Monday, September 2, 2019

HAUNTED NO MORE VOLUME 1 - CD REVIEW

      So, what do you get when you take the beautifully dark musical composition of Myles Barfield and mix it with the multi-ranged talents of legendary vocalist Dale Thompson?  You get an amazing  audio experience called Haunted No More.  Brought to you by the same musical genius as Dabster Gentlemen , Haunted No More presents a musical experience of depth, meaning and contemplation.  

            Unlike the upbeat, genre defying, work of Dabster, HNM leads the listener down a quieter path of reflection touching on themes of the heart and focusing on the redemption and freedom which can only be found in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  

             The theme of HNM's debut, Volume 1, is recognizing the sufficiency of Christ and no longer being haunted by circumstances or the folly of others.  This is not only reflected in Thompson's powerful lyrics, but also captured in the piano laden compositions of Barfield, who somehow manages to evoke raw emotion through the music itself.  The listener cannot help but feel moved by the power of the marriage of heartfelt music and vocals.  Barfield and Thompson seem to have a Page and Plant chemistry as each artist's contribution to this album has a natural symbiosis where the listener experiences the themes of God's sufficiency even in the midst of trial and the chaos of a world opposed to God.  

             Psalm 73 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 lay the groundwork for HNM Vol 1. Though all may seem hopeless, in Christ hope abounds.  

       Neo-classical in style, HNM's music and message is very relevant and and fresh, and never veers off or distracts the listener from the idea of rediscovering hope and joy, even when all hope seems lost.  

     The first track, Midnight in the Middle of the Day, opens with light piano and rhythm leading into Thompson's contemplative and soulful vocals. From the first song, the listener will realize this album goes beyond merely entertaining into a realm of thoughtful reflection.  The musical composition soothes the spirit while the lyrics will draw introspection and a sense of God's awesome magnitude.  

       I Sleep (Internal Journey I) is up next, drawing the listener to the very edge of darkness.  With  light piano, some cymbals, and Thompson's layered vocals, demonstrating his amazing range, the recipe leaves hints of Moody Blues on the listener's palate.  

     Track number 3, The Miracle in You reminds us the sacrifice of Christ was a voluntary act of love.  This song sets the tone for the hope in the midst of hopelessness.  Very similar in musical composition to the previous tracks, one gets the sense of   a trilogy of songs where, first we are asked to contemplate the vastness of the universe, then contemplation turns inward to our spiritual need, while Miracle in You leads us to the one event in all of human history bringing hope to mankind.  

             I Wanna Have Church switches gears slightly, a mournful ode to local church lost to demolition when Dale Thompson was a youth. I Wanna Have Church is clearly the flagship song on this album.  The pairing of Barfield's composition and Thompson's vocal intonations is pure melodic magic. Somehow, a never heard before song manages to evoke a nostalgia for a place previously unknown to the listener.  Thompson sings in a lower register but layers in his signature sound behind the main vocal track, reminding the listener Thompson's range surpasses even Axel Rose.  

         Never Turned My Back on You remains true to the overall sound of HNM while giving fans of classic Bride ballads a taste of Thompson's signature rasp, only teased at in the previous track.  

        No End But God reminds us there is life beyond what we currently experience and reveals a purpose in suffering.

        From the Lord's Cup picks up the tempo slightly and starts off as a jaunty tune dealing with the theme of suffering as Jesus suffered for the Gospel.  The tempo, slows in the middle and picks back up in the third part. The tempo change ups seem to be revelatory of the Christian life, on which many embark with joy, yet may begin to question when persecution or resistance comes, only to see joy spring forth as understanding the purpose of suffering for the sake of the Gospel manifests.         
                  I Will Praise You reminds us of God's goodness, even in the midst of the storms of life. God is worthy of praise, not necessarily for the storm, but because of God's goodness beyond whatever circumstance in which we may find ourselves. 

      The Sky of Nothingness, a powerful piano ballad with a slight Floydian flavor, dealing with the topic of the meaning of life. The musical composition grabs the listener deep within.  Barfield's arrangement and presentation produces an emotional draw at the heartstrings that cannot be ignored.

         Filter (Internal Journey II) a warning to not filter our expression of God's image imprinted on us, nor the message of God's word.

         Not Every Story  reminds us not every story has a happy ending yet every thing from our past can serve as a lesson for our present.  Not Every Story could easily be a second single release. Musically, Barfield presents a powerful sound and Thompson reminds the listener he is a rock singer at heart.  Not Every Story finds both artists in the zone leaving no doubt each is doing what he was gifted by God to do.

         Into the Hole is a mournful recognition of the power of fear and depression in the frailty of the human heart. Our own power is insufficient to pull us out of the well of despair we often flee to as a respite from the trials of life. God's power and light is the only thing able to rescue us from pits of hopelessness.

       Haunted No More brings forth an album which seems important. The listener will find relevance and purpose in each song.  Hauntingly beautiful and pregnant with purpose, Haunted No More has created an album for it's time, presenting the hope of God in an often dark and joyless world. 

      It has been my pleasure to listen to and review this album.  Highly recommended!

        Available to listen on Spotify, or, better yet, order your own copy here!


              

               

Friday, August 9, 2019

FINDING HOPE IN HOPELESSNESS

 
What is hope? The dictionary defines hope as "a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen." Expecting what we desire to happen is a great motivation to continue moving forward, to continue trying, but what happens when you have exhausted all possibilities and there no longer exists a way for desire to be met? Hopelessness happens. What happens when we give up hope? We may do dangerous and self destructive things.

Maybe, today, you have given up hope or are on the brink of giving up hope. Maybe you have decided hope is for suckers and just don't care any more. You would not be the first person to feel this way. What follows is two true stories of people who gave up hope only to have an encounter with God which changed everything. One very old story and one in modern times.


 1 Kings 17:9  “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 
   At the time of the above passage, there was a severe famine in Israel.  Elijah the prophet was serving God faithfully, when he received the above command.  The only problem with the plan was, no one told the widow.  

1 Kings 17:10-12  So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.”  And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 

And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

         God told Elijah the plan, but the widow, apparently, had no idea. By the time Elijah showed up, the woman had come to the conclusion all hope was gone. The water dried up, no crops could grow and the widow was down to her last handful of flour and oil, enough to make a small biscuit, maybe.  

          The widow had given up hope, she saw no way out of her situation.  Her husband was dead, the land was in drought and even if it started raining that very day, by the time new food grew, she and her son would have died of starvation long before any food came available

     There was no way, humanly possible, for this lady to get out of this situation. Undoubtedly she exhausted every effort and thought through every scenario possible to save her son's life and concluded there was no hope.  

      Perhaps today, you are looking at a situation and see no possible way to avoid disaster.  You have exhausted all resources, you have examined the problem from every possible angle and have concluded there is no possible way to undo the mess.  Maybe you are right, maybe there is nothing humanly possible which can change your situation.  I can tell you this: even though there is not a humanly possible way out for you, there is still hope. 

       You see, the widows story does not end with the prophet walking away and the widow going home to die. God has purpose for this lady and when God is involved, the impossible becomes possible.  God has purpose for you, just like He had for this unnamed widow.

1 Kings 17:13-16  And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”  And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. 
             
        Though the widow had no idea God had a plan for her, He certainly did.  She could have told Elijah he was crazy, gone home and followed her original plan, yet she did not.  Something caused the widow to trust God in her impossible situation and, supernaturally, God provided.  Supernaturally, the situation changed.  

     Though you may feel completely abandoned and hopeless, the truth is, God has a way out for you.  God has a purpose for you and He wants to transform you and your life.  The key is trusting God can lead you in a way where there is no way.  The widow saw no way out, had no way out, until she encountered God.  

       Life throws some pretty terrible things our way. Sometimes, the unthinkable happens, yet, in the midst of disaster, there is still hope as God is bigger than any situation in which we may find ourselves.  

        The second story of hope takes place in modern times.  It is also a true story:

           Susie Edwards found herself divorced with 2 small children, at the age of 23. (If you want to read Susie's full story, Click Here) Susie remarried and raised her children, however, by the time the children were grown, she found herself divorced and alone.  This is when Susie began drinking.    

          Susie's drinking increased and eventually she moved to another town for a job, where she met Bob. Bod didn't drink much, but Bob introduced Susie to drugs and both developed an addiction which cost them everything they owned.  Susie and Bob knew if they continued on the path they were on, it would lead to death or prison.  

        In an attempt to get clean, Susie and Bob left town to make a new start but due to bad behavior found themselves homeless. Through the obedience of a woman whom God directed to pick them up, Susie and Bob learned about a local ministry. Attending the local ministry, Susie and Bob were able to meet God in a real way and experience the transformation only He can bring.

  What was available to Susie is available to all.  No matter how dark or bleak your situation may seem, God can lead you to a better place.  God wants to lead you to a better place.  

     God is the restorer of broken lives .  There is nothing God will ask of you or require of you for which He has not equipped you.  If you are broken, if your life seems shattered, if you see no way possible, God makes a way when there is no way.

       Faith in Christ is the first step in restoring hope. The doorway to God is Jesus. The Father waits for you with open arms and desires a relationship with you.  God brings hope to the hopeless by creating opportunities where none exist. Psalm 34:8  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! The man or woman who seeks refuge in God will not be forsaken. 

          Please do not miss out on what God has in store for you because everything seems hopeless. When life is hopeless you can still find hope in God.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

           























Thursday, August 1, 2019

LIFE ON THE FRINGE

                           
fringe
noun
  1. 1.
    an ornamental border of threads left loose or formed into tassels or twists, used to edge clothing or material.
adjective
  1. 1.
    not part of the mainstream; unconventional, peripheral, or extreme.


         


Mark 5:25-29  And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years,  and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.   She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 

               Have you ever felt out of place or that you just don't fit in with what society has decided is normal?  Maybe you are a little edgy or maybe you have been let down by those who should have had your back.  For whatever reason, you feel withdrawn from the mainstream, God desires a relationship with you.

               Culture determines, many times based on arbitrary ideas, who fits in and who does not.  Feeling misplaced is not something exclusive to one segment of society.  You can feel misplaced in luxury or living on the streets, you can feel misplaced in suburbia or in a city with millions around you.  Often, society defines fringey  people by appearance, however, there are many who put on a suit and tie everyday who feel just as out of step with mainstream society as a gal with a purple mohawk.  

             Many hide or deny their feelings of isolation from "normal" while others embrace who they are and don't care who likes it.  The truth is, there are many more people on the fringe of society than most people realize.  Jesus is Lord of the Fringe.  

             If you look at the people with whom Jesus associated, you will realize, He was not calling the mainstream people who had no sense of need in their lives.  Jesus went to those who were hurting, left out and isolated.  Even John the Baptist, before Jesus, was in the wilderness ministering, not in the town square or in the synagogues.  Mark 2:17  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

             God also demonstrated this truth in the account of the woman with the issue of blood, mentioned above.  This woman knew if she could just touch the fringe of Christ's garment, she would be healed. You can read more about on this here: Grabbing the Fringe of Jesus' Garment   Being on the Fringe of society herself, due to health issues, this lady reached out to Jesus and was healed.

            Being Fringey does not mean excusing or ignoring sin, it means being who God has allowed you to be for His glory, using the personality and style God has allowed you to develop through all your life's experiences.  The call to holiness is still one of most important pursuits of any believer.  Being fringey does not redefine sin either, in fact, our goal is to help the individual pursue God's best and seek inward change, which will manifest in changed behavior. 

           In other words, you may not trade the black t-shirt for a suit, but you might change the design or message on the shirt.  You may not trade your sweater vest in for a leather jacket, but you will feel comfortable with who God has you to be and minister to others within your gifting and calling.

           If you consider yourself on the outside looking in, for whatever reason, Jesus has a seat for you at His table.  God loves you as you are but loves you too much to leave you that way.  

           Know you are loved, know you can find forgiveness and community in Christ.  Know you have been designed with purpose and God has adventure for you.  Join those of us who have joined Jesus on the Fringe and watch God rock your world

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

               

Thursday, July 25, 2019

OVERCOMING YOUR HERITAGE AND PAST VICTIMIZATION

             
 This month, Michael Brunner, son of Charles Manson, gave an interview for the first time since 1993.  Michael Brunner comes across as a soft spoken laid back sort.  Not at all what one would expect from the son of, arguably, the most notorious mad man in American history. In the interview, Brunner spoke about his life, growing up, and his adult years, and the one thing which came across was how utterly normal he is.  Absent was the expected self pity of a man growing up in the shadow of a beast, missing was the darkness one would expect from a man wrestling with the fact he is the spawn of evil incarnate.  Instead, what you will find, is a man who genuinely seems like a nice guy, who has lived a productive life.          

      What about you?  Are you a product of your heritage or environment?  Are you a prisoner of your past or a victim of your lineage?  Have you allowed circumstances beyond your control to determine your destiny?  These are all traps set for you by the Great Deceiver, designed to destroy any chance you have of finding true peace and purpose.

         Everyone has obstacles in life, granted, some more than others, yet history is rife with people who overcame incredible odds and did great things.  Also true, prisons, rehab centers, homeless camps and cemeteries are filled with people who were unable to shake free of  poor parenting and dark family histories.  

           What determines the path of being an overcomer vs. being a victim of circumstance?  How can it be when out of three children in one family, presumably raised the same , one goes into ministry, one becomes president of the United States and one becomes an infamous drunk with a novelty beer named after him?  Personal choice and the exercise of free will.

            Matthew 7:13-14  “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Notice what this passage does not say: "unless your parents abused you, or you were bullied, or your spouse was unfaithful, or you come from a long line of drunks, or, or, or...."  God makes no caveat, creates no loophole and leaves no room for excuses.

            Horrible things happen to children everyday. There is no way to sugar coat or minimize this truth.  People do unthinkable things to other people. Trauma is real.  So is the power of God to overcome trauma, deep hurt and devastation.  God will never call us to or require us to do something for which for which He will not empower us.  

           It isn't even about choosing the narrow path, it's about choosing God, who will place you on the narrow path and guide you along. It's all God.  In fact, it takes us acknowledging we cannot do it under our own strength.  Every aspect of our relationship with God is acknowledging our weakness and failure, understanding He has made a remedy for our inability to please Him on our own. 

             1 Corinthians 10:13  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

               We all face temptation to do bad things. Some of us struggle in areas others do not.  What we all have in common is a God who provides a way for us to not give in to our strongest, darkest urges.  God is not some cosmic killjoy who arbitrarily prohibits us from fun.  God has set us parameters to keep us safe, both physically and spiritually.  In addition, God offers us the opportunity to rely on His power and strength to avoid what He has forbidden.

            Some are predisposed to certain bad behavior. This is indisputable.  Whether it is due to trauma, genetics, poor discipline as a child or any other number of reasons.  "That's just how I am" is the motto of cowards who are willing to admit there is a problem, but not willing to address the problem, deciding everyone else will just have to put up with whatever erratic or self destructive behavior they exhibit.  It is also the motto of the defeated who may have genuinely attempted to change, only to realize they did not have it in them to accomplish the task. 

             Often, destructive behavior took years to develop and rarely ends immediately after a single prayer or commitment to God.  Destroyed relationships take time to rebuild, consequences for past misdeeds my stick for life.  These are all hard truths of the Christian faith often not mentioned from the pulpit.  Listening to some of our more popular voices, one might be led to believe the Christian life is rainbows, unicorns and ice cream and if you're not experiencing these, you're not doing Christianity right.  

             So what value is there in pursuing God and allowing Him to bring restoration?  Breaking the cycle of broken relationships, breaking the cycle of personal failure, breaking the cycle of self destructive behavior.  God offers the opportunity to be a new creation.  2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

          The opportunity to break free of a heritage or past trauma is a gift God offers His children.  You do not have to allow your past to govern your future. Neither your heritage nor your victimization has the right to determine the script of your life.  Instead, you can get a re-write by the Author of Life, Himself.  

           You are highly treasured and valued by God, no matter what anyone has led you to believe. The late Brennan Manning stated, "every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."  Do not be discouraged looking at the lives of those who seem to have it all together or who appear to have never suffered anything in life, you may be surprised the things from which God has delivered people you know.

           My prayer is, if you have suffered because of circumstances beyond your control and suffering has led you to self destructive behavior, you will know, today, you are loved and precious. You can find freedom in Christ from the prison of your past, forgiveness for all you have done and acceptance in a community of believers, many of whom, have overcome the very things with which you are struggling.

            Jesus calls you to Himself, arms wide open, offering shelter, love, forgiveness and peace. Jesus has a better plan for your life.  Won't you fall into His arms today and find shelter from the storms of life?


Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell



          

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

BEING A SANCTUARY CITY FOR GOD

     
Over the last few years, we have been hearing a great deal, in the press, about sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities who have made a conscious decision to not turn illegal immigrants over to the government for deportation.  These cities are safe havens for those who have broken the law by the very act of coming to America. 

       Depending on your view of illegal immigration, you may or may not support the idea of Sanctuary Cities. What you may not know is, the idea of Sanctuary Cities dates back to the earliest days of the nation if Israel. While the concept has been twisted a bit, the idea is certainly not new.               

      Imagine you are out somewhere and you accidentally kill someone, whether it be by neglect, stupidity or just plain happenstance.  Obviously, you would want a chance to clear your name and not be labeled a murderer.  Imagine, also, the person you killed has a close relative who, legally, could hunt you down and kill you in retaliation and the only recourse you have is to flee to a City of Refuge where you will be protected until you can stand trial and clear your name.  

     This was a very real scenario in ancient Israel.  God differentiated between pre-meditated murder and accidental death.  If an Israelite killed another person without intent, he could flee to one of the Cities of Refuge and plead his case.  If the Avenger of Blood, usually a family member of the deceased, caught the killer on the way, the AV could legally kill him.  If the killer made it to the City of Refuge, he would stand trial, and if cleared of murder, could safely live in the City of Refuge, but could not leave as long as the current High Priest lived.  If the man cleared of murder stepped out of the City of Refuge before the current High Priest died, he was fair game for the Avenger of Blood.

       Like everything God did with Israel, there is a spiritual connection to our relationship with Jesus Christ.   Isaiah 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.   

        These Cities of Refuge served as a type of Christ, a place where one could receive absolution from an accuser.  Today, we face an accuser, Satan, who, scripture tells us, accuses the saints before God's throne, day and night.  Alas, we find refuge in Christ.  Jesus serves as the advocate of our righteousness, a righteousness He purchased for us on the cross.

          Right now, we are surrounded by a multitude of guilty people who have no one to advocate for them. Our role, now, becomes similar to a Sanctuary City in as much as we are to provide safe haven to sinners as we introduce them to the one who can bring them the same absolution given us. We do this by looking beyond the sin and seeing the need, as Jesus did.  

           When Jesus walked among man, He loved on people and then addressed their sin from the context of His compassion and power.  Within the religious community, Jesus was very harsh with those who should have known better, pointing out hypocrisy and sin.  The church seems to have this backwards today.  We excuse all manner of sin within the congregation, yet we are quick to point out sin and pronounce gleeful condemnation on the lost.

            Should we not, as Galatians 6 commands us, gently hold our brothers and sisters accountable for sin while seeking the lost in order to bring them to Jesus for forgiveness?  We forget, the lost are not gong to hell because they sin, the lost sin because they are going to hell.  John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

            Clearly, unbelief is the cause of damnation.  Who among the saved does not sin every day?  

              The role of the believer in this world is to serve as a City of Refuge, a Sanctuary City, where the lost and hurting can learn the truth and meet the One who can clear them of all guilt before they, one day, stand judgement.  As in scripture, not all who fled to the City of Refuge found absolution.  There will be many we invest in, love on and with whom we will share truth, who will, ultimately, reject the message of God's grace.  

                Scripture tells us there is a point where we no longer invest in someone who refuses to respond to the message. Matthew 10:14  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. This is, however, a decision we come to after much prayer.  Each situation is unique, there is no formula or set timetable.  The key is, we want to give opportunity to the lost.

             Our message is not popular and we should expect a degree of ostracisation from a world bent on serving the flesh.  Looking at what the Apostle Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel will inform us, we should expect no better.  We must avoid the trap of thinking God owes us something for our obedience.   

             How do we serve as Sanctuary for unbelievers? Here are some practical steps we can begin taking today:

1. Be right with God - we cannot serve as a guide for others if we 
are not moored to the Father, this means an active prayer life            with daily time in the Word.  Think of yourself as a lighthouse,        fixed and strong.

2. Live a life worthy of your calling - Ephesians 4:1  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love 

3. Be nice to people - 2 Timothy 2:24  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.  Rude angry evangelism drives people away.  Remember when Jesus used to stand on the corner of His home town shouting, "Repent you Whoremongers!"  Yeah, me neither. Our evangelism must be born out of love and concern for the lost, lest we drive them away from the Savior whom we have poorly represented.

4. Know what you claim to believe - 2 Timothy 2:15  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. Study your Bible. You will schedule what is important in life.  When was the last time you missed dinner because you didn't have time to eat?

5. Be approachable - Galatians 6:3  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. It does not matter what title you have, what degree you have or what position you hold, what matters is you love others. Jesus called scholars (Saul) and fishermen (Peter) to serve Him and all did so by being available to others.

          The bottom line is, the church is not to try to convict the unbeliever for specific sins, instead, we shed the light of scripture on those sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict the heart of the sinner. Remember, sin is the symptom of the disease of unbelief. We can treat the symptom and leave the patient dying or we can bring the dying soul to the Fountain of Life, Jesus Christ.

            No sinner is beyond God's love and reach. People are messy and as we involve ourselves in the lives of messy people, we may get a little mess on ourselves as well. Jesus was willing to be covered in wounds, blood and spit for us.  

             Be open to God's direction and calling. Be a person the lost can come to and feel safe when life falls apart for them.  Lead them to the Savior, be a Sanctuary, a safe haven in the time of storms. 

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!





             

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

GOD, THE RESTORER OF BROKEN LIVES

             
  A skilled auto maker once built a car for himself.  He put great care and love into building this car and when it was finished, he felt he had created a masterpiece.  One day, a very wealthy man came along and fell in love with the car.  After much persuading, the wealthy man prevailed and the car builder, won over by the man's enthusiasm and very generous offer, agreed to sell his creation.  Over the years, the car builder missed the car he considered his greatest achievement and often regaled his son with stories about the car and how much he had loved it.  Photos of the car were plenteous around the house.

      Years later, the son was out driving past a house and saw a wreck of a car, up on blocks and surrounded by weeds, rusting away in a yard.  The son recognized the car from his father's photos and went  to the house to inquire about the car.  "That old piece of junk?" the owner replied.  "That thing's broken beyond repair and worthless."  The young man offered to buy the car, happy to get it off his property, the owner accepted.  The young man brought the destroyed vehicle to his father, the master car builder.  When the car's maker saw the condition of his labor of love, he wept over it.  Over the next days and weeks, the brokenhearted car maker began to lovingly restore his precious creation until one day, it sat sparkling like new in his driveway, ready to go for a long mountain drive.            

  Have you ever seen a neglected or abused vintage auto or  a piece of furniture go through restoration, only to come out looking as good as, or even better than, new?  It can be fascinating to see the before and after photos of a beaten up item, once it has been expertly and lovingly restored.      

               Even more exciting is to watch a life beaten by life or destroyed by poor decisions expertly and lovingly restored by God.

       Of all the promises God makes in scripture, the promise of restoration may be one of the most undeserved.  The idea of restoration indicates a return to something which once was.  If something is to be restored, then, necessarily, there was damage done.   Often the damage done in our lives is the result of poor decisions, wrong behavior, and the recklessness of others.

          I have seen some restoration projects go bad.  Not everyone is equipped to restore a car or home or even a piece of furniture and sometimes the end product is worse after the project is complete. However, if the original builder or manufacturer does the restoration, all the love and care put into the making would be put into the fixing, with the original purpose in mind.

        This is the same with God.  God is our original manufacturer.  He designed us with loving care and with purpose. Maybe life has been tough.  Maybe poor decisions, poor treatment, or bad habits have damaged you to a point where you feel broken beyond repair.  Know this, nothing is beyond the repair of the Master Builder. 

           Like the car in the above story, we were lovingly crafted with care by a Master Builder.  We are all designed with purpose and hope.  Also like the car, sometimes we fall into the wrong hands or live destructively and end up feeling or deemed useless.  

            Our Master Builder has a son named Jesus Christ who has already paid the redemption price required to bring us back to His Father for restoration.  The Father weeps over your brokenness and desires to lovingly restore you to the purpose for which you were designed.  God does not view you as broken beyond repair nor does He see you as worthless because you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 

           God is not angry or disgusted by you. Your heavenly Father may hate some of the things you do, but He loves you.  God may weep over your broken condition but He also loves you too much to leave you that way.  

            Are you willing to place yourself in the hands of the Master Builder?  Are you ready to allow your Father to lovingly restore you to your purpose in Him?  

            If you have ever seen a restoration project, you know it may not be a pleasant experience, especially at first, but the results are so worth it.  Romans 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

                  The restoration process may be painful, God may reveal things about you which you would rather not face.  God may remove things from your life you never thought you could live without.  At the same time, He will add good things.

              Have you ever seen a Smith craft a fine sword?  First it goes into fire, then it gets hammered but then, it goes into the cool refreshing water where it is cleansed and cooled. The fire purges the metal of impurity and makes it pliable. The hammer shapes and forms the metal into something with purpose.  The water cools the metal so it keeps it's shape and purpose.  Then the Smith will apply oil and refine the blade, giving it an edge.  

               Our process of restoration is not unlike this. We are purged and shaped into an image God can use.  The process can be agonizing and lonesome.  Then, about the time you believe you can take no more, God will bring refreshing and you will be able to see the progress you have made and the work He has done in and through you.  Refining and remaining conditioned are lifetime processes but the ability to serve according to your purpose and design will fill you with such joy and peace, it will all be worth it.  

             Do not fear the restoring hand of the Master Builder.  Nothing good comes easy in life.  The path of least resistance, though often my path of choice, leads to hardship and loss.  

             God may stretch you past your comfort level but He will never push you past your breaking point. Psalm 103:13-14  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

             Every diamond starts as a piece of coal and experiences extreme pressure which leads to transformation.  Coal is suitable for burning and little else.  Diamonds, as they say, are forever.  You may see yourself as a worthless lump of coal, or you may have been lead to believe you are such.  God sees the diamond you can be in His powerful and loving hands. God designed you to be a diamond.

             Life does not always go as planned.  Dreams are crushed, potential is sometimes squandered and obstacles can block our path at every turn.  The good news is, the God I serve is a God of second, third and even fourth chances.  Proverbs 24:16  for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity. 

            As stated above, God is not angry nor disgusted with you. Though He may abhor some of the things you do, He loves you.  The Bible says, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  This means we do not have to clean up to call out to God.  God will reveal to you the things He hates and lead you to repentance.  

              Right now, God simply waits for you to call out to Him: Psalm 86:5-7  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.   Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.  In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. 
          
               You may feel you have gone to far, even for God.  Even if you have burned every bridge, damaged every relationship and driven anyone who ever cared for you away, know this, you are not powerful enough to make God stop loving you.  Romans 8:37-39  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
                 The key line in this is, "nor anything else in all creation".  Not you, not your parents, not your spouse, not your friends, not even Satan himself is powerful enough to cause God to stop loving you.  

              Please do not resist Him. God calls out to you, even now, come just as you are. Call out to Jesus, accept His redemption, allow Him to bring you to His Father, the Master Builder.  

               The Son has paid the price of your redemption. You are precious, valuable and important to the Father.  

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!             

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

SO, WHAT DOES BORN AGAIN MEAN, ANYWAY?

 
     John 3:3 - I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again,                           he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven


               In 1988, while dating my wife, who was a senior in high school, I accompanied her to a school banquet, I was 19.   At our table was a Jewish guy who had informed me he was going to see Stryper that weekend and they were, "pretty good for BACs"  I asked, "what's a BAC?"  He answered, "Born again Christians."  Though there was nothing in my life at the time indicating my profession of faith, I considered myself a "BAC"  so I answered, "We're not all bad."  The kid looked curiously at me and the conversation moved on to other topics.                

      Today, the term born again Christian is pretty common, but what does it really mean to be born again?  What is this term implying?

    Around 1976, thanks in part, to Jimmy Carter, the term Born Again blossomed into the American vernacular.  In his autobiography, then presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, referred to himself as a Born Again Christian.  Also, in 1976, disgraced White House counsel, Chuck Colson released his autobiography, Born Again.  Suddenly, the term was flying around like a balloon without a knot, except this balloon would not quickly run out of air.  

           Pollsters began polling and discovered one third of America considered itself Born Again, even though the term itself was relatively new.  The problem with the term is it is not exactly well understood by many people, even some who apply it to themselves.

This from Franciscan Monk Christopher Heffron: 

"The term born again seems to be a very popular one among my Christian friends, but when I ask one of them to explain it, I do not get a very clear answer. I suspect this term can easily be misused or misinterpreted."


              I conducted a poll of my own, on Twitter, and found a very small percentage of those considering themselves Christian do not consider themselves Born Again or don't know if they are Born Again.  I was encouraged by the results.  I think most people, if asked to explain being Born Again, would relate how they had a life changing moment with God by placing faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins.  This would be a true assessment, but why did Jesus specifically use the words "unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven"?  

           Jesus was not just spouting off some platitude or parable, He was actually laying down some heavy doctrine with this statement.  Jesus was demonstrating the literal nature of the Genesis account, man's inherent alienation from God and God's remedy for our broken relationship, all in one statement.  

          We are all born in a sinful state, separated from God.  Later in the same conversation, Jesus says, John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 
     Indicating we start off lost.  If we do not become lost, we must be born lost.  If we are born lost there must be a reason we are born lost.  Therefore, the fall of Adam in Genesis 3 must be true and we must all be genetically descended from Adam, therefore born with a sin nature which separates us from God.  I refer to this as My Deadly Genetic Disorder .  

         None of us choose to be born.  None of us have a say in our physical heritage.  Like it or not, we are all born into Adam.  Only Jesus, born without the benefit of a human father, is exempt from an inherited sin nature.  No matter how good of a guy your dad was, he was the contributing factor in your sin nature.  
          
         Being born again is literally escaping the ultimate consequence of our sin nature, namely, alienation from God.  As we are reborn by the Spirit of God through the blood of Christ, we are now counted as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.  By being reborn in Christ, we are literally correcting the corruption of our genetic coding. John 1:12  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 

           Being born again goes beyond mere identity, it is a transformation from one thing to another: 2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

           If you consider yourself a Christian yet reject the idea of being born again, you are not rejecting an identity, you are rejecting the very words of the One you claim to follow.  Ironically, there is a growing number of Christ followers who are rejecting the term Christian because of the bad behavior and poor example of many who carry the moniker.  Jesus never told us to become Christians, Jesus did not start a new religion, He called us to be born again into Him, that we might be reconciled to the Father.

        For example, Jews who followed Christ, in the first century church, did not stop being Jews and turn into Christians, Jews who followed Christ in the first century church became born again Jews.  The term Christian originated as a slur for gentile believers who left pagan practice.  

          How does one become born again?  Simply acknowledging Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, understand He fulfilled the Law which we could never accomplish, accepting His death on the cross as payment for our personal sin, understanding the resurrection gives us hope of eternal life with God, and believing Jesus was and is who He said He was.  The Apostle Paul put it best in Romans 10:9-11  because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is
Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 

             Are you born again?  If you are, own it, live it, and share it.  If you are not, Jesus said you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Born Again is not a religion, it is a relationship, a parent child relationship between you and God.  Being born again is not the destination, but the beginning of an amazing journey with God.    

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

WHY RACISM IN THE PEWS?

   
  Revelation 7:9-10  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 

     When is the most segregated time in America? 11:00 AM Sunday morning.  Nothing reveals our view of race, in America, better because it is the only time of the week we are not, by law, forced to mix and mingle with those who look different than us. 

        This is a great tragedy... The church has failed to lead in the matter of Race because the church has bought into a false construct. The idea of Race is not a Biblical concept but a concept of prejudice predicated on the idea of evolution, designed to elevate one group above others based on appearance and regional heritage.  

      Racism is not necessarily ambivalence toward another group, it may be manifested in apathy as well as disdain.

     In reality, we are one race, descended from Noah and Adam before him.  Galatians 3:26-29  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. 

             The Apostle Paul did not establish black churches in one part of town, white churches in another, and Asian churches in another.  Paul set up a church and everyone in town was welcome, regardless of heritage or appearance. How did the church become so segregated and why are we not knocking down these walls of fear and resentment?  

              It cannot be denied, America has a deplorable history, when it comes to ethnic relations. The founding fathers declared, "all men are created equal..." but failed when it came to defining men.  Our nation was founded, not by Christians, as we have been led to believe, but by Deists who denied the deity of Christ and the supernatural elements of faith.  

           Being Deist, these men were free to reject the elements of scripture with which they disagreed.  If you are feeling a little skeptical at this point, Google the Thomas Jefferson Bible and you may be very surprised at what you find.  

           Our Declaration of Independence refers to Native Americans as "Indian Savages", stripping them of basic humanity.  In 1787, the Constitutional Convention of the United States adopted the Three-Fifths Compromise, determining a slave only counted as three-fifths a person in census counting.  Once these two groups were institutionally dehumanized, any abuse, atrocity or injustice became fair game.

            So what does this have to do with the church today?  More than you might imagine.  The Southern Baptist Convention is the single largest protestant denomination in the United States.  The SBC was formed in 1845 when Baptists in the American South split from Baptists in northern states over the issue of slave owners serving as missionaries.  

            Obviously, the SBC would like to forget about it's racist roots and now officially recognizes all groups as created in God's image, but is institutionalized racism so easily shaken among the local pulpits and pews?

           Black Liberation Theology, a movement born out of the Civil Rights era, founded by Dr. James Cone of Union Theological Seminary, whose purpose was to bring the black community into fellowship with God apart from the specter of white racism.  Dr. Cone demonstrated how God was a champion of the oppressed.  Dr. Cone's vision of  BLT was meant to empower a community victimized by institutional racism, so as Dr. Cone rightfully sought to elevate those who had been traditionally held down by a white majority, he failed to encourage a bridge between two communities who resented one another.  

                Dr. Martin Luther King Jr strove to bring unity between blacks and whites, yet his flame was snuffed out by hatred before his efforts could gain the traction needed to reverse two centuries of division.  The assassination of Dr. King only reinforced division and mistrust, fueling BLTs more radical stance on race relations


             Today, as a result of the failure of church leaders, both white and black, to use the cross as a bridge to unity; distrust, division and even hate continues to festers just under the surface, and sometimes, openly above the surface.  Unfortunately, many allow politics to drive faith, when faith should drive, not only our politics, but every aspect of our lives.  

                How can we possibly claim to follow a book which calls us to view all men as made in the image of God and to love those who persecute us while continuing to draw lines of division based on skin color?  

              Obviously, atrocities committed by the white majority of days past cannot be ignored or glossed over.  As long as one group views itself superior, even in an underlying manner, true unity cannot be achieved.  

             If the Church cannot lead the way in healing, the cause is lost.  James tells us, in his epistle: James 2:1  My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 
              In context, James is talking about distinguishing between rich and poor, but can we not apply the call to abhor partiality as it relates to ethnic identity, also?  

              Once we understand the very idea of race is a social construct built on bad science and poor religious application, we can focus on the image of God found in each of His children, regardless of color or national heritage.  

              Where the church fails, the nation fails. Sin the church ignores festers in the nation.  

          What can we do differently?  It starts on the individual level. Each of us must look beyond stereotype and social construct, seeing, rather, each person we meet as a beloved workmanship created in the image of God.  It takes loving as we are commanded to love in scripture.  A love that neither request nor requires anything in return and sees beyond the outer layer to the heart.  It even means loving those who may hate us.

           Institutions are made up of individuals so as long as individuals behave institutionally, bad institutional practices will not be overcome.  What is the answer? You are! I am! You and I are the catalyst for change, but only if we surrender our hearts to God's leading and learn to love as He does.  

            Jesus said, "love your neighbor as yourself."  Who is your neighbor? Everyone you see. We are all one race - the human race- so go mix, mingle, love and share life because we are all made in the image of God!

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!