It Is Well

It Is Well

There is a difference between hoping and knowing. Most often we use the word “hope” when we want something to happen, but we are not 100% certain that it will. We “hope” and pray that the operation will go well, or the job will come through, or everything will work out. Whereas we use the word “know” when we have 100% certainty. To “know” is to have an understanding that is irrefutably truthful and factual; it cannot be contested.

In our world today, “truth” can be difficult to nail down – just spend two minutes reading or listening to the news! Truth has become relative and ever-changing. When truth is no longer absolute, we can no longer “know” with absolute certainty. We are left with little choice but to hope. As followers of Christ, we will readily confess that our “hope” is in Him. But what does that really mean in light of the storm that is immediately in front of us?

It Seemed Good To The Spirit

It Seemed Good To The Spirit

Whenever God is at work, there will often be people who attempt to put their mark on the work. They will endeavor to either add to, or take away from, the gospel. Often times, it is not an intentional attempt to distort the gospel; rather, it is borne out of personal, cultural or traditional influences. A group of men from Judea were deriding the Holy Spirit’s saving work among the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 15). They believed that one could not be saved apart from the requirements of the law of Moses. Though they themselves had received salvation by believing in Jesus, they also believed that the laws they had followed since birth were a part of their salvation. They were mixing their personal religious experiences with salvation through Christ, and teaching a distorted gospel. They were saying that a Gentile had to first become a Jew in order to become a Christian. In essence they were saying that simply trusting in Jesus Christ wasn’t sufficient; they also had to obey Moses.

Peter himself had learned that salvation is not decided by whether one eats meat or doesn’t eat meat, or whether one eats pork or doesn’t eat pork. Salvation is not dependent upon whether we gather to worship on Sunday, or the Sabbath, or another day. It is not the result of keeping the Law, going through a ritual, or joining a church. We are all sinners before God, for whom Christ died on the cross. He was buried and rose again. He paid the price and extends His salvation to us by His grace which we receive through faith. There is one need, and there is but one gospel – with nothing to be added to, or subtracted from, it.

The church can still be guilty of trying to add to it today ….

Taught By A Master

Taught By A Master

This morning i was reminded that six years ago today, i stood in the presence of a master craftsman. i must confess i do not know the craftsman’s name. i had never seen him prior to that day, and i haven’t seen him since – except in my mind’s eye. We didn’t speak the same language, so all we could do was smile and nod at each other. Regrettably, i do not know anything about the man beyond what i observed in the moment. But as i stood there that morning riveted in his presence, i knew it was a moment i would never forget – and a lesson that would forever be etched in my memory.

i was standing in a blown glass and ceramic manufacturing shop in the city of Hebron in the West Bank. This master craftsman and i were about the same age. He had the appearance of a man who had worked hard all of his life. He went about his craft in a way that clearly evidenced his mastery. No effort was wasted. Each and every step had purpose. He started with a simple indistinguishable rod of glass. But from the beginning, i could tell that he was not seeing what it looked like now – he saw what he was shaping it to become….

It Is What It Is - Or Is It?

It Is What It Is - Or Is It?

Over the last fifty years, the idiom “it is what it is” has sprung forth from the fatalists in our midst who firmly believe that we are victims -- victims of our circumstances, our situations, our upbringing, our medical condition, etc. It communicates that we have resigned ourselves to the belief that our situation is immutable, and nothing or no one can change it. It is used to convey a sense of resignation, helplessness and hopelessness. “That’s just the way I am.” “That’s just the way my spouse is.” “That’s just the way my kids are.” “That’s just how people like me are treated.” “That’s just the way the system works.” “It’s always been this way, and it will never change.”

But the fact of the matter is that we will never know the truth of any situation until we have heard from God. In His world, an immutable truth is that sin separates us from a Holy God. And He Himself made the way – the only way -- whereby we might overcome that immutable truth. He is not dead; He’s alive. He is not distant. He is not silent. He is not weak. His arm has not grown short. He is mighty and He is able to save – spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus healed. He raised the dead. He stilled storms. He met physical needs. He was the King of the reality that “it is NOT what it is, if Jesus says it isn’t”. And He still is! What He began to do through His earthly ministry, He still does. He is still full of surprises – for individuals, for families, for churches, and even for nations….

Whatever

Whatever

In the late 20th century, the one-word retort – “whatever” – arrived on the scene. It was either used to affirm a previous statement along the lines of “whatever you say”, or to express indifferent acceptance of a particular circumstance in the spirit of “Que Sera Sera”, or as a passive-aggressive counter intended to block further conversation on a subject. In some circles, the retort is still used today. It has been so overused that some would consider it to be one of the most annoying words used in conversation. And i would agree!

We live in a day of ever declining courtesy, civility and collegiality within society – and even more disturbingly, within the body of Christ. We would be wrong to lay the blame on the ubiquitous influence of social media as being the root cause. i am a firm believer that “whatever comes up in the bucket was already down in the well.” Social media may be the most-used hoist to bring the bucket to the surface at an appalling rate, but the issue remains with what is “down in the well”. This issue becomes even more disconcerting as we witness the cacophony of uncivil – and more importantly, ungodly – expressions from men and women who hold positions of leadership within the bride of Christ, whether it be the local church, or any of its parachurch institutions or entities. The fact of the matter is that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to be His light in a dark world. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). The purpose is not that our works are seen, but rather that the Father is glorified. There is no glory ascribed to the Father through the mud-slinging we are witnessing on social media. We must again learn how to converse – and even debate – without being unholy and profane – as brothers and sisters in Christ….

A Divine Appointment

A Divine Appointment

Divine appointments can occur at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways. Just ask Philip. He was in the midst of a great spiritual awakening that was spreading throughout Samaria (Acts 8). God was using him in a great way, and many were repenting of their sins and believing in Jesus, when an angel of the Lord told him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” God was directing him to leave a work among the multitudes to go to a desolate place. That doesn’t necessarily align with a successful career path from a human perspective – even if you’re a pastor. Whenever we hear a pastor announce that God has called him to go elsewhere, it is rarely to a smaller church. And such a move would be even more difficult, if we are serving in a place where the power and the presence of the Spirit of God is mightily at work, and many are coming to faith and the church is growing. But such was the case with Philip. 

We aren’t told whether or not he had a conversation with God as to the wisdom of such a move. However, with all we do know about Philip and his walk with God, i tend to think that he immediately set out on the journey to Gaza without ever questioning God. He was in Samaria because God had placed him there. The work that was occurring in Samaria was a work of the Spirit of God, and not of Philip. i don’t believe that Philip ever got confused about who was in charge. i don’t believe he ever tried to take any credit, or saw himself as being instrumental in any way. He was a man full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit – led by, empowered by and used by God for His purpose. Therefore, it didn’t matter whether the assignment was in Samaria, Gaza or Azotus. All that mattered was that he was in the place where God would have him.

Throughout my years serving with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, i had the privilege of meeting thousands of men and women who….

Why Now and Not Then?

Why Now and Not Then?

i am currently writing the final book in the series Lessons Learned in the Wilderness. The book, entitled Until He Returns, focuses on the truths that God teaches us through the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts. In the third chapter of Acts we come across the man who was born lame. Each day his friends or family brought him to the Beautiful gate so he could beg from those who were entering the Temple. That had been taking place for a long time – so it got me to thinking…

Two months earlier, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and was greeted by the multitude who was praising Him with shouts of “Hosanna!” Jesus’ journey ended at the Temple where He dismounted. He then entered the Outer Court and quietly walked around, looking, but not saying anything. He then made His way through the Beautiful Gate into the hall of prayer. There were a number of people begging at the gate. Some were lame. Some were blind. The lame man was more than likely one of them. Each had been brought by family members or friends in the hopes that their friend or loved one would receive charity – or possibly a miracle of healing. Jesus looked on the people with compassion. He didn’t ignore them, but on that day He didn’t stop to heal them. He continued on into the Temple and spent time in prayer. He and His disciples then quietly left.

Jesus returned the next day which was Monday….

A Celebration - Great Are You, Lord!

A Celebration - Great Are You, Lord!

Today is our Baby Girl’s thirtieth birthday. Happy Birthday, Precious Girl! It is hard to believe. In some respects it seems like yesterday. It was an early Monday morning. In what seemed like a moment, we witnessed the birth of a new life. (Remember, i’m the dad; i am certain it seemed much longer than a moment for LaVonne!) i remember her little cry as she took that first breath into her lungs. i remember that somehow the birthing room suddenly seemed brighter. i remember that my wife’s pain and travail in labor were now passed and had now been replaced simultaneously by relief, peace, joy and calm. Immediately our hearts were filled with love for this precious addition to our family. That love was not something that needed to develop over time – it was immediate, just as it had been at the birth of her older brother before her. And our love for one another did not diminish because it now included another; rather, our capacity to love was increased. The birth of a new life is a precious gift from our Creator… an amazing gift… and a gift for a lifetime… and beyond.  

But our God is not only the Giver of physical life, He is the Giver of eternal life….

A Drink At Joel's Place

A Drink At Joel's Place

As i write this i am in South Florida. Yesterday we experienced a brief tropical front of rushing wind and pouring rain. As i listened to the sound of the wind, i was reminded of that day recorded in Scripture when “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:1 ESV). That led me in my thoughts to the message that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost.  It is the prophecy of the last days as recorded by the prophet Joel. Joel was writing that the day of the Lord’s return would be heralded by the pouring out of the Spirit of God. This should not seem strange or contrary. Those gathered on the Day of Pentecost listening to Peter were witnessing the fulfillment of the beginnings of that prophecy. The day was coming when all of the prophecy would be fulfilled, but on that day they were seeing a glimpse of it. As the people looked and stared at a group of Galileans they would have been incredulous. The announcement that the Holy Spirit was being poured out upon a group of Galileans would have seemed incredible to the Jews, because they thought God’s Spirit was only given to a few select people (Numbers 11:28-29). But here were one hundred twenty of the followers of Jesus – men and women – enjoying the blessing of the same Holy Spirit that had empowered Moses, David and the prophets. The last days had dawned with the arrival of Jesus – and they would come to a climax with His return. The arrival of the Holy Spirit affirmed that they had entered into the first of those last days as foretold by the prophets.

Joel wrote that one feature of the last days will be the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on people of every kind – men and women, young and old, high and low. God's people will be clothed with power; they will receive power. And the main effect of this power seems to be bold, prophetic speech. Believers of all kinds are going to be so gripped by the Spirit of God that they see the greatness of Jesus and the purpose of Jesus with extraordinary clarity and speak it with extraordinary boldness. The people were seeing that take place before their eyes – from Galileans no less.

But though Joel’s prophecy pointed to a period of time that began on that day of Pentecost, it is a prophecy that points to the return of Christ. That means that we are in the midst of those days – until He returns….

You Are Special

You Are Special

Recently i was reintroduced to the children’s book entitled “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. The story is about little wooden people who are called “Wemmicks”. Wemmicks spend their days scurrying about sticking gold stars on those who are pretty and talented, or gray dots on those who make mistakes. But on this particular day in the story, the stickering is all the more important because the Festival is at hand. The envied “Most Stars Award” and the dreaded “Most Dots Award” are about to be given out. Poor Punchinello is sure to be a shoo-in for the Most Dots. But thanks to a new friend, he is about to learn a very important lesson that no matter how others may judge our worth, God cherishes each of us just as we are.

That is a lesson we would all do well to remember. We live in a world that is obsessed with awarding stars and conferring dots, and we distribute them abundantly, utilizing all the means at our disposal. Social media has become our most preferred mode of rendering our judgement of stars or dots to the extent that we judge worth based upon the number of “likes” or “follows”….