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Forgiven…Loved…..Transformed!

Archive for the tag “Christ”

Award-Winning Nobody

It is amazing how pride works.

Humans love to have their ego stoked.

Why do you think Facebook is so popular? People love to have the spotlight on themselves, even if they say they don’t.

But, as the saying goes, being popular on Facebook is like being rich with Monopoly money.

The same can be said for being popular in real life or even at the top of your game.

It can all go away in an instant with a single choice or action.

Just look at all of the celebrities who have fallen from the limelight. Brett Butler, Ed McMahon, Burt Reynolds, and many others going from riches to rags. How about politicians? Political leaders such as Anthony Weiner, Gary Hart, Jack Abramoff, the “Keating Five,” or Jim Traficant, to name a few, were all removed from their positions.

Pastors and people in the ministry have to be immune, right?

Nope.

The first big American religious scandal to bring about a downfall happened to Aimee Semple McPherson. Others included Mark Driscoll, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, Henry Lyons, Peter Popoff, Thomas Wesley Weeks Jr., Ted Haggard, and Bob Coy.

A single decision can destroy a person’s credibility.

The same can happen to any of us.

I remember when I worked for Whole Foods Market and received an award. I was on top of my game. My team had shown significant increases in sales and profits. Unfortunately, through a simple, yet subtle, shift in becoming prideful, my numbers went down the following year.

Pride causes a lot of problems.

Anyone anywhere can be at the top and lose it when their pride takes over.

But pride is so easy to fall victim to.

So how do we biblically fight the sin of pride?

  • Get a right view of God.

Job 25:4-6 – How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure? Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”

God is both superior to us and has supreme authority over us. When our view of God is incorrect, we don’t give Him the reverence He is due. Pride comes from putting ourselves above God. Start by focusing on just how great God is. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you more and more.

Isaiah 29:16 – You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

  • Change your beliefs

1 Corinthians 4:7 – For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

God wants us to be an example of His love to others. When we are prideful, we find that our pride gets in the way of showing love. Think of some of the following questions:

  1. Do you believe you are better than everyone else?
  2. Do you think the world cannot be as good without you?
  3. Do you think that what you do or your role entitle you to special favors?

Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

If you believe any of those questions pertain to you then you are self-serving. Having an identity in Christ is to be filled with self-denial, not self-appreciation. Scripture needs to be our guide to show us our views of ourselves.

Proverbs 25:27 – It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.

  • Repent

Pride is one of the hardest sins to repent of. Our pride will not allow us to see the need to do it. If you are ready to repent of it, then determine the type of pride you have (self-exaltation, self-proclamation, self-justification, etc…). Once you have determined the type of pride it is, pray specifically for forgiveness.

  • Defend against the enemy

After repenting, it is very easy to fall back into pride. It is even possible to become proud of your humility. This world will do everything it can to drag you back into the pit of pride. The world believes that pride is a good thing. Ask God to transform your thoughts so that you take a right view on humility.

As a human, our flesh craves the feelings we get when we seek attention from others. We need to constantly be reminded that our sinful nature is dead. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to provide us a view on God that would be aligned with what God deserves.

Put on the whole armor of God. The only way to be prepared for pitfalls of pride is to be ready for them. Ephesians 6:14 tells us to put on the belt of truth. This belt should remind us that God is the only on deserving of honor, not us.

Spiritual warfare will never end so be prepared. God is more powerful than any spiritual attacks we will ever go through. So ask the Holy Spirit to provide you the power to rebuff the attacks and place your armor on every day.

  • Flee temptation

It is going to be impossible for all the temptation to go away completely but it is possible to significantly reduce them. It is going to take specific steps:

  1. Focus on your relationship with God. Strengthen your devotional life. Prayer and meditation is extremely important. Focus on giving God glory and humble yourself before Him.
  2. Claim God’s promises. Go through Scripture and look for pride and humility and the truth that the Word has about them. Memorize the verses. When temptation come, repeat these verses to yourself. Here are a couple to start:

Matthew 18:4 – Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

1 Peter 5:6 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you

  1. Establish safeguards

Make changes in your life that will reduce the temptation. For example, if you look down on those who have a lower social class than yours, serve in a homeless shelter. If it is your looks that cause you pride, then get rid of the clothes and makeup that make you beautiful. If it is your car, trade in that car for something more modest.

Ask a friend to hold you accountable.

  1. Expect to beat the sin of pride

Don’t focus on the failures of the past but focus on God’s power over sin. Give God the praise He is due.

Egypt, the desert and the Promised Land

The past few months I have been praying a lot.

A LOT.

There are days that I have been sitting at work, feeling as if I life could be so much better, feeling as if my gifts and talents are not being utilized and feeling persecuted. I have to dig deep just to maintain my Christian face during the day. It feels as if I am an Israelite in Egypt.

Then there have been days that I have felt so incredibly low, especially since my mom died. I do everything I can to put on the bravest face I can for my family, but there are times that it just isn’t enough. I’ll get in my car to go someplace and just sit in driver’s seat and give it all up to God. It feels as if I am the Israelites walking in the desert.

Then there are other days that I am sitting on a date with my beautiful wife, enjoying a meal and the love of a wonderful woman.  I feel a sense of amazement that God would bless me with such a person as her. It is as if I had crossed into the Promised Land and am enjoying the cities that I’ve been given.

It is crazy how life can change from one day to the next.

Every day I ask God what he wants me to learn.

Each of the three areas (Egypt, the desert, and the Promised Land) were used to teach Israel something they needed to know. And that can be a timeless truth that the Bible teaches us as well. During several stages of our lives, we might feel “stuck” somewhere, but God is preparing us for the next area of our life, an area that takes us to a better place, even if it isn’t the best place.

Egypt

Exodus 1:11 –  So the Egyptians put slave drivers over the people of Israel. The slave drivers treated them badly and made them work hard. The Israelites built the cities of Pithom and Rameses so Pharaoh could store things there.

The Israelites needed to learn the importance of being in Egypt. God chose this to be a major place to show His glory to those who were not Israelites while at the same time, preserving the Israelites from dangers such as famine.

So what do we know?

First, we see Joseph preserving the Israelites through a severe famine. This could not have been done if it weren’t for Joseph’s placement in Egypt’s leadership. We all know the story of Joseph and the “technicolor dreamcoat.” Joseph’s brothers didn’t like him, they tried to kill him but ended up selling him into slavery. He ended up in Egypt where he was jailed at one point and eventually read the dreams of several people, including Egypt’s leadership.  Because of this, he is given a high position in Potipher’s house. Later, the same brothers who sold him into slavery came at their dad’s command to ask for help. If it weren’t for Joseph being in such a high position, the Israelites may never have been able to survive.

To go along with that, Moses was able to rise into leadership as well.

God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

If the Israelites had not had that time in Egypt, they may never have seen a leader rise up that could lead them to the Promised Land.

The Desert

Hebrews 3:8 – don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness.

Next, the Israelites needed to learn the importance of being in the desert. Not only is God using this time to show His glory even more, but He is taking this time to refine the Israelites.

So what do we know?

The desert took them at least 40 years. Sometime between 1444 and 1288 BC, the Israelites left Egypt. They left the place they were being hurt, the place they were enslaved. But once on the road, they missed the comforts they had to their enslavement. It started with the spies. When the spies returned from scouting out the Promised Land, the majority of them gave negative reports. Because of their fear, the Israelites spent the next 40 years walking the desert.

When Moses took the Israelites to the desert, they were looking for instant gratification.

They want what we expect today as well.

If we leave a job or relationship or situation we expect the new job, relationship or situation to be immediately better than the one we just left. Most often, that is not the case. We need to learn to persevere when we follow God’s call.

This piece of information has been hitting me like a ton of bricks lately.

I know God has called me to vocational ministry. I am following the call. As I look to why I am not in vocational ministry right now, I can almost perfectly line up what the Israelites went through and what I have been going through.

It is the refining process.

It started with fear. I scouted out what vocational ministry would look like for my family and I. I did not receive a good report. It would be tough. I wouldn’t make enough money. The time that I work would be double what I was working at the time.

Fear set in.

“There is no way I can cross over into the Promised Land (vocational ministry), the people are giants and they have significant weapons!”

That was fear.

Along the way, like the Israelites, I would tell God I needed something else to help me. I need food or water or meat. I would try to take the lead in the relationship between God and I. Each time, my refining process would take a step back.

Then, along the way, I would question the leadership God has placed in my life. Just like in Numbers 16, a portion of me had to be destroyed to move forward. In the case of the Israelites, they had to lose the insurgent leaders by God showing them His power. The ground opened up and swallowed them.

The same is true with myself.

I left my position of power for a lower position. It is a position that reminds me of Egypt.

The Israelites felt that the desert was worse than what they had left in Egypt. Yes, the work was hard and they were persecuted, but they had stability. They would wake up each day and know exactly what they were going to do. In the desert, that stability was gone.

This meant they had to fully rely on God.

And they weren’t ready for the Promised Land until they did.

It took them 40 years to get ready.

Many times we can feel like we are in the desert for 40 years.

Are you fighting addiction? You were enslaved to your drug or alcohol. When you left, you had many days of feeling like your past life was better. You didn’t know how you would make it through. You didn’t know if the Promised Land was truly real.

But you persevere.

When you persevere you show up in the Promised Land.

The Promised Land

Exodus 6:8 – I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”

Eventually, the Israelites were allowed access to the Promised Land. That access, however, came with a requirement: the Israelites had to rely solely on God and obey Him. Not only that, but while the Promised Land was given to Israel upon entrance, it took them 7 years to conquer and 7 years to settle the land.

And even when they have received the Promised Land, God gave them a mandate to totally destroy the Canaanite people or else they would be corrupted by the remnant.

Think of it this way.

You have lived a life of partying, doing drugs, and alcohol. You’ve grown addictions to at least one, or possibly several, poor life choices. You are a slave to the addictions. You are in Egypt.

But then you begin to take back your life from the addiction. You start the long journey to completely separate the addiction from yourself. During this journey you are on there are many times you want to go back to the addiction. You are going through life, learning how to live without the comfort of the addiction. It is a long journey, but eventually you overcome it. This is the desert. You finally made it. The Promised Land. A land free of the slavery of addiction. You know you need to separate yourself completely from the past, but you don’t want to. This remnant stays and keeps us constantly needing God.

Graduation

Yesterday, our oldest son graduated high school.

This is a scary time for anyone who is graduating school because they have a lot of decisions they need to make.

Do I go to college or in the military or do I just keep working?

Do I want to move away or stay near home?

Will I want to maintain my old friends and life or start completely new?

For me, graduation was almost 30 years ago. By the time I graduated, I had a plan in place for where I wanted to go to college and even how I wanted my life to go. I knew I didn’t want to go into the military and that I did want to go to college. I knew that I wanted to stay close enough to home for the support from my parents but far enough away that I could start my life over.

Our oldest son is nothing like me when I was graduating. Jake is a little aimless. He is perfectly content washing dishes at the local café and coming home to play games on the computer while taking a class here and a class there.

For someone like myself, I find this frustrating.

But it is Jake. He is a really good young man. He’s just aimless.

I keep suggesting to his mom that he join the military. They have great programs that will help the aimless take aim. I don’t think she is as excited about that option as I am.

As I think about him joining the military, I remember how I felt when I was faced with that option. I hated the thought of it.

I was a pacifist. You would never find me holding a gun at anyone, much less joining an organization that focuses on just that. But now I actually wish I would have taken that route. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone into the service for a few years and taken the training they provide and be more prepared for everything I have endured thus far in life.

You see, Jake is actually a lot more like me at that age than I want to admit. I was somewhat aimless. I knew I was going to college, but so does he. He actually wants to go to Northwestern so that he can get back to Minnesota, the place he left his heart. He just doesn’t know how to make it happen.

How many young men and women graduating high school see the amount of opportunities ahead of them and get overwhelmed? I bet it is a lot more than we realize.

So what is a parent to do when their kid is about to graduate?

I haven’t a fat clue.

You thought I was going to give a list of items that parents should and should not do. You thought I would espouse some sort of wisdom that would help you along the way.

I’m clueless.

Much like Jake, right now I am aimless.

I know the destination I would like to get him, I just don’t know how to help get him there.

Mimi and I are feeling this out as we go along.

I’ve read a lot of posts lately about how to help a child who is graduating to find their dreams but for almost all of those pieces I read, they were a vision given by God to a specific person for a specific time. If I were to put some of the advice I read into action with Jake, I think it would do more harm than good.

So where do Mimi and I (and Jake) go from here?

The Psalms.

Psalm 91:4 – He will cover you with His wings; you will be safe in His care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.

Psalm 68:19 – Praise the Lord, who carries our burdens day after day; He is the God who saves us.

Psalm 138:3 – You answered me when I call to You; with Your strength you strengthened me.

Psalm 46:1 – God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.

A lot of times parents want to help their kids to prevent trouble. I will be the first to tell you, parents, that is impossible. “Kid” in the original Greek is translated “Him who seeks trouble.” Ok, I am joking. But seriously, it should be.

Our job isn’t to teach our children how to avoid trouble. It is to teach them where to go when trouble comes knocking.

Our job isn’t to preserve children in our homes so that they grow weak in understanding and wisdom, it is to let them soar into the world, knowing where they receive their strength.

Our job isn’t to shelter our children, it is to show them that they have a much larger and more protective shelter in the Lord.

So where do Mimi and I go from here with Jake?

We hope the lessons we have taught him will stay in his mind and we will continue to educate him on the strength and grace of our Lord until the day comes when he is pushed out of the nest.

Congratulations, Jake. You earned you right to adult. You have shown society, and us, that you know about responsibility and how to seek out the opportunities. Jake, your mom and I will always be available to you to help you along your way, but we won’t be doing it for you. Because of that, I expect, and long for, some amazing things to come from you. Whether those amazing things include changing the world or simply living out your life in a mundane job somewhere, it is all amazing. It is amazing because God provided us the opportunity to see you grow and He provided you with the opportunity to live. He makes no mistakes. He loves you more than Mimi and I ever could.

Just learn what it means to lean on His understanding more and more and there is no end to what amazing things you will do in this life.

The Rain and the Rainbow

Genesis 6:14 – Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.

Life gets hard.

There is no way around it.

Sometimes we go through a lot of stuff and it just brings us to our knees.

I am not the kind of guy that easily gets sent to his knees when things get tough. Usually I complain a little but then I work to figure out a way to get through it.

Did you catch something there?

Something was missing in there.

God.

If you read my last post 2 weeks ago you will have found that I reached one of those moments in my life that brought me to my knees.

But it wasn’t the event itself.

It was a culmination of events.

I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I reached a point that I could not handle life anymore.

I figured I could either continue down the path I was going, which was going to result in me alienating those who love me, or I could take action.

Again, if you read my last post, you will know that the action I took was getting away from it all for a couple days.

So what happened when God was missing from the world? When the people of Earth decided to turn their backs on God?

God made Himself known.

Genesis 7:17 – Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.

He sent the rain.

He sent the flood

Many people see the flood as a vengeful God eradicating people from the planet. I don’t see it that way.

God needs to get our attention sometimes. He is due all glory and honor.

The flood that I went through destroyed my world. It reminded me that God is sovereign and on the throne.

Eventually, as we begin to understand that He alone is in control, then the rain begins to subside.

Out comes the rainbow.

The rainbow was the promise of God to Noah that He would never destroy humanity again through the flood.

And that is where God brought me to.

Genesis 7:5 – Noah did according to all that the LORD had commanded him.

Once I started focusing on His sovereignty, I noticed that life started turning around. My problems started to be removed and the desires started aligning with God’s and, therefore, coming to pass.

The future is bright. I have a newfound energy in my step because of the flood that I went through and the fact that God brought me through it. Many could see my God as vengeful. But He was leading me.

So let me give you an idea of what I changed to turn my focus toward God. I am not going to say this is a model, but this is simply what I have found helpful.

  • Get away. I went away for a weekend and unplugged completely. I had no phone or computer. There was no TV. I took some books with me and studied. I read the Bible. I prayed. I fasted. I thought. I was able to focus on Christ and His redeeming work for me. Me. That is amazing when you put that in perspective. It would be as if you go to an ant hill of millions of ants and find the one with the hurt leg and pull him out of the millions of ants and nurse him back to health.
  • I found an oasis. Literally. When I went away for the weekend I went to North Carolina and hung out at Bethesda Oasis. http://www.lifeimpactministries.net/project/north-carolina/
  • I started asking for God to remove my pride. One of the biggest issues with humanity is that we are a proud people. When a problem comes along, it takes intentional thinking for me to give it to God first. As a typical guy, I want to try and figure it out on my own.
  • The Bible. I’ve read the Bible in its entirety before. Multiple times actually. But it has been a long long while. I started last year reading the Bible, starting with Matthew and reading chapter by chapter of the new Testament. At the beginning of this year I started the Old Testament. So far this year I have made it through Joshua. I will tell you that my least favorite books of the Bible to read are the first 6 of the Old Testament. But they are also some of my favorite to quote. They are filled with so much amazing information and they are filled with a lot of painful numbers and locations and genealogies that require a lot of work to truly understand.
  • Trust your accountability and the Word of God. Spending time with the pastors at my church and putting into practice God’s Word has been very helpful. It is also very hard to do. We get into a comfort zone. Trying to change is never easy, especially when you are married to someone who despises change (I love you Mimi, but you and I both know it is true).
  • Listen to my wife more. God provides our spouses to help us. A man can’t lead a family without the help of his wife. If he tries to lead alone then he becomes a tyrant. If he stops leading and allows his wife to lead, then the family becomes weak. Leadership is not about doing what everyone wants. It is about doing the right thing and helping everyone to understand how it fits within the Word and will of God. My wife has helped me to become a leader.

So after the rain happened in the Bible and the changes were made in humanity, then the rainbow came out and humanity continued. It was a speed bump in the timeline of humanity. And my rainy season is a speedbump in my life as well.

But now I see the rainbow.

And God’s promises are clear.

I look forward to seeing this next chapter in my life, just as Noah’s family was looking forward to the next chapter in humanity.

 

Frame Without a Photograph

A few weeks ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and it was pretty clear that I would soon have to live without her daily phone calls, I told Mimi that I felt like a frame without a photograph.

Then, after mum had passed on Easter, I was putting together a photo collage for the viewing and there was one picture that mum absolutely loved. It was a picture of her and pap on a cruise. I pulled that picture out of the frame to make it the centerpiece of the collage.

Mum a legacy

And then it hit me, in front of me was a frame without a photograph.

I started to cry, realizing that my words had come true. Was that to be the future? A frame without a photograph? Would that be how each of us will feel as time goes on?

I decided to press onward and get the collage together.

As I put the collage together, I realized that the picture had to come out of the frame; not because of making space for new memories, but because the frame was now too small.

As the collage started to come together piece by piece, picture by picture, the full screenshot of mum became more evident.

Mum burst out of the frame and became a much larger word than picture.

She became a legacy.

If you will allow me to, I would like to go section by section and give to you a little bit of the legacy of my mum.

Mum Younger years

In the upper left corner is mum as a young woman. She was beautiful. We see her high school yearbook picture, graduation photo, and blocked by glare, we see her at the place she loved the most, the bowling alley.

Mum loved bowling and she was really good! She taught me how to bowl. I used to bowl in leagues and she would come to every game. After each game she would give me tips on becoming better. It wasn’t unheard of for her to bowl well into the 200s.

Mum and Pap

Moving into the lower left corner of the collage, we find the history of mum and pap. There are a couple different wedding photos. She is in her original wedding dress in one of the photos. On the far right of this section is when mum and pap reaffirmed their vows. Then there are other photos. We see a pic of pap smoking his pipe, holding on to mum. We see them dancing. We see them at the Westinghouse/Northrop Grumman retirement dinner when my dad retired with over 30 years of service to the same company. They had a picture of them taken that night.

Mum loved pap. A few days before she died, we were talking on the phone and she said that she doesn’t know how she ended up with the best man in the world. You see, mum had a tough past. She was married before my dad. It was a physically abusive relationship that led her to take my brother in the middle of night and hop a bus away. Then she found my dad.

The way my dad explained it to me last night was that she was managing the bowling alley. He would go in there with the guys and bowl on league night. After time, they started talking and hit it off.  They would meet up before league night and bowl a few games together. She would always win. Not because my dad would let her, but because she was crazy good! He would bowl in the mid 100s and she would bowl in the low to mid 200s.

Then it happened.

He won a game.

So, right before the league night started, she got on the loudspeaker and proclaimed over the entire bowling alley that “If Fred Noble’s team wins tonight, he will wear a skirt.” Well, that was it, every team tried their hardest to lose.

After dad told me that story, I realized just how much he loved my mom. In a couple days would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. As he and I sat and reminisced about mum last night, he would spend almost the entire time smiling.

He was remembering all the good times.

Not once since the death of my mom have I seen him without a smile.

He knows he was a very lucky man. He had an amazing wife.

Mum and gramma

In the upper center of the collage is two of mom’s favorite things: her mother and her jobs. My mom had an amazing mother, which is probably where she learned her skills to be an amazing mom. I know for a fact it is where she learned to be an amazing cook and baker!

When my grandma, her mom, was diagnosed with cancer, she came to live with my parents who took care of her along with hospice. One of the really cool things about that is that the same hospice nurse that took care of my mom’s mom is the same one who took care of my mom. Over 20 years ago, a fairly new hospice nurse named Michelle came to the house to take care of grandma. She was there until the end. My mom would rave about how great she did.

20 some years later, that same nurse walked in the door of my mom’s house. My dad explained it as “an old homecoming.” He said they held on to each other for what seemed like forever and just cried until they could cry no more.

Then there are pictures of her at work. When I was in school, she would work in the cafeteria. Not only was I not really the smartest kid out there (2.2 GPA in high school and 2.6 GPA in college, thankfully I got a 3.5 in seminary), but I was also a little trickster. I liked to have fun. My mom worked in every school so she could keep an eye on me.

Honestly, it didn’t work that well. I still was a trickster.

When I graduated high school, I told my mom that she was not allowed to work at the college that I was attending.

Mum fun

Moving into the upper right of the collage there are a lot of pictures of mum having fun, usually with someone else.

You see, mum loved people more than she loved herself. She always treated others better than herself and lived a servant’s life. But she knew how to cut loose from time to time.

She absolutely loved to go to Ocean City, Maryland. It was her absolute happy place. I can understand why it is probably one of my favorite places in the world as well. Every year we would go down and stay at the Santa Maria, which I don’t believe exists anymore. She would never go down in the summer. She always said it was too crowded. Her favorite time, and mine as well, is early October. She and pap would sit on the deck of the hotel and just watch people.

That was her favorite pastime. She loved people-watching.

She said she would make up stories in her mind as to what those people were doing and why they were doing it. I really think it is because of her that I get my creativity.

I know the picture doesn’t do it justice, but in the top right of the above picture my mom has my dad on a dog leash. I really have no clue what is going on here. If anyone has the story to that, please share. My dad seems clueless (perhaps intentionally) about it.

Then there is the picture of my two kids with them when they were young. My mom loved both Matt and Kenzi. When Kenzi was born, she was the daughter that my mom never had. The first few years of her life, Kenzi spent a lot of time with mum and they bonded tightly. Those two were inseparable.

When Matt came along, even through all of the problems that Matt has had with being lovable, mum never gave up on him. Matt was always the strong-willed and stubborn child. If it wasn’t his way, he would shut you out. He still does to this day. But mum never gave up on him. She continued to love him and pray for him to turn around and have his heart feel again. She always knew how to make him smile, even when he didn’t want to.

Mu and family

The final corner shows what mum loved best, family. On her birthday, April 1st, this year she cooked a full dinner for us even though she was in intense pain. She would have it no other way. She told us it was the last meal she would ever make us, as if she knew.

She loved having everyone around the table.

And she absolutely loved the big family we had become. As a divorced dad with 2 kids of my own and adding a wife and 2 other full time kids and 2 other grown kids to the mix, she loved being able to love on people again. She loved being surrounded by those she loved. She loved my dad, me, my wife Mimi, Ryan, Matthew, Kenzi and Jacob.

Right before the viewing, my dad met with each person in the family individually to tell them words that mum wanted told to them. I have no clue what was said to each person. I just know what was said to me.

And it fills my heart to know it.

Mum collage

So now we are back to the original photo that got me thinking about this. My mom’s favorite picture.

But notice something, it is not a frame without a photograph. It is a photograph without a frame. The picture is framed by other pictures. And each of those pictures are framed by others. And all those photos together are framed by memories that we have of mum.

And what that leaves us is not a single snapshot of a person who died of cancer, it leaves us a description of the legacy of great woman. A woman who deserves to be celebrated and called blessed.

Yesterday is Taking Over

This weekend I was able to enjoy some time with my family, including my mom and dad. It was her birthday weekend.

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A little back story here, my mom, a couple weeks ago, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She had been fine up until about a month ago and then she went into the hospital because she was filling with fluid.  The doctors in the ER said that she was in the early stages of cirrhosis and not to worry about it but that they would send the fluid off to be tested.

The a few weeks ago she went back into the hospital because more fluid had collected and she got a call to go into the hospital.

The doctor came in and told her it was cancerous.

They did more testing.

After the testing they told her the cancer had spread throughout her body and was in her bones, her liver, her pancreas, her stomach, and other places. It was too much to operate and they gave her 3-6 months to live. We called in hospice, cancelled further testing, and went home.

That was a tough day. Very long as well. We would cry when we were awake and sleep when we could.

But this weekend was about celebrating, not regretting.

Mimi, myself, and the four kids packed into the car and headed north to her house. Along the way, we stopped at Cold Stone Creamery to get an impromptu ice cream cake (which was yummy, by the way!)

Mum decided that she wanted to make dinner for all of, thinking it might be the last time she could do it. She made ham, corn, mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, steamed shrimp, macaroni and cheese, and multiple desserts that she made herself like butterscotch pie and pumpkin pie.

During it all she was in pain, but she hid it fairly well. She wanted to do this labor of love for those she loves and love her.

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After dinner we sat down to talk about the stories from the past and give her gifts. Mum was in tears because she knows this will probably be her final birthday. My kids got her a framed picture of themselves taken a month ago. Mimi and the boys wrote mum letters thanking her for all the love they have brought into their lives. And then we got her a Precious Moments piece for her mantle.

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Then mum brought out the tears.

She wanted to give up some of her jewelry to my kids. She has been promising them that they would receive these and she wanted to make sure they had them in case something happened and she wasn’t able to see them anymore. (typing that just brought a lump in my throat)

We ended the day by taking some pictures with mum.

We left early because she was in a lot of pain and very tired. She took some of her morphine and headed to bed for the night and we started down the road toward home.

I got misty a couple of times and had to excuse myself after she gave out her jewelry because I was in tears.

I love my mom. She is, and always has been, such a blessing to me. She lives a Proverbs 31 life. She loves anyone and everyone.

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She has been blessed.

And knowing some of her back story about being abused by her first husband, growing up in poverty just after the Great Depression, and having a tough time by watching her own mom die in her arms with the same Hospice nurse who is taking care of my mom makes it even more clear just how blessed she truly is.

And what do blessed people do?

They spend their lives blessing others.

And she has been a blessing to countless people in this life.

So we don’t know how long mum has to live. God only knows that. We will just take it one milestone at a time:

  • Easter on 4/16
  • Her 52nd Anniversary on 4/23
  • And any other milestones afterward

If she passes before then, she will truly be home and even more blessed than she is now.

So here’s to you, mum. Happy 83rd birthday. I love you. I am a lot like you.

And for that, I am thankful.

What do YOU Believe: Part 4, my view

I want to get back to my series on the SBC choice to support a mosque being built in a New Jersey town. The first post in this series explained the story. The second post gave the reasoning behind the support. The third post gave reasoning or those who don’t support. In this final post I want to give you my view.

Before I go forward, I want you to know that I have friends on both sides of the argument. The fact that someone disagrees with me will not change how I see them. To me, this is not a salvation issue. I understand the argument that people make that says it is, but it simply is not. And to say that religious liberty is at stake is very true, but that is also not Scriptural.

That said, I do NOT believe that supporting the building of the mosque is the appropriate thing to do.

I believe that Russell Moore and the SBC made a mistake in supporting it.

First, religious liberty is never promised in the Bible. Christians are not to focus on religious liberty, we are to focus on Christ alone. Political messages are only to be shared that will lead people to Christ. We should not be entering a political arena other than to spread the good news of the Gospel.

Whenever we heard about Christians in the first century, we heard about the persecution. Early persecution happened between Jews and Christians. Jews were scared of Christianity. They saw this religion spreading quickly and felt it needed to be ended as quickly. Beginning in AD 64, Rome joined in the persecution when Nero blamed the Christians for a large fire that engulfed the city of Rome.

When we hear the word “freedom” in the Bible, we hear about how we are set free through the truth (John 8:32), that we are to use our freedom to love one another through serving each other (Galatians 5:13), and that we are not to use our freedom to cover up evil but to live as a servant of God (1 Peter 2:16).

It is that last verse that gets me.

If we combine that with the 10 Commandments, then we realize that it is evil to have another god before God. If that is evil, then it stands to reason that it would be evil to support another god.

I am not talking about baking cookies for a gay wedding or joining with other religious organizations to stop a strip club from coming to town. I am talking about an outright watering down of the Gospel through claiming that all religions should be seen as equal.

We serve a jealous God.

He desires us.

I am talking about doing similar to what Israel did in Judges 2, which is support other religions.

This happened in Israel for a multitude of reasons. First, they kept trying to live in the past, before they had the blessings of the Lord.

Next, they kept forgetting God’s Word. How many times do we get angry before we study the Word when we hear something? Rather than acting out, it is important to understand God’s Word first.

Next, Israel kept following new trends. Israel was watching the religious ceremonies of their enemies and they found them exciting. They started incorporating them into their worship. How about us today? I believe that the SBC has fallen prey to a world’s definition of tolerance. Tolerance in the Bible is very different than tolerance in the world. We can’t just accept everybody’s beliefs as our own. We do need to accept that others will believe differently, and we cannot force them to believe our way of life, but we cannot allow their views to infiltrate our beliefs. We are to remain holy, or set apart.

Fourth, the Israelites got too busy. They allowed their success and personal lives take precedence over their worship.

Finally, they refused to drive evil out of their land. As Christians in America, we have no “land” per se. But we do have our churches and denominations. If we allow evil to live inside those holy walls then we will find that we will lose our status of being holy.

So, it is very easy to mask politics as Christianity.

They are not one and the same.

If we don’t take a lesson from the first century Christians and the early Jews, then we will lose our ability to truly be a church of the risen Christ.

What do YOU believe? Part 3 – Against

The past couple of weeks I have been writing about the Russell Moore’s decision to allow the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC to support, through amicus brief, the building of a mosque in a New Jersey town.

A lot has happened since then.

There have been calls among the SBC for Moore’s resignation. The calls have fallen among racial lines with the majority Caucasian churches calling for his resignation and the majority African-American churches calling for there to be grace shown to him.  This is leading to even bigger divides inside the SBC, and will have some long-term repercussions.

Last week I looked at Russell Moore’s side, trying to understand his viewpoint. Many of my Facebook friends showed their approval when I posted the question asking about whether they supported his choice or not.

But just like any controversial question, when you have people who support it, you have people who don’t.

While some told me that everyone should have the right to practice their religion and that we should not discriminate against others, other people said that a leader in a church should not advocate for another religion and some brought up remembering 9/11 as a reason for us to not allow the mosque.

This week I want to show the side that is against Russell Moore and explain what I’ve seen people say about as well as what the Bible says. Next week, when I finish this series, I will share my viewpoint.

Across my Facebook friends, there were a variety of Scripture to support their views:

  • 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
  • Exodus 20:5
  • 1 Corinthians 10
  • Exodus 23:30-32

These are all very valid points. Just like last week, I would like to remind everyone that it was a Christian king, Negus, who allowed the continuation of Islam when others would have seen them destroyed.

So what is the purpose behind Christians not supporting the building of a mosque?

Well, the arguments seem to be twofold, and much of it because of what has been happening with Islamic extremists. The other reason is the Scriptural one.

According to Islamic belief, the Qu’ran was “revealed” to Muhammad as he spoke with The Divine. Some parts of the Qu’ran are given to specific instances while others speak to spiritual principles. In looking at the main verse in the Qu’ran that people use to show they are to kill infidels, Sura 9:5, we find that Muhammad tells the believers (in Islam) to “slay” the infidels “wherever you find them.” The only way someone could avoid this was to convert to Islam and pay a tax. This is generally called the “Sword Verse.” It is the one most people use when they say Islam is a violent religion. But that specific verse was given for a specific time.  It was given to the believers who had fled away from persecution. The idolaters are those who waged war against Muhammad and his crew. If we look at that verse in complete context, Muhammad tells his believers to protect those who had made treaties with them and to attack those infidels who broke their treaties. This verse was never about killing all non-Muslims. If that were the case, then every year after the holy months in Islam, we would have seen an increase in fighting.

Now this is not say that I am going against what I am writing about here.

I am specifically writing about the reasons Christians are to not support the building of a mosque.

But when we do so, we MUST take everything in context.  If we do not, then we are being led by Satan, not God.

So before I go any further, you need to know that if we are using the argument of “them versus us” then we are wrong. We CANNOT allow our emotions of 3,000 people killed to get in the way of what the Word of God says.

The Bible is specific:

Proverbs 30:5-6 – Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

Galatians 1:6-9 – I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

So, in this post we are ONLY going to look at it from a Scriptural standpoint. It is very easy to go eisegesic versus exegetic. If we look at the emotion first and the Scripture last (eisegesis), then we run the risk of translating the Scripture to our emotion. If we begin with Scripture (exegesis), then we allow God’s Word to change how we think and believe.

Then what does God’s Word say about this?

To begin, we start with John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If we start with that alone, then we need to know that in the Christian worldview, Jesus is the only way to heaven. There are no other choices. While Christians can live side by side with people of other faiths, we cannot condone of those faiths for any reason because doing so would water down the message that Christ alone is the Way.

The next verses we need to look at deals with the 10 commandments, Exodus 20:1-3, “And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

So, as of now, we have that Jesus is the only way to the Father and that we shall have no other gods before Him. The argument is getting pretty clear.

If we look at those 2 sets of verses alone, then we can presume that anything that runs counter to knowing Jesus as the only Way and that puts another god above is against Christianity as a whole.

As a matter of fact, John 6:44 states, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

So you need to be drawn by the Father in heaven in order to come to Jesus.

And, as last week, we need to discuss Christian love. Why was Jesus sent?

John 3:16-18 tells us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

It is love that brought Jesus into the world. It is love that gives us the saving blood of Christ. It is love that gives us a way to communicate, and be in fellowship, with God.

Love does not cause confusion. If there is confusion, then that love is not of God but of the world.

If we were to support another religion that runs counter to the deity of Christ, then we are supporting a gospel of confusion.

Galatians 1:8-9 specifically calls this out. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

We cannot preach another gospel.

Supporting another god supports another gospel.

Ad you can say to me that you aren’t supporting the god, but the people to have freedom to believe as they will. And to that I say to you, “nice try, but you are wrong.”

Supporting another religion is always about serving another god. You can mask it in religious liberty or supporting people, but it is about supporting that other god and their beliefs.

Mark 13:22 says that there will be false christs and false prophets that will rise up to lead people, including the elect, away from the Gospel of Christ.

We cannot support another religion over ours. If we do then we are just as worthless as the religion we are supporting.

James 1:26 – If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

Russell Moore, and the SBC, should have not taken pride in their religion. According to many, they should have held their tongues in something they knew was against God’s Word.

Next week I will end my series by giving you my viewpoint. I believe you might be a little surprised as to what I believe. And I will try to give you as much detail around it as possible so that there is no confusion as to my stance.

What do YOU Believe? Part 2 – Pro

Last week I started writing about the SBC’s decision to support the Islamic Society in a New Jersey town  through writing a brief on religious liberty. Over the next few weeks I will look at both sides of the argument, for and against, and end with a post about my view.

This week, I will look at the SBC’s view and why they supported the mosque.

This process was led by Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC. While Moore led the charge, it was supported by others in leadership, including David Platt, President of the International Mission Board. Not only did other SBC members join this brief, but so did other religions: The American Association of Jewish Lawyers, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, National Association of Evangelicals, and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry among many others.

So what is the rationale behind the support?

Moore is quoted as saying “What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody.” His rationale is that when one religion is persecuted, it is only a matter of time until all religions are persecuted.

At the end of the day, the question that Moore feels is of utmost importance is whether one religion can be subject to a different land-use approval than another. Those who don’t support Moore’s views believe the question that is most important is whether Christians and non-Christians can be unequally yoked.

I posed the question to my Facebook friends: Can a Christian in all integrity to Christianity support the building of a mosque?

To say that it was a lively conversation is an understatement.

Some of the comments for supporting the mosque are:

  • I believe that every religion has a right to be able to have a sanctuary in their city/town
  • If we are able to discriminate…then it is just a matter of time before the tables are turned
  • It would boost my trust in the leaders (who support it) that they are following Christ’s example
  • Many Christians want religious liberty…as long as it is theirs alone
  • Not allowing the mosque in the area hurts evangelism in that city
  • There is no theological conflict with civic religious freedom and being a biblical Christian
  • In Christ, we are to love all people, even those who want to harm us

Before I get into the scriptural evidences that others use to show it is ok to support the mosque being built, I want to share a quick story. This is the story about the first Muslims and how a Christian king allowed them sanctuary and the ability to grow and survive.

When Islam was first started to be proclaimed publically, the pagans in Makkan started persecuting the young Muslims severely. Many died. Many more were tortured. Eleven of the Muslims fled to Absynnia, a city that was led by a Christian king, Negus. They were offered sanctuary. Once the Muslims realized that they were in a peaceful area, they sent for more of their people.  The king continued to welcome the Muslims and offered them safety.

The Christian king asked the Muslims a simple question: “What do you say concerning Jesus?”

The Muslims said, “…we can only say what our Prophet has taught us: Jesus is the servant and messenger of God, the spirit and the word of God, whom God entrusted to the virgin Mary.”

When King Negus heard this, he picked up a twig from the ground and said, “I swear, the difference between what we believe about Jesus, the Son of Mary, and what you have said is not greater than the width of this twig.”

After the Makkan’s heard about the Muslims in Absynnia, they sent a delegation to request that they be deported back to Makkan. The king refused.

This is the first instance of Christians supporting Muslims.

While that is a great testament to Christians supporting others, the next question is: Is it Scriptural?

When I posed the Scripture question to my Facebook friends, I received a TON of verses and theologies as to why we should support the Islamic Society.

  • “The 10 commandments in Exodus 20 all point towards loving others unconditionally.”
  • The Good Samaritan story
  • 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
  • Matthew 25:35-40
  • Luke 6:27-36

All of those are very interesting views. the majority of those point toward one word, “love.”

But, as Haddaway sang in 1993, “What is love?” (admit it, now you are singing that song)

This is not the kind of post that is going to dig into the Christian definition of love. But I would be missing something if I didn’t at least touch upon it.

Christian love is not simply allowing everything. In Christian love, the idea of emotion, although part of our image of God, is not what the concept of Christian love, agape love, is about. Agape loves so deeply that we aren’t afraid to tell the truth and hold accountable. Agape bases love on the image of God, regardless of anything. And, since God is holy, we cannot allow evil to be part of the church.

But is this evil?

We could go on and on all month asking these philosophical kind of questions.

But I won’t.

So, getting back to the question at hand, is it ok for a Christian to support another religion?

According to Russell Moore, who spearheaded this entire debate, “One thing we need to be very clear about is that religious liberty is not a government ‘benefit,’ but a natural and inalienable right granted by God.”

He goes on to say, “When we say—as Baptists and many other Christians always have—that freedom of religion applies to all people, whether Christian or not, we are not suggesting that there are many paths to God, or that truth claims are relative. We are fighting for the opposite. We are saying that religion should be free from state control because we believe that every person must give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ.”

He uses Romans 13:1-7 and John 12:42-43 to support his view. He says that government can only rule by the sword. The sword of government cannot save a soul. This means that it becomes a religion of external conformity. It comes from state mandate or peer pressure. This happened with those who heard Jesus’ words. They understood His truth, but they loved the glory that came from man more than that which comes through God.

He continues by saying forcing someone to Christianity will make a state of pretend Christians. He says that if you want to see people come to Christ, you do it through boldly proclaiming the saving power of Christ, not by forcing them into hiding through shutting down their personal journey to Christ.

For those who say that non-violent Muslims are inconsistent Muslims (similar to “cafeteria Christians”, then he has a rebuttal to that. He says that the government’s job is to punish evil-doers. not to decide who is most theologically sound and consistent with their religious books.

He believes that there are limits to our freedom, and government has an obligation to protect the people inside its borders from harm and violence. But, he continues, government has an obligation to protect the citizens from the government itself. It is an act of aggression to strip a religious community of its civil liberties.

This line of thinking believes that to believe in Jesus’ Gospel message means that we do not need the power of the government to carry it out. The precedent in the Bible comes from Revelation 13. This is the example of a church that is forced on its people. That is not the church of Christ.

Next week I will look at the opposing view to this.

Attributes of God, Part 1

God has several attributes that the Bible provides us. These attributes are broken into two different categories: those we can also possess and those we cannot. These are called the “communicable” and “incommunicable” attributes of God.

In this post I am going to focus on the incommunicable, those qualities that we cannot ever hope to share with him. He alone holds these qualities.

The first of these is His holiness. God is perfect in His character. He is completely without sin, without flaw. He alone holds the definitions of mercy, justice, love, and goodness. We, on the other hand, are flawed. We sin. We distort the definitions of love, mercy, and others to suit our own needs.

Isaiah 6:3 – And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Next, God is infinite. God cannot be measured. There is nothing that can restrict how infinite He is or can be. Humanity is finite. We have only a limited scope of what we can do or become. We can never attain infinite attributes in a finite creature.

Psalm 90:2 – Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Some other attributes are that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Big words. But they basically mean that God all powerful, in all places and dimensions simultaneously, and all knowing. Humans are none of those.

Psalm 33:9 – For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Jeremiah 23:24 – Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

1 John 3:20 – If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

God does not change. The essence of God has been, and will always be, the same. Humans are fickle. We change our minds more than we change our underwear. Just look at humanity today. We have drifted so far from traditions of old, some for good reason and others for not. But it goes to show that we are constantly second-guessing ourselves and thinking there is a better way. God’s way is perfect. There is no reason to change. Scholars call this attribute of God “immutability.”

Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

God is both self-existent and self-sufficient. God is the uncaused cause. He is infinite and has always existed. Along those same lines, God requires nothing outside Himself to exist. God does not need us in order to exist. He created us because of love. Humans were both created and require outside forces beyond our control for maintained existence.

Revelation 1:8 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Psalm 102:25-27 – In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.

God is sovereign. God answers to no one and has the right to do with His creation as He pleases. While humanity likes to put ourselves on top of the throne of God, including many in Christian circles, we are clearly not the top of the heap. God has created us, not the other way around.

Isaiah 46:10 – I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’

God is spirit. He has no human form. I understand this can be very confusing, especially when we think in terms of the Trinity. But God exists without form. This is also going to be important as we look at next week’s post about the communicable attributes of God. We are not talking about being made in God’s physical image, but His spiritual image.

John 4:24 – God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

God is not dependent on space or time. God transcends space and time. This is the relationship between God’s total essence and His creation. This also means that God is not affected by space or time. Humanity is affected by it. The physical laws of the universe do not apply to God, but they sure do apply to us. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to transcend space or time. I don’t care how much Star Trek tries to make you think you can, it simply is not possible.

Psalm 139:7-10 – Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Finally, God is unique. There is no one else like God. God is completely “other.” Humanity, while craving to be unique, always follows the crowd. Just look at the popular causes for today. Some are completely inane and stupid, yet we follow them. How much of social media is filled with people who think they are being different than the other person but who are simply following lock step with the crowd?

Isaiah 44:6-7 – “This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let them foretell what will come.

So these qualities that I have discussed here are what make up God. These are attributes that He cannot and does not share with others as it would dilute his essence of God. Next week, I will begin to discuss those attributes that we share with God, the communicable attributes.

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