He who has an ear, let him hear

I listened to a sermon this morning from the book of Revelation.  It’s a prophetic book about the end of days.  I always imagine how difficult it was for John to describe the things he saw.  There would have been flying machines that John could not envision.  We can imagine today that what he would describe as fire falling from heaven could easily be nuclear weapons.

There’s a phrase that John uses quite frequently: “He who has an ear, let him hear…” Pastor David Jeremiah said today we might say, “If the shoe fits, wear it”.  Another way to say it would be, “If this applies to you, heed this warning… or accept this encouragement.”

So when people are being persecuted as the church in China or Islamic countries are today, they can be encouraged by the words written to the church in Smyrna in Rev. 2:10-11, “Do not fear what you are going through…Be faithful even unto death…He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”  If this applies to you, be encouraged.

When people are compromising and bowing to the sin of the world as many in the church in America are today, some of us see the warning given to the church in Pergamos about committing sexual immorality, etc., and we want to shout, “Repent, or else…” (Rev 2:16).  If this applies to you, heed this warning. And if you overcome and hold fast in this compromising generation, be encouraged that He will sustain you. (Rev. 2:17)

There’s no doubt we are living in a time in America when people do not want to hear anything other than what they agree with.  We are rarely convinced of anything anymore.  It’s why politicians can’t work things out.  It’s why people leave one church for another or leave the church all together.  We know how we feel and we only want to be affirmed.  And I have to wonder if God has granted many their desire to believe they are right even when they are wrong.  In other words, they so want to believe they are right that God allows them to believe a lie.  Paul writes about this very thing in Romans 1:18-32.

“If this applies to you, heed this warning… or accept this encouragement.”

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What are the highlights of your life?

Sometimes when another blogger clicks “like” on my blog, I will take a look at theirs just to see what their blog’s purpose is. I primarily write to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to encourage and challenge those who already follow Him.

There was an interesting blog that I looked at this morning.  He lists his personal highlights as follows (in entirety):

  • Currently being Followed on Twitter by Nelly Furtado , Ben Bailey and Casper Van Dien from Star Ship Troopers and most recently “Mortal Kombat Legacy”
  • Once met the wrestling Hall of Famer Booker T
  • I once encountered Luthor Vandross in a Nobody beats the Wiz store – Yeah remember those?
  • Was once the brief caretaker of legendary Double Bass player Andy Gonzalez and it was a priveldge!
  • Hired by entertainer Robbi Style featured on VH1 to do illustrations and messaged by one of my favorite stand up comedians of all time Ben Bailey ( Cash Cab Guy ) on FB and Twitter.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on this guy’s list.  Let me just say it reminded me that what some people view as important, others may view as insignificant. And that’s OK. He doesn’t have to live his life to please other people, and neither do you or I.

IMG_2125But what I do not want to do is to be distracted by the trappings of our society and begin to think that those things are the highlights of life. This guy’s personal highlights all have to do with celebrity. The majority of my highlights in the last 15 years have to do with God’s mission. Again, I’m not criticizing that guy, but as for me, I consider those things that I do as a follower of Jesus as some of the greatest joys in life. And they’re not all dramatic like being in Haiti or Africa or other mission trips. Some of them are as simple as fixing a dinner on Wednesday evenings for a whole lot of people who will come to the church to eat and hear about (and I pray FROM) God.

I have this saying from St. Gregory the Great written in the front of my Bible and it reminds me not to get distracted (he wrote is about 1,500 years ago):

Anyone who is determined to reach their destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like the foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.

I pray that you and I aren’t seduced by the charms of this world.

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Being “All In” is Different for each of us

Diane and I will be celebrating our 29th anniversary in a few weeks.

I think of a certain song all the time when I think about our marriage.  It’s a Brad Paisley song about how much he loved a girl when he first met her. Then he says when he proposed to her, his love for her was so much greater than it was when they met. Then they get married and he realizes his love for her when he proposed paled in comparison to how he loves her when they get married.  His lyrics then go like this:

I can just see you
With a baby on the way
I can just see you
When your hair is turning gray
What I can’t see
Is how I’m ever gonna love you more
But I’ve said that before.

(You can watch it here- https://youtu.be/etnXccIRhpE )

I believe that’s what we hope for in our relationship with Jesus.  I was “All In” when I went into the ministry 8 years ago.  Our family moved to Mason, WV – to a place we’d never heard of, leaving a church we’d been a part of for 22 years.  And God left us in Mason for 6 wonderful years.  Then 2 years ago we were all in when we left the church and community we loved to move to another place we’d never heard of.  And here we are in Short Gap, beginning our third year.  I’m pretty sure we’ll be here at least 2 or 3 more years until Diane finishes her bachelor’s degree at Frostburg State and Adam gets his culinary degree from Allegany College of Maryland.  But being all in and giving yourself completely to Jesus is unpredictable.

But when you do give yourself completely to Him, He blesses you to be able to love Him more, and to allow you the insight to want to give more of yourself to Him.  And it doesn’t mean you didn’t love Him with all your heart and give Him all of yourself before. You may have given all you were able to give.  You just have more awareness now, He has trusted you with more, and are able to give more of yourself to give back to Him than you were able to before.  And He does want more.  And the amazing truth is that as you continue to be all in, He will bless you more and give you more so that you can give more of your life back to him.  

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He will take you back

Yesterday we were in the mountains of Haiti working at a mobile health clinic.  Obviously I wasn’t much help on the medical part. They were going to see over 300 people at the clinic. My job was to tell people about Jesus. I told a group (through a translator) that they would receive medicine from the doctors and get better, but they may get sick again.  I told them I know the great healer that heals our brokenness and cleanses our hearts. 

One of the people I was able to talk with one on one was John Baptiste.  That’s actually a popular name in Haiti.  A few years ago he became a Christian when he gave his life to Christ at a crusade.  He went to church with his wife and things were well.  Then his dad was killed. John Baptiste was distraught and walked away from the church and from God.  His wife is still a Christian and goes to church.  She was thrilled we were talking to him.  I asked him if he thought it was possible that God would have sent me from my home in the United States to the mountains of Haiti at that very moment for the sole purpose of telling him that Jesus wants him back.  He said anything was possible with God.  I asked him if I could pray with him to ask Jesus to forgive him and welcome him back into His good graces.  John Baptiste said yes and we prayed for that.

 It’s amazing how God could have used anyone to reach John Baptiste, and He decided to use someone from the mountains of WV to reach one of His sheep that had strayed in the mountains of Haiti.

He is a gracious God who is abounding in mercy.  And He also sets up divine appointments. 

  
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The difficulty of becoming a Christian

Tonight I went outside the fence to the beach to see the sunset.  I met a young Hatian boy, probably between 12 and 14 years old, who had the biceps of a man.  He had just come in on a boat where he and his older brother had finished setting the 200 foot fishing net that will be pulled in tomorrow morning for a couple of dozen sardines.

 The boat was on the shore leaning to one side and the young boy was sitting on the boat. He gave me the thumbs up and I thought he wanted his picture taken. So I held up the camera and asked, “Oui?” He said no. He didn’t want his picture taken. 

  After a few minutes he came to where I was sitting and wanted to see pictures that I had been taking of the sunset. I showed him. Then I showed him how to take pictures. He walked over to another young man and started taking pictures of him.  Then he handed the camera to his friend and started posing himself as his friend took pictures of him. They were looking at the pictures on the camera and cackling. 
After more than a dozen photos he gave the camera back to me and ran away laughing. One of the women said that this boy does nothing but work hard all the time.  He doesn’t play soccer when the others do, he just works very hard.  It was a blessing to me to see their joy.  The people here have such a difficult life. I have such an easy life.  The irony is that they have it so rough that it’s difficult for them to believe there is a God who loves them and we in America have it so good and are so self sufficient that it’s difficult for us to imagine that we need God for anything. 

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Changed lives to change lives

Pastors are no different than anyone else.  Sometimes we all get discouraged.  God encourages me in various ways.  I hope you can see how He encourages you in different ways at different times when you need encouraging.

One of the ways He encourages me is by allowing me to see certain people on Facebook.  Last night one of my friends Andy posted pictures of his kids on carnival rides at a fair.  And then he posted pictures and video from the Christian music group “For King and Country” who was playing at the fair.

Then this morning, Andy’s wife Dawna writes this ending to a story from her work that she shared on Facebook:

…(this stranger) then goes on to say “God is going to bless you greatly”.  Him saying that is all that I have thought about since that moment. In my mind, God has already blessed me greatly! I guess, sometimes I forget about what’s yet to come, including the glory of heaven!

Andy and Dawna along with their kids were part of the reason that God sent Diane and me to pastor the community of Mason eight years ago.  God changed their lives through Diane’s life and my life (along with others in Mason who have had a great influence on them).  Two years ago, God saw fit to move us from there.  And it’s so encouraging for me to see Andy and Dawna still post these types of things on Facebook.  I understand that they are just like the rest of us, facing challenges, but God keeps reminding me that it’s His people that matter and that while we left, He has not left Andy and Dawna and our time there was well spent.

And that would have ended today’s blog, but you will never believe who just sent me a Facebook message that said, “Thank you”.  Literally, just sent it as I’m getting ready to post this.  Go ahead, guess.  I haven’t had a message from Andy since April 21, and as I’m just writing about he and Dawna, he sends me a note that says “Thank you” as I’m working on this blog post.  You can’t make this stuff up.

We serve an amazing God.  And He will not let you down.  He will lift you up.  He will see you through.  When you ask, “Where are you, Lord?” you can rest assured that He is there.  Thanks Andy and Dawna for allowing God to use you to encourage me.

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Pray for me, I’m addicted to internet porn

The title is just an illustration I use later in the blog.  Don’t call the Bishop or District Superintendent and don’t freak out.

I did a memorial service at the church on Sunday.  We didn’t sing Amazing Grace or Rock of Ages at this memorial service.  There would be no solo of The Old Rugged Cross.  Right before I played Downtown Train by Rod Stewart, I told the 140 people in attendance that the surviving spouse wanted the Rod Stewart song played along with Keep on Loving You by REO Speedwagon.  These songs were special to the couple.  We weren’t there to impress anyone.  We were there to help the family deal with their grief and to honor the life of a 53 year old who, just like the rest of us, had his struggles and did the best he could.  His wife wasn’t about trying to pretend anything.  And neither was I.

Billy Joel’s song The Stranger would have been a fitting song.

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone.

The church is a lot like Facebook in that we only like to show our best side.  We rarely say or hear anyone say, “I drink too much”.  Nobody every says, “Pray for me, I’m addicted to internet porn” in church or on Facebook. And if they did, most people would write or say, “That’s TMI”, (TMI=too much information).

For me, the memorial service was a rare time of honesty.  It was a beautiful moment where we quit pretending everything was perfect. And lest you think it was without hope, the opposite was true. It was full of hope as we discussed the grace and mercy of God through Jesus that is available both to the person who serves Him their whole life and the one who accepts Him at the last moment. I spoke of the parallel between someone like Betty Walker a local teacher who recently died on a mission trip in Guatemala verses someone who struggles with their demons until the last moment.

There is always hope if we’re willing to be honest.  And God can handle our honesty even if nobody else can.  And he will “Keep on Loving You”.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Almighty God,
Thank you for being so loving and so forgiving. Thank you for allowing me to be honest with you. Thank you for allowing me to come to you as I am. Thank you for sending Jesus to sacrifice Himself on the cross to pay for the penalty of my sins – all of them. And not only do I ask you to forgive me, which I do, but I also ask you to help me overcome those things you know I struggle with. Break these chains that bind me and break the bonds of the things that control me.  For Your glory and my benefit I ask this in Jesus’ Name, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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