood the gritty nature of the real world around us, and he didn't want to be converted to a fruit-loop with his head in the clouds when he converted to Christianity. (My words, not his). 

To a degree, I can understand his concern. Working in the news business, and political talk radio, I see every day the effects of sin on this world. I read and research news stories about kids who kill their parents, parents who kill or torture their children, politicians who carelessly leave America's finest to die while they plan their next fundraiser, and the devastating effects avarice and lust have on this society. 

Being a minister of God's Word, I've had to counsel with the teenage girl 'abused' by her father, the child who witnessed his/her father nearly murder his/her stepmother, the teenager whose been left homeless, the kid abandoned by both parents, the war veteran living with PTSD, and the family living in extreme poverty.

These experiences propel me to do battle. This is a Spiritual war that can only be won by proclaiming God's word, confronting evil, and honoring your responsibilities. It's the kind of battle that you cannot win by saying "too blessed to be stressed." Such pithy sayings, in my opinion, are a disengagement of the Spiritual battle we face, and constitute living in denial. Sure, God is good all the time. Sure, God holds us in the palm of His hand. Sure, God is in control. However, God not only gave us the capability to join His cause and battle on His behalf, but has also called us to do so. 

As a result, I lack the polished appearance, speech and demeanor many pastors have. (And they use that demeanor as an armor they wear into the Spiritual battle.)

So, when Klavan feared that he would lose his edge, his understanding of reality upon conversion, I understand where he is coming from. Furthermore, I find it interesting that his understanding of the Christian nature was one where reality is denied, and people keep their heads in the clouds. Have we as Christians put forth an image of softness, denial, and rose-colored glasses? If so, that's a shame. 

We have been put on this earth to shine God's light, to spread His Gospel, to visit the orphans and widows, and to feed His sheep. That process involves standing against evil, and from time to time, beating away the wolves. 

Life is a gift. It's wonderful, fun and interesting. It's also hard, gritty, dirty, and deadly. We need to engage the reality around us, and rescue those who are perishing. The lost around us need to know that we can help, and that we can speak true wisdom into their lives, not just quote "God's Little Instruction Book."

May God bless you as you do the Lord's work. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

We're Still in the Starting Blocks

I'll admit it. Even though I did not vote for Trump, nor did I ever feel any confidence in his candidacy, I did breathe a sigh of relief when Pennsylvania turned red, and Fox News called the Presidential election in his favor.

I'm still not confident in his future administration, and I do not feel that Christianity has won a huge victory. I am, however, relieved that Hillary Clinton did not win the election. At least now, there's a chance (a small chance) that the next round of Supreme Court justices will be friendly toward religious liberty. There is a chance that the executive branch of government might back off churches and para-church organizations. It's possible, but not guaranteed.

All that said, many of my Christian friends are actively celebrating this election. Seeing the nation outright reject a pro-abortion, anti-religion, anti-Second Amendment candidate is reassuring. It tells us our nation may not be too far gone. However, seeing this victory as a win for Christianity might amount to counting the chickens before they're hatched.

It's easy to look at an election win and think that things are okay, or that they're even getting better. However, elections do not effect change in the hearts of people, and if we are to see America truly come alive, it'll take more than a Trump victory to make that happen.

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah notes that he saw the vision of the Lord, high and lifted up on His throne in the Temple, in the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah was a Godly king who restored a certain level of greatness to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Despite his sin that led to his untimely death, hs is regarded as a king who did right in the sight of God. Upon his death, his son Jotham became king. Jotham had been running the kingdom since Uzziah contracted leprosy as a punishment for unlawfully entering the Holy Place in the Temple. Jotham was also a good king, a Godly king, one who did right in the sight of God.

It would have been easy for Isaiah to think that, with Jotham's coronation, everything was going to be okay. However, it was at that time that Isaiah saw the vision of God in the Temple. Upon seeing this vision, Isaiah was reminded of his sin, his nation's sin, and was then told that his nation would rebel against God until the captivity came. Isaiah had work to do in order to reach those who would repent. He would be charged with speaking God's truth, and calling the nation to repent.

Despite the glimmer of hope that the 2016 election might have presented, we still live in a society where partial birth abortion is seen as a legitimate form of birth control to which a woman has a right. Sexual immorality is still being normalized. The family continues to break down. Younger Americans still want to trade in the opportunity of freedom for the "security" of socialism. And America continues to turn away from God, His church, and His Word.

Our work as Christians, pastors and missionaries did not come together and conclude with the 2016 election, it's just beginning. This is going to be a long race, and we are still in the starting blocks.

This election has presented us with an opportunity to spread God's word and spark a revival in this country. Let's not squander it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Timeless

Recently, my wife and I found a new show on NBC called "Timeless," which follows three main characters who are pursuing a time-travelling terrorist, trying to stop him from going back in time and changing the past, and thus, destroying America.

In each episode, the crew learns of how a small detail in history actually impacted the country in a major way. Those plot twists are reminiscent of "Quantum Leap," an NBC show from the late 1980s where a time traveler "leaped" into the lives of individuals to stop some catastrophic event from happening that would ultimately destroy the individual's life.

In each show, we see the importance of ordinary people, and the importance of empowering people to great things. It stirs the imagination. What if you could go back in time and fix ___________? What if you could prevent the Kennedy assassinations? Pearl Harbor? What if you could warn the engineers building the Bay Bridge, thus saving hundreds of lives from the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake?

If going back in time to fix the past captures our imaginations, then why doesn't fixing the present?

If we can imagine changing the world for the better by warning President Lincoln to avoid Ford's Theatre, or by tackling Lee Harvey Oswald as he entered the Texas Book Depository, then why can't we imagine changing the world for the better by uplifting the people around us?

The lesson we learn from time-travel stories is not "what could have been," but rather that we have the potential to impact the world in big ways, simply by helping people and speaking truth.

So, embrace your mission! What will you do to change the world today?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why This Election Will Not Stop The Great American Decline

Sorry for the reference to The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," but I've been through enough elections to know that the results of this election will not bring sweeping change to our country. The United States has been on a downward trajectory for years, and it has less to do with whom we elect, than who we are.

Our elected leaders stink, because we stink. Our government is dysfunctional, because we are dysfunctional. Our society crumbles because we removed the bedrock foundation that made it great. I don't care how magnificent the structure, you remove it's foundation, and the whole thing falls.

The foundation of American society was faith. Faith in God who built this country and blessed it. Faith in the American people who built this country and defended it. Faith in the American dream which built the greatest society and economy the world has ever known. Faith.

In his book, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the role that faith played in the American experiment. Faith, he wrote, was essential to democracy working, because it was the faith of Americans which convicted us that we had a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to do right by others.

Following de Tocqueville's logic, if you remove faith, then America descends into a conglomeration of warring factions, with each group and individual seeking pleasure and power at the expense of others. The nation degrades into a group of fractured demographics, all of which are opposed to the others, with leaders seeking the support of these warring factions until ultimately the country tears itself apart.

This is not Obama's fault, and it's not going to be solved by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. This crisis will only be resolved by a revival in our country.

This Decline Is Evident In The Foster Care Crisis

Every week, I read stories about the supposed "failing" foster care system in Texas. There aren't enough workers, foster homes are overcrowded, and of course, there isn't enough money.

The problem with the foster care system, at least in Texas, is not that there's a lack of money, foster homes or case workers. It only appears such because we have an abundance of parents, who, after having rejected faith, have elected to abuse drugs and their children. Right now, there are approximately 6,000 children in the Texas foster care system awaiting adoption. That's not including the children who were taken into care last month, or those whose parents' rights have not been terminated. Think about that, there are enough children in foster care in Texas to populate a small city. That means that thousands of parents have shirked their responsibilities, and actively harmed their children.

The increase in abusive households is not the fault of the federal government, government policy, nor is it the fault of Child Protective Services. The increase in abusive households is the result of the degradation of society brought on by the abandonment of faith.

Poverty

The fact that, with all the prosperity we see in America, poverty affects families across generations is another sign that our foundation has been compromised. America is the land of opportunity. Despite all of our complaints with the tax system, welfare state, and corporate corruption, America is still the one place that you can go from rags to riches in one generation.

While millions of people find themselves temporarily in poverty, perpetual poverty is the result of the foundation of faith being removed from American society. Once again, if you remove faith, you remove hope, and you remove personal responsibility.

Currently, we have millions living in multi-generational poverty, when the formula for escaping poverty is as simple as it has ever been. The left-leaning Brookings Institute has released three steps to escaping poverty. Basically, if you follow these three steps, you will escape poverty without fail.

These three steps are: (1) Graduate high school, (2) wait until you turn 21 to get married, and don't have children out of wedlock, and (3) get a full-time job.

Yet, we have generations of Americans who are dropping out of education, who are having children out of wedlock, and who refuse to do what it takes to get a job. These decisions are influenced, not only by a lack of hope, but a never-ending list of voices who tell the impoverished that there is no hope, they are not responsible to make good decisions, and that their plight is caused by the rich man. These dishonest voices are motivated by greed, as an entire class of activists and political operatives draw their power and income from the plight of the poor. Once again, faith has been removed, and ruin follows.

Calling Good Evil, and Evil Good

America is going through a time of transition where our values are fundamentally changing. The institutions that made America great, the church, higher education, the family and the community, are metamorphosing in ways we never imagined. In order to remain relevant, many churches are abandoning orthodox teachings and normalizing sinful behavior. Many avoid standing on moral principle, or standing for God's word, by employing a "judge-not" philosophy on life.

Higher education no longer seems to challenge the thinking of its students, electing rather to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. (That's really a shame. Though I had liberal professors who challenged my conservative Christian views, it was through defending those views to said liberal professors that I learned to think for myself, and construct my own world view, which is even more in line with scripture, and more conservative than it was prior to going to college).

The family is being redefined from a mother, father, and children, to any group of people who happen to live together. This arrangement diminishes and even negates the responsibility to raise children, which gets relegated to government schools.

As these changes progress, the American world view degrades into a cesspool of self-loathing, moral ineptitude, and rampant sin, which will ultimately result in the loss of America's greatness.

I could go on...

... but I won't. I could address how rampant sexual immorality is victimizing today's children, thus perpetuating itself to the next generation, or how the abdication of personal responsibility is leading us to communism and the loss of all freedom. I could talk about the evaporation of the American economy as companies are less interested in creating value and products, and more interested in automating financial reports. I could discuss our fascination with violence, the loss of decorum, the rejection of truth, and the admiration of evil. But I won't. That would be running up the score.

So, if your candidate loses, don't lose heart. If your candidate wins, don't celebrate too much. The real problems in America originate with our hearts, and not in the Oval Office.

It's time for America to repent. It's time for us to turn from our sin and turn back to the Lord. It's time for us to renew our faith in God, our faith in each other, and our faith in the American way. If we fail to do that, even a resurrected Ronald Reagan won't be able to help us.

Renew your faith, and I'll see you in church on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Let Us Not Do Evil, So That Good May Come

There's an old saying that "the ends justifies the means." Basically, if you get a good result, it does not matter how you arrived at your destination. Therefore, you can freely justify any behavior so long as your intentions were for a good result. This line of thinking has caused thousands of good Christians to sacrifice their integrity and surrender their testimonies, all for the sake of pursuing a goal, whether that goal was a legislative or electoral victory, or whether that goal was effecting change in their local churches or communities.

History is full of churches that died as a result of splits caused by members pursuing a Godly goal through unGodly means. Maybe the preacher did deserve to be fired. Maybe the church needed to launch a youth ministry or transition its worship style. Maybe the red carpet was the best choice... however in many cases, those changes were pursued using the unGodly means of gossiping, backbiting, slander, and vote stuffing. The results of this behavior have been devastating each time this strategy has been employed.

This morning on News/Talk 102.3 KXYL in Brownwood, TX, I once again drew fire from listeners for not defending Donald Trump's candidacy for President. Particularly, I said he was as deplorable as Hillary Clinton, and when asked about his Christianity, I expressed my doubts.

(1) He has never made a public profession of faith. Trump has never publicly stated that he has had a conversion experience.

(2) He has publicly stated that he hasn't had to ask forgiveness for anything, because he hasn't done anything wrong. (I'm referring to the statements he made back during the primary, not during a recent Presidential debate.)

What we do know about Donald Trump is there is a line of women accusing him of sexual harassment. There is audio tape of him describing his tendency to grope women (statements that mirrored a 1997 sexual harassment suit against him). There are questions about his business practices, and just a few years ago, he was pro-abortion, and pro-government healthcare. There are serious questions about his character.

Now, this is the part of the discussion where people ask me, "What about Hillary Clinton?" She's deplorable, and could possibly be the most despicable person to be elected President. However, Clinton does not claim to represent my values. Clinton does not claim to speak for my Lord, and Clinton is not trying to court my vote. Clinton represents the other side of the political aisle. It is not my job as a conservative, evangelical Republican to hold the Democratic Party accountable for its values and nominees. It is my responsibility to make sure my own house is clean. Before I should seek to remove the speck from the Democrats eyes, I must first make sure my own are clear.

While I understand that a Hillary presidency would be disastrous, I have no obligation to endorse anyone who opposes her. At the same time, I have to keep in mind that when I sign my name to a candidate, I am also putting my credibility and testimony on the line. While a Trump victory would give Republicans the White House, I would also have to explain why it's okay for Trump to commit adultery, but not Bill Clinton. I would have to explain why Trump is inherently innocent of all accusations brought against him, but why Hillary is automatically guilty.

Furthermore, I have to look at the girls in my youth group and tell them why we should support Trump, in spite of his "locker room" talk, while at the same time teaching them about living in holiness. For those reasons alone, I cannot bring myself to endorse Donald Trump. That's before we even delve into the issue of his changing positions on conservative issues.

Donald Trump may win the 2016 election. He may lose. Regardless, the Republican Party, and the evangelicals that supported Trump's nomination and campaign, are about to learn a hard lesson. Compromising the means to achieve a desired end leads to devastation each and every time. Perhaps we should have actually consulted our Bibles during the primaries, and remembered Romans 3:8, which says (paraphrased) let us not do evil so that good may come.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando and Its Aftermath: It's Spiritual

It takes an unspeakable evil to murder.

There's a phenomenon that happens during deer season called "buck fever." This is when a first-time hunter has a buck in his sights for the first time. The adrenaline of bagging your first trophy buck, combined with the focus to keep the deer in your cross-hairs while squeezing the trigger without flinching and missing the shot can wreak havoc on a hunter's steady hand. Many a hunter missed their first shot at a buck as a result.

Recently where I live, a gunman grabbed a rifle, went to his neighbors house, killing them and their dogs for no other reason than one of the dogs had "used" his yard. Police responded, and immediately came under fire from this deranged individual. As the responding officer was pinned down by the gunman's rapid fire, another neighbor retrieved a pistol, and "neutralized" the shooter, killing him with about three shots fired. The good neighbor, later dubbed "the Good Samaritan Shooter" was honored by the local Sheriff's Office, the County Commissioners and the Governor of Texas.

During one of the ceremonies, a war veteran approached me, and said, "His hand must have been shaking something fierce. Buck fever doesn't even begin to describe what you go through when it's another man in your sights." The veteran then shared with me his first combat experience.

Here you have two men, the Good Samaritan Shooter and the War Veteran, placed in a position where they had no choice but to take the life of someone to either (a) end a murderous rampage, or (b) survive combat and defend the country. Both expressed the anguish and intensity of having to make that choice. In situations where the shooting was completely justified, it troubled these men to have to do it. This is the natural reaction for most people.

However, for the hundreds, if not thousands of people who commit murder each year, and those who have perpetrated terrorist attacks, that anguish seems absent. The idea of taking human life is no big deal to them. In fact, it becomes their means to an end. It's the vehicle they use to achieve their goals.

The Orlando shooter was evil. Plain and simple. There are those who say I shouldn't judge. If you cannot call someone who takes 50 lives and wounds 53 others, who carried out this attack for three hours evil, then what can you call it? Whereas most people shutter to think they could take another person's life, and whereas most hunters shutter before they bag their first deer, the Orlando shooter placed another person in his sights and pulled the trigger no less than 103 times. This is evil personified.

The tragic part about this is that we've seen this evil manifest itself many times, in America and around the world. Whether it's the San Bernadino shooting, Aurora, Newtown, Virginia Tech, or Charleston, the root cause of these tragedies is evil. The motives are different, but the root cause is evil.

From where does evil originate? Satan. Satan was the one who entered into Judas' heart, prompting him to betray Jesus. Isaiah 14:16 says Satan has made the earth tremble and has shaken kingdoms. On three different occasions, Jesus referred to him as the "prince of this world." Satan is evil, and he influences men, and human events.

Why are we experiencing so many mass shootings and terror attacks? Simple. Evil. And Satan is the one influencing that evil. If it seems like all of this is part of some well-coordinated conspiracy, well, it is. However, it's not the so-called Illuminati coordinating these events... it's Satan.

Which brings me to the coordinated response to these shootings, particularly the one in Orlando. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, there was the predictable call to enact more gun control. There was the predictable outcry about the persecution of homosexuals. And, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the predictable call to "not judge all Muslims by the actions of this one."

While there was outcry that we shouldn't judge all Muslims, suddenly there was a backlash against Christians. While there are extremists all over the internet who post insanity on Twitter, I was shocked to find that a high-profile cable news commentator decided to lash out at Christianity.

In a series of tweets following the Orlando shooting, CNN's Sally Kohn called Christians who offered prayers and comfort to the victims of the shooting as "hypocrites" whose "guilt was showing." In the aftermath of a massive terrorist attack on homosexuals perpetrated by an Islamic extremist, Kohn said that Christians value the humanity of homosexuals less than moderate Muslims do. That must be why homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in many Middle Eastern countries, but I digress.

Meanwhile, according to the Washington Examiner, an ACLU attorney tweeted that the Orlando shooting was caused by a homophobic atmosphere cultivated by Christians.

Somehow, these commentators, as well as a number of others not worth mentioning, have found a way to blame Christians for a terrorist attack committed by a man who pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, who professed Islam, who claimed to represent a religion that dominates the Middle Eastern countries that execute homosexuals. An Islamic extremist representing a religion that bans homosexuality kills homosexuals, and Christianity is blamed. How can any reasonable person follow that logic? Simple. It's not logic. It's evil.

The same spiritual force that influenced the attack is influencing the reactions.

Satan opposes Christ. He opposes Christianity. His name literally means "opponent." So, it should make sense that, given the opportunity, he would try to steer the rage of a nation against Christians. So, he puts it in the mind of political influencers that Christianity bred the homophobic atmosphere that led to the attack. If people don't believe that argument, simply state that Christians are no better than the Orlando shooter. The only way to prove that they are better is to reverse Bible doctrine and accept homosexuality as a righteous behavior. Many Christians are following that path today.

Stephen Colbert said it best. He said it is as if we have adopted a national script, and we follow that script every time. If it all seems collaborated and coordinated, it is. Where there is a script, there is a screen writer. In this case, that screen writer is Satan.

We are in a Spiritual battle. Satan, his demons and his followers are seeking to turn the world away from God and toward destruction. God, and His followers, seek to lead the world to repentance and restoration. The battlefield is the heart and minds of all people. The battle will continue until Christ returns and wins the final victory.

Our role as Christians is to wage that battle by speaking the truth in love, and spreading the Gospel of salvation. As we do this, we recognize the Spiritual battle for what it is, and look forward to the return of Christ.

My heart, and prayers go out to the victims of the Orlando shooting, and their families. The last thing I wanted for them was what happened this past weekend. May God comfort them, may God help the rest of us to know how to minister to them, and may God forgive us where we fall short.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Mother of all What-If's....

Several weeks ago, around Easter time, I was preaching on the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The text was from the book of Luke. During that sermon, one of the points I made was that Jesus had entered Jerusalem, just as the Old Testament foretold. The people who said they wanted Messiah to come were now witnessing the arrival of the Messiah, but they didn't recognize it because they were Spiritually blind. Because Jerusalem had failed to receive the Messiah, electing rather to turn Him over to the Romans to be crucified, the city was condemned to total destruction, which happened some 35 years later in AD 70. The city could have received its promised Messiah, but instead rejected Him and chose destruction.

Following church that day, my wife asked me, "What would have happened had they received Him? What about His death for our sins on the cross?"

The simple answer to that would be that God knew that Jerusalem would reject Christ, so He worked it into His perfect plan of redemption. That's the answer I gave, and that's how we left it.

Still, does that mean that Jerusalem was doomed from the start? Was there a way they could've received the Messiah, and for the plan of Redemption to go forward? I mean after all, Jesus Himself said in Luke 19:42, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."

Jesus said "If thou hadst known," indicating possibility. If Jerusalem would've been worshiping and serving God, and thus would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, things would've turned out different for Jerusalem. AD 70 would've never happened, and the Temple would still stand today because the Messiah would've defeated the Romans. But, what about redemption? Salvation was purchased by the death of Christ on the cross. So, if the Jewish leaders didn't turn Him over to the Romans to be crucified, how would we have salvation today?

Granted, this is a big what-if scenario, and this is all conjecture, but it could be that God would've worked the plan of redemption into Jerusalem's acceptance and obedience. Consider the following possibility:

Jesus enters Jerusalem to the cheer of the crowd. The religious leaders open their Bibles, read the scriptures that Jesus was in the process of fulfilling, and realize that the Messiah has arrived. They proudly and victoriously announce that Christ has indeed come, as God promised in the scriptures, and proclaim that God's Kingdom has once again been restored. Christ arrives in Jerusalem, where a coronation ceremony is held and He is crowned King.
The Romans would not have just accepted that. The Roman army would've marched on Jerusalem, just as they had in previous insurrections, taken the leadership, and crucified them. The result: Christ would've been crucified anyway, and still would've paid for the sins of the world. Once He rose again on the third day, He would've destroyed the Roman army and restored the Kingdom once and for all. Salvation would then have been extended to the Gentiles based on whether they accepted Him or rejected Him. 

Granted, there are holes in that theory. But instead of going into deep theological debates as to how God would've completed the plan of redemption if Jerusalem would have accepted Jesus, let's just be glad we have an all-powerful God who completes His plan no matter what man does, and that His plan called for our redemption, salvation, and inclusion into His Kingdom. Praise the Lord!

Friday, April 1, 2016

From Pulpit To Pundit: When Pastors Enter The Political Fray



Pastor Robert Jeffress has been a lightning rod since becoming pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He has consistently weighed in on the issues of the day, often promoting Biblically correct, yet politically incorrect positions. The first time I saw Dr. Jeffress on television, he was giving a statement from the pulpit of First Baptist Church in Dallas, addressing negative press he had received from the Dallas Morning News. He was not explaining his comment, nor was he apologizing. He was doubling down, and giving new information to back up his position, concluding his remarks that his position was the result of research, and that he was not "ignorant on this topic."

Initially, I was skeptical of his ministry, but after hearing one of his sermons via KCBI in Dallas, I began to appreciate his ministry a little more. (Ironically, his sermon was on the role of being a culture warrior AND a representative of Christ.)

Typically, when a pastor enters the fray of political discourse, he angers many, and people leave the church. Meanwhile, at First Baptist Church of Dallas, the congregation grows and efforts to build a new campus are currently underway.

While I can't say I endorse everything Dr. Jeffress has said (I haven't researched his positions on every topic on which he has weighed in,) I do appreciate his boldness in speaking out. In the above-posted video, Dr. Jeffress highlights the differences between Christianity and Islam.

Faith is not just something we feel on Sundays. Our faith is what shapes our lives, and drives our decisions. Which means our faith involves every single aspect of our lives, from how we behave at work, to how we vote, to whether or not we truly represent Christ. Indeed, our faith affects how we interpret the news and issues of the day. For that reason, pastors such as Dr. Jeffress weigh in, providing Biblical perspective to the events of our day.

Perhaps I should say that more strongly. Pastors such as Dr. Jeffress tell us what God says about the events of our day.

The goal here is not to deliver votes to the Republican Party, neither is it to force views onto others. It is an attempt to give Spiritual guidance to those who follow Christ, and to influence others into seeing the Christian point of view. Ultimately, we (Christians) all want a nation that pleases God, a nation that He blesses.

For that reason, it is incumbent upon pastors to give Biblical insight into the issues of the day, and a Godly perspective into the news of the day. All too often, pastors avoid this in order to avoid controversy which could impact the church. There are a few, however, that are willing to take on the controversy if it means that the truth gets spoken. And that's why pastors like Dr. Jeffress should be congratulated, even if we don't always agree with them. Pastors like Dr. Jefffress actually have core beliefs and convictions, and act out on them, and that is something that we call can appreciate.

But those are just my thoughts... what are yours? Should pastors use their platform to weigh in on the issues of the day?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Destroyed The World, But The Apple Was Great!

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I have a spotted past. While I was never an "addict," a convicted felon, nor have I any tattoos to show for my wild oats, my younger years were full of sin, decadence and all-round bad decisions. The fact that I didn't wind in prison has more to do with the grace of God than it does with my character.

My testimony is such that, even my boss will discuss my turnaround when he presents me with my Christmas bonus at the company party. There are some things from my college years that I hope everyone has forgotten. Good thing social media didn't exist back then.

On occasion, however, we'll all get to swapping stories at the office, and on occasion, I'll share one from my wilder days. One day, in my office, I shared such a story, to which my boss replied, "I don't think I'd share that one again if I were you."

Driving home that evening, I thought about the day's conversations, the story I shared, and my boss's advice. Indeed he was right. That story was just plain awful and stupid. Sharing a story like that doesn't help my testimony, it hinders it. I'm going to follow my boss's advice, and not share the story. What I will tell you is that no one got hurt, and no laws were broken.

However, on my drive home, the thought occurred to me how silly it is that, as a Christian, I look back on some of the decadence of my youth with a certain sense of humor, and in some weird way, a little nostalgia. The decisions I made back then could have killed me, some destroyed parts of my life, and some consequences I still live with. Yet, here I am, acting like a fool, looking back on it as if it were something by which to be entertained.

Why do we as Christians look back on our lost days as "the good ole days?" Sure, we'd never return to them, but sometimes we find ourselves looking back on them with a certain nostalgia. When you think about it, that makes absolutely no sense.

Think about Adam. He and Eve made the conscious decision to rebel against God by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That one decision brought the sin curse upon all men, so that we all face death, and God's wrath if we're not saved, because we are all now sinners. Adam's decision to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the single event that sentenced Jesus Christ to die on the cross. Adam's decision to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not merely to eat something God said not to, but it was an attempt to get out from beneath God's authority.

That one decision thrust mankind into the darkness that we experience today. Because of that one decision, we have crime, violence, war, starvation, death, disease, cancer. Every bad thing in this world can be traced back to Adam's original sin.

Adam lived several hundred years after God evicted him and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He had several hundred years to look back on that decision, and to see the devastating effects that sin had on the world, namely his descendants.

I wonder if, during those several hundred years, Adam didn't occasionally tell his grandchildren about life in the Garden. I wonder if he explained why they could no longer live in the Garden. What a difficult story that must have been to tell. "Hey kids, we could be living in paradise, but I blew it."

One thing I can almost guarantee Adam never did was describe that fruit, how good it must have tasted, how great the texture must have been, and how juicy it was. For some reason, I cannot imagine Adam sitting back on a Saturday evening, telling the story of eating the forbidden fruit with glee, and punctuating his story with, "I destroyed the world, but hey! The apple was great!"

When we get to looking back on the lost days with nostalgia, and telling stories of our previous decadence with glee, we have forgotten what sin really is, and the effects that it has on our lives, and on those around us. Let us never be guilty of missing this point, and celebrating things from which we seek God's forgiveness. God bless you on your journey.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

When I Struggle With Sin...

... I feel like a hypocrite.

Every week, I speak no fewer than five times about the Lord. There's my Sunday School class, the Sunday morning sermon at Grace Pointe, two small group Bible studies, and a radio show. Then, every other Sunday, I preach at the Market Place apartments.

Each sermon includes warnings against sin, encouragement to have faith in the Lord, exhortation to center one's life around the Lord, and a commission to serve the Lord. I am sincere in my belief of these things. I honestly believe that God blesses those who live their lives for Him. But preaching the Word, and practicing what I preach are two completely different things.

Monday rolls around, and I tend to fall back into the same routines as everyone else. My life becomes about making a living, paying bills, and being frustrated that my wildest dreams have yet to come true. When your focus drifts from the Lord and into the day-to-day routine, you lose that Spiritual connection to the Lord, and He begins to seem distant. When this happens, we become susceptible to temptation. Such is the case with me.

I'm not going into a confessional here, but there are times that I misrepresent Christ. There are times that I fall short of the Biblical mandate to let my light shine. There are times that I betray my faith, and my Lord. And when my eyes are opened to my fall, I begin to wonder if all this is a facade, and if I am really a rotten human being. You may have experienced the same.

How can we reconcile our salvation and our lives in Christ with the sin that "so easily besets us?" (Hebrews 12:1).

We begin by recognizing that we are not alone in this struggle. Romans 3:23 says "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We are all sinners, we all fall short. We all fail. Romans 3:9 says we are all under sin.

Scripture also lists examples of the great heroes of the faith who fell short of God's glory. From the depiction of David's adultery with Bathsheba, to the acknowledgement in James 5:17 that "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are." Yet, David and Elijah did great things for the Lord. Romans 7:15-17 describes the same struggle that the Apostle Paul had.

The lesson we take here is that our struggle neither defines us, nor limits us.

We continue by recognizing what this struggle reveals in us. There are times that you overcome, and there are times that you fail. Through each time of temptation, you learn more about your Spiritual maturity, and where you stand with the Lord. However, failure is not as devastating as you think.

Romans 7:15-17 says:
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.  17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul confessed that he knew what he should be doing, and what he shouldn't be doing. He then confessed that he found himself doing the things he shouldn't (For that which I do I allow not.) He found himself doing the very things he preached against. He also confessed that he found himself not doing the things he should. (For what I would, that do I not).

Despite the disconnect between what he believed and what he preached, and what he actually did, Paul steered the conversation back to God's word. He didn't justify what he did. Rather, he promoted God's law, and declared its truth despite his failure. (I consent unto the law that it is good.)

So, if Paul knew God's law, agreed with God's law, and promoted God's law, why was he sinning? Simple. Paul understood that he was still infected with the sin nature. (Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.) This is not an excuse. He's not saying that he can continue in sin, as it's just in his nature. He is merely explaining his failure.

When we struggle with sin, we are reminded that we still have the sin nature. It's the flesh within us that desires sin, that desires the things that are forbidden. It's the same nature that wants to abdicate personal responsibility and live for the pleasure of the moment.

When we recognize the role that the sin nature plays in our struggle, we are able to move away from the notion that somehow we are just flawed, and not as good as everyone else, and we see our struggle as part of the human experience. When we understand this is a struggle everyone faces, this helps us see the struggle that others endure, and it helps us to be graceful to others when they sin.

The other thing that recognizing the role of the sin nature accomplishes is that it reminds us that conquering sin is not something we can do on our own. We need the Lord. Which brings us to our next point.

We return to our roots of faith in Christ.  In Romans 7:24-25, Paul exclaimed, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

In verse 24, Paul declares his inability to overcome sin, and turns to the Lord for deliverance. In verse 25, Paul trusts the Lord for that deliverance.

If you know Jesus Christ as your savior, there was a time that you surrendered, and called out to Him for salvation. At that point, you were exactly where Christ wanted you. In the days and weeks that followed, the Lord was able to lead you through a time of exponential Spiritual growth because you had total faith in Him. But, as time moves along, we drift away, and we wind up in the boat we're in today.

When you struggle with sin, and you recognize that it's part of life, and that you cannot overcome it yourself, the proper course of action is to surrender, ask God for deliverance, and trust the Lord to deliver you from that struggle. When you reach that point of surrender and faith, you are right where Christ wants you. When you reach that point of surrender and faith, God is then able to do great things in your life.

When I struggle with sin, I feel like a hypocrite, but I am not. I am a child of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, who has not finished his race here on earth. I remember that I stand on the shoulders of giants, that others have faced these same struggles, and that the struggle with sin comes as a result of my sin nature.

The only answer is to ask God for forgiveness, and trust Him to deliver me from these temptations. When I reach that point, God brings a revival in my life. He will yours as well. Keep the faith, God is on your side.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Worlds Aren't Changed By Radical Crusaders, But By Those Who Quietly Live Their Lives

Before the beard... Jessica and I enjoying a day our with family
This morning, immediately following my radio show, I was asked, "What have you done today to make the world a better place?" My answer, "I woke up!" (Actually, God allowed me to wake up. I did get out of bed, though). 

Now, my answer may sound entirely arrogant, self-centered and curt. However, it comes from the realization that at the end of the day, there is actually very little I can do to make the world a better place. This realization comes after pastoring a new church plant for 8 years, which, despite my best efforts and the support of my state and local associations, continues to struggle to build attendance. It comes as I have invested countless hours, tears and prayers into seeing lives changed, only to see those people that I care for continue to make self-destructive life decisions. 

It comes as I look back on a life advocating for pro-liberty, pro-life, and pro-America policies, only for our elected leaders to continue to expand the influence government has in our lives, continue to see abortion-limiting legislation die in committee or in the federal courts, and continue to see our leaders surrender our national sovereignty while abandoning our troops on the battlefield. (We send them to fight, they come back wounded, and then we drag our feet on their medical care and benefits). I'm sorry, I drifted back into politics. 

My realization of how little I can actually do to make the world a better place comes as I watch those who once stood for truth surrender in resignation, discouraged because they haven't made a big impact either. Or at least they think they haven't. They inspired me. But, I guess that makes me all the more self-centered. And yet, I don't think it really does. 

When we talk about making the world a better place, I think we should have a better perspective of how that works. I am really blessed right now. I get to do a morning talk show. I get to pastor a great group of people at Grace Pointe MBC. Both of those opportunities provide for my family's needs... my family which includes 3 biological kids, and 4 adoptive kids, which, if I could have negotiated with God in the beginning, I would have taken as biological. I have an understanding of the world around me, which, regardless of my circumstances, gives me a feeling of freedom. And these blessings, while poured out upon me by God, were given through the self-less efforts of those who raised me. 

My grandfather did not set out in life to be a world changer. He wanted to educate, and he wanted to support his family. The only time he was the talk of the town is when he corrected injustice, and he was criticized, not praised, for doing so. He desegregated Dawson ISD in Dawson, TX, and he enlisted the help of drug dogs to halt the drug trafficking in Latexo ISD. I grew up during the latter part of his career, where he served as an administrator at the Windham School District, the school system which serves the Texas prison system. As I grew up, my grandfather never ceased to remind me of the need to get an education, to make something of myself, and to support my family. He instilled in me the notion that it is my responsibility to provide for my family, and mine alone. 

Where my grandfather taught me book smarts and responsibility, my father taught me street smarts. He was the one who taught me how, once I get a job, to keep the job, to advance in the job, and how to interact with co-workers. My father was a business manager, so he also taught me about how to manage expenses and income. Both of those men taught me. On occasion, they'd teach me these lessons verbally, but mostly, they taught by example. 

Which brings me to how I am making the world a better place. God has blessed me with 7 wonderful children. My goal is to give them the same upbringing that I had, so that when they are grown and have families, they will pass that upbringing down to their children. I believe if we all did this, the world would be a better place. 

I also teach and encourage my church, and hopefully my friends, extended family, and Facebook friends. I plan on keeping my ministry public, so I can encourage as many people as possible. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Live your life the way God designed it. Raise your family, teach them about the Lord, worship at church on Sunday, represent God well when you go to work or conduct business. That's all God requires. If you feel led to do more, GREAT! I'll pray for you and help, if I can. But don't ever let anyone denigrate you because you don't do missions in the Congo. May God bless you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Religion is not the Enemy

The historic sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church,
where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached. It is now
part of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic
Site, owned and operated by the National Park Service.
The 20th century saw the rise and fall of many evangelical leaders, men of renown who preached the Gospel to worldwide prominence, then were destroyed by personal sin and moral failures. Those instances damaged the brand of Christianity, and the church. That damage was also furthered by the personal hypocrisy of many church going Americans. The rubble of 20th century Christianity's failures has given rise to a new breed of Christian, the post-modern Christian.

The post-modern Christian's favorite slogan is "It's about relationship, not religion." The post-modern Christian sees his disdain for traditional Christianity, and in particular, the traditional church, as the same disdain Christ had for the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In post-modern Christianity, the church is de-emphasized, and the individual's feeling of connection toward God is over-emphasized. That dynamic makes discipleship almost impossible, because loving correction is all but forbidden. One is no longer allowed to warn a brother who is drifting into a lifestyle of sin. One is no longer allowed to take firm stances for, or against, anything, for doing so is seen as being judgmental, which is the post-modern's only unforgivable sin. 

It is good for Christians to inspect themselves to see if they are living as Christ wants them to live. It is good for churches to examine themselves to see if they are operating within the will and mission of the Lord. If all Christians and churches did this, Christianity in America would go through a very healthy introspection. Such would be a good thing, given the failures we've seen over the past century. Still, to discard traditional Christianity, and the church, in favor of a more isolated, socially open and acceptable creed is a grievous error. The church is still God's institution, organized on the shores of Galilee, and commissioned on the Mount of Olives to represent the Lord and spread the Gospel throughout the entire world. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 28:20 that this would be the case until He returned. So, let's not fall for the error of turning our backs on the church.

None-the-less, post-modern objections to the church need to be addressed. The church is still a key part of the Christian faith. The failures of its leaders and members do not change that. The church has been a light in the world, despite those failures, and God wants us to be a part of a church.

The failures of the leaders and the members of the church do not discredit it's role in God's mission. Indeed, it is easy to take anecdotal evidence of the failures of an evangelical leader, a pastor, a church member, or even the stance of some churches, and say that the church has lost its purpose and is therefore no longer relevant. This approach to discrediting one's opponents is not new. If you want to discredit liberalism, find the craziest self-described liberal and parade them in public. Breitbart does this on a daily basis. If you want to discredit conservatism, find the most redneck'ed racist individual out there, and parade him around in public. The Huffington Post does that quite often. And, if you want to discredit traditional Christianity, make sure to draw as much attention as possible to the most hypocritical leaders and followers of the Christian faith. 

However, just as political liberalism and conservatism cannot be defined by the most extreme individuals in their camps, Christianity is not defined by the failures of a few. In fact, it's not defined by the failures of the majority. It's not even defined by the failures of the greatest missionary in history. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:7, "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?"

The Apostle Paul knew he was a sinner. He failed God often, and he chronicled that in Romans 7:15-25. Following Romans 3:7, he made the case that we are all sinners, and we all fall short of God's glory. Those failures did not discredit God, they proved His point. We, as Christians, are human, and therefore we sin. We fall short. We make bad decisions, and we do bad things. So does everyone else.

Yet the message of Christianity is that in spite of that sin, in spite of those failures, God loves us, and redeemed us anyway. So, if one thinks that he is going to be able to discard the church and traditional Christianity in favor of a more perfect, holy and righteous system, he is going to be disappointed. The purity of the religion goes out the window as soon as people become involved. So, if we're going to deal with sinful people, we might as well do so in the context of the local church, which is the way God designed it.

Another charge often leveled against traditional Christianity is that the church has failed in its role to be a light in the world. After all, Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." A post-modern looks at these verses, and complains that the church has failed to be a light. It has failed to make the world a better place. It has failed to help the poor.

Those who say the church has failed to be a light in the world evidently missed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The civil disobedience that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act was not born of the efforts of community organizers, socialists, or liberal politicians. It was executed by African American pastors in the south, who, knowing God's demand for justice, sought to put an end to the racial injustices of the day.

The Freedom Riders, and the Congress on Racial Equality, were born out of Wiley College in Marshall, TX, a Methodist college which served African American students in East Texas. Wiley College was home to a national champion debate team in 1935, a member of which was a young James Farmer, Jr,, who co-founded the Congress on Racial Equality. Farmer's father was a Methodist minister who served as president of Wiley College. During his study at Wiley, the younger farmer learned about civil disobedience from his debate coach.

The face of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist pastor, serving at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. King worked with other ministers in carrying out his demonstrations to bring not only racial justice, but also racial reconciliation and healing.

As a result, racial segregation was outlawed, and the Civil Rights Movement was successful. That's not to say that racism no longer exists, but the institutional hurdles that African Americans faced have been removed. There are still hurdles, but they tend to be social and economic.

Those who claim the church has failed to be a light in the world have also overlooked the many charitable organizations that have been founded for the sole purpose of helping the poor, needy, and those affected by tragedy. These organizations were founded by churches and Christians. Samaritan's Purse, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army are all well known charitable organizations whose roots are embedded in the American church. Additionally, there are the numerous missionary efforts to preach the Gospel and offer relief to the poor worldwide.

So, despite the failures of many of its leaders and followers, the Christian church has been a light in the world.

Finally, we should not abandon the church because God wants us to be a part of a church. In Hebrews 10:25, the Bible says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

The purpose of church involvement is three-old.

(1) It is to encourage you as you walk with the Lord. As Christians, we should be encouraging each other as we face life's challenges, and we should remind each other to have faith in the Lord, even when we are going through the dark valleys of life.

(2) It is to build your faith and knowledge. Discipleship is a key part of the Christian life. God wants us to study His word, learn more about Him, and apply that knowledge to our lives. In order to do that, we need mentors. We need to be taught by those who are more mature in the faith, who have been where we are, and have seen God work. Church membership is key to our Spiritual growth, and to our being grounded in the truth. Without it, we tend to drift, without learning, and we tend to develop our own beliefs apart from the Bible. We need church involvement to keep us grounded.

And finally, (3) church involvement gives us an avenue to serve the Lord. Churches are supposed to be in the business of spreading the Gospel. It's a team effort. God never intended on us serving alone. He wants us serving in teams, with groups, our Christian brothers and sisters who encourage us on our way. Sure, there were men in the Bible who served alone, but remember, Elijah suffered from severe depression.

I understand that people in the church have fallen short. I also understand that you may have been betrayed or hurt by people in the church. My plea to you is that you do not let the sins of others deter you from living in God's will. Find a church that preaches the truth, and that loves you, and get involved. You will find the Christian walk is a whole lot more meaningful if you do. May God bless you and keep you will be my prayer. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Saga of Lee Harvey Oswald

He was a madman, a nut job, or a patsy. Those are the three most popular explanations on why Lee Harvey Oswald shot (or attempted to shoot according to conspiracy theorists) President John F. Kennedy. Indeed, Oswald's behavior indicated some degree of mental instability, but why? What was it that drove him to attempt to assassinate General Walker, and then to assassinate John F. Kennedy?

And, just to clarify my position, I believe Oswald acted alone, more on that some other time.

Lee Harvey Oswald's issues likely began in early childhood as he was being raised by a single mother who was devastated after the death of his father. (Oswald's father died before he was born.) In an interview with PBS, Oswald's brother, Robert Oswald, said that their mother felt that she had been dealt a bad hand, and that the world owed her a living. He said some of this attitude was passed down to Lee. Robert went on to say that Oswald had a vivid imagination, and believed he could do anything he wanted. He was also a loner. Robert said Lee "planned by himself, executed by himself, and failed by himself." He also dreamed of being a writer, and writing about his experiences of serving in the Marine Corp., defecting to Russia, and then returning to America.

In a New York Times column, Paul Gregory (to whom Marina Oswald taught Russian,) said that Lee felt under-estimated by the world, and longed for a celebrity status, which he sort of enjoyed while living in Russia.

That side of Oswald was depicted in two episodes of the TV show "Quantum Leap" and in Stephen King's 11.22.63. Oswald was depicted as a frustrated individual, who wanted to make a huge impact in the world. He wanted to be a celebrity, a leader, a revolutionary, a philosopher, or a champion. He felt he was awesome, and couldn't understand why the rest of the world didn't see it. Given my recent research, I believe those depictions were accurate.

What you have in Lee Harvey Oswald is the tragedy of self-worship. He felt he was God's gift to anyone with whom he came into contact. He thought he was helping the Russians by defecting, and was shocked when they denied him university admission, relegating him to a common-man's job. He was surprised that he got no media attention when he returned home. He was dejected after a failed attempt to defect to Cuba. He looked for, and failed to find, any way to be significant. Even his failed assassination attempt on General Edwin Walker went virtually unnoticed. This self-worship and lack of self-actualization consumed Oswald, until it culminated in the tragic events of November 22, 1963. When things built to a head, and then blew, the whole world felt it.

It's easy to think "conspiracy theory." It's easy to dismiss Oswald as a patsy. It's easy to imagine that the real gunman was a sophisticated marksman who fired from any one of the other 100 prime locations to pull off the shot that killed Kennedy. Imagining a CIA plot, or a Russian plot, or a mob hit, is easier to deal with psychologically than to come to grips that one man's demons can create such devastation. The truth is, pride and self worship are just that destructive.

Throughout the history of the world, 99 percent of man's problems have been caused by pride and self-worship. It was pride and self-worship that led Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. They believed they could throw off God's authority and be gods to themselves by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The result has been a sin curse on man from that time forward.

You see pride and self-worship in all the kings and emperors who went on world conquests. Those qualities were present with the Roman Caesars (who actually regarded themselves as sons of the gods), Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler. Pride and self-worship has killed millions, and destroyed nations. But that's all ancient history, so it's not to be worried about, Right? Wrong!

Pride and self-worship are seeds planted in one's heart, that, if allowed to grow, can develop such destructive behavior that any individual is capable of imploding. Oswald's pride cost him his life. If that pride and self-worship can grow to that level of destruction in him, how far can it grow in us? That is a frightening question. That's why we'd rather believe that Kennedy's death was the result of a vast, sophisticated conspiracy rather than the result of one man's personal implosion. We don't want to think that we could ever find ourselves in a sixth-floor window. And, in 99.9 percent of cases, we won't. However, that does not mean that pride doesn't cause destruction.

The Bible says "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)" Pride and self-worship will destroy you, whether it makes the news or not. So, don't be destroyed. The Bible also says "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10)."

The best way to avoid the pride and self-worship that destroys is to keep your focus on the Lord, and worship directed toward God. This means to spend time in God's word, in prayer, and to seek God's will in your life. It means to put yourself second, to put God first, and to be aware of the plight of others as well as yourself. If you live a God-focused life, you will not live a self-centered life. That recipe will prevent a self-inflicted implosion that will destroy your life.

Trust the Lord, and obey Him. The answer is really that simple. May God bless you as you follow Him.

Friday, February 12, 2016

In Times of Tragedy

Anytime a tragedy occurs, ranging from personal tragedies to national tragedies, the question will arise, "Why did God let this happen?"

This is not a bad question. It's natural to wonder why the Creator of the universe who holds us in our hands would allow something so terrible to come into our lives. This is a question, I will admit, that I cannot answer. I do believe God has a reason, but any attempt to explain the reason does both a disservice to God, and to the one who is suffering. So, with that in mind, I can only offer the following...

In times of tragedy, we need to have faith in the place, in the plan, and most of all, in the Man.

We need to have faith in the place. In John 14, Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." The fact is that God has prepared a place for us in His Kingdom where we will live forever, in His presence, without pain, without suffering, and without so much as the fear of pain and suffering. It will be a place of eternal peace and prosperity, where we can walk with our Lord, and be reunited with loved ones.

1 Timothy 4:17 tells us that "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The "them" with whom we get caught up together are those who have passed on before us, and we will all be with the Lord forever. Better days are ahead.

We need to have faith in the plan. Often during times of tragedy and hardship, someone will quote Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." These words can ring hollow without eternity in mind. After all, none of us want a bigger house, car, better job, or more luxuries. We want back what the tragedy took from us, whether it's our ability to walk, or the close presence of a loved one.

All things work together for our good because all things are working together to bring about God's plan. God's plan is our reunion with Him in His Kingdom. God is working His plan to get us all into His Kingdom together. Anything that comes into our lives comes for that purpose. Anytime tragedy enters our lives, we need to remember that God is still on His throne, and God is still bringing us into His Kingdom.

I cannot explain how or why, but I can affirm that God's plan is perfect, and is designed to bring us to that place of eternal blessing. We don't have to understand it, and we are not prohibited from grief. All God asks of us is that we trust Him through the process. As one of my church members often sings, "The God of the mountain, is the God of the valley. The God of the day, is still God in the night. The God of the good times, is still God in the hard times, the God of the day, is still God in the night."

We need to have faith in the Man. The man is Jesus Christ. John 3:16 tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The way to access God's Kingdom and plan is by faith in Jesus Christ. He died on the cross, removing the stain of sin, so that we can enter His Kingdom, if we know Him as Savior.

Furthermore, having trusted the Lord to save us based on His death, burial and resurrection, we can trust that the Lord, who now lives and sits at the right hand of the throne of God, pleads on our behalf daily before God the Father. Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus "is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Christ is your advocate before God, and you have no greater advocate than Jesus Christ.

Because of Jesus, we can trust that God hears our prayers, and that He takes our situations into consideration as He executes His plan. We are not just pawns on His chess board.

On top of that, we can trust Jesus to be more than fair to us and our loved ones. The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to the knowledge of the truth. This means that the Lord pulls out all the stops when it comes to reaching folks with the Gospel. Furthermore, when it comes to our loved ones who have passed on before us, the Bible says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." It's precious, because it represents the physical reunion of God with His people. He gets to bring us back into His presence.

In all things, God is good. Things are not always good, but God is always good. God is good all the time, and in all times God is good.

If you are suffering right now, these words may seem hollow. That's okay. Grief was never banned in scripture, in fact, it was encouraged, as the Old Testament saints took 10 full days to grieve (that's 10 days where they did nothing but grieve, no work, no commitments, just mourning.)

My only hope is that as that dark cloud passes, you can be brought back into God's presence by remembering to trust in His place, His plan, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. May God bless you in all things.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Setting New Year's Resolutions That Stick

Getting ready to drive Grace Pointe's float
 in the Christmas Parade
Fitness fans, beware. In about one week, you are going to be invaded by throngs of people who think they are fat, who wish to chisel their bodies into something along the lines of Dwayne Johnson or Jillian Michaels. Good luck finding an open treadmill, but expect high turnover on the ellipticals.

I wouldn't worry about it, though. By the end of January, half of the invaders will be gone. Almost all will be gone by the end of February. All will fall victim to the errant "New Year's Resolution."

New Year's Resolutions like, "To lose weight," "To be healthy," or to "advance my career" often sound good at the time, but with no real goal, and no real plan, they are doomed to fail. There's no concise vision, no plan of action, and no measure of success. Faced with un-measurable progress, and no endgame, the average person gives up on their New Year's resolutions before the ice begins to melt in Southern Colorado.

The key to setting New Year's Resolutions that stick, resolutions that you can successfully keep, is to have a vision for the future. Who do you want to be? Where do you want to be? Granted, your vision may take longer than the next calendar year to realize, but having that vision is key to setting benchmarks for the coming year.

Once your vision has been set, then evaluate how much progress you believe you can achieve toward that vision over the coming year. This is your goal.

Finally, devise a plan to reach that goal. Goals without plans are nothing more than wishes.

With those concepts in mind, let's use the ever-so-popular "lose weight" resolution as an example. Bill weighs 300 pounds. The doctor says he has to reach 180 in order to be healthy. Bill is really concerned about his health, and desires to restore his health back to where it should be. Bill has set a vision to lose 120 pounds, and live life as a healthy, muscular 180 pound man. That is his vision.

Bill understands that in order to reach this weight in a way that restores his health, he must be willing to lose the weight in a way that is slow, yet sustained. He realizes he cannot lose 120 pounds in one year. He has the vision, but the 120-pound goal cannot be met in one year. So, Bill sets a goal to lose 70 pounds over the next year. His goal is to weigh in next New Year's at 230 pounds.

Bill has the vision and the goal, but still no plan. Without the plan, he will drift without making any real progress. So, Bill devises the following plan... (1) No fried foods, (2) Don't drink your calories, and (3) walk a mile a day.

So, Bill's New Year's Resolution is to get healthier by losing 70 pounds by cutting out the fried foods and sugary drinks, and by walking a mile a day. If Bill minds the plan, the goal will be reached, and the resolution will have stuck.

This concept can apply to anything, not just weight loss. You can apply this to your career, relationships, and personal enrichment.

Personally, my vision for what my life will be like New Year's Eve 2016 is as follows... I want to influence people to have faith in the Lord, and I want to preach a watch-night service in what will be Grace Pointe's new worship facility. Those are the vision. The goals and the plan... well, they're being developed.

What's your vision for where you want to be a year from now? Would you like to share your goals and plan?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Let's Forge Faith

Forging is the process of shaping metal using heat and hammering. It also means to create something with great effort. Both terms can be used to describe how God builds our faith. He forges it by allowing us to go through trials and tribulations. He builds it within us with great effort.

On that note, I thought I would change the format of this blog to reflect how God is growing my faith, and how we can pass the faith along to others. This blog will accomplish those two things with devotional thoughts, commentary on current events, and anecdotes from my personal life. I hope you are blessed by it.