Tag Archive | life

What’s In A Word?

American author Russell Bradley Jones tells the true story of seven Russians taken captive many years ago in Finland. They were to be put to death at sunrise. As they waited through the long night some cursed, some cried, some called out for their mothers. One named Kos Kinen began singing an old Christian hymn.

“Where did you get that you fool?” they asked.

“My mother taught it to me.” he replied, “and I am giving my life to the Jesus my mother taught me.” “In a few hours I will be with my Savior.”

By 4:00 a.m., Kinen had led the other six men to faith in Jesus Christ. At 6:00 a.m. they marched out to be shot. They requested to die with their faces uncovered, with arms stretched to heaven they sang…

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast.
There by His love oe’r shadowed.
Sweetly my soul shall rest.

They were shot. Forgiveness turned their doom into a moment of glory.

Dore CrucifixionDuring the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, He never verbally attacked His accusers, cried for compassion, hurled desperate insults at His captors and torturers, or spelled out the doom awaiting those responsible for the circus of a trial He had forced upon Him. Pastor Rick Warren summed it up best in a comment he made during a Q & A session at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in 2016…

We are most like Christ when we are silent in the face of our critics.

The Bible tells us that Jesus remained silent in the face of the hate, ridicule, and false accusations. Even as He hung on the cross, His thoughts were of others.

A Word of Pardon.

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do…” ~ Luke 23:34

  • This was the word of a Son who had influences with the Father.
  • This was the word of a Savior who was giving His life for others
  • This was the word of a Priest who stands between sinful humanity and the wrath of God
  • This is the Word of Pardon for all who will receive Him.

A Word of Promise.

“Today you shall be with me in Paradise” ~ Luke 23:43

Even in the darkest of times, His thoughts were still of redemption. As this thief hanging next to Him repented, the sinless Lamb of God made a promise of eternal life to this man who was paying the price for his bad choices.

A Word of Care.

“Woman, behold your son! [John], behold your mother!” ~ John 19:26-27

In the middle of all this, Jesus, as the first born, took care of His earthly mother. Jesus gave that assignment to John who carried Mary to Ephesus where she lived for Jesus until her death. Jesus did not shirk His earthly responsibilities.

A Word of Passion.

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” ~ Matthew 27:46

Here is the High Priest alone in the Holy of Holies. Here is the scapegoat alone in the wilderness. Here is the dark moment when the humanity of Jesus is at its peak.

“God forsaken of God” – who can imagine it? Here is how it should read, “My God, My God, why? Hast thou forsaken me?”

The answer is no!

The Apostle Paul said that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). He felt forsaken that you and I might never be alone.

A Word of Suffering.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” ~ John 19:28

Again we see Jesus’ humanity! In the awful agonies of crucifixion, Jesus suffered intense dehydration. He became thirsty, that we might drink from His fountain of Life.

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. ~ John 7:37-39

A Word of Triumph.

“It is finished!” ~ John 19:30

Jesus’ words here have four meanings.

To bring to a close.
To finish a performance on task.
To fulfill all obligation.
To pay the bill in full

Jesus brought to a close all of the law and prophets.

Jesus finished the tasks of suffering.

Jesus paid for our sins in full.

Jesus finished off Satan.

A Word of Glory.

“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” ~ Luke 23:46

Despite what the priests, Pharisees, Romans, and Pilate may have thought, there was never a moment when Jesus was not in control of His destiny. Even during each horrific moment on the cross, Jesus was still in charge and was still Lord.

This same Jesus — Messiah, Lord, Triumphant Conqueror, and King —

… wants to be the Lord and Savior of YOUR life!

Are your sins forgiven? Do you know Jesus Christ? He died for your forgiveness.

Like the Russian prisoners at the beginning of this blog, you can receive Jesus today!

Here’s how.

The Lazarus Conspiracy

There was a buzz on the streets of Jerusalem as pilgrims flocked to the city for Passover. Rumors swirled that the Messiah could possibly be there. But those rumors were being fed by the fact that a man named Lazarus was there as well.

Yes… THAT Lazarus.

LazarusThe dead guy.

Word of the miraculous resurrection of this man from Bethany had already spread like wildfire. Just weeks before, Lazarus was lying dead in a tomb.

Stone. Cold. Dead.

When Jesus showed up, His presence did little to dissuade their sorrow. Even before He made it into the village proper, Lazarus’s sister Martha came out to meet Him.

“Lord, if You would have been here my brother would not have died”, Martha exclaimed, probably in mid-stride.

Mary, Lazarus’s other sister, waited until Jesus got to town before she fell at his feet, echoing the same exclamation of hopelessness. The display of genuine mourning moved Jesus, in spite of the fact that He knew what the outcome of the day would be. Although God, He was human as well, and subject to human emotions such as sorrow. Lazarus had been His friend, and although the irony of the moment was not lost on Him, He also was not immune to its emotion either.

“Remove the stone”, came the command from the Master upon arriving at the entrance to Lazarus’s tomb.

“But Lord… he’s been in there for four days! What about the stench???” inquired the always practical Martha.

Again with the doubting????

“Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Jesus’ tone with His reply made them think better of asking any more questions. They rolled the stone away, and after lifting His eyes to the heavens in a brief prayer of thanksgiving to the Father, Jesus set His focus on the opening before Him.

“Lazarus! Come forth!” Jesus commanded into the darkness of the cave.

Moments later, a grave-linen-clad Lazarus appeared within sight of all who were gathered there.

Even in first-century Judea… news traveled fast.

Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, Lazarus is there, and the subsequent attention that both were attracting was not all positive. While the rumors of the Lazarus miracle had attracted the attention of certain Greek converts with a fired-up desire to see Jesus, the religious crowd had other plans.

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. ~ John 12:9-11

So… Lazarus has died, Jesus shows up four days later and raises him from the grave, the people are now flocking to Jesus in droves, and your big plan is to kill the guy Jesus just raised from the dead???

Really?!?!

Maybe if they had spent as much time studying the prophecies as they did in scheming and plotting, they would have realized what Jesus then revealed to these Greek converts — a traditionally scholarly bunch.

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. ~ John 12:23

In this statement was a huge paradigm-shift. Up until this point, Jesus had — on multiple occasions — declared the opposite; “My time has not fully come” was the reason given on more than one occasion and for more than one reason. But now He was declaring that His hour HAD come!

But what hour?

Jesus understood that the hour had come for the season to be realized.

While the priests were busy plotting against the diversion of the Lazarus conspiracy, every prophecy about Jesus was falling into place. All of the prophetic chess pieces were falling into place, and the Pharisees and chief priests were mere pawns.

The prophecy about His death was about to be fulfilled.

All of the typology of His passion was about to be understood.

The stranglehold that Satan had on the human race was about to be broken.

Jesus understood that His entire life had led up to this moment; the whip, the garden, the betrayal, the mocking, the crown of thorns, and the cross. His entire life on this earth had been a road to the cross. Before time began, God knew of humanity’s fall, and had His kingdom planned (Matt. 25:34), His people chosen (Eph. 1:4), His salvation finished (Heb. 4:3), and the cross and the redemptive blood of Christ planned (1 Pet. 18-20). As the saying goes… “it was over before it started.”

Jesus understood that the hour had come for the seed to be sown.

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. ~ John 12:24

Jesus saw the giving of His life in harmony with the ancient principles of seed-time and harvest. He was not forfeiting His life. He was giving His life. It was not martyrdom but rather an investment. As Lord of Creation, He understood the Laws of the Harvest

You must sow to reap.
In order to get a harvest, you must first plant seed (John 3:14-15)

You reap what you sow.
Jesus sowed righteousness to release a resurrection life.

You reap after you sow.
Jesus knew what was coming, and knew what He had to do (Heb. 12:2).

You reap more than you sow.
Just as a single seed births an apple tree that produces thousands of apples, Jesus sowed His life, and reaped a new human race.

Jesus understood that the judgment being executed was not His execution.

Jesus knew going into His crucifixion that the real judgment was not the one handed down by Pontius Pilate, but was the two-fold judgment being sealed by His death on the cross.

Christ1Everything the human race was and is in Adam was judged on the cross. (Rom. 5:18)
Jesus knew that all of the history of mankind until that moment was being judged at that moment, and that, in three days, everything would be different.

Satan’s judgment was assured. (Col. 2:14-15)
Satan was “the prince of this world”. He was the cherubim over all the planet earth until his fall. In Eden, he tried to regain what he had forfeited. At the cross, his infernal plans were thwarted once and for all, and he was stripped of his authority.

Jesus understood the attraction of the cross.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
This He said, signifying by what death He would die. ~ John 12:32-33

The cross was an ugly thing. It was one of the most diabolical methods of torture and death ever devised by men. All along, Jesus knew it was coming. Yet, because of Jesus death, that very cross — repulsive to the Jews and a cause of scandal to the Greeks — had a drawing and saving power no one can explain.

They still can’t.

 The cross is more than two ugly wooden timbers fastened together, or a piece of beautiful jewelry to be worn. The cross is the crossroads of human history — the focal point that every moment before pointed to, and every moment since is dependent upon.

You see, the Cross is:

 “of all times the turning point;
   of all history the crucial point;
   of all love the highest point;
   of all salvation the starting point;
   of all worship the central point.”

So You Want To Be A Warrior?

Warriors 7

Today, most armed services have a 6 to 13 week period of what they term basic training. During that time, they have a leader called a drill instructor. After this basic training, the young soldier or sailor begins to look and act differently.

As you journey deeper in your walk with Christ, I pray that you will get in shape for more intense spiritual warfare. A timid, untrained army is no match for Hell’s terrorists! No, we must get into spiritual shape, pick up our armor and go to the battlefront. The destiny of humanity hangs in the balance.

David trained his 400 soldiers with the truth we find in Psalm 18, which contains six basic charges every warrior needs to hear.

“Get Under Authority” – Submission

“For You will save the humble people,
but will bring down haughty looks.” (Psalm 18:27 NKJV).

        The soldier must begin a day knowing how to obey orders. From the moment of arrival in boot camp, nothing belongs to the recruit anymore. Their hair is cut, their clothing is selected for them, and their schedule is determined by their leaders. For a season, freedom is lost and submission is taught.

It is essential to understand that putting the devil to flight requires submission to God. James 4:7 tells us…

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (NKJV)

One of my high school buddies was always a rebel at heart. His dress was unconventional, as well as his attitude. Finally, he quit school to live free. His choice? He joined the Marines. I laughed when I saw him after boot camp! His long hair was now a crew cut and he wore a crisp Marine uniform instead of jeans. He had learned to live under orders. Hebrews 12:1-2 gives the Christian his or her marching orders:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NKJV)

 “Get on Fire for the Cause”—Passion

“For You will light my lamp” (Psalm 18:28a NKJV).

        The second goal of boot camp is to inspire the recruit to have a passion for the cause of the nation. All things being equal, the one with the most passion for the fight will win. In our struggle against the Enemy, we must be on fire to win the souls of men for God’s kingdom.

One admirable thing about Islamic fundamentalists is their unbridled passion for their cause. They are willing to die in order to further their purposes. While their teaching is in error and their methods are horrific, they are on fire for what they believe. All the weapons of a militia cannot stop such passion; it must be met by Christians who have a passion for Jesus Christ.

“Be Prepared for Warfare”—Discipline

“The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:28b NKJV).

        God will “enlighten” His soldiers. We have been given the right armor and the right instruction. Every church must become a spiritual armory, preparing its people for the struggle against the darkness.

“Believe You Can Win”–Vision

“For by You I can run against a troop,
by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29, NKJV)

        Here the recruit confesses his faith. By the power of God, he can overcome a troop. With the strength of God, he can leap over a wall. The Enemy’s army and obstacles fall before the spiritual soldier who has faith.

“Know Your Weapons”—Power

Warrior 2“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect…. He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” (Psalm 18:30-32, 34, NKJV)

Notice first that God has a perfect battle plan. The word perfect means “absolutely complete.” We must fight according to His plan.

Second, Yahweh has given us a sharp, two-edged sword—His Word. We must wield this sword effectively if we are to live the victor’s life.

Furthermore, God grants us a shield of protection: Faith.

Also, Yahweh exercises our gifts so our hands will be strengthened to make war. We can use our “bronze bow” to judge the Enemy. Spiritual archers can shoot down the principalities in the heavens.

“Go to the Next Level”—Excellence

“He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
and sets me on my high places” (Psalm 18:33 NKJV).

Boot camp moves us to the next level of battle. We can conquer the mountains before us. Our feet must be strong, so we can walk with a sure foot. The feet of deer “track,” which means the rear foot will always land where the front foot leaves. Our God allows us to walk in His footsteps, tracking hard after Him.

WorshipDavid’s manual (Psalm 18) molded the 400 outcasts into a military machine that would take the kingdom. We, too, can go to the next level if we become informed and disciplined. It’s time to recognize your enemy, understand the battle, equip yourself for the fight, and walk in victory.

Adapted from my book
Everyone’s Guide to Demons & Spiritual Warfare
©2010 Ron Phillips
Published by Charisma House

Facts, Fake News, and Finding Truth

Marquee

Throughout the last campaign season and continuing on through the first three months of this year, we have all heard the phrase that has become a staple of public discourse — the allegation and labeling of certain news reports as “fake news”.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Walter Cronkite — the most trusted man in America. Nowadays, “news” reports are peppered with opinion, innuendo, and bias from the very people who are supposed to be objectively reporting what is going on. From the very beginning of many news reports — especially those pertaining to President Trump and his administration — the commentary is framed in such a way as to support a conclusion that may or may not be factual.

Recently, President Trump came to Nashville for a rally. Since Nashville is a couple of hours from where we are in Chattanooga, one of my staff members volunteered to go to the rally and report back what he observed with his own eyes. Here is what he had to say…

After meeting up with a couple of friends outside of the city, we drove to the Nashville Municipal Auditorium for the rally with President Trump. We parked about 4 blocks away (after navigating through streets that were blocked off for security reasons), and walked to the auditorium. At the point at which we reached the venue, it was a little after 2p.m., with the start time of the rally scheduled for 6:30p.m. Upon walking past the front of the venue, we noticed lots of police, Secret Service agents, barricades, and people. The line had long-since formed, and stretched out of sight. There was a small area cordoned off near the entrance where a handful of protesters had gathered. The few signs on display addressed an array of topics and grievances, some of which were fairly odd. If you counted everyone in that area (sign or no sign) as a protester, there might have been about 20.

Street preachers

Street evangelists.

We proceeded past the entrance on the long walk to the end of the line. The crowd was calm, well-behaved, and respectful. Lots of smiling faces of people eager to see the President as people conversed, laughed, and occasionally broke into spontaneous cheers of “USA!… USA!…” and “Trump!…Trump!…”. There were a handful of street preachers with loudspeakers, preaching a message of salvation to a crowd who, for the most part, remained respectful of their right to be there. It was obvious that these people were not there to protest, but were simply there to use the opportunity to share the message of the Gospel with a fairly captive audience. When one of the bystanders engaged one of these men in a conversation, the street-preacher exclaimed that he had been to “other” events, and the current crowd was much more well-behaved and respectful.

#5

At this point in the line, we were only 8/10 of a mile from the entrance.

It was around 2:30p.m. when we finally made it to the end of the line. According to Google Maps, we were about 8/10 of a mile from the entrance. We got in line and began the long wait. Within 10 minutes of standing there, the line grew to extend roughly 150 yds. beyond the point where we were standing. Within 20 minutes, the line was once again out of sight. As we stood in the sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats, I was struck by a few things. In spite of the cold (and it got much colder), people weren’t complaining. The crowd itself was made up of young and old, men and women. There were a lot of high-school and college aged young people, as well as a lot of children. There were people dressed comfortably (sweatshirts and jeans), and others who were attired much nicer. There were poor people there. There were affluent people there. When the street vendors came by with hats, shirts, and buttons, people engaged them in conversation and broke out their wallets to purchase their wares. When the (very) occasional protester happened by with their signs (some of which were quite misguided and/or offensive), the crowd remained respectful and for the most part, did not engage them, even in the face of their contrary (and even bizarre) viewpoints. Those who chose to engage did so without name calling, or hate-filled aggression, but simply spoke to them about their grievance of choice, and shared why they believed them to be in error.

 

At 3:30p.m., the doors opened and the line began to inch forward. At one point, there was a commotion of police lights, and a huge cheer went up as the Presidential motorcade passed by. It was interesting to see strangers become friends, and listen to the conversations about the hope people felt in America once again.

As the line continued to move forward, the sun continued to set, and the temperature continued to drop, the crowd remained vigilant in their determination to see the President. At one point, after standing in line for more than two hours, one of the people standing next to me got a news report from one of the local news agencies on their phone. It was being reported that “hundreds of protesters had gathered to protest Trump”. We couldn’t help but laugh. From start to finish, we witnessed maybe 50 people protesting. Some of the signage of people we initially thought might be protesters turned out to be people who, with no chance of getting in, decided to utilize their time carrying signs in support of the President, and essentially being cheerleaders as they walked up and down the crowd, cheering on those in attendance.

We were roughly 2/10 of a mile from the entrance when President Trump took the stage. Those of us outside broke out cell phones, and watched the LIVE feed of what was happening inside. As the line sped up slightly, we remained hopeful that we would still make it in before the President finished.

It wasn’t to be.

We made it to within 40 feet of the doorway when the President began to close his remarks, and knew at that point that our 4-hour vigil had been in vain.

But actually… it hadn’t for me. I had come for the experience of witnessing first-hand what a Trump rally was about, and while I never made it to the doorway, I think I got just as good a sense of that during my time standing in line. What I witnessed was a lot of people who love our country and wanted to support a President who shares that love. The full house of nearly 10,000 people inside was what the country saw in news clips and social media stories. What they didn’t see was the literally thousands of people who stood faithfully outside, and never made it in… people who still felt pride in being there to support a President who has taken a lot of heat for standing up for them.

Well, my fingers and toes have finally thawed out, and I am thankful for the (albeit chilly) experience of spending a few hours with other Americans who have renewed my faith in the goodness and kindness of her people.

Proverbs 10:9 says…

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes
crooked paths will be found out.

Trust but verify ReaganIn this day and time, finding out truth is not as complicated as it would seem. I believe we have become so used to instant gratification that we determine truth the same way. “If the media says it, it must be true”, may have had some relevance in times past, but today we live in an age where people speak before the truth is known, and report before all of the facts are in. I have seen it become such a vicious cycle: Someone reports a story which is proven to be false, then tries to manufacture data or spin the story in such a way as to try to maintain some degree of credibility. It seems that people have lost the ability to say “I was wrong”, when in fact those three words are a crucial starting point to regaining lost credibility. Oftentimes, an apology can get a lot better response than a defense.

Truth is not subjective. Truth is not open to interpretation. There is not such thing as “your truth” and “my truth”. Truth stands on its own power and authority. The Bible puts a great deal of importance on truth as we read…

The LORD detests lying lips,
but He delights in people who are trustworthy. ~ Proverbs 12:22

I think if we all slowed down and took more of an interest in the truth, we would find that honesty is still the best policy, and that being truthful in the first place is less exhausting that than the ensuing damage control involved when we sacrifice our integrity.

We might also find that the place of truth is the starting point of finding favor with God.

Faith for the Finale

Think about this…

Would you run a marathon — leading the entire way by a mile — only to sit down at the end, 5 feet short of the finish line?

Would you finish Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E minor with a pianissimo oboe solo?

Would you compete for an entire season — going undefeated for all of it — only to refuse to come out of the locker room for the championship game?

vince_lombardi_bart_starrFor many of us who are sports fans, we just witnessed a historic event. In Super Bowl LI, we watched as the New England Patriots — who were down by 25 points at halftime — came back to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 5th time in a stunning overtime defeat of the Atlanta Falcons. Never before had a team overcome more than a 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. Never before had “The Big Game” gone into overtime. When the New England Patriots came out of the locker room for the 3rd quarter, it looked like it was all but over. I had friends who actually turned off the game because it looked like such a blowout. “On to other things.” So what happened?

Well, one of the things that the commentators kept saying was “how young the Atlanta Falcons were”… How young they were…. How quick they were… How much older the Patriots were. Yet for all of their youth and exuberance, it seems that they lacked the one thing that the Patriots did have: Focus. During the second half, the Patriots stayed focused on winning. They stayed focused on the task at hand. They kept their eyes on the prize. Whether it was blown coverages or senseless penalties, the Atlanta Falcons went from a team hungry to win to a team trying not to lose. Somehow, they lost sight of the hard-fought lessons that got them to Houston. They had the motivation and energy to make it to the championship, but lacked the grit and determination to get them across the finish line.

The entire human race is running full-throttle toward the edge of eternity. So even though prophets, preachers, seers, and scholars have been discussing the Last Days  and The Day of the Lord for over 2,000 years, how should we live now.. today? What should our mindset be in 2017? Should we be filled with fear or faith?

Among the customs of some Native American people was a ritual of a young man passing into adulthood. He would be taken out into a place away from the community; he would then be blindfolded and left in that spot all night. He was not to remove the blindfold until the morning came and the sunlight began to shine through the blindfold. So all night, he was in that place, feeling alone and isolated… unsure of his surroundings and what potential threats waited for him, unseen because of the blindfold.

Well, I am sure you can imagine his surprise when, upon removing the blindfold at morning’s light, he found himself surrounded by his kinsmen — his father and uncles. Though he may have struggled with the fear of loneliness and the unknown, there was never a moment when he was not being watched over by his elders, who remained just out of reach and by his side the entire night.

Just like the young brave was never abandoned by those who loved him, so we are never abandoned by a loving Heavenly Father who never lets us out of His sight.

It is that unwavering attention to His children that allows us to run the race, and have Faith for the Finale.

At Abba’s House, I have just begun a series of messages by the same title…

Faith for the Finale.

I want to encourage you to join us, whether in person or online, as I take you through the steps and mindset that it takes to be an overcomer in adversarial times, and what YOU need to do in order to finish well the race set before you.

See you Sunday.

Pastor Ron

A Year of Change

FlagIn about two weeks, America will once again go through the pomp and ceremony of inaugurating a new president, meaning new leadership and new direction in our nation. While January 20 (and a few days following) will be filled with all manner of spectacles, traditions, and commentary, it will merely mark the beginning of an administration that came to power on promises of ending corruption, national security, and returning us to being a nation “of, by, and for the people.” President Trump will have his hands full, leading our country during a time of political unrest, social division, international instability, and unfettered terrorism.

So, “we the people”… what can we do?

First of all, we can pray. In I Timothy 2:1-2, Paul tells Timothy…

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Israeli Flag 1Prayer is not partisan. While I never voted for President Obama, and disagreed with him on much of his agenda, I prayed for him nearly every single day. I genuinely hoped and prayed that he would be a good and just president. My prayer is the same for President Trump. I pray that he will surround himself with Godly counsel, that he will listen to wise advisers, and that he will always put America’s best interests — spiritually, socially, and economically — first (this includes an unwavering support for Israel).

Second, I would encourage everyone reading this, regardless of what side of the aisle you fall on politically — give President Trump a chance. No man or administration has the ability to fix all that ails a nation overnight. Leaders rise and fall according to the will of God (Romans 13:1), and I believe that God has ordained President Trump for “such a time as this”. If you have honest disagreements with him or his policy, fine. I’m sure we all will at some point. There has not been a president in my lifetime that I agreed with 100% of the time. But honest criticism, reasoned viewpoints, and civil discourse should not fall victim to unbridled vitriol, (un)civil disobedience, and fake and deceptive news. If there is one thing I have learned with the popularity of social media, it is that you cannot believe everything you read.

Praying      Last, I would encourage all of us — as Americans — to be diligent in seeking after holiness, righteousness, and decency. Make a difference in your own circle of influence. Last year, I wrote a book called The Unraveling of America  in which I pointed to a number of political and social ideologies and entities in our world that have led to the systematic dismantling of our nation. With the advent of new leadership, all of these adversaries and ideologies are not going to mysteriously vanish. We must be diligent. We must be wary. We must hold our leaders to account for their decisions, actions, or lack thereof. We must follow the advice of Jesus who tells us to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

It’s time for our nation under God to once again rise up and be the “shining city on a hill”, not because of our perceived greatness, but because of the goodness and grace of God that He shed upon us.

Pemmaquid PointAmerica! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

~ from America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates
Music by Samuel A. Ward

A Christmas Story of Sorts

across-the-water3

There once was an old artist…

He lived in a small home in a setting that was picturesque: His property was wooded with a short hill that ran from his back door down into a vast, calm lake. Looking out over the water into the distance revealed a majestic mountain range. He had few human visitors, but enjoyed watching the fish jump and the ducks and geese gliding effortlessly across the surface of the water. It was not uncommon for him to be visited by squirrels, raccoons, and quite often, deer.

Snow 2JEvery morning (weather permitting), the old artist would walk down the hill from his house to the small dock he had built years before on the lake. He would take his easel and a small box of drawing and painting utensils, and spend hours sitting on the dock, painting and sketching. Often, he would paint his beautiful surroundings — trees, water, the mountains, the woodland creatures — but every once in a while, he would paint images from his mind, and what the serenity of that place inspired in his imagination. He started off just hanging the pictures in his small home but over time, the lack of wall space and the encouragement of a friend inspired him to sell his paintings at a local store. Every once in a while, his art would inspire him to accompany the painting with a poem from his own experience, and although he rarely wrote such poems, they were always filled with beautiful imagery, witty humor, and profound wisdom.

There came a day when a man from a large city visited the area, and stopped by the store for some supplies. The man owned a large publishing company, and upon seeing the art on display, was intrigued. He read a couple of the poems, and was beyond impressed.

“Who is the author of these masterpieces?” he inquired.

The shop owner gave him the old artist’s address, and he hurried away to find the artist. When he arrived at his destination, the old artist was down on the dock, feeding some ducks a little dry bread left over from last evening’s dinner. The publisher proceeded to introduce himself, and compliment the artist on his craft — particularly his poetry. He passionately  made the case that the old artist’s gift of poetry did not need to be hidden from the world, and that his work could reach thousands and millions of people if he would come to work for him. The publisher’s words made the old artist feel respected, needed, and guilty all at the same time. After a couple hours of persuasion, the publisher convinced the old artist to come to work for his company, and share his wonderful insights with the rest of the world. The old man agreed to a contract which required him to move to the city in which the publishing company was located.

bldg-in-philly2For the first six months, his work was incredible. The publisher was overwhelmed by the beauty of the old artist’s eloquent and witty poems and stories. Furthermore, he was overjoyed by the public reception of the old artist — letters and correspondence praising the writings as masterful and insightful. Readership was up for the first time in a decade, with a corresponding rise in revenue. Everyone at the publishing company was happy.

Everyone, that is, except for the old artist.

Over time, sales plateaued and began to fall away. The new readers who at first seemed so excited began to disappear, the praise began to subside, and what little correspondence there was was less than flattering. “Dry”, “passionless”, and “formulaic” were words that critics began to use to describe the writing they once called “fresh”, “genius”, and “inspirational”. The publisher, concerned about not just his company’s bottom line, but having also grown quite fond of the old artist as a friend, decided to talk to the man.

Meeting one evening at the publisher’s home, the publisher asked the old artist if he was alright; had something happened to cause him to lose his inspiration?

The old man replied…

“You became interested in me and my work because of my poetry. You saw it as beautiful and unique, inspiring and insightful. But I’m not sure you understood where it came from. Honestly, until now, I’m not sure I did.

But I do now.
You see, the beautiful poetry you love was always a by-product of the hours I spent alone with my art. Almost every morning (weather permitting), I would go down to my dock — the place you found me feeding the ducks — and paint or sketch what I saw, not just with my eyes, but with my mind and my heart.

The thing is, that art came from a place as well.

That place.

wintertree-charcoalThat place I call home. That place I knew since I was a young boy. That place I shared with the love of my life — my other inspiration — until her time on this earth was done. That place where the wind sings to my spirit, that holds my memories, my laughter, my tears, my joys, and my sorrows. That place that inspired adventure in a young man, and soothed the broken heart of a grieving and lonely old man.

When you hired me and I left that place, I left behind the art and inspiration that gave my poetry its real meaning. You gained the writer, but left behind everything that made the artist.”

Friends, how many times have we done that?

holly-paintingHow many times do we see someone for what they are, but we miss who they are? How many times have we — as friends, acquaintances, leaders, and employers — looked to someone to fill a role in our lives without considering what it is that makes them qualified or even necessary to fill that role? How many times have employers, for the sake of gaining an employee, forsaken an artist? We see how having the abilities of a person can benefit us, but what is that thing that inspires them, that makes them who they are, that makes them of benefit to everyone around them? While we may choose what a person’s assignment is, do we understand what their anointing is?

Well… God does.

He understood it when He told Jeremiah…

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations. ~ Jeremiah 1:5

His creative genius was clear to David, who wrote…

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. ~ Psalm 139:13-16

Paul recognized that God’s good and perfect gifts come without a return receipt…

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. ~ Romans 11:29

KS12499This Christmas season, I encourage you — actually, I invite you — as we celebrate the story of the Christ Child, to find out someone else’s story. Find out what makes them tick. Look beyond the temporal and temporary exterior and find out about their experiences, dreams, and aspirations.

Look beyond the assignment and find the anointing.

Look past the grit and find the gift.

Solomon recognized the value of God’s gifts when he said…

A man’s gift makes room for him,
And brings him before great men. ~ Proverbs 18:16

This next year, let’s commit ourselves to recognizing the gifts and callings in those around us, and help to clear the path for that anointing to find its way to greatness.