Numbness and Psalm 51…

Have you ever simply felt numb? The kind of numbness that envelops you like the cold depths of a lake as you sink ever-deeper into the cold grip of the waters? Yeah… I now am beginning to understand the concept.

For those who may not know – in April, I lost my mother, Judy Harris. In the midst of the insanity of a “pandemic” and widespread knee-jerk responses by government and IMG_2544 2people, along with the ongoing aftermath of her death – dealing with the probate of her estate and juggling two memorial services almost 900 miles apart, we then see an eruption of division, with Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA bringing violence, destruction, and fear to cities across the nation.

And then my father’s condition makes its final “bounce” – this time landing flat.  And just like that, in the course of just a few months, I IMG_8152have lost both parents. Preaching memorial services for both my mom and dad in a relatively short time was not on my ministry radar – but then again, neither was seeing our nation literally torn apart by politically-motivated manipulation of a virus, and a systematic attack on the very values that have endured and helped make the USA the nation that people still dream of escaping to.

I’m numbed by the apparent widespread apostasy of many popular Christian “leaders” who twist Scripture to endorse rebellion against God. I’m deeply saddened to see churches finding themselves faced with never meeting together again because of fear and widespread propaganda (again, politicizing of a pandemic).  I’m aching as I see loving people suddenly turned into veritable monsters over a piece of cloth over one’s face.  And I hurt for those who have long claimed to absolutely trust God, and who would acknowledge His sovereignty, well – except for this particular virus. Its as if some parts of God’s Word no longer apply? Is it not the same Bible that also tells believers that they are not given a spirit of fear? (2 Timothy 1:7)

I’m grieving not only for the loss of my own parents, but for a dear member of my 
112296745_10224032764792020_5060914239429042049_n84643334_10157023350568596_7312122881603796992_ochurch family, Sister Jeanie Greene, and more recently an old friend fromcollege, Michael Marlin who left behind a family that needed him.

And it all just grows ever-more numb – as I approach those I can with my “pastor hat” – a way of dealing with grief and frustration in a somewhat logical and spiritual way.  But that detachment from the personal side comes at a cost. Numbness. And the more that it all seems to pile on, the more numb and cold things become. And it would seem – that my old refuge of just a quiet place and my Bible just isn’t taking the numbness away like I had hoped.

Yet it is not as if I am without hope – for I still believe that Christ died for my salvation – that He paid the price for each and every one of my sins – and that His Spirit still dwells within me. Yet I also feel an immense pressure – to be something that I am rapidly losing grips on – a rock of strength for my family. A foundation stone for the church body the LORD has entrusted to my care. I’m not suppose to show weakness. I feel as if I must bottle up my grief, my pain, and my sadness – for the sake of those around me, for I’ve failed if I don’t still shine brightly with the Joy of Christ.  IN the midsts ot the numbness, I find myself grasping – grasping for anything to help me feel the joy of Christ in an overflowing, renewing, recharging way. Yet instead, I find myself having to try to restrain emotions that well up – that might cause me to lash out in frustration. And the cycle grows more rigid – and numb…

So I sit here in the coffee shop, reading, praying – and trying to “put on a happy face”… and then David’s cry comes to my mind.  A cry of one who also felt numb and distanced from the joy of God’s salvation.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation

And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

And sinners will be converted to You.

Psalm 51:10-13

Of course, this Psalm wasn’t from a man who was passively experiencing grief and hardships – the distance he felt was because of his own sins, his own transgressions, his own rebellion – David had committed adultery and conspiracy to commit murder. Yet I cannot help but still feel as if my numbness, my bottled grief – isn’t in some way due to my own sinful failure to absolutely trust God and to dwell in His promises through Christ. I cannot help but feel as if I could somehow press a magic button, or say the right prayer, that suddenly I would feel all better and the numbness would ease. Yet it just isn’t that simple.

Tears? Or maybe finding a field away from everyone to just cry out at the top of my lungs…

And then I think – at the very center of David’s prayer in this Psalm – is the fundamental need that I too have, even if our circumstances are different:

Restore to me the joy of YOUR salvation.

Salvation belongs and comes from the LORD – it is His to give, His to comfort with, and His provision. In Him will I trust. And just maybe if I would grasp Psalm 91 and it’s reminders that God is my refuge and my strength – in Him is found real refuge and comfort.

Spiritual Warfare is Real – and NOW

One aspect of the Christian walk that I have often heard people talk about, but I find most professed Christians are sadly unprepared for.  Unfortunately, we really don’t realize just how real the spiritual war is until we are put to the test.

For many, 2020 has been (pardon the term) the “year from hell”.  The entire world has now experienced the first significant pandemic in most people’s lifetime. We began with what we know were lies from the country where the virus originated, and have seen a battle between credentialed experts on whether we would see millions of deaths in the US, or if it would more resemble a bad flu season. We’ve seen a virus become quickly the most political virus in all of history. And caught in the middle of it all are churches and their pastors. Our kids have been deprived of so very much, and are now missing the important camps and activities that often are their only escape from lives that are often quite difficult. We now are seeing churches with splits forming over opinions regarding how this virus should be addressed. In the public square, we see professed Christians attacking one-another over the wearing of masks, of closing or reopening churches for worship, or even how many people we might “allow” into worship services.  I have witnessed very public abuses of Scripture to justify unbiblical viewpoints as well as biblical viewpoints pushed using worldly standards.  Many pastors that I am connected to have expressed similar battles and frustration and sadly, growing heartache. Indeed, the most heart-crushing reality of pastoral ministry today, beyond trying to comfort those most affected by this virus, is figuring out just HOW to minister in this environment.

For other churches, while having some issues related to COVID, have been separated by the politics of the current version of #BlackLivesMatter – from a church planter friend who’s ministry is basically near ground zero in Minneapolis, MN, (link to facebook fundraiser page) to churches that are now having to confront actual racial issues within their own membership – more heartache on top of the very well-publicized destruction and hate. Even more disturbing is the growth of so-called “woke” churches and theology, that employs Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality to systematically destroy the gospel from within. This is becoming another wedge in not just local churches, but denominations as the Social Justice false gospel replaces the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Divisions and heartache…

On a more personal level, after the sudden onset of illness and the death of my mother in April, handling the insanity of probate of her estate, and now my father who’s health has been in decline for several years and is now down to managing comfort as there is nothing left to “fix”, my own life has been turned upside-down. Each day goes by and the urge to just throw up my hands and give up grows stronger. But I know this is not God’s game plan. But for biblical Christians, we do know who’s game plan involves confusion, division, and anything possible to obscure or completely cover the gospel – Satan.  And that brings us back to the title of this post and a bit of Scripture.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

Every battle we are facing as individuals, as cities, states, and a nation – whether over a virus, race, destruction of history, divisions in churches, or the political headache and corruption that has become so evident – while carried out by people, is actually the work of the father of lies and division – Satan. The devil. Beelzebul. The false accuser – and we who may not be really prepared to battle in this spiritual war – either caught unaware or simply not properly equipped, are easily drawn into the wrong side in the battle. And the very first error we usually make in fighting this spiritual battle that is very much going on in our world today: misidentifying the real enemy.  As the verse from Ephesians above clearly reminds us – the REAL enemy is not one-another. Even when we mess up and say things or take actions that are wrong, even when people can even act with what seems to be hate and violence – the REAL enemy is found in the rulers, powers, word forces of this darkness – the SPIRITUAL forces of wickedness. Our real enemies are spiritual enemies – and Paul went on to address this – we are given the battle plan for the believer:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…

In Ephesians 6:13-19, at its core, tells us that God has provided the weapons to fight this spiritual battle – both defensive and offensive weapons!

  • Girded your loins with the TRUTH
  • Breastplate (of Righteousness)
  • Boots of the Gospel of Peace (the real, Biblical gospel)
  • Shield (of Faith)
  • Helmet of Salvation
  • Sword of the Spirit
  • Prayer…

And notice – all of these armaments have to be picked up and put to use.  It is like having an unloaded firearm in your safe as a “home defense weapon”. It does you no good if it’s not at the ready! Likewise, all of these arms provided by God are of no use if not taken up and put to use. We must regularly practice with them as well.

Paul began with girding our loins with TRUTH – yet we live in a world that makes truth into something subjective – something that is up to the individual. But the Word of God itself is the TRUTH and is ALWAYS true – what God says is good is good. What God has said is bad is bad.  Scripture leaves very little room for anything grey – and certainly no room for relative morality. In fact – that is the rest of verse 14 –

breastplateThe Breastplate of righteousness – Which begins and ends with the righteousness of Christ – but in living lives that reflect the righteousness of Christ – based on the Word of God – when we walk by what God has said is good and bad – and when we take a firm stand on that – true righteousness – our hearts are protected – we are not so conflicted and divided at the core –

Boots of the Gospel of Peace – we often do not think of boots, especially in the context of roman_boot1_1.jpge999de54-042f-4d5e-93b2-7410d18ce558Originalbattle, as instruments of peace – but the concept is quite simple here – we must have something solid as a foundation. In athletics and in work – the right footwear is important to our ability to stay in the work at hand. Those of us who have done real work with the wrong shoes know exactly what this can be like. In the case of our equipping for the spiritual war that we ARE involved in – is having a solid foundation – that we might not be tripped up – and that is the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. One that isn’t carried away by cultural norms and expectations – a gospel that reflects the understanding of the utter sinfulness of mankind – our inability to “fix” that ourselves – but instead requires the supernatural actions of God in the great exchange of our sins for Christ’s righteousness – all by the grace of God. A false or weak gospel is no foundation for us to stand.

12-Roman-Helmet-BBHelmet of Salvation – when one is truly, soundly saved – with the right understanding of the gospel – with the heart for righteousness and truth – the helmet of salvation – the knowledge of our security in Christ Jesus – because HE has paid it all – and it is in the power of HIS resurrection by which we stand redeemed – that our minds – our thinking can be confident.

And the Sword of the Spirit – the NASB intentionally capitalizes “Spirit” here because we SD4116L_a1are dealing with wielding the power of the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power we are given! A power that is based on being actively filled by the Holy Spirit in walking WITH the Spirit day-by-day.  When we practice the presence of the Lord in our lives – We are, as Kyle Idleman wrote in his “Not a Fan” book, empowered in ways that we cannot be by our own power. What is interesting – the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is described as “fruits of the Spirit by Paul elsewhere – with the chief fruit being… Love.

Then the repeated weapon that many miss in this passage – prayer.  Prayers and petitions before God’s throne.  We cannot confuse the sovereignty with God with being unable to bring about change by our prayers!  Moses prayed for the Hebrew people – time after time God changed His actions based on the fervent prayers of righteous men on behalf of themselves and others. Prayer is one of the two most powerful tools given by God – if we genuinely believe in the power of prayer!

So – if you are really a Christian – whether or not you are a member of the church I pastor today, member of another church – or are seeking where the Lord would lead you to be an active part of a church body – please join me in praying that we would take seriously the very real spiritual battle all around us. Pray that we would see the REAL enemy, the devil – not our neighbors whom we are suppose to love. That we would not view one-another, especially within churches, as the enemy, and that we would truly take up the FULL armor of God and be not only “at the ready”, but willing to STAND for truth, for Love, for the Gospel – for the Kingdom of God!

Don’t Erase Our History

This year is on course to be the most insane year in American history. From a pandemic exposing the indoctrination culture that is willing to give up essential liberties for an imagined degree of “safety”, to the current explosion superficially focused on “race” and #BlackLivesMatter – we as a nation have collectively lost our minds.

But a danger looming that is both destructive and ungodly is the current effort to systematically erase our national history.  Let me be clear – we as a nation do have some very dark blotches. Chattel slavery is an affront to a biblical understanding of loving our neighbors. And who in their right mind would even begin to argue that there is no such thing as bias?  I intentionally refrain from using the term “racism” because it is an invention.  There is but one race – the human race, recorded in Scripture from creation.  God created Adam and Eve – and all humanity descended from them.  Certainly there are many people groups or “ethnicities” as the modern terminology would put it. And it is on these ethnic differences that many biases are founded. But those biases, based on external qualities, is also anti-biblical (Paul wrote to the Galatian church that in Christ there are no longer “Jew or Gentile”. Even our ethnic difference are inconsequential in Christ Jesus.

But to return to the purpose of this entry – is to look at what role history should play in our nation.  We should view our history (the good and bad) like we look at our lives.  This should be particularly clear for the regenerated, born-again Christian.  We are the product of a life of experiences, mistakes, sins… and as Christians, we have been brought from that to new life. Yet as long as I dwell in this world, I will never achieve perfection.  We speak a great deal about sanctification – the progressive improvement and transformation to be MORE Christlike day-by-day. This helps form part of our life testimony. We can look back at who we WERE – even the darkest days, then give thanks that Christ has delivered us from the former darkness, bringing us into the light of His grace and glory.

I look back at my early years – and yes, I feel the pangs of shame at some of the behaviors and attitudes I held. I still feel grief over the harm and pain I caused. But I do not ever want to erase that. Some would suggest we should “forget our past”. I disagree.  Biblically, we see time and again reminders of believer’s former selves. Among my favorite examples is Paul’s words to the church at Corinth:

…Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

-1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Being brought to remembrance of what we once were, we are able to both be humbled by our past, and encouraged by where we have come today. My understanding of my current context is built, in-part, on my experiences of the past, and the LESSONS LEARNED, even in my sin and mistakes. To forget them would be to forget the lessons themselves.

Likewise, I view our  our national history with a reverence and respect, even in the wickedness that is an undeniable part of.  The USA, contrary to the modern revisionist version, is an extraordinary nation with an amazing and providential history.  This isn’t a debate over whether this has ever been a “Christian Nation” (I would propose that functionally, we have never been, though most of the world viewed this nation as such for over a century). Regardless of the social position or if they were slave owners or not, the Founding Fathers of this nation were guided to write words that came together as our foundational documents that they couldn’t really grasp themselves.

     We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

-Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

While many of the writers themselves didn’t fully practice what they wrote, it was a glimpse to the goal – the bar to seek to achieve as a people. In fact, when you look at our history as a nation with an honest, academic eye – you can see incredible progress in reaching towards this beautiful statement from the Declaration. We have moved from widespread chattel slavery, to the abolition of slavery, to the overcoming of post-Civil War Jim Crow laws and obstacles to voting for people of all ethnicities as well as women (who make up a major chunk of the electorate today).  And amazingly, this nation not only elected a man of African-American descent, but re-elected him to the highest office in the land (and arguably, the most powerful office in the world). One has to admit this is a startling accomplishment for a country that is now claimed to be crushed by overwhelming systemic racism!

The reality is, ethnic (the world improperly uses race) divisions have been on the decline over the last half-century, with overt hate shrinking. That is, until those who stand to benefit from a divided nation began pouring gasoline on the old embers of our past divisions. From that first African-American President, through political groups Hell-bent on wedging every piece of hate they could into the public square – the flames of division have grown, intentionally.

And now, the masses are calling to tear down historical monuments. It began with destroying-confederate-statuesConfederate monuments, ostensibly to fight “racism”, but the surge grew to tear down monuments of General Grant (Union General of the Civil War), Francis Scott Key (writer of the Star Spangled Banner), Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and even ABOLITIONIST Matthias Baldwin! What is the purpose of tearing down not just Civil War/Confederate monuments, but those representing all facets of US History (including3tiZwr_0PRDw29z00 new calls to destroy Mount Rushmore!)? It isn’t to combat perceived racism and hate.  It isn’t even a rally against “colonialism”. It is an attack on history itself.

Remember my comparison to the Christian’s testimony – and how the past helps us understand the present (and future)? Remember how history helps us to learn from the past and to improve? You see, our nation’s testimony includes seeing a people group once held as slaves, once deemed by the US Supreme Court as less than the value of a human being, to becoming entrepreneurs, celebrities, innovators, educators, scholars, Supreme Court Justices, and even President of the United States. We see the former slave, Ms. Nancy Green, becoming the first Black corporate model and spokesperson, growing wealthy and well-respected for the persona of “Aunt Jemima”:

She was offered by Quaker Oats a lifetime contract to become Aunt Jemima and to promote the pancake mix. “This marked the beginning of a major promotional push by the company that included thousands of personal appearances.” There was all kinds of Aunt Jemima merchandising. Nancy Green, Aunt Jemima, helped organize the Olivet Baptist Church. “Her career allowed her the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs.” She was well paid.

The systematic destruction of monuments and history itself, is not about skin color. It isn’t about slavery. It isn’t about “systemic racism”. It is an intentional attack on the very history that has made America the great success story it represents.  There is a reason that millions clamor to come to the United States, even today. Despite the internal conflicts that would say America is evil – that people are oppressed by systemic racism, much of the world only dreams of the freedoms and opportunity available in the USA. America IS a great nation.  Is it perfect? Absolutely not – but we are a nation that for almost two and quarter centuries has grown, changed, and improved on many fronts to a nation where dreams really can come true.  Where success and prosperity are still a  reward for personal effort and work ethic.  But this nation, like me, is a “work in progress”. A product of our past, as well as the lessons of the day.  We are to seek the “better”. To do what is right, not in our own eyes, but the eyes of the LORD. We should celebrate what is good and right about our nation (of which there is much), we should thank God almighty for His divine hand of protection and His providential working in our history. We should stand proudly for our Anthem, salute our flag, all while remembering the blood shed, and the hard lessons learned.  Never forget the dark times and practices, do not diminish the wrongs perpetrated, but we must move forward. Follow the example of Christ and forgive, seek reconciliation, and pursue goodness.

But we cannot learn from the past, if we erase it and rewrite it to fit an agenda. We are not seeking reconciliation if we disrespect the flag and the Constitution that so many fought and died to protect and defend.  We cannot pursue justice without remembering the true story of injustice. And we cannot chart a course forward, if we forget where we have been. To protest this nation and its history, is to reject the very Constitution that guarantees your right to protest and to speak freely. It’s a form of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

And to be really blunt – there are millions of people in nations where they have no freedoms, they have no opportunity, who know real oppression and persecution on a daily basis who would gladly change places with you if you feel this country is so awful. Maybe you should take some time to really study history. Take an honest look at how far we as a nation have come, and the opportunities that lay before you if you are willing to learn, grow, and work. Be a part of the solutions to ongoing problems, not part OF the problem. Quit trying to destroy that which you apparently do not even really understand.

And for the rest of us – those who love this land and who thank God for the opportunities and blessings we have experienced (regardless of the color of our skin), and who do appreciate how far we have come, and who see how great this nation could still be – were we to truly seek goodness, mercy, love, reconciliation, and most importantly, the God who’s sovereign hand of providence allowed this nation to be planted so long ago – and who has blessed her, even in times of darkness.

Hated Heroes

Just like many little boys, I use to dream of being a police officer. I always looked up to them. Even after I grew up a bit (some would argue it could never happen!) and no

Kid Cop
Not the author

longer dreamed of being a cop, I still looked up to them. I met way too many good men (and later even some good women) who loved their job, and who were truly following a calling to “protect and serve” – who believed their lives mattered and that they were making a positive difference in their communities.

I’ve cried with cops, I’ve stood and let some vent their frustrations. I’ve prayed with them. And I have even gotten past external-content.duckduckgoa few bad seeds who tried their best to cause me to despise them (ask me about a certain Arkansas State Police officer back in 1988, I believe it was). Yet I never grew to hate police.
And just like the way I was raised to judge people based on who THEY are – the “content of their character”, not on a representative few, I still view the statistically small number of bad officers as aberrations to the badge and uniform – as they to the majority of cops who just want to make a positive difference – who don’t care about your skin color – they simply want to make a difference.
And here we are – with a society that has decided that all police officers, of every ilk, of every department from Sheriff’s departments to local and state law enforcement – are all seasons-2evil, wicked, hunters of black men for sport. Statistics don’t matter. Reality is in the eyes of the one narrating the story by the mainstream media.
So I ask: why would anyone put on the uniform, pick up their badges, and go to work to save an ungrateful population that apparently now thinks they are worse than the antichrist? Why would the respond to a domestic disturbance knowing that there is a significant chance of being attacked or even killed? Why respond to that crying mother who’s child has disappeared? Why pull over and help that motorist with a flat tire on the side of a dangerous interstate highway?
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Because police officers have become the new hated minority in this country. Judged not by the color of their skin, but by the uniform they put on to protect YOU. Judged based on an apparently accepted narrative based on the extremely small minority of their coworkers.
Someone please again explain to me how it is morally wrong to judge an entire ethnic group based on the actions of the minority of them – which become an incorrect stereotype… But is just fine to judge all police and law enforcement by the actions of these very small minority of bad players?
102914670_10224956539406605_7394635002383699744_o
And lest we forget – a black male is exponentially more likely to be killed by another black male than any other means… other than abortion. But our society doesn’t loudly bemoan, protest, riot, or try to shut down the nation over the actual epidemic of black-on-black crime (which is glorified in the entertainment industry, including that produced by African-Americans), or the same regarding Planned Parenthood and other purveyors of literal genocide and eugenics.
No – we have to ostracize and shred the hearts and jobs of hundreds of thousands of caring, justice-minded, and hard-working men and women who willingly put their lives on the line for you and me every single day – despite the growing hate that they did absolutely nothing to deserve.
And now, even Lego toys is pulling (even if now claimed to be a temporary halt to marketing) of police sets and figures?18Clx0A
Meanwhile – while my voice can do little, I will pray for ALL law enforcement. For those who are honorable (often-times genuine heroes), that they would remain safe and not lose heart – that they get to return home to their families after each shift. And yes, for the small number who are truly wicked individuals – whether “dirty”, or hate-filled bigots – that the LORD would break their hearts to see the sin of their ways and that they might repent before they breathe their last (or harm another soul).
pray4police

Image of God, Sinners, and the Only Answer

Humanity – all of us – were created in the Image of God (Imago Dei). We all have marred that image by sin – the fundamental problem of the world. Every last one of us bears that disease. For some, it is demonstrated in fornication or other sexual immoralities, for some – covetousness and stealing. or any other many names we give to the expression of sin – including the various forms of hate.

Because we are utterly contaminated by sin, we are unable to do anything about our ugly, wicked state. In fact, left to our own nature – “there are none righteous, no not one – none seek after God”. We are spiritually dead. And guess what – spiritually dead people act like spiritually dead people and many do REALLY bad things. Indeed – the current ugliness is actually one of the oldest problems mankind has been guilty of – one that goes all the way back to Cain and Abel – HATE.Hate2

That leaves us with a conundrum – we are lost in our sin – condemned and fully deserving of the full wrath of God that will be poured out on ALL unrighteousness of man. But God…God, in His perfect, sinless Son, took on my sins, bearing the shame, and gave His life to redeem me, that I would no longer bear the shame and reproach I deserve. And in that death, Jesus broke the chains of sin that so surely bound us to our sin (including hate). But for WHO did Jesus make this incredible atonement for? ALL who would believe…of every nation, tribe, peoples, and tongues –

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” ~REVELATION 7:9 & 10

You see – our current “sin of the day” is HATE.

HATEWe’ve labeled it as the misnomer of “racism” – but there is but one race, the Human Race. But there is still ungodly, unbiblical hate based on any outward condition or appearance. Hate is the exact opposite of what Jesus came and perfectly modeled. And the answer to HATE – is to answer it with love. To confront ANYTHING people use to divide with truth – beginning with the foundation of the Gospel.

20861955_1513045045426817_8991208828585337000_oJesus didn’t come to save one particular ethnicity. He came to redeem a people from ALL people groups and ethnicities. He came to conquer sin and death. Through His own death, HE demonstrated the very same kind of love His people are commanded to show to all the rest of the Image Bearers of God – of all nations, tribes, and tongues! A love that knows no skin color or background. A love that isn’t conditioned on others believing as we do (though there is a biblical “preference” for the brethren), looking like we do – etc. The Gospel is the Answer. God’s Word gives us the details, the hows, and the whys.

Please Stop Abusing Scripture

Brethren – there is NEVER an appropriate time or circumstance to force meaning or personal views onto Scripture. It is never appropriate, regardless of your intentions, to pluck Scripture out of its context, then bend it back double to paint a picture or prove a point to “reach a hurting person”. The formal term for this is “Eisegesis“.
 
Just as I would never tell a grieving person who just lost a loved one that definitively their loved one was in “in a better place, despite having never professed to trusted in Christ. That would be an abuse. There are other paths to seek comfort than lying to them (don’t give them false hope, give them the Gospel – the ONLY source of living Hope!).
 
I don’t tell people that God won’t give them more than they can handle – despite generations somehow twisting 1 Corinthians 10:2 to mean such. Again – it’s a false narrative.
 
It would be an abuse for me to that God’s will is to always heal our loved ones of every form of sickness and disease – Because it is clear, Jesus often overlooked sick for more important purposes. (And no, Jesus didn’t bear our stripes and die on the Cross to heal my mom of Botulism, or my friend of cancer. He died to redeem the lost sheep. Yes, there is an eternal sense of perfect healing for those who die in Christ… but I can’t just reach out and “claim it”.
 
Likewise – when we are faced with the traumatic events of our day – whether a virus or injustice and rage… we cannot simply pluck verses of Scripture, bend them around, and force a modern-day narrative on that Sacred Writ – but there IS plenty of God’s record that DO deal with what we are facing today – that is just as true and applicable as it was IN IT’S CONTEXT when penned.
 
Want passages to deal with those who faced hate due to their ethnicity? What about Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26)? Or maybe the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)?
 
Want to help someone have a biblical, healing, and God-glorifying understanding of how to respond to the hate we see before us? Open up Romans 12: 18-21 (among many others).
I have been seeing an example of eisegesis spreading like a virus all over social media that uses Jesus’ parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one lost sheep. This parable isn’t in any way a race or ethnic statement. It is simply about God’s willingess (through Christ Jesus) to seek the lost of His flock and bring them home. Each and every sheep is of great value to the LORD. This is not some kind of statement about skin color. Quite the contrary, it is a clear picture of the value of ALL His sheep.
There is no justification for bending God’s Word, even “well-meaning” bending. God’s Word is not a toy to play with or to throw about like a rag doll. We must not trivialize it by throwing it around out of it’s context and actual meaning. Sadly, this is a product of several factors – but one of the biggest being too many years of “teachers” using the phrase “what does this verse mean to you?“.  What I want a verse to say, and what my defective fleshly heart would desire it to say is irrelevant.  Scripture says and means what it says and means – firmly established in its context. To ignore the context and meaning at the time of writing is to set the stage for every form of heresy. And ultimately, forced eisigesis is a form of blasphemy.
Please stop abusing Scripture! Jesus is the ONLY hope, not the twisting of Scripture.

Remembering Mom

Judy Elaine Harris peacefully transitioned to her her eternal rest in the presence of the LORD at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, MO Wednesday morning, April 22, 2020. Born October 6th, 1946 in Durham, North Carolina to Elaine and John Hunziker.  She graduated from Watson Chapel High School in 1964, and years later after raising her son, began a new journey in education, earning her Batchelor of Arts in English Language from UAPB (1988), and the MA in English Language from the University of Dallas in 1992, then served as a professor of English at El Centro College (Dallas), Oakland University College (Rochester Hills, MI), Schoolcraft College (Lovonia, MI),  and Lone Star Community College (University Park & Tomball, TX)), from which she retired in 2011.

And while Judy was a committed mom and granny, faithfully praying for her son IMG_4688(Michael Battenfield, Highfill, AR), daughter (Tracy Harris, Sterling Heights, MI)43346151_10217450635724014_6701318273721434112_n, grandson (Anthony Fowlkes of Austin, TX), and granddaughters (Anna & Selah Battenfield of Highfill, AR), she was equally engaged in trying to make a difference in the lives of those around her, whether it be her church family (Thank you Stoney Creek Church, Utica, MI), or the great cloud of friends she had accumulated. In fact, most who knew her, knew that once you were her friend, you were thought of as family. Quick to both love and forgive, she often gave far more of herself than she had to give, She also generously supported several causes dear to her heart including campaigns against drunk driving, the arts, and education.

Judy was preceded in death by her parents, John and Elaine Hunziker, and her husband of 26 years, her “Bubby” – William Robert Harris, the love of her life who she so longed to see again.220462_1712803056482_5684683_o In addition to her son, step-daughter, and grandchildren, Judy is survived by her brother J. Emil Hunziker (San Antonio, TX).

But no more important truth about Judy, was her love for Jesus Christ as her very real and personal Savior. Indeed, it was this love for Christ that truly empowered her love for others.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 9, 2020 at 1:00PM at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs, AR, and a second memorial service and internment will be held in Michigan as soon as the Governor allows.

For those wishing to celebrate mom’s life, in lieu of flowers, may make a contribution to any of the following:

  • First Baptist Church, PO Box 175, Cave Springs, AR. 72718 or CLICK HERE
  • Stoney Creek Church, 45835 Van Dyke Ave. Utica, MI 48317 or CLICK HERE
  • BMA Seminary, PO Box 670, Jacksonville, TX 75766 or CLICK HERE
  • Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, PO Box 332161, Nashville, TN. 37203 or CLICK HERE

 

I Hate Obituaries

I hate obituaries, and I won’t apologize for saying so.  I do recognize the need for something to combine a death notice with a relatively short life overview that the people who knew the deceased might confirm and acknowledge the loss. Yet I have never read an obituary that has really done justice to the person who has passed away. Some are so brief and cold that there is no indication of who the person was. Others are flowing dedications that essentially try to compliment a person right through the pearly gates, often coming across as pompous. Writing an obituary really is an impossible task undertaken by those who are most emotionally impacted by the passing, and who are really in no position to have to think through and process all that might rightly be included in such a dedicatory piece.

As a pastor, I have often been tasked with reading the obituary in the context of a funeral or memorial service. Time after time, I find myself really no better informed of the person or the life they lived than before the reading. After all, how do you summarize the life of someone who maybe lived 50, 60, or even 73 years as my mom did? How do you honor your loved one without painting a false picture? Yet that was the task before me last week as I penned the above.  And as always, I am disgusted with what turned out. Even after dozens of edits and rewrites, I’ve been unable to come to a point that I am happy with it, but it is what it is.

But I still feel compelled to add a bit – to the person my mom really was.  She was a flawed person – just like me.  She made mistakes.  Just like we all do.  Yet through it all, my mom was one of the most consistent, reliable, and honest examples of unconditional love I have ever known.  Over the last week, I have received phone calls, private messages, and texts from her friends, former students, and others who’s life she impacted with her love.

It was my mom who, from very early in my life, instilled in me blinders regarding skin color and culture. She didn’t care what ethnicity you are. She didn’t care about your background – she had a unique ability to see you for the human being God created you as, and the amazing potential in everyone.  She was an ardent hater… of hate.  And she worked in every part of her life to try to help people to be the very best they could be – a trait that helped make her an exemplary teacher… and mom, granny, bonus mom, and faithful friend.

My mom was one of the greatest examples of a prayer warrior I have ever known – faithfully lifting up each and every request before the throne of God – beginning with me.  Indeed, I credit my mom’s faithful and relentless prayers for me even being alive today – and continue to give thanks for God’s answers to her prayers even as I try in earnest to glorify His holy name in all that I do.

Another unique trait my mom passed on was her heart for those who became her family.  You see, my mom never quit seeing my dad’s family as still “family” and her love for them never diminished, even after my mom and dad divorced and both remarried.  My cousins remained her nieces and nephews. My aunts and uncles were still her brothers and sisters in-law (and the “in-law” part never really meant anything to her). But extending even beyond literal family, was my mom’s undying love for what we refer to in our family as “extended family” – those who may not be blood relatives, but are every bit as much family because… they are equally loved.  Indeed, while I was an only child by birth, my closest friends growing up, including Matthew Haustein and Arthur Owens were 100% as sons in her world, and she was just as protective and concerned for them as she was me!  When I married Diana, my mom didn’t caller her “daughter-in-law”, she was simply her daughter.  The same for my step-sister Tracy Harris – who mom considered simply her daughter.  No ifs, ands, or buts. Anthony, my nephew through Tracy – was never a “step-grandson” – but simply her grandson, for whom she had a love that was as unconditional and absolute as it was for anyone.

I remember the day that I called mom back what seems like forever ago, to share with her the news that I had surrendered to the ministry. I was somewhat shocked when, through her own tears, stated that she was wondering how long it was going to take for me to figure that calling out.  And the joy in her heart was overwhelming –

I remember the call when we found out our first daughter was to be born significantly

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prematurely. And while she was her usual emotional overflow, she was still a voice ofcalm and faith. And from day 1, was deeply in love with her “Precious Angel Baby”.

And no less was her joy when her second granddaughter, Selah was born.  Granny’s IMG_3116little cowgirl was yet another jewel in her heart.

In August of 2011, Mom and Bob moved back to Michigan to write the next chapter in their lives – with a focus on investing in their grandson Anthony. 12074901_10207850028754840_2360553044091934581_n

Even though her devastating loss of her “Bubby” (Bob Harris), her husband of nearly 26 years to the hands of a drunk driver, she still remained the faithful prayer warrior who was passionate about her family.

The Unexpectedly Short Final Chapter

Last year, she began contemplating one more big move – to sell her condo in Shelby Township and move to Northwest Arkansas to write the final chapter of her life – to similarly invest in the lives of her granddaughters.  In February of this year, she sold her Michigan residence and made the big move.  She was able to find a new home, just 6 miles from our own home in the small town of Gentry. Just as she was beginning to settle in, something happened.  The world, and our nation was turned upside-down by a virus the illness it causes known as COVID-19.  This put a damper on life, but its greatest impact was not direct but indirect.  On Tuesday, April 7, mom called needing me to come take her to the ER.  She was experiencing symptoms of a possible stroke (paralyzed tongue, blurred/double-vision, weakness, balance issues), and her doctor’s office told her to get to the ER as quickly as she could.  I dropped her at the ER and helplessly watched them wheel her into the doors (closed to all but patients and staff due to the virus).  On Thursday morning, mom crashed and had to be resuscitated and moved to ICU.  The hospital called to let me know – and allowed me to come see her that afternoon.  While I was there, she was still responsive though weak.  She had about been weaned from the ventilator, and while I was there, they tested her breathing ability and decided to pull the vent.  Unfortunately, in less than a minute, she stopped breathing and again coded and was resuscitated.  From that point, she never really came back.  She was transferred to Springfield, MO for access to a much more comprehensive neurology department. Yet after multiple MRIs, they simply could not find any evidence of a stroke.  They initially began treating her for Myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that her symptoms seemed to match. yet after intensive treatment, there was no improvement (and initial lab work returned negative). Finally, the CDC was contacted with the one thing nobody had considered – the possibility of botulism. The symptoms, including rapid onset seemed to match, and the CDC even sent the antitoxin to be administered, and samples were sent for testing.  Unfortunately, test results became irrelevant as her condition and prognosis made it all futile. Her written directives were clear, and we had to honor that. So at 10AM on Wednesday, April 22, we said our final goodbyes to mom and watched her slip incredibly peacefully into eternity without so much as a sound, sigh, or gasp… but simply a single tear…

 

Quit Being a Selfish Jerk

Now that I have your attention… time for a bit of a rant.
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I see post after post from my age and older people slamming “young people” for being out in droves, not practicing “social distancing”, for going shopping, etc…
Who themselves KNOW about this how? Because THEY are out shopping?
But even more interesting when a friend posted that he went out to take a quiet hike and exercise some “distancing” – and when he got to his favorite area – it was packed wall-to-wall with the same age group that has done most of the complaining… no social distancing, not spacing out – literally filling the trails… Not young people or Millennials –
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But you know what – some people just aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about and somebody else to blame for their own discomfort (or perceived discomfort).
Just like many of those complaining that Governor Hutchinson hasn’t issued on order to fully lock down at home… are the same folks who regularly complain that they don’t like the heavy hand of government telling them what to do…
Another frustration – folks who are all ticked off because there are people actually shopping at Walmart or their local Grocery store when they want to go shopping… say what? 2c3ef27d-d49c-4ab1-9417-b0f3037eb057_750x422Don’t they have every bit the same right to be there as you? And then have the audacity to blast them for not using an app to get their orders delivered or at least do pick-up? You are a special kind of selfish person. There are quite a few people who still don’t do technology – They just don’t use a smartphone – barely find their way around turning a computer on – and most definitely aren’t about to give banking information over the phone – they still write checks! (oh how selfish.. right – because they also are the ones who cause you a 30 second additional wait in the grocery store isle). Never mind that many of the stores that offer delivery or pick-up have backlogs sometimes a week out… I guess they should just go hungry until then?wal-mart-grocery-pickup-parking-sign
Come on folks – you can be better than this. Quit trying to divide. Quit thinking only of yourself. Quit assuming your neighbor is an idiot, fool, or hates you because they actually still go buy groceries in-person. Show some compassion – quit judging other people based off of standards you aren’t willing to live by yourself – it isn’t helping us as communities, a state, or a nation to come together to overcome our crisis – it only makes it worse.

I Am Going To Die!

I’m going to die!  I am 100% certain of it – and no doctor can tell me otherwise, nor can they prevent this from happening.

CoronavirusNo, I don’t have COVID-19. No, I’ve not been diagnosed with cancer or some other dread disease.

But Scripture is clear: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:11).  I was born with a death sentence on my life. While I don’t know when that day will come, or even by what means that death will come, it is a date which is already set in stone.   Indeed, even by worrying myself to a frazzle, the same Bible clearly record the words of Jesus: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27)
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You see, we all share the same death sentence, totally earned and deserved. For the wages (just payment for) of sin is death
Romans 6:23a.  I will one day draw my last breath and die the first death. Short of the end of the world and the LORD’s return, every single one of us will face that certainty. What comes next is the kicker!

For those who are in Christ – we are partakers of the resurrection – and will be unaffected by the second death –  the eternal condemnation and judgment of a very real Hell and the Lake of Fire – the abode of torment created for Satan and his fallen coconspirators.  For God has made it clear For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)iu-3.jpeg

I not only am completely unable to save myself from this totally justified wrath by the Holy and Righteous creator of all things – but am utterly and hopelessly condemned – BUT…

While I could never in a million years of doing good stuff make up for my sin, God, through His Son Jesus Christ (both fully God and fully man), took on my sins and paid that sin debt on my behalf- All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on 1.jpgHim. (Isaiah 53:6) God Himself paid the debt I owed, taking my sin and shame and carrying it as far as the East is from the West.  And not only that, but He has promised “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37). Even more blessed is that Jesus also said: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)

And this all is so simple, as to almost be impossible to fathom.  But Scripture says that “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 10:13). But let’s think a moment about what it means to “call upon the name of the LORD” – It isn’t simply like asking someone for a gift. Calling on is at its simplest – when you absolutely and completely trust someone to come through in the very worst of situations – when all people you know might very well fail – KNOWING that GOD alone is there with you – helping you – strengthening you, that you will NEVER be alone. Paul, in quoting the Old Testament passage Deuteronomy 31:6, wrote in Hebrews 13:5 “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.”

“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

Confessing simply means to affirm and be willing to state with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ is LORD (that HE is God, who took your sins in full, paid the price by His death on the cross, carried them away, and was resurrected winning victory over death, and that HE is the King and ruler of your life (he is even if we don’t acknowledge it – but it is a willingness to live it).

Jesus put it even more simply as He was traveling through Galilee calling His first disciples – He simply said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (MARK 1:15). To repent means to literally TURN FROM your sins – reject sin, a change of heart regarding sin and those things that offend God.


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But none of this is even possible on our own – again, I go back to my utter inability to do anything about my sins or to pay for them. You see, God described it way back in Ezekiel this way: “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19)

God begins the work in us, and as part of the greater gift, by drawing us to Himself “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day”. (John 6:44)

That greater gift? It is that Jesus did it all for us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) By God’s Grace (His divine, sovereign will an choice) He draws people of all ages, groups, nations, and people to Himself, gives them than new. Heart of flesh, opens their eyes to see and ears to hear, and gives them the faith to believe and the strength to turn from sin.

I will never, in this life, understand WHY, nor even HOW it all could possibly be –  but that is why it is called faith.  But it isn’t just a blind faith – for history has proven that Jesus Christ was a very real person in time – who made waves throughout the world. We an trust the Bible and how it records it all because, again, history confirms it – and the evidence is overwhelming.

And it is why we can walk without fear – 2 Timothy 1:7 says “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

In fact, God has told us through the pen of Peter: “casting all your anxiety on Cast-Your-CaresHim,because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

And finally, for those who truly trust in Jesus, we have this incredible promise in my own favorite verse of all: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In this, we are not promised an easy life. We are not promised health. We are not promised a lack of pain. He hasn’t promised we won’t face an ugly virus… or even cancer. But HE does promise His children that HE is with us, and that He will use it and work even these hard and dark things – to our good.

And THIS is why – whether its COVID-19/Coronavirus, Cancer, violence, accident, or whatever – I do not fear my last breath. I do not fear what is to come – because God has it all in His perfect hand. And it is in HIM that we can find peace and genuine fulfillment.  And it is my prayer that you too can find “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Then you too may not fear what this world may bring.

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Apologetics and the Christian Faith

Apologetics: A word that is often misunderstood. It does not in any way point to sorrow or grief or an “apology”. Apologetics is the defense of a belief or system.
 
When we, as Christians, fulfill the command of 2 Timothy 4:2 to “be ready in season and out to give reason for the hope that is in us in Christ Jesus” – we are giving a defense of what we believe (in this case, the “hope” that we have because of what Christ has done – aka “the Gospel”.
 
Apologetics is one of the most often forgotten aspects of what church ministry is supposed to be about. It comprises a major component of “equipping the saints…” (Ephesians 4:12).
 
Ask the typical “Christian” on the street what they believe about _____________, and you may get either a blank stare or a pat answer. But ask WHY they believe it – and the chance of getting a coherent, logical, and evidence-based answer is actually pretty unlikely. Most professed Christians really cannot defend what they lay claim to believing. I won’t delve into the many possible reasons for such an inability, but to actually take the blame as an unappointed, unelected representative of pastors and preachers. We have spent years (decades or more?) giving. information. Telling people what they should believe, and many have done so faithfully and given correct information. But sadly, we often fall short of explaining WHY.
 
In the realm of Christian Apologetics, we have two primary types of defense:
  1. Presuppositional – God doesn’t need to be defended, thus we begin with the “presupposition” that the Bible is God’s Word, His divine and perfect revelation of Himself and His will for mankind. All arguments are based strictly on this foundation (and any other presuppositions one can find).
  2. Evidential  – Like a professional investigator, you piece together the evidence, from not only Scripture itself, but you are able to, by the predominance of evidence prove the Bible is what is claimed, that the claims within its pages are true, and that therefore faith is a reasonable response to the evidence.

In fact, there is a pretty serious theological battle that has been raging for pretty much the entire history of Christianity over which method is the correct method. But when one follows the narrative of Scripture, we actually see both used. For the witness to the Hebrew people, a great deal of presuppositional work is done, beginning with the common ground of God’s law and overall revelation in the Old Testament. But we also see evidential defense made by Paul in many scenarios, beginning not with statement as fact, but building a “logical” case for Christianity based on his own life, the miracles witnessed, the eye witness accounts of Jesus and the other first-hand “primary” evidence, coupled with existing Scripture to “prove” the Christian gospel as correct and true.

But the bigger purpose of apologetics is not to build biblical academics or to give bragging rights to the prideful.  Apologetics serve two purposes that both build up that foundation of 2 Timothy 4:2 – First in that it is to give confidence to the believer. When we not only know WHAT we believe, but WHY we believe it – when we know how to defend our faith, we strengthen that faith and the hope that is in us glows brighter. But the second aspect of apologetics is the outward witness – we can make the case for Christ in a world that is by default against the gospel.

But regardless of the apologetic form you prefer to focus on, they both must begin with understanding WHAT we believe.  For those of us who cling to the biblical platform of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), we believe that the Bible is sufficient and complete for all instruction and defense – “All Scripture is inspired (literally breathed out by God!) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Read the Bible. Study it. Find new ways to engage with the Word through not only personal reading, but group study. Challenge yourself, be willing to spend time and effort really learning what God has recorded for our benefit.

Plug in to resources by people who have dedicated their lives and often ministries to defending the Bible and the Christian faith. People like J. Warner Wallace are contemporary apologetics, but there are literally hundreds who have, though history, worked extensively to build an incredible defense, both from a Presuppositional and an Evidential basis.

But the very best source of learning to be able to give a defense of your faith, the the Bible itself, for it is truly sufficient!