Monday, December 29, 2014

The Fading Masterpiece

Years ago here in Sumter, an artist known as Blue Sky painted a masterpiece on the side of a downtown building.  We all were thrilled with the beach scene that added color and beauty to our downtown area.  He did a fantastic job with his work.

Lately, I've noticed it's beginning to fade.  The colors are not as bright as they once were.  And thin cracks are beginning to appear.  My guess is this is due to exposure to the outside elements and the passing of time.  It still looks good.  But changes are gradually taking place.

The fading masterpiece reminds me that nothing of this world lasts forever.  The beauty we see and treasures we enjoy are temporary.  What is here today will be gone in the future.

But here's the good news: We have a God who is eternal.  He has always existed, and forever will continue to do so.

We ought to be glad our God is eternal!

Because of this, we can rest assured He will always...
Be with us,
Watch over us,
Work in us,
And shine through us.

Our eternal God will forever pour out on us His grace, love, forgiveness, peace, joy, power, hope, and goodness.  A thousand years from now He will be doing this.  And a million years from now He will continue in all these wonderful ways!

Masterpieces of this world fade away eventually.  That's just the way it goes.  But our God is permanent and will always be the same.  Because of that, you and I can rejoice!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas 2014 Devotional

It's Christmas morning, 2014.  The kids woke us up at 6:30.  So Lara and I took them into the living room and everyone opened gifts by the tree.  It was a blast.  Smiles were on every face.

After watching the kids dive into presents and enjoying a good breakfast, Lara and I came back here to our room.  We were talking about how blessed we are.  Then Lara looked at me, smiled, and said, "I just feel totally at peace."

She's now taking a little nap.  The kids are playing and chit chatting.  And I'm sitting here relaxing.

Peace.  It really is a wonderful gift we all can receive.  And there's nothing much better than that.

Jesus is often referred to as the Prince of Peace.  His birth in Bethlehem ushered a heavenly peace into this world.  Because of Him, we can have an inner calmness and tranquility that transcends all times and all circumstances.  Furthermore, because of Him, we can relax in knowing that all will be well in the end.

I'm blessed more than I deserve.  I have a wife and kids who love me.   I have a church family that allows me to serve and belong.  I have good parents who stand by me and pray for me.  And best of all, I have peace in my heart this Christmas because of Jesus Christ.  He is my Savior and Lord, and I am thankful more than I can say.

May God's peace fill your heart and home on this Christmas 2014.  May you feel His calmness in knowing that He loves you now and He always will.  And may you experience His serenity in knowing that all will be well in His care.

Merry Christmas, my friends. 

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Deliver Us From Evil

What a week.

We've seen terrorism in Australia and Pakistan.  The stories are hideous and gruesome.  It's more than men in uniforms shooting each other.  Way more.  It's savages butchering women and children too.  In describing it, I think of words like barbaric and evil. 

How much worse can people get?

At times like this, I think about our hope that we Christians cling to in our hearts.  As bad as things are, we know better, brighter days are coming.  A perfect future awaits us with God.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  Revelation 21:4.

God will one day take us home with Him. An eternity of blessings, security, and comfort will be enjoyed in His midst.  There and then, all will be well.  

This pain we all feel is temporary.  It will not last forever.  One day, we will rejoice.

In the mean time...

May God comfort and soothe the hearts of those that are grieving.

May God empower us Christians to be ministers of encouragement with the gospel in this world.

May God deliver us from evil.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best Dad Ever

I picked up my son, Emerson, from school the other day.  He seemed extra excited to see me.  When he climbed into my car, he handed me a package and told me it was an early Christmas present.  I opened it up and found a pin inside that read, "Best Dad Ever".

That really got to me.

See, I'm fully aware that I am not the best dad ever.  There are plenty of things I wish I would have handled differently along the way as a parent.  I've made my share of mistakes.

But Emerson gave it to me anyway.  That proves what a loving kid he is.  And it means the world to me.

The truth of the matter is none of us parents are perfect.  We all have shortcomings in one area or another.  When it comes to raising kids, we dads and moms are all works in progress.

Even though none of us are perfect parents, we all would do well to focus on...

1). Loving our spouse.  Kids need to see dads and moms treat each other right.  It gives them a sense of security when their parents have a good, healthy relationship.  And if we are divorced from that spouse, they still need to see us being respectful and considerate of one another.  The bottom line is this:  Sons and daughters don't benefit when their parents are at each other's throats.  Not at all.  They need to know their parents can cooperate and get along peacefully.

2).  Setting an example.  Kids need to see us loving God, working hard, demonstrating good character, being responsible, and living right.  This will show them how they should live.  It is up to us to model to them proper behavior and healthy life skills. 

3). Being honest when we fail. No, kids don't need the nitty gritty details of all our wrong choices.  But when we let them down directly, it's best to admit it, take responsibility for the blunder, and apologize for it.  

It seems to me that these three, practical steps will take each of us a long way in raising healthy children and succeeding in parenthood.

I may not be the "Best Dad Ever".  And possibly you're not either.  But, it sure is nice that many of us parents have kids who love us and believe in us anyway.

May God help us dads and moms be the best parents we can be.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What We Can Appreciate About Pope Francis

There has been a great deal of buzz about Pope Francis since he began leading the Catholic Church.  Some have even described him as a "rock star".  While I am a Protestant, and therefore have some theological differences with him, I still respect some great, practical things about his life. 

When it comes to this Pope, I think we all can appreciate the following:

First, he has avoided greed and materialism...
Rather than residing in the tremendous, papal living quarters, he chooses to make his home in a Vatican guesthouse, which is smaller and simpler.  This makes him the first pope in over 100 years not to take advantage of these great housing comforts made available to him.  Not only that, he has a humble, basic style of dress.  It's nothing flashy or extravagant.  And instead of wearing a new, gold cross around his neck, he sticks with a silver cross he got in 1992.
May we all remember that our greatest joy is found not in our stuff, but in our Savior.

Scond, he has shown love and compassion to people...
A little boy ran on the stage and interrupted a meeting he had with thousands of people, and the pope simply smiled and hugged him.  There was no reprimand from the Catholic leader.  On another occasion, he decided to let a young man with Down syndrome take a ride with him in the popemobile.  Another neat moment occurred when a man yelled out from a crowd to the pope, "Francis, you're one of a kind."  The Catholic leader responded, "So are you!  There's no other person like you."
May we all remember to treat people right and affirm their worth.

Third, he has ministered to people who are hurting...
It has been reported that he will sneak out of the Vatican some nights, dressed in plain, priestly clothes, to feed and minister to homeless people in the local community.  While doing this, he has sat with these hurting souls, eaten with them, and talked to them.
May we all remember that none of us are too important to help out those around us who are going through tough times.

Whether you are a Catholic or Protestant, I think we all can agree these are good, admirable qualities.  And I believe these are qualities that are pleasing to our Lord.  May we all be sure to...
avoid greed and materialism,
show love and compassion to people,
and minister to people who are hurting.

A life with these three characteristics is a good one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Joseph, The Husband Of Mary

The Virgin Mary gets a lot of attention here at Christmas time.  And that's totally understandable.  Being the mother of Jesus is a mighty big deal.

But what about Joseph, the man who married her?  Earlier in their relationship, Joseph was about to end the engagement and walk away from her because Mary was carrying a child that was not his.  But an angel appeared to him in a dream, explained to him what God's plan was, and then woke him up.  Joseph's response to this shows us what an admirable guy he was.

Think about it...

Joseph was willing to change his plans, marry a young lady who was carrying a child that was not his, and join her on a grand adventure that revolved around the Savior of the world.  What an admirable guy.  Joseph simply obeyed God.

There's a hymn we Baptists like to sing, and it goes like this:  "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."  What an awesome reminder that song is.  There comes a time when we must choose between living our way and living God's way.

Because he chose to obey God, Joseph was rewarded.  He was privileged with getting to witness first-hand the birth and the early, Earthly years of Jesus.  What a blessing!  I'll bet if he were around today, Joseph would tell us that obedience is more than worth it.

Folks, we won't regret trusting and obeying God.  We'll end up getting blessed big time when we decide to live His way.  Joseph's life proves this idea:  Our lives are ultimately much better off when we cooperate with God and get on board with what He is doing.

Let's learn Joseph's lesson well.  Obeying God is a worth while exercise of faith.  Let's make that our way of life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Forgiving Ourselves

It's not easy.  I know from experience.  And maybe you do too.

What am I talking about?  Forgiving ourselves.  Letting go of the regrets we have from the past.

It happens.  We fail and do wrong.  After this, God forgives us when we confess and repent before Him.  Over time, people can forgive us too, with a little help from above.  That forgiveness which flows our way from God, our family, and our friends is a sweet, rich blessing.  

But sometimes it's hard for us to forgive ourselves.  We occasionally wrestle with shame over those things we've done wrong earlier in our lives.  We kick and beat up ourselves.  Painful memories and shameful feelings can haunt us for years if we're not careful.

Here's what I try to keep in mind:

1). Jesus paid the debt for all our sin on the cross.  It's already been taken care of.  The matter was settled long ago, and we have been forgiven.

2).  The past is the past.  It's over.  Done.  Finished.  We can not go back in time and get a do-over.

3).  We can learn from our past and let it help us live better in the present and in the future.  Everyone makes mistakes, but wise people learn from them.

4).  Let's move on with life.  I once heard Colin Powell say in a speech I attended in Orlando, "As I drive along the highway of life, I prefer to look straight ahead through the windshield into the future rather than stare backwards through the rear window at the past."  That saying still sticks with me.  We can't effectively make forward progress if we continue staring over our shoulder at what lies behind us.

We must forgive ourselves.  Yes, let's confess and repent if we have not already done so.  Let's repair what we can.  And let's learn whatever lessons can be gathered from what happened.  Then, we must let go of the negative experience and move on.  It's a new day and a new opportunity for us to live better with our new found wisdom.

I like these words from Pastor Johnny Hunt:  "Don't remain sidelined by past regret."  He's right.  We've got to get in the game of life.  People need us at our best, regardless of how checkered our past may be.  And God specializes in using imperfect people for His amazing work.

Christian, no matter what you did, you are forgiven.  Accept it.  And get back to living.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Cut Down

This big tree used to stand tall in our front yard.  It rose high above our home.  But not any longer.  Some guys showed up the other day and cut it down.  And now it stands no more.

Just as those guys can cut down trees, God can cut down people.

Psalm 55:23 says, "But you, God, will bring down the wicked..."

God reserves the right and has the ability to bring any of us down when we defy Him and rebel against Him with no sense of remorse or repentance.  He does punish.  He does get tough with people at times when He deems it necessary.

Our modern world has tried so hard to make God it's Heavenly Buddy that it has forgotten to have a healthy fear of Him.  What a foolish, reckless mistake it is when we do this.  After all, He is a holy judge and He does have wrath.  To blatantly defy Him is to risk being cut down by Him one way or another.

Let's remember who we're dealing with when it comes to God.  And let's remember that just as sure as He blesses and comforts, He also deals strongly with those who have no regard for His righteousness character and expectations.  God most certainly has the freedom to cut us down.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Ripple Effect

One thing life has taught me is this:  Each choice we make affects other people.  This is true with good choices, and wrong ones.  Our actions have a ripple effect that will most certainly impact the lives of people around us, one way or another.

In Joshua 7, Aachan sinned against God.  He stole some items after a battle.  The problem was that God had clearly instructed everyone not to take anything.  Because of Aachan's selfish choice, the nation of Israel lost their next battle.  Then all of Aachan's family members were killed before he too lost his own life.  See the point?  Aachan's choice had a ripple effect with negative consequences for those who were connected to him.

Selfishness is at the root of sin.  In doing wrong, we are only thinking about ourselves.  Nobody else. Then, when it's time for us to pay the price, there is collateral damage all around us.  How tragic!

May we always remember that each choice we make is far-reaching.  Everything we do is going to affect the lives of our families, friends, co-workers, and fellow church members.  This means we need to consider the wide range repercussions of what we do before we spring into action.

If our lives are morally upright, productive, and selfless, others around us will end up being blessed because of it.

If our lives are immoral, lazy, and selfish, others around us will end up being hurt because if it.

There is a ripple effect that inevitably follows our choices.  It's just a fact of life.  So let's always remember that when we are deciding between right and wrong.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why The Virgin Mary Matters

Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is especially celebrated this time of year.  And why shouldn't she be?  We set time aside here in December to rejoice over the birth of our Savior.  Mary had the privilege and thrill of birthing and caring for The One who would save humanity from its sin. 

That's the obvious reason she matters.  For that alone, Mary deserves our respect.  The mother of our Lord is more than worthy of honor from you and me.

But, Mary is also a big deal for other reasons.  Her actions teach us some lessons.  Let's reflect on her for just a moment...

Mary is proof that we have a powerful God, who can do anything.  She was a virgin.  There had been no physical union between her and Joseph, who was soon to be her husband.  Yet God miraculously enabled her to carry a child in her womb.  Science can't explain it, but God indeed caused this to happen.

If God can do a miracle in Mary's life, isn't it safe to conclude that He can also do extraordinary things in our lives?  I do believe so!  God can heal diseases, free addicts, meet needs, change lives, repair relationships, forgive sins, and save souls.  All things are possible with our God.

Mary is a reminder that serving God, regardless of the cost, is always worth it in the end.  This would not be easy for Mary.  Surely there would be people who would look down on her and gossip about her being pregnant before her wedding day.  Some people were (and still are) cruel about things like that.  She had to have known that there would be folks who didn't understand this miracle that was happening inside of her.  A difficult road awaited this young lady, who was most likely 12 or 13 years of age.  But Mary agreed to be a servant of God with an obedient heart.  Her attitude was good, her mind was set, and her life would never be the same.  And because of this, she will always be celebrated as a special person of high worth.

God called Mary to be the mother of Jesus Christ.  What is He calling you to do?  Maybe it's going on a short-term mission trip, working to repair your broken marriage, witnessing to an unsaved person, writing a book, or going to minister in a local nursing home.  Whatever it is, Mary's choice is a valuable reminder to just do it!  Get on board with what God wants in your life.  Say "Yes!" to His calling.  And when you do, I can promise it will be worth the sacrifices you make.  God will bless you for it.  There are very few greater thrills than carrying out God's purposes for our lives.

Mary was special.  She made the most of her life.  And she set an example for all of us.

Let's have faith and believe in our all-powerful God.

Let's faithfully serve our God, who has been so good to us.

Let's live a life that counts.