Photo: Dave (Hidden Depth)
My wife Judy and I decided to order pizza last Sunday evening, and took a short drive while our pizza was being prepared.
We drove out of town and passed the graveyard where both of Judy’s parents are buried. She asked me to turn into the cemetery so she could inspect her parents’ site. She made plans to plant some special flowers in honor of the two precious people she loved very much.
As we walked among the various memorial sites I was reminded how quickly life passes and how death visits people of all ages. There’s a strange silence in a graveyard that invites the living to carefully listen to the voices of the dead. These voices are not audible, but somehow they speak in the silence.
The various garden memorial sites echo words of wisdom to the living. What are these words of wisdom?
Life is a gift and each day should be lived in the light of eternity.
God allows us to enjoy a beautiful world. The sun rises daily (even though clouds sometimes cover its rays) and warms the earth. Rain waters the soil so agricultural living organisms cover the earth. Oxygen is free so we can breathe and bring life to our bodies.
The beauty we live in is a reflection of the wonderful God who created the earth. I’m sure that the silent voices of those in the graveyard would remind us to stop and enjoy the beauty we often take for granted and the environment that sustains our lives. These are gifts to be cherished.
Words of warning would rise from the deceased.
As I walked among the grave markers I could hear the words of Hebrews 9:27:
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.
The grave sites echo the words of termination or transition. In Luke 16:19 – 31, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lived in luxury and pleasure; Lazarus was a poor beggar who experienced suffering on a daily basis.
However, both died and the tide was turned in eternity. Lazarus’ agony on earth caused him to reflect upon an eternal God. The rich man’s provisions diverted his attention away from eternal reality. The destination for Lazarus was heaven, and hell for the rich man. Once death came there were no second chances for either one. Their fate was sealed for eternal life or eternal death.
Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many voices from the deceased plead with us to accept Jesus as our savior and serve Him with all our hearts. Others echo the words of the rich man from hell in Luke 16:27-28:
Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.
God made a way for you to be transitioned into heaven when you die because of the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him by the death of His Son, how much more having been reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.
Jesus has paid for your sin; please receive this gift of eternal life by trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior.
This is solid graveyard wisdom.
Recently my wife and I visited with our youth pastor and his wife. We wanted to update ourselves concerning their youth ministry and to show support for their expanding family. They have two beautiful girls less than 3 years of age and a new baby boy arriving sometime in early May. Both are teachers so their life is extremely busy and demanding.
They recently have initiated a new approach to their ministry by hosting Bible studies for boys twice per month, and for girls twice per month, in their home on Thursday evenings. They are developing discipleship and community among the kids through fellowship and creative Bible studies.
He shared a sample video teaching with creative questions for discussion. The lesson pertained to trying to change vs training to change. He used I Corinthians 9:24 – 27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The teacher on the video shared some life-changing information on true changes. He told the kids that it is impossible to change because they just wanted to do better. A desire to clean up one’s act is commendable, but desire alone won’t work or achieve the right outcome. Someone could desire to run a marathon but desire alone won’t get you over the finish line.
In this passage of scripture it instructs us to be trained in our faith on a daily basis so spiritual stamina can be achieved. The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint.
In my early forties I decided to enter Grandma’s Marathon that was hosted in Duluth, Minnesota. The course started at Two Harbors, MN and ended in the city of Duluth.
The 26.2 mile course bordered beautiful Lake Superior; its terrain consisted of a number of difficult hills that made the run extremely challenging.
I realized my good intentions and determination would not be enough to complete this race. My body had to be trained one day at a time to develop stamina and confidence. Therefore, I sought help from people who had run marathons in the past.
To be successful, I had to start running consistently nine months before the race. I had a schedule for daily runs lasting six days a week with one day off for rest.
Every Saturday I would double my daily mileage to increase my stamina for the increased mileage I would have to run the following week.
I also had to lose a significant amount of weight to make it easier for my body to endure, especially through the last half of the race.
This all took place daily so when I got to the actual race it was not new territory for me. My mind and body were conditioned to run this long race.
Crossing the finish line was an amazing experience. Those who didn’t train were casualties and left with severe physical problems and bruised egos.
The same principle applies to the Christian life. We are encouraged to train ourselves in Christian living and thinking. We do this through daily Bible reading, prayer, worship, fellowship and witness to those who are not followers of Christ. Commit yourself to these five disciplines and I assure you that you will cross the finish line.
Winning is all about training.
Photo: Jeff Sheldon
January 13, 1982, bitter cold had hit the nation. In many cities traffic was halted by heavy snow.
In Washington D.C., a planeload of happy people waited impatiently for takeoff, anticipating warm weather in Florida. Finally, after a long delay, Air Florida Flight 90 lifted up from the runway.
Seconds later the plane plunged into the icy Potomac River, killing more than seventy passengers.
It was only seconds from thrilling anticipation…to death.
The transience of life! Yet we plan as though somehow we can escape the inevitable, as though we’re somehow invulnerable – it won’t happen to us.
Since the tragic accident of Flight 90, there have been many other tragic plane crashes that have produced many casualties.
Just a couple of weeks ago a Germanwings plane crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers aboard. This was a routine trip from Barcelona, Spain to Düsseldorf, Germany.
Who would have ever thought the co-pilot would lock the door to the control room while the captain went to the bathroom? The co-pilot’s goal was to commit suicide and take all the passengers with him to his death.
The transience of life! Yet we plan as though somehow we can escape the inevitable, as though we’re somehow invulnerable - it won’t happen to us.
The statistic is irrevocably true – no advancement in technology and knowledge has ever been able to alter it, the ratio never changes: one death for every person born.
We prepare for everything else – education, career, home, vacations, retirements – why not the one absolutely certain event?
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Choose Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now. Don’t put off making this decision. If you have made this decision, then renew your commitment to serve Him with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength.
Life is so short. We are always only a heartbeat or breath away from eternity. John 3:36 reminds us that we choose life when we choose Jesus.
The other side of the coin is much scarier and sobering; if one does not choose Christ, then he or she will not have eternal life and will have to face an all-powerful God without Christ. A holy God will not overlook a sinful life because Romans 3:23 says we have all sinned.
Romans 6:23 says the wages of our sin is eternal death. Without Christ, we will face God as our judge. The verdict will be eternal punishment, banished from God’s presence forever.
God has a better plan – eternal life through Christ.
Choose life today because you have no guarantee that you will see tomorrow.
Recently I read a write up from Robert Sterns, comparing the Prime Minister of Israel to Mordechai in the book of Esther. He parallels America with Queen Esther. It was an amazing insight.
God is speaking to His people in prophetic ways and I pray that we will listen. We have felt the touch of God’s favor on our country and we've been known as a Christian nation since our constitution was formed. We are called the United States of America. So, what in the world is happening? That's the question that haunts many of us in this country, as well as those living and persecuted in other countries.
We can no longer put our heads in the sand of this world and try to ignore what's happening around us. Instead, we need to put our heads in the Word of God and take an active stand for righteousness.
We need to fast and pray and follow Esther's example of courage, being willing to lose everything, even our lives, just as the brave and precious People of the Cross in other countries.
Mordechai also represents the Holy Spirit. He spoke to Esther about the very reason for her birth and position; it was for, "Such a Time as This". I believe it's true that America was also established for "Such a Time as This"; a time to stand with Israel when others abandon her.
I must admit I'm confused at the decisions our leaders have made and allowed in our government. It's as if many are being controlled by dark forces and that common sense and moral values are a thing of the past.
This is the time for believers to stop talking about how awful things are and begin to pray and use our voices to come together as a strong united force.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.
The word know means more than being acquainted with someone. The word know is often used in an intimate sense in the Bible between a man and woman.
In Genesis 4:1 the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version translate this verse: Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.
The New International Version (TNIV) translates this verse: And Adam lay with his wife and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.
Today’s New International Version (NIV) translates this verse straightforward: Adam made love to Eve and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.
The word know basically means sexual intimacy involving giving oneself entirely to another person.
For the past two years I have made it my personal goal to memorize the entire booklet, Who I Am In Christ. It’s been a fantastic spiritual journey because I not only have accumulated large amounts of scripture to memory, but I have also been able to go one step farther by meditating on these passages. So it has become part of my spiritual life.
In order for this to be successful in one’s life he or she must work at it daily. Consistent physical exercise eventually affects the health and outward appearance of the body. The same is true for spiritual food and exercise through scripture memorization and meditation. I encourage you to add this discipline to your devotional life.
In the weeks ahead I am going to focus on key scripture passages that are foundational for our spiritual growth.
Today I want to focus on Matthew 5:13-14
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
These passages are crucial because they give purpose to followers of Christ. Two basic truths are given: we are salt and we are light!
In this era of history, salt was used as a preservative in food because there was no refrigeration in this arid part of the world. Light was emitted by lamps that were filled with oil. The lamps gave off enough light to help people walk safely in the dark.
Psalm 119:105 compares the word of God to a lamp:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Our purpose as followers of Christ is to be a preservative in our decaying society and light in our dark culture. The light we carry is knowing God’s word.
Scripture is the believer’s absolute authority for making decisions on how we live and act.
II Timothy 3:16 – 17 emphatically says all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Our culture desperately needs committed Christians to be role models of Jesus Christ. Knowing Christ means we must know His word. His word is the only defense we have in our eroding culture. I encourage you to put these two verses to memory.
Psalm 119:11 reminds us that when we hide God’s word in our hearts we won’t make sinful choices. We will stay on course to be a preservative of Christian values and a light to a culture that has lost its moral and religious foundation.
The future of our country is dependent upon our obedience to be salt and light!
Tuesday I received a message from one of my brothers that our youngest brother's 4-year-old grandson was in the hospital.
He had been fighting a virus in his body for a few days when he began to complain about his heart hurting. They had called the doctor and were told it sounded like gas pains and not to worry. However, he kept saying, “My heart hurts.”
So like any concerned parents, they took him to the ER.
The doctor on call took x-rays of his bowel area and by a miracle, caught a small area of his heart in the picture. It was enlarged due to inflammation, which caused a buildup of fluid surrounding his heart. To their surprise he was taken right to ICU. It was there that the doctor told the parents that he was asked an usual question after the x-ray by this precious 4-year-old child.
Lucas was told that when they took a picture of what was inside him, that they saw his heart. So, Lucas said, "Did you see Him?"
The doctor said, "See who?"
And Lucas, with those huge, brown eyes just shining replied, "Holy Spirit! Did you see Him?!! He lives in my heart!"
Lucas wasn't intimidated by the man wearing a white coat, nor was he trying to witness to a total stranger. He was just doing what came natural to him. He was sharing the joy and excitement of his intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.
When I asked him if I could pray for his heart to feel better, and for the fluid to go away, he said yes and we held hands. Then he said, "Now, I'll pray for you."
I had to fight back tears as he put his little hand on my arm and so sincerely asked Jesus to heal the bug bites under my Band-Aid and to make them go away. He then prayed that the bites would leave me and go on the bad people....at that point I wanted to giggle. Then he smiled at me with those innocent, brown eyes and my heart just melted with love.
Jesus, touch us today and restore within us the innocence of a child's heart, filled with Your love, that we may share it with others.
And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.
The word love is used freely to express how we feel about a person, event or thing. For example, we love pumpkin pie and we love cars. We also love our children and our spouses. Loving a certain kind of pie or car is not the same as loving a child or spouse. The type of love we exhibit is determined by the object and our attachment to it.
How do we know what real live is? In order for us to answer this question we have to consult the greatest book ever written – the Bible.
I John 4:8
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
These two verses define love completely. God is love and has expressed His love in Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sin so we could have eternal life. If you accept Jesus Christ, you have experienced genuine love. All other types of love are incomplete without Jesus Christ.
Love is defined in the Bible by five Greek words.
Epithumia is taken from two Greek words, epi which means on, and thumos which means fire. It is closely related to the second Greek word for love…
We translate this word as erotic. Epithumia and eros deal with the physical side of love in marriage.
Hollywood has perverted these two types of love by encouraging people to participate in sensual pleasures outside of marriage. When this happens these two words are translated as lust. Why? Because physical love has to be expressed in a committed, covenant relationship of marriage, otherwise it’s exploitation of one another without any responsibility for one’s actions.
Storge is translated as love for a family member. Here, love is expanded beyond oneself to another person. Love has to mature beyond personal pleasures to children and other family members.
I have watched many young couples immediately change their attitudes and behavior when a baby enters their life. Their attention is now on this helpless human being who relies on them for life. I guess you could say the child grows up the parents.
Phileo is translated as friendship. This is a give-and-take relationship between friends. Phileo expects something out of the other person. Marriages grow and stay together when phileo is experienced by both husband and wife. Friendship is essential for all of us.
All the words for love are important in a relationship but yet incomplete. There is one word that ties this chain of love-links together…
Agape says I love you, period.
There is nothing you can do, say or give me that will negate my love for you. There is no performance in this love-link. It is the type of love described in I John 4:8 and John 3:16. All other love-links are incomplete without agape. This love deals with a 100% commitment regardless of receiving anything in return. Agape creates the environment in a marriage relationship for all the other love-links to flourish.
If you are single, agape teaches you to value people and to practice self-control, from epithumia and eros until marriage.
What’s love got to do with it? Everything, because love is the language and character of God expressed in His Son, Jesus Christ.
May your day be saturated with agape love.
Our society has become extremely vulnerable because of the self-centered focus that has been bombarding us for decades. Discipline has become an ugly word and heaven forbid that anyone should preach a message of self-sacrifice so future generations may have a better life. Life has become a journey to fulfill our own desires and goals at the expense of forfeiting the future.
Tom Brady once again played in the Super Bowl on February 2. He has now played in seven Super Bowls and won numerous awards in his life. He has achieved more in sports than most of his colleagues and would be considered by all of us as successful.
However, he was interviewed after winning his last Super Bowl and had some surprising remarks. He said to the reporter, “There must be more in life than a Super Bowl win.”
Achieving goals without purpose is empty. God made us with a need for an eternal focus.
God has also set eternity in the human heart.
Somehow each of us knows down deep inside that this life is like a vapor and only has temporal satisfaction.
Our easy way of life has made our present generation soft. The military has a challenge getting recruits because many who apply are unable to comply with the physical requirements or pass a drug test. This now has become a national security problem. The easy way has turned out to be the wrong way.
In 2015, we have a choice to make: the easy way or the right way.
In Genesis 13, Abram and his nephew Lot, parted ways; they both had become rich in acquiring cattle, sheep and goats, and the land that both occupied could not support both households. In fact, disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot.
Abram solved the problem by inviting Lot to choose what land he wanted to settle upon and then Abram would choose land to settle in that was in the opposite direction. Abram chose to occupy arid desert land because Lot chose the fertile plains of the Jordan valley. Lot chose the easy way and Abram chose the hard way.
Two evil cities were located in the Jordan Valley: Sodom and Gomorrah.
Genesis 13:13 describes Sodom and Gomorrah as being extremely wicked and constantly sinning against God. Genesis 19 describes how Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed and how Lot lost his wealth and family because of the influence of these evil people.
His family was warned to flee Sodom. He was commanded not to turn and look at the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah while judgment fell. His wife disobeyed and looked back, instantly turning into a pillar of salt.
Later his daughters committed incest with Lot because they feared they would both be childless since all the males were killed in the judgment of the two cities.
Lot chose the easy way but the influence of the wicked people of that area turned out to be his demise.
Put God first in all areas of your life in 2015. Regular devotions and worship are challenges in today’s demanding schedules. However, the hard way will become the right way. Abram lived in the desert and prospered because he had God’s favor in his life.
God’s way is always the best way.
May 2015 be the best year of your life.
Photo: Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo.com
Last week was our church's week of prayer and fasting, and I would say it has been the most satisfying time for me personally in a few years. I didn't realize I had become so busy with everyday duties and things that just aren't as important as time with the Lord and other close relationships.
Every day I received prayer requests from all over the country; people who are desperate for the Lord to touch them for healing or to deliver them from painful situations. I found myself connecting with my siblings and their families as the Lord would prompt me to check on them right when they needed it. When I prayed for people I seemed to have better knowledge and insight about how to pray for them and I knew God was giving me His wisdom in all these matters. The more time I spent reading or just being still and mediating on God’s Word, the more peaceful I felt and love for others increased.
One thing about choosing to abstain from unhealthy food (especially meats and sugars) and the normal busy routine of life is that you become more in tune with the Spirit of God. The earthly things just aren't as appealing and it's amazing how much easier it is to make good choices. The time spent in prayer and fasting isn't for the Lord, it's for us! We begin to hear Him more clearly, as our body and mind are freed from the toxic foods and thoughts that influence our daily decisions.
(Daniel-1:1-21) Daniel and his three companions chose not to eat all the unhealthy food or drink the wine that the king ordered for them, because they didn't want to defile themselves. They trusted God to supply them with His strength and whatever they would need to stand before the king, so they ate only vegetables and drank only water.
It was obvious after a period of time that Daniel and his friends looked healthier than those who chose to eat the king’s food and guzzle his wine, but the big difference was one that was not seen with the natural eye. They humbled themselves before God, refusing to violate their convictions or indulge in man’s excessive ways. So God not only made them physically strong, He filled them with His wisdom and understanding.
In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them to be ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
Today we welcome guest blogger, Kathy Fannon. Kathy is the office manager at Crossfire Church and at Pastor Keith’s request, Kathy is sharing a post this week.
Galatians 5:22 - 23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
Six years ago I got serious about my health. I saw a health coach twice a month, started exercising, completely changed the way I ate, and without trying lost 33 pounds over a 6-month period. I never felt better in my life!
I was so encouraged at the results that I studied and became a certified holistic health coach. I love encouraging people in their health goals and watching as they “get it” in their own journeys.
The word holistic scares some people, especially in the Christian community, but holistic isn't anything weird or some kind of voodoo. Holistic means looking at every aspect of a person's life - the whole - to see where health may need improvement. Career, relationships, your walk with Jesus, physical activity and the food you eat all work together to create your health - or lack thereof.
When looking at a person's health goals I come up with a plan, which will include a diet change. That is always the hardest part; we like our comfort food and convenience food. It's hard to change a lifestyle we grew up with and is such a habit that we barely think of it at meal time.
This is where the fruit of the Spirit of self-discipline comes in.
Self-discipline can be hard. It can be a struggle. We might even be afraid of it.
But self-discipline also brings peace and joy. (More fruits of the Spirit!)
When a tough change is made in our lives and we start to see results, it motivates us to keep going!
The past few years I've gained back more weight than I care to admit - especially as a health coach! I feel frumpy, I'm easily irritated at little things, I'm sluggish, I can't concentrate, and I crave sugar.
I've lost self-discipline.
Enough Is Enough
As my weight continues to climb and my hormones are a wreck because of poor food choices, I've decided I'm not going to live like this anymore.
So a couple of weeks ago I started to eat salads more frequently, I'm making a conscious effort to get my daily recommended amount of water, as well as 10,000 steps per day. And while I believe more in focusing on nutrition than what the scale says, I'm down 3 pounds.
That's motivating to keep going! (Especially when cookies or pizza are calling me!)
Self-discipline is Hardest at the Beginning
It’s hard to start.
Sometimes we just don't know where to start so we do nothing.
I encourage you to pick one thing you want to change and change it for 10 days. That's all. Anybody can do anything for 10 days that will make a difference in their life and health.
Walk 10 minutes a day. Drink 48 ounces of water every day. Eat 5 - 7 servings of vegetables every day. Maybe it's reading a book on how to budget money or how to pray.
Ask God what He would have you do and to give you the fruit of the Spirit of self-discipline to do it.
Sometimes our miracle comes when we step out and take action.
Our healing comes when our food choices change. Our finances are blessed when we begin to tithe. Our relationships are restored when we choose forgive.
In what area do you need self-discipline today? If you're brave enough, share in the comment section and let's encourage each other!