Evidence

To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.  – Acts 1:3

This had to be the ultimate of all evidence.  I can’t imagine seeing with my own eyes Christ die on the cross and be taken away to the tomb.  I can’t imagine how sad I would be if I had been one of those who walked with Him.  What would I think on that third day when they told me the tomb was empty?  What would I think when people started telling me they had seen Him?  Would I doubt them?  Or would I pray that somehow someway He would allow me to see Him for myself?  

We are in a similar situation today.  We have all heard of God doing great and miraculous things in and through other people.  We have heard of God revealing Himself to others in just the coolest of ways.  When I first heard of God really revealing Himself to people in today’s time, I remember first thinking that He would never do it for me.  I thought there was no way He would ever show up for a nobody like me.  Then, one day, I asked Him to.  Within days, His Spirit filled my 1991 Ford Ranger pickup truck, and I was sob crying for the first time in my life in the presence of God.  I knew that He still showed up for people today.

I don’t know what happened in 2021.  I kept pretty much all my resolutions.  I was close to the Lord.  I was in probably the best shape of my life physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Then, one day, I got sick.  I didn’t get the v-word that shall not be named, but I had this cough which seemed to last for weeks and weeks that turned into months.  I had no motivation to eat right.  I felt weak so quickly when I would even try to exercise.  When I would read and pray, it felt too often like such a duty.  I hated feeling like that.

Right after Christmas, I prayed for some things.  I asked for the Lord to help us as a family find a place where my kids enjoyed going to church.   I asked for evidence that they were growing in the Lord.  I asked for people to be placed in my life that I could help grow spiritually.  I asked for my heart and mind to be purified.  I asked to stop caring about many worthless worldly things that I know will not last forever.  For the past 19 days I have not let up.  Let me tell you just how good and gracious God is when you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  

The very next day after my wife and I prayed together, one of my young ones woke up and said, “Dad, can we read a Bible story?”  I could not help but smile in my lit-up spirit as we talked of King Solomon’s mistakes that drew him away from God.  When we were out of town, my wife and I invited the kids to join us in attending a random church service.  One of them said, “If we were going to Open Door back home, I’d go.”  We have been attending Open Door Baptist Church for two months now and my kids love it.  I have grown in knowledge.  I have grown in closeness with the Lord.  I even have a small group of people that God is allowing me to lead spiritually.  One of them went to church with us this past Sunday.  What else could I possibly ask for?  The evidence is all around me that the Lord still works today.

Lord, I look so forward to the day when my faith becomes sight.  All I can ask for is help.  I know that the Christian life is only lived because You are doing the work.  Work in me.  Work on me.  Help me become a finished and completely restored product.  On the day I draw my last breath, may I hear those words that every person who has ever followed You longs to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Amen

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Avoiding Persecution

They called the Apostles in and had them flogged.  Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  – Acts 5:40

All the Apostles had to do to avoid a beating was not speak about Jesus.  If you read on, they looked at the beatings as an honor.  They would look at their wounds and rejoice, for they had been found worthy to suffer as their master and Lord suffered.  Of course, we know they did not stop preaching the Word of God.  Nearly all of the Apostles died brutally as martyrs.  

American Christians are generally free from persecution.  But the question is why?  Is it because we live in “the land of the free?”  Or, is it because we do not speak His name anywhere that would make us uncomfortable?   I think back over the years where I spoke boldly in church where others believed like I did.  I met with other Christians in life groups inside nice homes and spoke of Him.  But what about speaking of Him where His name is not welcome?  

I believe many American Christians enjoy their comfortable lives so much that they are afraid to speak outside of comfortable places.  I am certainly including myself.  The only times I can remember getting into any trouble for my faith is when I’ve spoken up either in a school setting, or in churches that didn’t believe the same as me.  Here is the thing:  100% of the time, it was not unbelievers that spoke against me.  It was people who said they were Christians.  A man who I knew from a hardcore denomination came and told me directly to my face “Stop speaking the Name.”  One lady brought me before administration and threatened to “have my job,” for “speaking the Name.”  These are just a couple of incidents that I can mention in vague detail because they happened years ago and it doesn’t give anything, any group, or anyone away.  The worst part of it all was that it worked in striking me with fear.  

The Sanhedrin was a group that believed in God, but they did not believe in the resurrection.  They believed in the same God the disciples believed in, they just didn’t believe Jesus was His Son or that He died for their sins.  They certainly didn’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to His Father.  For some reason, God followers who don’t believe part or parts of the Bible, or overemphasize parts of the Bible, are mean.  As soon as they hear someone with opposing views, they do whatever they have to do to silence them.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to teach here.  Maybe just that we need to step out in faith more and speak where we are forbidden to speak.  Maybe we need to get into some trouble for our faith.  The disciples certainly got into trouble and rejoiced afterwards.

Am I willing to do the same?

Are you?

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He Can Save Anybody

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  — Acts 9:13-14

This verse is the response of Ananias after God told him to go and pray for Saul to receive his sight.  Up until this point, Saul had done nothing but persecute Christians.  Even though God Himself was telling Ananias what to do, it was hard for him to believe that Saul had truly converted.  It is often difficult for us to believe that God can truly save the ungodly. 

While on vacation last week, I watched The Wolf of Wall Street.  I enjoy messing around with investing in the financial world, but this movie takes it to a whole new level.  I started watching it when it came out, but after about a dozen f-bombs in the first few minutes, I knew I couldn’t watch it.  I watched an edited version that came on television.  The only price to pay was enduring the commercials.  The movie is pure debauchery from beginning to end.  It is supposedly the real-life memoir of Jordan Belfort, who became extremely wealthy being a less-than-honest stock broker.  The richer he got, the more sinful and indulgent he became. 

The only reason I admit that I watched such filth (It was pretty bad . . . even edited for tv) is because as soon as I went to sleep, it was like a continuation of the movie in my dreams.  I was following Jordan walking down a street.  At the height of his sinfulness, I saw the power of God descend from Heaven and convict him.  He hit his knees right then and there and began to repent of his sinful life.  As I watched, I began to cry.  I was in the presence of God myself.  I recognized that I was dreaming and said, “God, I know I’m dreaming, but can I stay here for a bit longer?”  My attention focused back on Jordan.  As I watched him just bask in the presence of the Lord, I began to say over and over, “He can save anybody! He can save anybody!”  Eventually, I woke up.

In 2022, I want to believe that.  I want to tell people who are “too far gone” about Him.  I want to invite them to receive the forgiveness that the Lord offers.  I want to pray that His convicting power and presence will be all around.  I want to pray with people and see His power descend on them so much that we both just uncontrollably weep in His presence.  I enjoyed His presence that night in my dream as much as I enjoyed anything in 2021.  The presence was sparked by seeing with my own eyes the dead come alive.  

Lord, we have become such a selfish, pleasure-seeking society.  I know plenty of people that you have put in my path that, on the surface, I think, “there is no way that they will ever repent and follow the Lord.”  If nothing else, You are teaching me this morning that You can save anybody.  May those who truly follow You be as bold as they have ever been in 2022.  Help us to proclaim the Name above all Names . . . the Name by which we all must be saved.  Amen

Thank you all for reading.  I am praying for you this morning.

Have a blessed 2022!

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A Kindness in His Name

And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  – Galatians 5:22

I just read an amazing story.  A Swiss lady worked for a super wealthy family in New York.  At Christmastime they always exchanged gifts.  This lady didn’t really have anything to give, and even if she did, she had no clue what to get a family where the individuals have everything.  Finally, she came up with an idea.  She bought an outfit for a baby and went in search of the poorest family, with a baby, she could find.  She had someone else deliver the gift because she was worried the family would thank her.  On Christmas morning, she received many gifts, but gave nothing in return.  She explained, “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything, but I did do something for you,” she explained.  She told the story and simply said, “I try to do kindness in your name.  This is my Christmas present to you.” 

What would it be like if between now and Christmas, you and I did a simple kindness in God’s name?  Like the family in the story I read, He already has everything.  Unfortunately, because of many of His supposed followers, many Americans don’t think that God makes that much of a difference in people’s lives.  Even when kindness is done in God’s name, most individuals seek some sort of credit.  If the individual doesn’t seek credit for himself or herself, then they seek credit for the church they attend.  I ask again, what would it be like if between now and Christmas, you and I did a simple kindness in God’s name?

I don’t know what this will look like for me.  I kind of envision keeping a hundred-dollar bill in my pocket, driving around, and asking God to lead me where this money will meet the greatest need.  Then, simply saying, “The Lord wanted you to have this . . . Merry Christmas!”  I am certainly going to pray and ask Him to lead me as specifically as possible.  

Please, prayerfully consider what kindness you could do in God’s name.  Seek to give Him all the glory, all the honor, and all the praise.  Let’s make His name more like the great name that it really is.  

Lord, lead us and guide us to do kindness in Your name.  I’m sorry for all the times I’ve misrepresented You.  I’m sorry for all the times I’ve been fearful and unbelieving.  I’m sorry for seeking to make my own name great.  I want to follow You.  I want to love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  I want to make Your name great.  Will You lead me and anyone else reading this to do kindness in Your name?  May it lead to life more abundantly for all involved.  Amen

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What Do I Talk About

My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection.  That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long.  – Psalms 71:7-8

I have really been on this tear of reading books and listening to audiobooks.  A few weeks ago, when I finally dropped the rest of my offense at the altar, it is like my empty and starved soul immediately cried out to be filled.  I realized immediately that I had neglected so many important things that I used to take care of.  I am so thankful that God has given me a hunger and thirst for righteousness and gives me assurance that I shall be filled.  I am already beginning to feel spiritually healthy again.  

One book God has used to bring me back to what really matters is “The Narrow Road.”  It is the story of a man simply called, “Brother Andrew.”  He was/is a Dutch missionary that constantly risked everything to bring Bibles to Christians in communist countries that didn’t have any.  When the work got too great, he began to seek others to assist him with the work.  God more than provided, but he also had this internal litmus test to determine if someone was fit for the work.  Here is a paragraph that really stuck with me:

We insist on only two things from the men and women we accept as part-timers.  We insist that each have a personal experience with Christ and learn to work in the full power of His Spirit.  And we stress the importance of a positive ministry among the Communists.  If a man seems to be harboring personal resentment against a certain government, or if he has more to say about the evils of communism than the goodness of God, then we suspect that he is a soldier poorly armed for the battle before us.  

I don’t know if that messes with you like it does me.  I have personal experience with Christ, that I do know, and I am still learning to work in the full power of His Spirit.  But it is that last sentence that gets me, “If he has more to say about . . .”    Does it really matter what comes after that?  If a person speaks more about anything than the goodness of God, how good of a soldier can he or she be?  There are people who speak of how terrible this world is more than the goodness of God.  There are those who speak more of what is going on with college football than the goodness of God.  What we speak of the most reveals what we care about the most.  

I heard a testimony this weekend that I thought was wonderful.  A lady stood and said she had grown up in church her whole life.  However, the only things she ever liked to read was mystery novels and romance novels.  She said she would read close to 200 books a year.  After being convicted of constantly filling her mind with them for years and years, she simply said, “God, will You change me?”  She said she began to read the Bible.  She said she began to pick up spiritual books that talked about God.  Now, she only wants to read about things that feed her spirit.  

I think that illustrates the change all Christians should desire.  I want Him to be the Lord of my life.  I want to talk about Him more than I talk about anything else.  When I was young, I mostly wanted to talk about music and concerts.  Later, I mostly wanted to talk about golf.  Later, I wanted to talk and read about money and investing.  Now, and for the rest of my life . . . I want to talk about Him.  

Lord, it is only by your power and your spirit that a person truly changes.  You are the only one who can make old things pass away, and all things become new.  Change me.  Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.  Whiter than snow Lord, wash me just now, as in Thy presence, humbly I bow. Fill me with Thy spirit, till all can see, Christ only always, living in me.   Amen.

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God on the Spot

And you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.  – 1 Kings 18:24

Every once in a while, an opportunity comes for me to put God on the spot.  When this happens, I immediately think of Elijah.  Elijah set up this impossible situation, where, if God did not show up, he was a dead man.  Had fire not come down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice he prepared; he was done for.  They would have killed him.  As it stood, the people did not kill Elijah, they killed the prophets of Baal for their lies and deception.  

I sure wish I could go into detail with this, but I cannot.  I can say that recently I encountered a man in distress.  Much distress.  This isn’t the type of person to show distress.  I have been telling this person about the Lord at every perceived opening and my attempts have been rejected every time.  When I asked him about the distress, he just said that he was in trouble with some people, and it would be over for him that day.  My entire thoughts went the route of the first paragraph I wrote.  

I simply said, “Do you know that God that I’ve been telling you about, that you keep rejecting?”  He said, “Yes.”  I said, “Would you mind if I called on Him for you, so that you will know at the end of this day, when all is well, that He came through for you?”  He said, “That is what I need.”  So, I offered up a prayer that went something like this:

Lord, I call on You today on my friend’s behalf.  We have a situation that only You can fix.  Will You work it out so that, by the end of this day, my friend has to look up and say, “God, You really came through for me today . . . thank You.”  May my friend come to know that You are for him, not against him, and begin to learn this day that You can be trusted.  Amen.

At the end of the day, a friend and I contacted him.  We simply asked, “Did God come through for you?”

“Yes”

Lord may this be the beginning of this man’s relationship with You.  May he step off the road that leads to destruction, and step on the narrow path that leads to life.  This is my prayer in the mighty name of Jesus, the name above all names, and the only name by which we must be saved.  Amen.

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Book Report

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.  Old things pass away, all things become new.  – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I read this book that has changed me in certain ways.  The book is called “I Dared to Call Him Father.”  It is by a lady named Belquis (think “Bell-Keys”) Sheikh (like “shake”).  She was a Muslim in Pakistan and Jesus called her to follow Him.  She did just that.

There is a stark contrast between giving your life to Jesus in the middle east and doing it here in America.  Belquis was quite aware of the price tag each time she took a step.  Over there, life has no choice but to change for you if you choose to call yourself a Christian.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer it will be before this happens in America.  In general, if someone here chooses Jesus and tells someone, they mostly get “that’s great” or “good for you.”  I remember the first person I ever told said to me, “that’s nice, but it won’t last.”  Nobody would wish for persecution, but it sure makes it obvious who is truly in and who is out.  

I won’t give too much of the book away, just in case you want to read it.  I say I “read” it, but I listened to it on audiobook.  I was more moved by the small details of her life that changed than the big ones.   For example, she had servants who would bring her breakfast and fix her hair.  They would dread dropping anything in her sight because they knew they would get a scolding.  After her conversion, she made a point to say how badly she wanted to still scold them, but she refrained and simply said, “that’s okay.”  Later in the book, one of her servants would tell Belquis, “When you speak of Jesus, your whole demeanor changes.  It’s like you are a completely different person.”  I wondered if it is like that with me.

Here is the one that got me.  I’ve been talking to a young man about Jesus for a long time.  At first, it was pure.  I just wanted this kid to know Him.  As I’ve watched him sink deeper and deeper into sin, my talks have become more corrective in nature than simply making an introduction to Jesus.  Belquis was witnessing and basically letting the person know they needed to change and think differently.  The presence of the Lord left her, and she wondered why.  God revealed to her that the only thing required when witnessing is to have His presence when she spoke of Him.  He would do the work on the man’s heart, not her.  As soon as I read that line, I prayed for forgiveness.  How many times have I tried to play the part of the Holy Spirit?  I’ll never come close to being able to play that role.  

Lord, thank you for using this lady’s story to change me.  I want to grow in you, and I want to grow in your ways.  I want it to be obvious that I know you.  Help the church in America to look like you.  We seem to be so much more concerned with our likes and dislikes than yours.  Thank you for people who have truly lived the Christian life.  May our paths be lit by them.  Father, I don’t want to play holy spirit anymore.  Please allow your presence to remain with me so you can go to work in the hearts of men.  You are still and always will be the greatest thing this planet offers.  Thank you for saving me and working in me.  I love you.  Amen.

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“Because I Know the Story”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid.  Go home and do as you have said.  But first, make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.”  — 1 Kings 17:13

Recently, I was teaching this youth group.  I told them the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  I built it all up and stopped right here at verse 13.  I asked each of about a dozen kids what they would do.  Would you give some of the last little bit of bread to this preacher?  Or, would you say, “I’m sorry, what little bit I have left is only for me and my son”?    It is a good question.  If you were really in that situation, what would you do?

Kid after kid answered, “I’d take care of my family and their needs first.”  They even made it sound noble.  I was kind of discouraged until the very last kid.  He simply said, “Because I know the story, I would give some to the preacher.”  At that point, I read them the rest of the story.  Many of them tried to justify their original answer and say they were still doing the right thing.  Others said, “Look what we would have missed!”

Ever since then, I have had the simplest approach to obedience.  I’ve been harboring unforgiveness in my heart.  I said to myself, “because I know Matthew 18:21-35, I choose to forgive.”  I found myself at an altar this past Sunday laying down the last of my unforgiveness simply because I know that story.  What else do I need?  

Lord, I heard a preacher talk about being dead.  He said, “if someone hated me in this life, came to my funeral, and began punching my dead body out of rage, I wouldn’t care . . . because I’m dead.”  The more I think about it, I haven’t been crucified with Christ like in Galatians 2:20.  I don’t “die daily” like Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:31.  Many old things haven’t passed away like in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  Help me become like a dead man with all my feelings removed.  Help me say, “Because I know what God’s Word says . . . I will obey.”  Amen.

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My Portion

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul.  “Therefore, I hope in Him.” – Lamentation 3:24

Last week, I used Lamentation 3:22-23.  I read the next verse and almost included it, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t really know what it meant.  So, I decided to study it further.  I have heard very few Christians use this term.  I don’t think my soul has ever uttered these words.

A few weeks ago, I was preaching.  After the service, a lady approached me and said, “I love the Lord, I really do, but I realize today that I don’t really trust Him with my life.”  I had forgotten her words, but reading and studying “cheleq”, the Hebrew word for “portion, tract, territory,” has brought them to the forefront of my mind.  The more I think about her words, I begin to wonder if I truly trust Him with my life.  If I have to wonder, that means I probably don’t.  I think the Lord connected these two things over this past week because my answer comes in truly making the Lord “my portion.”  As always, it is much easier said than done.

The first meaning that I see has to do with something divided up into parts.  It reminds me of how Joseph gave his brother, Benjamin, twice as much food as he gave the other brothers.  When it came to dividing up land in general, the oldest got 2/3 of the inheritance, while the second in line got 1/3.  Once, in Luke 12, a guy shouted to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Jesus simply said something like, “I’m not here to do that kind of thing.”  How much time do I spend thinking about my next meal, the land I own or want to own, or the size of my bank account?  If I spend more time thinking about worldly possessions than God, then He is probably not my portion.  

The meaning I like the best comes within the context of Joshua dividing up the land among the Israelites.  Every tribe got an allotment of land, except the tribe of Levi.  Deuteronomy 10:9 says, “Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance.”  It is crazy how up until probably right now, I would have thought, “man, they got ripped off.”  Turns out, they got the best part.  The other tribes had to work their land and use part of the resources to help support them and keep up the temple.  All Levi had to do was focus on the Lord and His work. They would never inherit any land, but they would inherit the Lord, for He was their portion.

I’m sure I only scratched the surface of what all of this means.  Mostly, it means I must change my thinking. For the first time, my soul is saying to itself, “Lord, You, are my portion.”  

Thank you so much, Lord, for teaching me this morning.  The first thing you ever asked of me was my honesty.  I read these words this morning and know that You aren’t truly my portion.  As you look into my soul, I pray that you find that I really want you to be.  I have looked too much to the pleasures and treasures of this world.  All of it will fade away, but you . . . you are eternal and will stand forever.  The Word of the Lord will stand forever.  Cleanse my heart, soul, and mind this morning as I make probably my thousandth fresh start with you.  You, Lord, are my portion.  Amen

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The Bus

It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning:  great is thy faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

Every morning God’s mercies are new.  I’m sitting here this morning wondering just how many mornings I have rejected the opportunity to receive God’s mercy.  How many times have I been lazy and started my day without acknowledging the faithfulness of the Lord?  Yet, when I come to my senses, He is always there to give me new mercy.  He is always there to show His great faithfulness to me. 

A while back I was driving a morning bus route.  There was this one stop where the student rarely got on.  Sometimes dad would let me know in advance this person wasn’t riding, most of the time he wouldn’t.  The student was absent a lot.  The stop was my last stop and was only a couple of extra miles from the previous stop.  Unless dad told me they definitely weren’t riding, I always drove to the stop.

One day another student began to ride.  I had driven her for about a month, and she began to be aggravated about me making the stop.  “Why do you drive down here?  You know they’re not getting on,” she said.  All I could think to say was, “You know, every morning the Lord drives His bus by my house and stops to pick me up . . . I’m so glad He does, even if I don’t get on sometimes.”  

Lord, I’m so thankful that you are so merciful to me.  I know how I am, and I know what I deserve, yet you have been so faithful.  Who else offers mercy every single day?  Where else can such great compassion be found?  I do love you, Lord.  Thank you for stopping by every morning.  I have been on this planet for 46 years and I’ve let you come and go so many times.  If I live for 46 more years, help me to make the most of the mornings I have left.  Amen

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