The Worst of Man, the Best of Man

With Hurricane Michael slamming into and ripping apart parts of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, there were plenty of opportunities. Opportunities for mankind to sink low and take advantage of his fellow man and for mankind to rise up and help. Stories abound of both.

A drunk driver swerved off the road and killed three linemen in Chipley, Florida. The National Guard was stationed in just about every town and hamlet to ward off vandalism and thievery. I saw a mobile vendor set up shop in Greenwood, Florida and sell food at prices one wouldn’t be asked to pay at fairs or amusement parks. I saw roofing contractors inflating the estimates on work so the owner could get more money. These are just a few examples of what I know. We could fill pages with how people were being scammed. However…

I saw more good than bad. Most of the people I encountered put their own needs on a back burner to help those around them. Many of them with damage to their own property felt “it can wait” and “others have it worse than we do.” These people formed a small army within their communities, working tirelessly helping others.

Friendship Baptist Church in Malone, Florida happened to be on the same electrical leg as the local prison, so when power was restored to the correctional facility the church also got power. Even before they received power, they opened their doors to be a major supplies distribution center to Malone and the surrounding areas. Men would load up supplies in their trucks and deliver goods to people out in rural areas who had no power and subsequently, no water. It complicated matters when vehicles were under trees or blocked in by trees covering driveways. The men, in their trucks, went around the debris to reach the people in need.

For several days, Friendship would feed anyone who came to their fellowship hall, including National Guard, linemen, first responders, and folks who hadn’t had a hot meal in days. When the area around Malone received power, the supplies were shipped to Marianna to help the people there.

Our little country church reached deep and out to those around us in southeast Alabama and even into Florida. A local gas station donated a pallet of water. We sent two small groups to Florida with supplies. Each time we discovered needs, we sent out the word, and the needs were met. We opened our pastorium to a displaced minister and his family from Florida until they could make other arrangements.

When in Florida, we made friends with an associate pastor and his family from Marianna who had been working so much to help their community that they had hardly touched their own yard. It was littered with huge oaks the wind had toppled. They had to drive on their lawn because their driveway was blocked. In short, with their help, we cleared out the driveway of the trees and limbs. We took a blower to it for good measure.

I personally reached out to the company where I work, both corporately and locally. The response was tremendous. Locally, my fellow workers gave supplies to our church to distribute in Florida. Supplies were shipped to us from Kansas, other parts of Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and even from colleagues in North Carolina who had just gone through Hurricane Florence.

I am not recounting any of this to sound our horn. I am offering these few stories as a reminder of the goodness of God that still resides in our land and in our neighbors. The stories are endless of the sacrifice whole communities and individuals have made. I am only privy to these. They are a testimony to the good that still exists and the good that still can be done in the world. God is good and he continues to work through human hands to heal human hurts even in the darkest of times.

A Guarded Inheritance

I Peter 1:3-5

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

As the Bible so often does, here is a nugget of truth on which volumes could be written. As I read this, I wondered why I have never heard this verse used at funerals. Funerals are those things that make us reflect on our own lives even when we don’t want to, especially when the departed is around our age or younger. I had the displeasure of experiencing this not too long ago.

Living and Dying

dandelion nature sunlight

This one statement tells us how we should live and die. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John, chapter three, you must be born again. Who causes this to happen? God, according to His great mercy and through the atoning life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Our rebirth is into a hope that is living. This hope is not the kind that one would use in wishing something is true, but rather is a trust in something real, yet to come. It is a surety not realized, just like in Hebrews 11:1. That trust is in an inheritance that we will one day receive. That inheritance will not perish, will never be defiled, and will not fade – ever.

Beyond Imagination

This inheritance if far beyond our imagination here on earth. It is waiting for us in the holiest home of heaven. It is such a treasure for us that it is even being guarded until such time as we arrive to receive it. We believe it not because we wish it to be, but because it truly is. Our faith can be steadfast in the power of God to reveal our inheritance to us at the right time and will be given only then.

Be Encouraged

blur close up focus gavel

As the bible says, it is appointed for man to die and that there will be a judgment.  No one wants to think about this reality of living. You must die one day. You must stand before a righteous God in judgment on how you lived this life. Every work, word, and deed will be revealed at that time. For Christians, the vault will be opened, and that guarded inheritance will be revealed and bestowed. This is what we should be looking forward to when times are tough when we feel lonely, and when we feel fear. Don’t feel beaten down, but encouraged that God takes note of all you are going through here and will reward you there with a guarded inheritance, specifically for you, with your name on it. That is great and wonderful news.

No One Escapes

Audio Podcast Version

Christians Are Not Exempt

No one escapes this earthly death. No one escapes the pain. Somehow people seem to think that Christians get a bye on the whole earth experience thing. Even some Christians are shocked when they suffer. Christians don’t escape the natural and moral evil of this world. We are not supposed to. Just because we become believers in Christ doesn’t mean all life from here after (down here anyway) will be without pain or heartache. Christians die too, sometimes very horribly.

“But doesn’t God love us? Why would he let such things happen to us if we are his children and we trust in him?” This presumes that we should get preferential treatment from God. He lets us live life with all the heartache, wonder, pleasure, and tragedy. It wouldn’t be life if we didn’t. We all go through this life together in a broken world. Though our spirits have been born again, our bodies still age and die because they are still under the curse of sin, as is all creation.

We Are No Accident

Christians know they are going to die, and when they die, they do spend eternity with God in heaven. So, why does he leave us here? He created us to fulfill a purpose that he had in mind. He had a purpose first and then created us. He didn’t say, “Hmmm. There is going to be this little baby boy named T.J. born, and I wonder what I should have him do?” No. He said, “I have a purpose, and I am going to create this person named T.J. (or fill in your name) to fulfill it.” When my purpose is done, then so am I.

QuoteChristians should take the view that they are the leading character in their own action movie. Just like any good story, the protagonist will face obstacles and challenges as he or she navigates their way through the story. I see my life as an adventure and have many times told people “the hard times are just part of this adventure I call my life.” There are many dangers, toils, and snares, not to mention that villain. You are the leading character, but not the hero, Jesus is, but like any good main character, you will triumph in the end.

The good thing is, you get reviews as you go, by the Holy Spirit who is the protagonist’s mentor. Jesus is the author and finisher of the movie, who also should have a starring role. God is working in the backdrop to weave your story into the series that he has created.

greyscale photo of woman between two man

You, my friend have to decide how good of an actor you want to be. Do you follow the script, realizing that everything is working for your good because you love God and are called according to his purpose? Or do you try to change the script to fulfill how you think it should be directed? That will get you bad reviews for sure.

Remember, no one escapes death, not at least the first death. If you are a Christian, you like everyone else will suffer the first death (unless Jesus comes to get us first). You die once, live twice. But, if you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, then you will die twice and live once.

It’s A Choice

What is your choice? Do you accept the role that God has written for you to receive great acclaim in his name or do you play your own part and suffer the severe consequences? Will your life be a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” or will you be famous in your Father’s eyes? Me? I want a standing ovation from Jesus with a “well done, thou good and faithful servant.” He leaves the choice up to all of us. Life is not a dress rehearsal. You don’t get a second chance once the credits roll.

Everyone Has a Story

Everyone has a story. I am no different. There is a significant part of my story that I rarely tell. I guess because it is so far in my past, but it really has defined my present and future. In Christian circles, it’s called “your testimony” or your “witness.” The thing is, our lives (current tense) should be our testimony and witness, so I don’t usually tell this part.

action aim ancient architecture

I was in the fifth grade, the second son of a single mother and the middle child of three. I loved history, and I loved knowledge. On this particular day in spring, I was playing “army” which means I was staging a battle somewhere in the dirt between several armies. In this particular scenario, I was creating my own invasion of the Greeks by the Persians. Forget the fact that the Greeks were green plastic army men with a splattering of anything I could find to represent fighting men. I.e., shotgun shells, plastic firemen, etc. The invading army was usually blue army men and their contingents. The only thing separating these two was the body of water that flowed between. In reality, it was the dirty washing machine water that drained out to soak the ground. Flood stage came along with the spin cycle.

On this Saturday morning, a kind old gentleman named Mr. Juneau stopped in our yard to talk with this dirty kid playing in the muddy water. He first asked if my mother was home. I told him she was gone and would be back soon. He asked if we went to church anywhere. I told him no. He asked me what I was doing and patiently listened as I explained the invasion. He then asked if I would like to go roller skating next week. I told I would be glad to. He said he would stop by during the week and talk to my mom about it and he left.

In the course of things, Mr. Juneau started picking up us kids to go to Sunday school and church along with other children on the church bus. Through that experience, a man listening to the voice of God to go and seek the lost, several of us were found for eternity. It didn’t stop there. God moved in my life and has blessed me immeasurably. I think of how far Jesus has brought me, from that dirty kid playing in dirty soapy, washing machine water to where I am today. He could have left me there in my dirt and in my sad estate or could he? I think not. His love for me wouldn’t allow it. If I were to die today, it would be well with my soul, because the keeper of my soul has let me live a life that I have not earned nor deserved. Truly, far blessed than I deserved. Cory Asbury (and everyone else who has picked up this song) has it right when he sings of the “reckless love of God.” I couldn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it. Still, Jesus gave himself away.

sunset hands love woman

I tell this part of my life to say this: Jesus is faithful, and he loves you. If you do not know him, you can. If you do not know him, you should. It will cost you nothing, and you will gain everything. I am not talking material possessions. For some to be blessed materially is actually a curse that will keep them from God. So, don’t come to Jesus to see what you can get materially. Come to Jesus to see what you can get spiritually and eternally. Trust him above all things. He truly loves you and is faithful in all things. This is my testimony: let my life and words bear witness to the gracious love of God.

Do. Create. Achieve.

A poem of encouragement for my daughters and any other woman who faces the doubts of worthiness. God loves you and you are worthy of His love and what He has called you to. Go in His strength.

She placed her wager, she placed her bid,

She thought she could and so she did.

Then fears and doubts raised their ugly head,

They filled her with anxiety, panic, worry, dread.

What if she faltered, perhaps even failed?

What if she worked so hard, but to no avail?

She was born for this, this she knew,

This was her destiny God called her to.

She felt her heart tug again, as a little girl,

“Follow me, my child, and change the world.

I have not called you this far to leave you alone,

You don’t have to change the world on your own.”

She dug deep, resolved to fight her way through.

With the strength of God, her belief renewed.

“I won’t give up!” she cried through her tears.

“I refuse to waste all this work, all these years.”

She checked her plans, she wrote her lists,

With inner strength and with clenched fists,

She faced her fears, she faced her doubt,

And punched them both in the mouth.

She knew she could, she still believed,

Now it was time to do, create, achieve.

Me, My Self, and I

Doing the “Right Things”

Recently, in a discussion, someone said they didn’t understand why they had this constant struggle as a Christian to do the right things. “I guess I am a bad Christian,” they said. Usually, there are the pat answers given to this statement. “You’re not praying enough. You don’t have enough faith or you haven’t given it to God.” I say these are pat answers since they seem to be all too common in Christian circles.

Now, before you feel I am being too harsh here to those who have said these things in response, know that I have said them many times myself and to myself. But I have come to realize that is where the problem lies: with the Self.

I am attempting to complete a devotional book that stemmed from me texting my children bible quotes and a little explanation as to what they meant and what I felt God was saying to me through those scriptures. They would send these to their friends and others would also begin to join the text list. Before I knew it I would spend fifteen to twenty minutes each time typing in the phone numbers for all the people who were following the texts. I would end the little devotion with the phrase: It’s a choice.

Hear Me Out

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses

Doing the “right thing” is a choice. Please hear me out. It’s not always an easy choice, but it is a choice. A choice, a decision that you make. Each and every time. We are faced with thousands of choices every day and how we choose determines our results. I have heard it said, “You are where you are because of the choices you made.” Immediately, I can hear someone say “I didn’t choose for my parents to die…” or fill in any tragedy. True, but you choose how you respond and how you respond will determine where you will be. What about instinctive reactions?

Let me break it down like I did recently to a person who made something similar to my opening statement. That is, look at the Me, My Self, and I. Me is the combined Self and I working in unison. The “Self” is the body, the flesh, as the Apostle Paul put it. The “I” is the conscious thought or personality of the Person within the Self. Also called the Spirit. (Not to be confused with the Holy Spirit). The “I” cannot always control the Self, because the Self will do whatever comes naturally to the Self. Ah, but the “I” or the Spirit can train the Self.

Self and Spirit

gray and white short coated cat on brown wooden table top

Let’s say we could take the “I” or Spirit portion out of a human and put it in a cat, which, by-the-way spends two-thirds of its life sleeping. There may be a symbiotic relationship developed over time, but the cat is going to do what cats do. Ever try to control a cat? The Spirit could train the cat eventually, but it will always be a cat and will probably behave like a cat even when the Spirit works feverishly to train the cat. The first part of learning to train the cat would be for the Spirit to learn about cats and then work with the cat to a desired end, knowing all along that the cat will still sometimes act out of instinct.

Now, look at the human being in the same light. You have a depraved, fallen human who, though created in the image of God, acts like a depraved fallen human and in many respects as an animal. (See Galatians 5:19-21) This is the Self. Think of these phrases in this light:

  • I lost control of my Self.
  • I couldn’t help my Self.
  • I have really let my Self go.
  • Get a hold of your Self.
  • Would you look at your Self?
  • Get your Self some rest.
  • Get your Self something to eat.

Who lost control of the Self? The Spirit. The situation is even worse. Inside the Self resides a fallen, depraved, darkened, blinded Spirit. The Spirit inside the Self, which is a spark of the Divine, is dead, and the Self is only operating off training and instinct. Autopilot if you will. Subsequently, the Self will continue to act and behave like the depraved, fallen creature that it is. It should not surprise Christians when non-believers act the way they do. They are acting according to their nature and they cannot control nor help their Selves. They are slaves to this nature.

What is one to do?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

The Spirit within must be reborn. That spark of the Divine within must be quickened, as the Bible calls it. It must be exposed to the light of the transforming power of Jesus. It must be made alive. Jesus didn’t come to earth to make bad people good. No, He came to earth to make Spiritually dead people, alive. This is the only way the Self can be tamed and trained. And with the help of the Holy Spirit that now will be there within to help get the Self under control.

In this new state, the Spirit takes on the “new creation”, but the Self is still depraved and fallen. Yet, control can be exerted. Granted, the Self will still act up and do things that leave the Spirit wondering “what just happened or why did I say or do that?” However, the Spirit under the direction, leadership, and power of the Holy Spirit can take control. That is why it says in Galatians that one of the fruits of the (Holy) Spirit is “self-control.”

Summary – What Now?

Here are summary statements that I have found helpful.

  • You’re not going to get it right all the time. Even the Apostle Paul stated that he (the super saint) still did things that he did not want to. His Self still acted out. That’s why he said he buffeted his body. He was still struggling with his fallen Self even with a redeemed Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for I John 1:9.
  • Seek to understand your Self with all its quirks, tendencies, traits, likes and dislikes. Your Self is unique and you have to understand the basic human first and then understand the Self in which you reside.
  • Cut your Self some slack. God does. That doesn’t mean you are to give the Self a pass. It means keep moving toward maturity under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect, but he does expect you to head in that direction.
  • When you fall, and you will, pick your Self back up and go again. Proverbs says a righteous man will fall seven times and get back up again. Don’t wallow in Self pity and feel sorry for your Self. You are a child of the King of the Universe.
  • Don’t beat your Self up for being its Self. You don’t beat your cat or dog for being a cat or a dog. You train them. Train your Self. It takes patience, time, and the help of the Holy Spirit Trainer to train your Self. Read the training manual used by the Trainer. It’s called the Bible and that is why it is there.
  • Love your Self. See your Self as God sees your Self. Worthy of loving and investing in. He sent His Son to reconcile you back to Him.

If you have not come to a place where you know for sure that your Spirit is made new. You can. God waits to renew your Spirit. Click here for more information.

How Did They Feel?

My Thoughts

Ever have one of those phrases get stuck in your head and wonder how it got there and why? I do. I have come to see it as the Holy Spirit speaking to mine to remind me of something or to teach me something. The phrase that has occupied my thoughts this week is: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Of course, I had to wonder why this was haunting my thoughts. I couldn’t remember who said it or where I heard it.

Seasons of Life

back bus education school

As I am sure you know, life has seasons. Each culture seems to have these defined according to what is going on in that society. Currently, we are in the “back to school” season. We have had our share of this with four children through high school and college, but this year was a little different as our oldest daughter’s “back to school” would actually to be as the teacher.

Usually, my summers are consumed with work and working around the house to make repairs. There are a few trips to the beach with my wife and mini vacations. I might even have some sort of garden. This summer a good portion of my summer was spent helping my oldest daughter move from college to our house and then from our house to the new house for her to be on her own.

Children coming back home with all the stuff they have with them, in this case, to include two cats, can be challenging. To be honest, it has worn us out and taxed our patience. It was a break from our routine. I am a routine type of person, and I was definitely out of my routine this summer. Looking back though, it was a good summer.

This last weekend, we traveled one more time to help my daughter get established in her new home and role as teacher. She asked for help getting things to her classroom and setting things up. I could tell she was anxious about getting things ready. Today is her first day as teacher.

My wife and I were in the classroom waiting to assist where needed. We cut out wall hangings, sharpened pencils, moved furniture, but we also just sat there at times watching our grown-up daughter work through her paperwork for her students. Proud? Very.

During one of my tasks, I looked up and saw a small poster my daughter had hung near her desk. It read, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buechner.” I took a picture and wondered, how have I made my daughter feel this summer? I hope she felt encouraged, loved, appreciated, valued, and accepted.

20180730_180712At the end of my life, when folks gather around my graveside, I hope they remember good things of how being associated with me made them feel. That doesn’t mean life is all rainbows and unicorn cookies, holding hands and singing kumbaya. It does mean, even in challenging and difficult times and just doing life, we can, as the Apostle Paul says, carry each other burdens. That is, we can let people know that we cared enough to care how they feel.

Isn’t that how God deals with us? He cares for us during the ups and downs of life, through the hills and valleys, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is messy, and even in the messiness of life, people need to know you care. It is important to wonder, “How did I make them feel?” I pray I make people feel and know I care.