Veterans

On this day, we as a nation take a designated day to recognize and appreciate those who proudly wore a uniform to serve and protect their country.

The term “their country” is a vague description of all that we call American. Even with all that is wrong with this nation and the human experience, thousands still proudly stand ready to defend it. Truth be told, most of those who no longer wear the uniform, would tell you they would do it again if needed.

Two songs, The Star Spangled Banner and Taps, still bring a tear to my eye because they remind me of the sacrifice of my fathers and some friends. They also fill me with a sense of pride.

Today, I salute my fellow veterans and say thank you to you and your families for your service and support.

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.

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.

A Little Honesty

Audio Version

I have read many times for one to be a writer, you must write. Write something every day. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write. Uh, right. What about when you are not inspired to write or when you draw a blank? Are you still a writer. I mean, after all, you are not writing. You are just sitting there looking at a blank screen. Your eyes are staring at the blinking cursor and your brain is doing the same. Just blinking like it is buffering while you have the haunting feeling that you have written everything out that you had within you and there is nothing left.

To say the least, it is depressing. But I also find that I am in this state when I am depressed. Yes, depression and I are well acquainted. I could just dismiss it as the moods and minds of creatives. Yet, I know me enough to know that it goes deeper than that. It even goes deeper than just being unchallenged. I know it revolves around significance.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe if God had nothing else left for me to do on this earth, He would take me home. I look back on how God has moved in my life and has used me. When I mean significance, I mean, am I making a difference with what I have left; am I on target for what I am supposed to be doing or am I way off track? The depression is a signal that I am off track and have let myself become distracted.

I was cleaning my office recently when I came across a piece of paper where I had written what I believed was success in my life. It read, “Success to me means leading my family to a point of faith in God and helping them know Him intimately. Leading by example, my legacy would be one of wisdom, love, and encouragement.”

My biggest obstacle in life is that I allow myself to become overextended and allow myself to be entangled with the worries of the world. Then, I take my eyes off Jesus and look at my circumstances instead of Him. A big mistake every time. Yes, it is true. Relationships take work, even when that relationship is with the creator, sustainer, and savior of the world.

My greatest depression comes when I live my life apart from Him. Because when I don’t stay focused on Him, the rejections for auditions hurt more, the unanswered texts slight more; the unfinished projects pull more; and the seemingly insurmountable obligations scream more. But when they are examined in light of a right eternity and in the Master’s hand, they are shown for what they really are: fuel for my success.

Bottom line:

  • Depression is real, for a number of reasons.
  • You can’t trust your emotions.
  • You only see one side of your circumstances.
  • God is faithful even when you are not.
  • Valleys are always between two mountains. Keep moving.
  • God loves you and has not given up on you. Don’t give up on Him.

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.

Endangered Christianity

The Statement

black microphone

I have heard it said by more than one person that “Christianity is only one generation away from being extinct.” Usually, the one speaking is trying to get across to their audience the necessity to reach out and share the good news of Jesus or Christianity will be gone. It’s a combination of a fear factor and a warning. The audience, I have been one, nods in agreement as the message sinks in. We had all better get busy winning souls or there will be no one left to carry on after we are gone.

Question Everything

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Even though it sounds good, there seems to be a lingering thought somewhere on the periphery that tugs on the brain. It asks if the statement is true. Are things that desperate? I believe the statement is one of “truthiness,” as I have heard one public speaker call it. “Truthiness” is something that sounds true and logical, but when examined further, it doesn’t pass the litmus test.

Incorrect Presumptions

To accept the statement of “endangered Christianity” at face value is to agree to several basic, incorrect presumptions:

  1. It presumes the continuance of Christianity rest solely on the shoulders of the present generation, and without the evangelistic actions of that generation, Christianity is doomed. Yes, we are commanded to reach, teach, and disciple, but we plant the seed. God waters. The thinking that it all rests exclusively with man leaves God totally out the equation, which leads to the second presumption.
  2. The statement presumes God is not capable of sustaining the Christian faith. This is not biblical. Even in the darkest of times in history, God had a remnant of believers. Case in point is when Elisha ran from Jezebel and begged God to die. He complained that he was the only one in all of the land that followed God. God responded that He had 7,000 followers who did not bow to the state-sponsored religion. God is quite capable of maintaining a following. Further, even in the darkest times yet to come as spoken of in the book of Revelation, and during the Tribulation times, God will still maintain a remnant of followers.
  3. Another presumption is one that would be shared with the devil himself: somehow God can be defeated. This thought process leaves the Christian believing they are fighting a losing battle. They wring their hands while looking to the eastern sky chanting “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” They live a life of someone who is waiting to be rescued from a sinking ship rather than manning their battle stations on a spiritual destroyer.

There is, however, a danger to going to the opposite extreme. We can smugly sit around, not doing anything, “because Jesus has won the victory, therefore I do not need to fight at all.” This too is not biblical. We are commanded to act. In many places, we are ordered to reach the world around us – proclaiming the good news.

In the book of Jude, we are told to “snatch” the perishing as one would a stick from a fire. Paul said “blessed” are the feet of those who proclaim the message of salvation. In another spot, he says faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and hearing by someone telling. Jesus gave us the Great Commission in the 28th chapter of Mathew, to go into all the world. We, as the church, are expected to be obedient to the commands and calls.

The Conclusion

Truly, it is a joint venture with God and His church to continue what Jesus started. There will always be someone who responds to the love of Christ and then will be obedient to tell others, who then respond. There is no danger of the Church going anywhere. It might get lazy. It might get beat down. It might dwindle. It might even lose power, but the Bride of Christ will continue on until He says it’s the end of the age.