Happy Birthday America!

In a few weeks I will be traveling outside the United States on a mission trip to Nicaragua. As is often the case, as I am preparing to leave, my thoughts wander. Have I taken care of everything here? Do I have everything I need to take there? Very typical thoughts when we are traveling; but lately, I have been asking myself about America. I love to travel, mainly because I love people; yet, what I love the most about traveling is coming home.

The question I have been considering is: Why do I love America?

Times have changed. It isn’t the same America I once knew – the America of my childhood. Americans themselves are different. The way we think and act do not line-up with what my father and mother taught me. People in America are disillusioned and tired and frustrated. So, I ask myself, “Why do I love this country?”

My wife Connie is not the same person I married. The Connie I married was young and beautiful. She was fun and vivacious. She was carefree and ready for anything. And everyday that we’ve been married, she has changed.

The Connie I am married to today is older and even more beautiful. She’s intelligent and witty. She’s lived through many experiences, and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life loving her.

The one constant in life other than Jesus Christ is CHANGE. It happens to everyone and everything. Leave a room, reenter it, and something about it has changed.

America has changed – but I still love my country deeply. To answer my own question, I wanted to remind myself and all of you why we should love America.

1. I am free. I can go to church, work, have a home, educate myself and children, go to ballgames, read what I want, and live in peace.

2. Our country is divinely appointed. We were founded on religious principles; people came to America longing to worship God freely without governmental restrictions.

3. I love how we exchange governmental power. Even when my presidential candidate doesn’t win, I love the inauguration. I love the swearing-in of the new president. I love that our country isn’t “overthrown” every time someone new becomes president.

4. I love the Grand Canyon, the fields of grain, the sandy beaches, and the city lights.

5. I love hotdogs, fireworks, and warm apple pie with vanilla ice-cream on top.

6. I love the Preamble of the Constitution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

7. I love that someone who opposes my opinion can stand beside me and shout as loud a he wants to shout; and I can stand beside him and voice my opinion as loud as I want to voice it; and neither one of us is breaking the law. We respect one another and our differences.

8. I love the people of the United States. We are volunteers. We are helpers. We are hard workers. We are motivated. We care what happens in the world.

9. I love that we sing the National Anthem before ballgames and men still remove their hats.

10. I love that we are “ONE NATION UNDER GOD” and it is “IN GOD WE TRUST”

Today is the Fourth of July – the birthday of this great nation. Take some time to remember what makes America great and celebrate the love you have for our country.

Happy Birthday, America!

 

 

A ripple of hope

Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Many of us operate under the assumption that in order to change the world we have to do great and mighty things. The truth of the matter is: a simple act of kindness in the name of Jesus; a loving gesture displaying Christianity; an understanding word to honor Him can start a rippling effect.

How we interact on a daily basis influences others. Have you ever had your day interrupted by someone’s rudeness? Maybe you were grabbing breakfast on your way to work and the person in the car in front of you bought your meal. Or you are dropping your children off at school and someone holds the door for you. Maybe you are running 10,000 errands in a small amount of time and someone offers to help you. The way it makes me feel in turn causes me to respond to others in similar fashion. And the rippling begins…

Words and actions cross our paths every second of every day. Did you ever stop and think how your words and actions are impacting others?

I once read a church billboard which said, “Always testify to the goodness of Jesus Christ and when necessary use your words.”

Sometimes I see someone acting out in a loving way to another person and I think, “I know that makes God smile!” Other times I see someone acting in an ungodly way and I think, “I bet God is wishing he or she would just sit down and hush.”

As Christians we have a higher calling – to spread the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ – with our words and our actions. When we do so, the ripples start and make such a difference in the lives of others. Try it! You never know how God may use it to benefit His Kingdom.

The Season of Giving?

I’ve always been fascinated by the television crews who go out on the street and ask every day people, living every day lives, questions. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always wanted to do it too. So, I decided to go into areas where people do not know me and propose this question, What does the Season of Giving actually mean?

My first stop, Race Track in Gainesville, Georgia; perfect spot to find an answer to my question. I pulled up next to a guy in an F250 and started filling up my tank. “Sir, could I ask you a question?” I began. (It didn’t seem as smooth as the television guys, but it was my first shot.)

“Sure,” he responded, spitting tobacco juice to the side of his truck.

“What does the Season of Giving actually mean?”

“Christmas,” he said, quickly and a matter-of-factly.

I realized I needed to rephrase my question. “Can you give me an example of what the season of giving means?”

“Santa Claus,” he answered.

I decided to drive further up the road to a McDonalds off I-85. There were two older ladies having lunch, and they seemed please to answer anything I asked. “Can you ladies give me an example of what the season of giving means?”

“Gifts. Every year I bake cookies for families in my neighborhood and church,” one answered.

“For me,” the taller, more serious looking woman responded, “It’s time with my grandchildren.”

At The Home Depot, a man answered, “Jewelry for my wife. She expects it every Christmas and I work for it all year-long.”

In the Mall parking lot I heard:

“I don’t really think about needy people being necessarily poor. Like, needy people could be people who need attention. So, I try to spend time with lonely people.”

“Time when you focus on others and not yourself.”

“The season of giving is about finding the joy of the holiday.”

“Getting toys and lots of them…”

“I’m not really into Christmas, but if I were Christian, it would be about giving to other people and not about getting from other people. That’s why I’m not really into Christmas.”

“I’ve been hoping all month my parents get me PlayStation 4! Yeah! That will definitely be the true season of giving.”

“Christmas parties, family gatherings, greeting cards, and packages.”

“It’s the season FOR GIVING. Get it? Forgiving others.”

There were some workers – a construction crew – taking a lunch break just outside of downtown Atlanta. “In Mexico, in our village, we used to go from house to house. We would bring food and our neighbors would offer food. It was a time of celebration for Mother Mary and the Christ child.”

“It’s about remembering why Christ came to earth and thanking Him for coming.”

And my favorite answer, which came from a little girl at Chic-fil-A, “‘For God so loved the world, that He GAVE His only Son…’ That’s it! That’s Christmas in a package, tied up with a bow.”

So, what does “the Season of Giving” mean to you? Maybe we all need to stop and think about it and start implementing what it means to us.

 

The hole in the fence

When I was a little boy, my mom and dad took my sister and me to the Christmas parade. It was crowded with people and being as we were late in arriving, it was difficult to find a parking spot. The parade had already started, and I just knew we were going to miss seeing Santa, the marching band, the floats, and the girls twirling fire. Finally, we found a spot on the parade route behind a fence. “It is the best we can do, Michael,” my mom reminded me. There was a hole in the fence, just the perfect height and width for me. I pressed my forehead against the wooden edge and like a pair of binoculars, I could see the action in front of me. But only in front of me through the hole in the fence.

I often think about that parade day when I feel uncertain about my future. We see life like I saw that parade. We have a limited view of what’s out there for us. God, on the other hand, sees the whole parade route. He isn’t limited by the hole in the fence. He knows just what is needed to get where He is taking us. He knows the next step.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Today, put your trust in Him. He knows where you are going – He’s already been there! Rely on Him to teach you what you need to know to get there. Don’t fret. Just do what you know to do today and give the rest to Him.

In the arms of God

Psalm 16:7-10, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”

The other day I sat down at my computer, determined to write a Psalm, like David, to my Lord and Savior. It didn’t turn-out well. David had such an ability to use just the right imagery and say just the right words to speak wonderful praises to God and to fill our hearts with love for Him. My Psalm seemed quite shabby in comparison. There is such solace in his words to our Father.

This morning I am searching for a way to praise God as never before because my body is secure; I am confident He will not abandon me. Maybe it is my age, but I am realizing more and more the depth with which God loves us. He is not this Being who created us and left us to be. He is intertwined in our daily existence; more so than we could ever imagine.

I have a friend who designs buildings all over the world. He actually is the architect for commercial structures. Some of them are so amazingly breathtaking that I just want to stand before them and take it in. I asked him once if when he drives by them does he stop and get out and stare. Does he look at them and say, “Wow! I can’t believe I did that.” His response surprised me. He said, “You know Mike, God gives me images, visual pockets of how the buildings will fit into the structure of the city. When I drive by them I actually say aloud, ‘Wow God! That is a really good one!'”

Even in our occupations; our education; our health; our children; our friendship; our day-to-day tasks; God is there. We cannot be shaken because He’s got us with His strong right hand. No matter what our earthly life dishes out to us, the Creator knows how to fit us into the structure of His plan and purpose. Let your tongue rejoice and your heart be glad today because you rest in the arms of God.

Your tent is gone!

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson went on a camping trip.  After sharing a good meal and a bottle of Petrie wine, they retire to their tent for the night.

At about 3 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, ‘Watson, look up into  the sky and tell me what you see?’

Watson said, ‘I see millions of stars.’

Holmes asks, ‘And, what does that tell you?’

Watson replies, ‘Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo.  Theologically, it tells me that God is great and we are small and insignificant.  Horologically, it tells me that it’s about 3 AM.  Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day  tomorrow.  What does it tell you, Holmes?’

Holmes retorts, ‘Someone stole our tent.'”

Sometimes we miss the obvious.

Paul has an issue in the church of God in Corinth. There is division among the members. When he writes to them, it is obvious he knows them well. Paul has lived in Corinth for around two years according to historical records. The leaders of the church are vying for position.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” 

What point is he trying to make? If being Christian is about Christ – and it is – how can we be divided? Was Christ divided? NO! Then why are we?

In my prayer time this morning, I considered the main reason we are divided in the Christian world is because we don’t understand that Christ wasn’t divided. We don’t understand that Christ wasn’t divided because we are too busy interpreting the Bible to fit our own needs instead of accepting the Bible for what it really says. We are like Watson, “Well, Astronomically, it tells me this…and Theologically, it tells me this…and Meteorologically…” Some of us aren’t even reading the Bible. We are relying on what a sermon tells us or someone else tells us. No wonder we are divided!

Christ came to teach us His ways; to give us a direction; to help us navigate life. Many of us do not understand Christ because we don’t want to understand Christ. If you will allow the example, “We don’t want to admit our tent is stolen; instead, we find 100 other excuses to explain why we are uncovered.” When Christ – not human personalities or cultural situations or political correctness – is central, unity among the church and the Christian community will be demonstrated. What has to happen first is the simple admission that our tent is gone. Only Christ and the power of the Cross can bring us together under His covering (or, I can’t help myself, “His tent”).

The sin that started all sin

Proverbs 19:5 “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.”

When a hurricane hits the shores, the damage is indescribable. I’ve seen it firsthand. Homes destroyed. Trees broken in half like twigs. Cars turned upside down. People’s lives blown away in an instant. The destruction is real and visible; and everyone around it knows exactly how and when it happened.

But a lie…

Lies are like snakes. They slither around in the tall grass or hide under rocks. You find them unexpectedly in a water can or next to a peaceful brook. When they strike, it is with little warning.

Lies float around in the air like a deadly virus. They grow and spread like cancer. It is hard to control or contain them.

There are several times in the Bible that God mentions lying and the impact it has on our lives.

Psalm 101:7, “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.”

Luke 8:17, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

Proverbs 12:22, “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.”

Satan lied to Eve regarding the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and the fall of man began. Talk about destruction – no storm has ever made an impact as great as one lie from the lips of a snake to Eve. Lying is a BIG deal.

We do it on a daily basis. We lie because we don’t want to tell someone the truth. We can’t make an appointment or we’re too tired to spend time with someone. We didn’t get the work done and our excuse couldn’t be as good as a lie. We cheat others; damage property; can’t admit our faults. And so we use the sin that started all sin, and we lie.

Our children see us lie and they lie. Our government lies. We lie at work, at church, in the grocery store. We even lie to God. Lying has been “in” since Adam and Eve. Sometimes, we don’t even remember what the truth is because we’ve lied so much to cover it.

I want to challenge you today to stop the destruction of mankind. Stop lying. It isn’t easy. Commit today not to tell a lie. Be honest with your kids; be honest with your spouse; be honest with your parents, your boss, your teacher, your friends. Honor God today and make it a LIE FREE day. Maybe if today is LIE FREE, tomorrow will be too. Try it.

Are you hungry?

Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Most of us do not know what it is like to be truly hungry. We’ve probably been thirsty after working in the hot summer Georgia sun all day, but being hungry is uncommon to most of us. This verse uses the physical sensation to help us to understand the depth of hunger and thirst He expects us to have in pursuit of righteousness. He’s not talking about someone who kind of wants righteousness, He’s talking about someone who is seeking righteousness in almost desperation.

I remember being in Haiti several years ago and being around people who had not eaten in a week. Their stomach’s ached with the pain of emptiness. A teenage boy bent over in agony because the pain was unbearable. I’ve never experienced that kind of hunger, but I’ve seen it. The yearning for food overwhelms the brain. The mind can think of nothing more than finding food to fill the stomach. It is this desire Jesus is talking about but it isn’t a desire for food or water but for God.

When Jesus speaks of this hunger and thirst for righteousness, it is about an insatiable desire to please God, to honor Him, and to be close to Him.  It is about an all-consuming passion which burns within us to be filled with His presence. Just as one would search out food and water in desperation to survive, so should we search out God in order to live.

2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Do you realize, your thoughts and actions directly affect your relationship with God? Without the Word in our lives, we cannot function. It is similar to going three days without food or water. Could you work? Could you take care of your family? Could you even communicate with people? Three days without food or water would definitely leave you weak and lethargic. How then do we think we can function without the Word of God – the nourishing food of our soul?

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

When we put God first, seek Him first, we can’t help but be hungry for Him. Blessings follow those who want more than anything to please God. Reflect today on how you can put God first above all else in your life.

Who are you pulling for?

Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

When I was in Elementary School, my class won the Tug of War game. We clobbered all our opponents. Our secret? My teacher would yell out, “Pull! Pull! Pull!” We would pull and release on her command, unified. We defeated people older and stronger than us because we pulled together and we won every time. The other teams simply pulled individually at different times. Our strategy worked!

I often remember those Tug of War days and our victory when I read this scripture. By carrying one another’s burdens, together we present a unified front against the struggles of the world. Together we pull! pull! pull! And burdens are lifted.

Jesus came to bear our burdens, to carry the weight of our sins, and to die on the Cross for us. It was His purpose so that we might have salvation. It was the choice He made for our redemption. We must do the same. If someone you know is in trouble, whether it be from his or her own sin or a trial or a difficult season in life, we need to do something. We need to help carry his or her burden. Don’t stand back and watch. Don’t allow them to go down a path of destruction. Come to their aid and come quickly.

I’ve often heard, “Well, it’s really none of my business!”

God didn’t ask us to meddle, He asked us to love and make lighter the burdens of others. He didn’t ask us to judge or punish, He is asking us to carry the burdens of others.

A few years ago, a lady in the church I serve was fasting for the salvation of her marriage. Because of infidelity, her husband was preparing to file for divorce. The lady became overwhelmed with grief and sickness but she wanted to be committed to her fast. Another woman in our church went to the lady and said, “I will fast for you.” She continued the fast for the lady. Miraculously, the marriage was saved.

In another incidence, a woman in our church worked for another woman for several months while she was out sick and gave her the pay-check. A man in our church kept up the yard of his neighbor when his neighbor fell off the roof and was bedridden for several months. I know of a lady who watches over a child with a severe handicap so the parents can go out every Thursday night for alone time.

God asks us to carry the burdens of one another. He is yelling down to us, just like my teacher did that infamous day of Tug of War, “Pull! Pull! Pull!”

The question is then, who are you pulling for? Today, be aware of those around you, those you love, your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers. Offer your help to them. Be consistent. Carry their burdens.

Fitting through

Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There are times, more than I’d like to admit, that I really don’t want to do the right thing; mainly, because I don’t feel like doing it. Some days, I would rather stay in bed instead of getting up to read my Bible and have prayer time with God. Sometimes, I would rather respond in anger to someone who is out-of-place or rude instead of responding in a calm and appropriate manner; actually,  I’d really like to bop them in the nose! At times, I would rather not stop and pick up a head of cabbage on my way home from work as Connie has requested of me. Often, I’d prefer to watch television instead of mowing the grass; would rather eat lemon cookies than raw carrots; and would rather not listen to complaints about my sermons and just go to lunch. But, bottom line, the way to victory requires discipline and has nothing to do with our feelings. God requires us to do what is right in all situations, not just when we “feel” like it.

God has given us the freedom to choose the right way or the wrong way; but He expects us to choose the right way. To enter the narrow gate, we have to actively pursue God’s Word and live by it obediently. There are days when I don’t feel like living obediently; however, I’ve learned from experience and the school of hard knocks, that it is faith not feelings that leads to eternal life.

Today, choose to do the right thing. Choose God’s way. Be one of the few that finds the small gate leading to the road of eternal life.