Friday, December 23, 2011

Is It Time For "Plan B"?

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."-Jeremiah 29:11

It wasn’t the most prestigious job in the world, but it was enough for him. It supplied his family needs, and had great working hours. The benefits package was great. As a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks, neither he nor his wife would ever starve to death. He was given plenty of family time and could even take time off whenever he needed. By all accounts this man was settled in his lifestyle.

The only thing stopping this man from living out this cushy life was God’s plan for him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are Christians Atheists, Too?

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”-Stephen Roberts

In the above quote, Mr. Roberts would have you believe that they are. This quote first appeared around late 1995 as used by Stephen Roberts, an atheist who frequently debated individuals regarding the existence of God. I would like take a look at this quote and break it down and show its logical fallacies.

First, let’s define the word “atheist”.  According to, the word atheist is defined as, “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” Keep this definition in mind as we continue on. Mr. Roberts (and the many others who have adopted this popular tag line) would have you to believe, as the basis of their argument, that you as a Christian are also an atheist. However, is it possible to believe in something (a Supreme Being) and yet deny or disbelieve in the very same thing you believe? It makes such little sense that it is almost dizzying trying to break the logic down! You simply cannot be a believer who disbelieves.  This is the first logical fallacy in Mr. Roberts’ logic.
However, for the sake of argument, we will grant Mr. Roberts the benefit of the doubt and agree that he means we are disbelievers in the other gods which we reject, even though this does not make us atheists. For the sake of argument, we will concede that we do, in fact, disbelieve in any other god.

Mr. Roberts continues his logic by saying that once we understand why we dismiss all the other possible gods, then we will understand why he dismisses our God. The problem Mr. Roberts runs into is that he, either by ignorance or by maliciousness, overlooks the many evidences that support a Christian’s belief in the God of the Bible.

For example, the entire Bible is filled with scientific facts that were recorded in the Biblical scripture before man’s discovery of said facts. In other words, the Bible reveals true scientific facts pre-enlightenment of man, or before man discovered them. Let’s take a look at just a few of these examples;

1) David in Psalms 8:8 alludes to "whatsoever passes through the paths of the sea." It wasn't until 1860 that Matthew Fontaine Maury, a pioneer oceanographer confirmed that there were indeed paths, or currents in the oceans.

2)Isaiah 40:23 states that the Earth was a sphere, "circle of the Earth". This is thousands of years before Columbus sailed for the new world, believing still that the Earth was flat!

3) Job 26:7 said that the Earth hangs on nothing, it is free floating "He suspends the Earth on nothing." Science in those days believed the Earth sat on the back of a large animal. It was not until thousands of years later that we discovered it hung, literally from nothing.

4)Samuel 22:16, Jonah 2:6 says that the bottom of the oceans contained deep valleys and trenches in the floors, "The valleys of the sea were exposed.." We have just recently within the last century gained the technology capable of confirming this claim by viewing the ocean floors!

5) Job 38:16 tells us that the oceans are fed by fresh water springs in the floors, "Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?" Again, we have just recently gained the technology to confirm this.

6) Jeremiah 33:22 says that there is an incalcuble number of stars, "..minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky.." Today, scientists are still trying to count them, and admit there is an infinite number.

I think we would all agree that there is no way for mere men to know these facts as they were recorded thousands of years before they were discovered by science. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg! Would you like to discuss some more?

7) The Earth sits at the perfect distance from the Sun in order to sustain life. If it sat 1/8 of an inch closer, the Earth would be scorched. However, if it were just 1/9 of an inch further away from the Sun, we would freeze to death.

8) Even the Earth's tilt on it's axis is perfect for life. Earth sits at a 23.5 degree angle which is perfect for regulating our summers and winters. This keeps us from being one giant desert due to extended summers, or one giant ice chunk because of extended winters.

9) 70% of our atmospheric oxygen comes from phytoplankton in our oceans. Everyone knows of course that our tides are regulated by the Earth's moon. However, did you know that if the moon was any closer to Earth it would create tidal waves so big it would crush all life? Any further away and the lack of tides would cause the oceans to go stagnant killing all phytoplankton, and oxygen production along with them.

Can God be muted? Can He be silenced by man? In order to deny God, it is not enough for man to just close their hearts to Him, we would also have to close our eyes to the world around us. God's signature is everywhere, and in all things. An atheist would have a better chance of silencing a hurricane than he would at silencing God.

A belief in any other god is lacking in the scientific foreknowledge or evidence that a belief in the God of the Bible. Allah, Zeus, Shivah nor any other “deity” can make the claim that Jehovah God did. It is the duty and responsibility to know these facts because they support their faith, and that is what we are called to do in 2 Timothy 2:15, “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” and 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness”.

Yet, let’s cut to the chase as to what Mr. Roberts is implying when he says, “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” What he’s really implying is that we, as Christians, are ignorant as to our faith and accept it only because of familial or cultural standards. He implies that we reject any other god because they are not the god we were taught to worship in our society. This leaves me with a very perplexing question; “What then is the cultural or societal god that Mr. Roberts grew up being taught to accept?” After all, if we reject all others because of our discriminations then what are the discriminations that Mr. Roberts holds?

The only answer that is left to Mr. Roberts would be himself. Yet, if we cannot accept the existence of god based on the evidences that are available to us, then we commit a logical fallacy by accepting that Mr. Roberts exists based on any evidences that might suggest such. Do you see the circular (and faulty) logic that is presented here? If we reject the existence of someone or something regardless of evidences that points to the existence of one thing, we must be consistent and reject the existence of anything else based on evidences that point to it.

So while this quote may sound witty and seem like a good punch line, we need to see that it has many logical fallacies within it, and should not be considered as a valid argument against the existence of God.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"He Gave"

There is no doubt that it is the most well known, most frequently quoted verse in all the Bible. Little children learn it in Sunday school before they even learn to write their own names. It has been called "The entire Bible summed up in one verse" by those who know the Bible the best. Its words were spoken by the man who knew the Father (and the Father's plans) the best. I'm sure by now you have an idea of which verse I'm referring to..

John 3:16.

Did you immediately quote the verse in your mind after seeing it? I know I do every time I see it. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not parish, but have everlasting life." 

It is a truly beautiful verse, and one that is perhaps taken for granted more than any other. I know I am guilty of taking it for granted, often quoting it as fast as I can, but not really paying attention to what Christ is truly saying in its context. However, that has changed, and with it, my appreciation for what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus that fateful night.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that changed a wretch like me..." We sing the song all the time in church, but its lyrics would be meaningless if not for the message contained in John 3:16. More specifically, if not for two words found within John 3:16;

The words "He gave..".

Two simple words, yet such a powerful thought.

Think about what is being said in those who simple words. Six letters saying so much! God was sinned against by man and was therefore owed justice. Yet, because He loved us so much that 'He gave' in order to bring peace between Him and us. Yes, it was 'Amazing Grace' that changed us from the wretches we once were into His children.

Because of the fact that God is a God of justice (Psalm 89:14), He demanded that a price be paid for man's transgressions, yet because God is also a God of mercy (1 Peter 1:3), He paid the price Himself through His only begotten son, Jesus (John 3:16).

God loves you so much that He gave so that you and I wouldn't have to. The truth is, you and I couldn't pay the price even if we wanted (Rom. 3:23, John 14:6).

What an odd situation by today's standards; The One who was owed was also the One who paid. It is such a foreign concept to us. Yet, despite how foreign it may be, we should always be thankful for those two little words...

"He gave...".

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Wife Is Living Proof Against the Theory of Evolution

Did the title of this article grab your attention? Good! Now, before you decide to come throw me on a spit as retribution for being an apparent male chauvinist pig, please allow me to explain why I chose to title this article as I have.

The title is not meant as an attack against my wife or as an insult to her. I am not saying that she is any less intelligent than in fact, she's the smartest person I know. And it is not that she is any less capable than anyone else. That's because she can also be the most determined person I know. Instead, I chose this title because at the time of this writing my wife Jennifer is 9 weeks pregnant with our first child. Being that this is our first pregnancy, we are experiencing many new things. Many of these things are nice experiences that we are enjoying together, and some of them are decidedly bad that she must endure alone. It is the latter experiences that I am interested in talking about. 

One of the negative effects of being pregnant is commonly known as "morning sickness". What may not be as commonly known about morning sickness is that for a select number of women it is not just morning sickness, but more accurately, "all day and night sickness". Most women do not experience morning sickness to such a drastic degree, but almost all pregnant women will experience some form of it throughout their first trimester. My wife is one of the unfortunate few who experience the all-day-every-day version, and truly seems like the worst experience ever.

This led me to thinking, if evolution were a fact, why haven't women evolved past the point of experiencing the negative effects of pregnancy out of necessity? After all, the definition of evolution is "the gradual  process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form." While I know that this is not the textbook definition, it certainly states the overall concept of the word when scientists speak of biological evolution.

To be clear, please let me say that when I refer to evolution, I am not referring to micro-evolution which is the process of change that happens within a specific species and is contained within that specific species only. For example, we can create new breeds of dogs, yet that genetic change will always create another dog. This is a proven fact that is not in conflict with the Bible. What I am referring is macro-evolution, or the process of change that creates new species from those which are already in existence. An example of macro-evolution would be the belief that man is a direct descendant of apes, which is false. 

According to the National Science Foundation human beings have been in existence for over 200,000 years. While I certainly do not believe this, for the sake of argument I will concede to this estimate. What this means is that (if evolution is a fact) in the past 200,000 years what would eventually become mankind had begun as a single amino acid swimming around in a "primordial soup" to being the highly complex and intelligent beings that we are today. It is no secret to anyone who's passed a fifth grade science class that evolution teaches this false theory. 

What this means is that we have developed from the simplest of creatures to ones who are now able to communicate, build shelters, and do other things that provide for our comfort as a species. However, my problem with believing this is partially due to morning sickness, and the painful experience of giving labor for that matter. We know that the female body experiences changes to its shape and chemical processes to better support the pregnant female. These are obviously beneficial changes that help support the pregnant female and her unborn child. 

However, knowing that these changes happen, I'm left with the question, "Why hasn't evolution 'fixed' the problem of morning sickness, or the pain experienced during pregnancy yet?" After all, it's had over 200,000 years to fix such a 'glitch' in such an otherwise joyous experience? Wouldn't it be in harmony with the theory of macro-evolution that within those 200,000 years man, or more specifically, woman would have evolved to a point that such negative and seemingly unnecessary pains would be eliminated?

The truth is, evolution hasn't addressed the issue because it can't. Genesis 3:13,16 says, "And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat..Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

Once again, the Bible gives an answer to a question that the theory of macro evolution has left unanswered for approximately 200,000 years by the evolutionist's estimate! True science shows that women suffer during the pregnancy and labor experiences. This is a fact. God's word tells us why, while evolution leaves us asking why. Once again, we see that there is no conflict between God's word and true science. 

The truth is, I love my wife very much and I appreciate the grace she has shown in dealing with the negatives while we both get to experience the positives. However, I'm reminded that we're not the first to go through this experience, and as long as mankind will continue to exist on this Earth we won't be the last, and that's because God said so.

The King James Bible

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Altruism vs. Apathy

I cannot think of two concepts more diametrically opposed to one another than those of altruism and apathy. On one hand, you have altruism, which is the very renunciation of concern for ones self, and the exclusive concern for others around you. On the other, you have apathy, which is the complete absence of care for anyone or anything that happens around you. Your only concern is for yourself, and yourself alone.

While these two concepts are polar opposites, they often travel together.

One instance when altruism and apathy showed up at the same place at the same time was when Christ was crucified on the cross.

Christ's willingness to go to the cross and suffer was the ultimate act of altruism in that he had nothing to gain from his suffering, but that the whole world had everything to gain. I've said it 100 times before, and I'll remind you again, crucifixion still stands as the most cruel form of punishment ever created by the human race, and yet Christ-the Son of God, Himself, suffered this for you and me. This is, in fact, the most altruistic act that the world has ever seen.

To take the altruistic nature of Christ even farther, John 19:26-27 explains that at the very height of his pain, while hanging on the cross, Christ's mind was on those whom he loved at his feet. "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." Christ's concern was not for himself, but for his mother, Mary, and his friend, John. Jesus gained nothing personally from making this request.

However, with this amazing expression of altruism came an appalling experience with apathy. The disciple Matthew records the gruesome scene of Christ's crucifixion, but one small detail sticks out to me; the apathetic nature of the soldiers who crucified the Christ.

They knew Christ claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 27:37). They also heard of the miracles he performed that supported his claim (Luke 23:8). They had more than enough reason to believe in and be moved by Christ. However, these men were without emotion. In fact, Matthew says after they hung him on the cross, and cast lots for his clothes, "..they sat and watched him there." (Matthew 27:36).

It is a small detail in the overall large story, but it hits you like the rock from David's sling into Goliath's forehead- right between the eyes. These men knew of Christ's claims, and they knew of the miracles he performed, yet, the Bible says they sat down and without emotion watched Jesus suffer until he was dead.

What is even sadder is that sometimes we can be like these soldiers. Though we know of his heavenly heritage, we know of his selfless sacrifice for us, and though we accept the gift that came from that sacrifice, we sometimes let the world run us down and make us apathetic.

Sometimes because of life, work, home and other stresses, we fall into the category warned against in Revelation 2:4, we become those who "left their first love". Because of our hectic lives Monday through Friday, we are too tired to show love to God on Sunday. And anytime we allow anything to keep us from God, we are no different than those apathetic soldiers. After all, apathy is apathy any way you slice it.

Have we become apathetic or altruistic toward our worship and love for God? Only your heart can answer that, but your actions will announce that decision to those around you.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

He Did This for You

“having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross;” -Colossians 2:14

I’ll never forget my wedding day. It was a beautiful day, one that had, in fact, been three years in the making. Jennifer and I decided we would like to get married on the beach in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, so we found the perfect spot to hold the ceremony. The location was great; we had direct access to the beachfront where we put up chairs for the guests, an arch for the two of us and the preacher to stand under, and a backdrop of the ocean so beautiful, it wasn’t possible to mistake it as anything else but a backdrop given by God.

However, there is another reason why I’ll never forget our wedding day. Of course Jennifer looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her look before, and the music was carefully selected to give our own touch on the entire occasion, but there’s another reason I will never forget that day.

It’s also the day I lit my hand on fire.

Allow me to explain…

Apparently, it was my job, as the groom, to set up the tiki torches that lined the walkway through the sand that extended from the parking lot to the beach front. Somehow in the process of filling the torches with fuel I had managed to spill some on my hand. I was in such a hurry, racing against the clock before the ceremony began, that I hadn’t even noticed. It was only until I went back to the first torch and lit the lighter that I had realized the ‘error of my ways’. The small flame from the lighter had very quickly become a large flame engulfing my hand. Had I not been a trained professional (and by that I mean I served as a volunteer firefighter in college for the local city, which meant I had hardly any training at all), this incident could have ruined my wedding day.

I quickly became two people at once; the panicked patient, as well as the cool professional. 

Luckily, when you’re on the beach, there is an abundance of one thing- Sand. Lots and lots of sand. So I did what any other highly trained professional would do; I buried my hand in the sand and smothered the flame. After burying my hand, I wanted to bury my head. Luckily, aside from some singed arm hair and pride, I managed to escape completely unharmed.

However, I am not the only bridegroom to sacrifice a hand for his bride. There’s no doubt that Christ was a powerful man, both physically and spiritually. He gained his physical strength doing the demanding work of a carpenter. He made a living gripping heavy pieces of wood and using brute strength to manipulate them into place.Yet he refused to use that tremendous strength to simply close his hand and form a fist and save himself.

Rather than feel a nail pierce his flesh, he could have felt the hand of an angel lift him gently off that cross. But he didn’t. And do you know why? He allowed himself to suffer because of his love for his bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Christ was not focused on his immediate well-being, but on the long-term well-being of his bride (Rev. 21:1,2).
In my mind, he didn’t so much as flinch when he saw the nail but rather said, “Bring it on.”

When they cast lots for his clothes in John 19:23, he thought, “You can have them. I’m trading them in for robes that are white as snow soon.”

When they put a crown made of thorns upon his head, he accepted it because he knew he would soon trade it for a ‘Crown of Righteousness’ (2 Tim. 4:8).

When they sealed his tomb, he thought, “Don’t worry, my Father will open it again in three days. He’s got a key to every door.”

Christ did all this because of a love for his bride, which is the church. And you know what the best part of all of this is? It’s not the fact that he didn’t call on the angels. It’s not the fact that he rose again on the third day and left his tomb. Rather, it’s the fact that he did it for you.

In the scheme of things, lighting my hand on fire on my wedding day doesn’t even compare to the sacrifice Christ made for his bride. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even use the tiki torches because I confused the directions and had lined the wrong walkway, thereby making my ‘sacrifice’ pointless.

Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t pointless. He held his hand open for you. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

The Art of Self-Forgiveness

But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:15).

You're in the grocery store picking up a few things when someone accidentally bumps into you. They give a quick apology, and you shuffle on without giving it a second thought.

Your husband walks in the door from a very long day, after grinding out a very long week, and he's a little snappy with you. But, being the good husband that he is, he eventually apologizes and you forgive him. Life is beautiful in your household once again, and the Brady Bunch is left in a fog of envy.

However, what happens if we turn the stakes up a little? What if you find out that the person you've considered to be one of your best friends had actually sold you out? I mean, how could they, right?! Friendship betrayal is serious a kind of pain, but it happened between Jesus and Judas, didn’t it? Even then, had Judas repented, forgiveness could have been given. Don’t believe me? Tell me the difference between Judas and Peter.
But what if we made it a little more ‘close to home’? This is one that we have all dealt with, and if we haven’t yet, just wait—it will. And when it does, it will make us all uncomfortable. We know we can forgive others, but...

What about you forgiving you?

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever done something that you wish you hadn’t? Something that you wish you could take back? There’s always that one incident that haunts you. For some, it’s that first drug hit that leads you to years of life in a downward spiral. For others, the decision to cut off a family member from your life, only to find out they are killed weeks later, without making amends. How do you forgive yourself of something like this?

In the movie "Get Low", the character Felix Bush is a hermit who secludes himself in a self-made prison in the hills of Tennessee for something he decides is so horrible that he cannot come to forgive himself. Instead, he couldn't see the simple answer to God's forgiveness because he had let his fallible, human emotions keep him from seeing it. Instead, he believed repentance had to come at a much steeper price.

I tell you this to ask you a question: Why is it so much easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves? We can forgive the person in the grocery store. We can forgive the grumpy spouse. We can even eventually forgive the backstabbing friend.

But why can't we give forgiveness to ourselves?

Like many things, the solution lies in identifying the underlying problems.

First, we must recognize that it is so much harder to forgive ourselves of something (regardless of its seriousness) because we feel the guilt and the hurt, whereas when someone else hurts us, all we feel is the hurt. This means we are struggling to overcome two negative emotions at once rather than just the one.

Second, sometimes, like Felix Bush, we don't feel like we're worthy of forgiveness. However tempting it is to hold to this belief, we must-and I emphasis must- get rid of this notion if we are to survive both emotionally, and spiritually. After all, if God, who is far more holy and righteous than we are, can forgive us, then why can't we forgive ourselves? Are we to hold ourselves to a higher standard of righteousness than He who created the very concept of righteousness? I don't know any rational person who would admit to this, but their actions may say otherwise. And which one speaks louder, actions or words?

Third, we must base our faith in the cleansing power of Christ's blood. To believe that self-forgiveness is an impossibility in any circumstance is a dangerous belief, and is as corrosive as acid. It eats away at our trust and faith in God until one day there is nothing left to believe in. If it is not for the redemptive power of Christ's forgiveness, then we have no relationship with the Father at all. After all, if we say that we cannot be forgiven of a specific sin then we diminish the blood of Christ, which is able to make us clean again. We are commanded to forgive men of their trespasses, and nowhere in that passage do I read an exemption clause saying that you don't have to forgive yourself.

After all, isn't forgiveness forgiveness, regardless of to whom it goes? It matters from whom--but not to whom—including yourself. It ultimately comes down to your relationship with the Father, and a trust in His perfect plan. Do you forget the incident that you did that brought the guilt and hurt? Not even in a perfect world. But do you dwell on it and continue to beat yourself up daily? Satan would love for you to conform to the world's way of operating, dwelling on the issue for the rest of your life. But we are called not to be conformed, but rather to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

And a transformation, in this case, means forgiveness. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Praying for a Drought

"Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof." Psalm 65:9,10

Living here at the beach makes it seem like an almost alien concept. After all, the tide comes and goes, each time rising to the same mark in the sand as the time before. The water level never fails to reach its pre-determined height in the sand, so the concept of a drought is almost...well, absurd.

The consequences of a drought here at the beach in Florida are almost non-existent. A lack of rain here never affects someone's livelihood, only their water bill. If the rain fails to fall, you just adjust your lawn sprinkler timer. However, growing up in the farm country of The Ozarks, I am keenly aware of the consequences of a drought. So serious are its repercussions in that part of America that the very livelihoods of families depend on the simple act of rain falling from the sky.

The contrast between these two places are polar opposites. Here at the beaches, people pray for sunshine on their days off of work. In the Ozarks, people pray for rain so they can continue to work. But what about a Christian? Should we pray for rain, or a drought? Let us examine this question from a unique perspective.

Galatians 6:7 says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (emphasis mine). Simply put, whatever a man puts out, that is what he can expect to return. If you are a man of evil and wicked ways, you can expect a life of hardship. If, however, you are someone who forgives his enemies, you can expect forgiveness from your Heavenly Father in return.

David, in Psalm 51 prayed to God for forgiveness for his actions with Bathsheba. Specifically, David prayed that God would "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness..." (Psalm 51:14). David prayed that God would withhold the consequences (i.e., spiritual death) of his evil deeds, and in effect, prayed for a drought. David knew very well the concept of cause and affect. A harvest must first be planted as seeds that are sown, and Davids' actions were the seeds that would grow into his spiritual separation from God.

As Christians, we have the ability and the right to pray the same prayer that David prayed. The prayer of forgiveness. Just because we are Christians does not mean that we will live the rest of our lives blameless. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The key word is all. Not just some, or a few, or those born on January 28th. For ALL have sinned. But in the very next verse, Romans 3:24 says, "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,". 

Just like King David did in Psalm 51:3, we have the ability to acknowledge our transgressions and be forgiven of them by asking that God purge our sins, and hide His face from our iniquities (Psalm 51:7-9).

For those whose lives depend on rain, it would almost seem counter-productive, but a Christian should pray for a drought. A seed that's been sown-whether good or bad- cannot grow without rain. Could you imagine having to pay for every single sin you commit yourself? It would be impossible! After all, as the old saying goes, "When it rains, it pours." So while it may be true that the farmer requires rain for his Earthly well-being, the Christian depends on a drought to hold onto his spiritual life.

So regardless of whether you live at the beach, or you plow fields for a living, the next time you pray to God, be sure you pray that He sends a drought your way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Man Who Betrayed Christ Yet Kept His Integrity

The world Integrity is defined as "a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility."

It's the last part of this definition that catches my attention. Incorruptibility. Just the very word leaves the impression of strength. The inability to be swayed from one's moral compass.

The scene opens up with Jesus and His Apostles sitting in the upper room partaking in the passover feast. Jesus had just revealed to His followers that one of them would betray Him, and as would be expected, they began to question who it would be. But there was no questioning on Jesus' part. He knew exactly who would betray Him. He knew whose kiss would seal His fate. Someone belonging to Jesus' inner circle had a momentary lapse of integrity. At the very least, they were not incorruptible.

However, Peter being true to his nature, stood up in front of the other Apostles, and in an attempt to set himself above the rest, proudly declared that he would go to the death with Jesus (John 13:37). I can imagine the scene in my mind. With his body half turned toward Jesus, and half turned to the others, Peter swears such an allegiance while beating his right fist against his chest in an act of dramatics.

However, Jesus had to deliver bad news to Peter as well.

Not only would Judas Iscariot betray Christ, but Simon Peter would also deny Him. And not just once, but three times before the cock would crow (John 13:36-38).

"Impossible!" Peter said.

"Wait and see, then." replied Christ.

I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus knew what fate would become of Judas Iscariot, and He had the wisdom to resign Himself to it. However, Jesus didn't give up hope on Simon Peter.

Two men, both committing what essentially amounts to the same crime against Jesus. In this instance, denial is betrayal. It doesn't matter how you cut it. The two are inseparably linked. Two men committing essentially the same act, yet two different paths were taken by each man. Judas Iscariot sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. At the very moment Peter opened his mouth and uttered the final denial, the cock opened its mouth and crowed the fulfillment of Jesus' words.

And it's at that very moment that Jesus' eyes met Peters. I was perhaps this look from Jesus that saved Peter from sharing Judas' fate.

Both men had lost their integrity. One loss was made permanent, but one was only temporary. In fact we know that Simon Peter went on to be a great leader for the early church, and even delivered the first sermon after Christ's crucifixion. Talk about a come back!

I often wonder what was going through Jesus' mind when He looked into Simon Peter's eyes early that morning (Luke 22:61,62). I can only speculate, but I don't believe it was spite or anger or an "I told you so!" attitude. These thoughts would have been completely against Christ's character. In fact, Jesus had probably already forgiven Peter, and was thinking about how great of a leader he would go on to be, despite this minor slip-up. Jesus could recognize talent, and He saw it in Peter.

Yet, here we still have a crossroads. Two men, two acts, two decisions to be made. We have an instance where one man had a momentary lapse of integrity, and betrayed Jesus at His weakest hour, yet he went on to recover. On the other hand, we have a man who did the same exact thing, yet didn't even attempt to recover his integrity. He went out and resigned himself to his self-imposed fate.

So the question is, who decides if we have integrity or not? The answer is only we can make that decision. To me, this is rooted in the fact that it doesn't matter if you have a lapse of integrity, what matters is what you do after the lapse.

Did Peter collapse under pressure and become momentarily corrupted? Yes.

Is that all he is known for? No.

 Did Judas Iscariot become momentarily corrupted? Yes.

Is that what he is known for? Pretty much.

What is sad is that Judas was not beyond forgiveness for his actions, yet he resigned himself to a fate that did not need to be. It's true that we are in fact human and subject to a lapse of integrity on occasion. Having integrity does not mean never stumbling, but rather whether you pick yourself back up or not. Peter betrayed Christ, yet he was able to recover and keep his integrity. The old saying is, "It doesn't matter how to run the race, but whether or not you finished it." .

So you've made some mistakes in life. Do you go out and resign yourself to your fate, like Judas? Or do you take a queue from Peter and look Jesus in the eyes, accept His forgiveness, and cross the finish line upholding your integrity?

Only you can make that choice. So what will it be?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Power In Perseverance

From my desk in my office at home, I can look out the window and I can see almost my entire back yard. I've sat at my desk and looked out this window dozens-if not hundreds- of times before, but something today caught my eye.

Last year, I blocked off an area in the right rear corner of the yard with chicken wire to keep my dog, Bailey, out of it. He loves to run and play in the back yard, but this was somewhere I'd rather he didn't tread. Anyway, inside this 20'x20' space I grew all different herbs, spices, peppers and melons. I grew Habanero Peppers, Basil, Oregano, Blackberries, Blueberries, and even the sweet Spanish Chayote. However, the fact of the matter is that last spring and summer here in Florida was exceptionally hot. We even broke hundred year old records for the longest consecutive heat waves and going the most days without rain fall. Summer was so brutal that in reality, few plants had a fighting chance at survival through the summer, let alone to regenerate this year. The conditions were simply not right for growth. So, after all the plants were done producing, we tore the wire fence down and relinquished the corner back into Bailey's control.

However, today as I sat down at my desk and opened my blinds, I looked out to the old garden (of which I admittedly have done nothing to this season), and see a couple of plants beginning to sprout up. I was stunned because I was certain that everything would have to be replanted after such an unforgiving summer, and the winter snaps. I guess I just underestimated the persistence of these plants. 

There's a certain wonderful mystery in perseverance. It is essentially the inability to give up. The very word of perseverance means the steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose, despite opposition or discouragement. God gave us the first example of perseverance by not destroying man after their disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Genesis Ch. 3).

Perseverance was shown when Joshua's troops marched around the city of Jericho wielding trumpets instead of swords. Surely they must've been thinking Joshua was sending them out on a suicide mission (Joshua 6:1-27). But, they marched on anyway and by quitting time on the 8th day, Jericho had fallen.

Perseverance was shown when Naaman dipped 7 times into the filthy River Jordan in order to come out clean. Weren't the rivers back home cleaner and more likely to do the trick (2 Kings 5:1-19)? But Naaman dipped into the River Jordan anyway, and found the proverbial 'Fountain of Youth'.

Perseverance is Job not saying, "Yes, Dear" to make his wife happy by "just cursing God and dying" (Job  2:9). Instead, Job scraped the boils off, had a conversation with God, and rebuilt his life bigger than before.

Just as there is wonder in this plant that's growing for a second season, there's wonder in all of God's creation. The Church which Christ built, the Church of Christ, is no exception. There is a wonderful purpose in Christ creating His church. We as Christians, like this plant, have the odds stacked against us. However, just as the plant is able to get enough nutrients, food, and water from the surrounding soil to persevere and grow, we too get enough spiritual nourishment from the church to continue our growth. Make no mistake, Christ created His church in part so that His followers can count on, and rely on each other to stay faithful (Hebrews 10:25).

Just as sure as the tide goes in and out, you can believe that you and I will stumble and get discouraged in our daily walk with Christ. And it won't happen just once. It will be a lifetime of sore knees and bruised egos. The question is whether you're going to go at it alone, or if you're going to allow others to pick you up and dust you off?

Monday, May 2, 2011

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure

"One man's trash is another man's treasure."

At least that's how the saying goes, anyway. I remember when I was a kid riding through the neighborhood with my dad, and sinking low into the seat as I watch him pull over to inspect what someone had put out to the curb as trash. Now, to be fair this wasn't their regular household trash, but things like an old entertainment center, an old TV, or perhaps a coffee table. I thought to myself that maybe they were items that they had tried to offload in a yard sale the previous weekend, but nobody bought them, and they just wanted to get rid of it. At least that's what I told myself in order to make myself feel better.

I vaguely remember it always looking something like this.
My dad was a pro at it, too! It didn't matter what was on the side of the road, my dad could get it home. And in one trip, guaranteed. You could put him in a Pinto with a wife and three kids and he'd still be able to get an entire bedroom suit home, including a set of bunk beds. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. The funny thing is, that growing up I thought that he was the only person alive who ever did something like that. Come to find out, it's a very common practice! Though, I didn't know this until I met my wife and found out her dad does the same thing! "Hallelujah!" I thought to myself. What a sigh of relief! Sure, my dad was still weird, but he was not alone in his weirdness! The bad news was, now I had to deal with riding down the road with a father-in-law who stops at piles. And the tradition was passed on to Jen's younger brother, David. In fact, as I write this, my guest bedroom (which used to belong to David when he lived with us) still houses a couple of these "recycled" items that he had picked up throughout his college years.

Just yesterday, I was out talking with my neighbors who had just cleared out their garage and made a "junk pile" out by the curb to be picked up at trash day. As we spent the afternoon talking, at least two vehicles driving by stopped to check out what was in the pile. However, this is not something new, something thought up by people who live in a society of over-abundance. In fact, it has been going on for hundreds of years.

The scene was early 1500's Europe, around the time Martin Luther was sending his translation of the Bible to the printing presses. It's in this period of Europe when a young typesetter's daughter was playing in her father's shop. As she played, she came across a crumbled up piece of paper that had the words, "for God so loved the world that He gave". No ending was given, no conclusion, no completion of the thought. The sentence simply was not finished.

The sentence was not finished, but what was said changed this little girl. With little knowledge of God, or of His Word, she had grown up terribly afraid of God. Yet, there she stood, holding the words that made that fear seem... unnecessary. Suddenly, she felt an ease come over her in regards to God. The little girl stuck that piece of paper in her pocket and ran home.

When she arrived, she pulled the paper out of her pocket and showed her mother. Her mother, like her daughter, had very little knowledge of God or His word. However, the mother read the words anyway. 

"For God so loved the world that He gave" 

Again, no completion of thought. No ending to the sentence. No ending to this sentence left the mother baffled. Confused, she asked her daughter, "Well? What was it that He gave?" The daughter simply smiled at her mother and replied, "I don't know, but whatever it was, it must've been wonderful, because He loves us."

How much simpler can you make the Gospel message? The entire life-no, world-changing Gospel message was summed up for this little girl, found on a piece of paper that had been crumbled up and discarded by her typesetter father. Where he surely read a mistake or a typo, she read a message of hope and love.

And she was changed forever by it.

The fact of the matter is that God doesn't have to give us anything. However, He loves us so much that He gave the most precious gift that any parent could ever dream of parting with-His beloved Son. I wonder what the mother would have thought if she had been able to read the rest of John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not parish but have everlasting life." I suppose I'll never really know the answer to that question, though I can speculate that, being a parent herself, the significance of what was given would not have been lost on her.

What I do know though is two things:

1) The act of carrying home another person's trash started hundreds of years before my dad did it, and;

2) Sometimes, one persons trash truly can be a treasure. A treasure that has the power to change lives. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The "3 Year Glitch" Replaces the "7 Year Itch"

This week is very exciting for my wife and me. No, we haven't won the lottery or bought a million dollar house, but something even more exciting than those things have happened for us. While those things would be nice, they are tangible things that regardless of upkeep will eventually fade away. Money is spent, houses eventually require repair and are even subject to destruction by nature. Regardless, Jennifer and I are still winners in our own rights. The thing we won is not subject to any other destructive force except ourselves. Allow me to explain.

This Friday marks our 5 year marriage anniversary, and we are excited. Not only because it's an exciting time, but because we've survived through the tough times. British researchers recently studied the relationships of over 2,000 couples who were in marriages or long-term relationships and the results surprised them. What they found was that the traditional "7 Year Itch" that Jennifer had been warned about the days leading up to our marriage by those who were older and wiser than us had in fact been replaced by what is now termed the "3 Year Glitch". The researchers found that todays couples, who suffer from the lowered attention span, shorter tempers, and a social comfortability with divorce that was absent before are now more likely to leave one another over their minor annoyances rather than work through them. 

The Passion Killers
(Courtesy of Men's Health)
The replacement of the "7 Year Itch" with the "3 Year Glitch" isn't necessarily a bad thing. While the reasons for the switch are not good, it doesn't automatically spell doom for a couple who is determined to work their way through the problems causing the 'glitch'. That is because the reasons the researchers found responsible for the 'troubles in paradise' were minor problems. Things such as weight gain (which was the #1 reported problem), snoring, lack of romance and antisocial working hours were responsible. However, there is commonality in every one of these reasons: They're completely fixable! 

Should we seriously believe that your spouses' lapsed fashion, or their stray fingernail cuttings is a logical reason to divorce someone? First, thinking about this from a strictly secular point of view, do you realize how much time and effort is involved in a divorce? A lawyer costs thousands of dollars, and the price only goes up from there if it is a contested divorce! Then we come to the issue of time. Many states have laws that require a period of time to pass (Tennessee for example requires 3 months after filing) before a divorce can be finalized. Through all of this, you're paying. In time, money, and emotional baggage, you're paying. Isn't it cheaper, and easier to just ask them to clip their nails over the trash and move on with your comparatively hassle-free life? I understand that for the most part, this is trivializing some people's reasons for divorce, but the data speaks for itself. 

But then we come to the religious aspect of the divorce problem. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says that these reasons listed above simply are not good enough. The only reason that is allowed for a divorce is an act of fornication. Not the way they cut their fingernails, the fact that they've put on weight since you met, and no, not even the fact that he refuses to give up that ratty college sweatshirt that is holding on by a thread (though this one has been debated as valid grounds). 

So how can a couple who is currently going through the dreaded "3 Year Glitch" overcome it to move on to a healthy relationship? The answer is surprisingly simple.

Compliments and physical touch.

That's right, compliment each other every day. It has been proven that if a couple compliments each other regularly, this creates a more accepting atmosphere toward each other. It is a fact that irritation and tension cannot co-exist in the same dynamic as understanding and appreciation. If you appreciate someone, you are less apt to feel tension toward them, and if you understand where they are coming from, then you are (usually) less irritated by their actions. And understanding and appreciation are most conspicuously expressed verbally, through compliments. In a house where arguments, insults, and put-downs are the norm, a compliment can serve as the necessary shock to jump start the hearts to beating again. 

But what about touch? It is equally as important to the dynamic of a relationship as compliments. That is because just a few instances of skin to skin contact per day releases what is known as 'oxytocin' into the blood stream. Oxytocin is a natural stress reliever and makes the brain feel connected to that which caused the release. You need to be that cause! 

Realistically, divorce should not be an option for a vast majority of the cases that end up in family courts across the nation. A more strict adherence to Matthew 19:9, and a healthy practice of these principles can save a marriage that seems to be on the brink of doom. Couples should be allowed to lean on one another in troubling times, not be afraid of each other. There's enough stress to deal with out in the world without having to deal with fighting at home. Compliments, patience, understanding, and appreciation can conquer all things. Before you pull the trigger on frustration, pull the trigger on appreciation

After all, Mark 10:9 says, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.", not "What therefore God hath joined together, let toe nail clippings put asunder."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Enemies: Gotta Love 'Em!

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."-Matthew 5:43-45

Have you ever stopped and thought about the fact that work is called 'work' for a reason? I mean, it's not called, 'play' or 'fun'. It's called work because it is the place where you work! The fun place is attached to McDonald's, and is where you find children acting like children. However, the childish behavior doesn't always stay with children, or in the McDonald's play place. It can sometimes slip its way into the otherwise adult world known as the work place. And its usually smuggled in through the back door by a co-worker who never grew up and left the play place.

So how do you handle something like an immature co-worker who spends none of their time working, and all their time backstabbing others, gossiping, talking trash or doing anything else destructive? It's like this person is allergic to kindness and can't stand a day without drama, yet you have to deal with them. After all, you're too young for retirement yet but you're too far into your career to just quit now. So what can you do?

First: You must realize that the character flaw isn't yours.

This is important to understand because when we are the victim of gossip, backstabbing and the like, we often look to ourselves for blame. The thought is usually along the lines that if we can just find out what it is about ourselves that makes the other person dislike us so much, we could correct that flaw, thereby making them like us again. The problem with this is that it doesn't put the blame where it belongs. The person doing the backstabbing, or teasing is the one with the character flaw. 

They usually involve themselves in this kind of mistreatment of others because they are uncomfortable with attention falling on them. Their mindset is that if they don't point out flaws in others, people will notice the flaws they have, and that is unacceptable. What they don't realize is that by always putting others down, they put the biggest spotlight on themselves. The worst thing you can be known as is not as someone who has an annoying laugh, or messy hair, or even a bad sense of humor. No, the worst thing you can be known for is being someone others can't trust. Someone who is alone, because you've pushed everyone away. 

I want you to imagine that person who is doing the backstabbing as looking into a mirror. The mirror is representative of the rest of the world (you and others around you). However, rather than seeing other people for who you really are, what they see is the reflection of themselves in that mirror and trust me, they don't like what they see. That is why they feel they have to run others down. Because they don't like what they see in the mirror, they want others to view you like they view themselves. Doing so actually makes them feel better because for that moment people are not focusing their attention on the defects that is actually in the mirror-them!

Second: Leave the things that happen at work at work!

When I was a police officer in my rookie year, I wanted to be the very best police officer that ever walked through the door at my first agency. I went overboard and almost ruined my home life. That is because I allowed myself to never have a day off. It's funny that it's called a day off, because you're supposed to take the day off from the stresses of work, and re-charge your batteries. That is the reason why employers give them in the first place, because they understand that they are needed in order to have employees who perform at their very peek levels. However, we sometimes allow ourselves to be so wrapped up with work, that the job literally takes over our lives. I forgot that I was a husband, son and brother. I allowed the perceived needs of the department come before the actual needs of my family by working 30+ hours overtime in a pay period. 

But you know what happened when I started cutting back on the overtime? The walls of the police department stayed standing, the other officers didn't die, reports were still finished on time, and the crime rate didn't skyrocket. However, I did start sleeping better and my home life improved. Because I got my priorities in line at work, it improved my home life. I was no longer glued to the phone in case work called, and my days off were more refreshing.

I know, you don't think that it's that bad with you yet. Let me ask you, when you get home from work does your mind still worry about what happened throughout the day? Does what that person said still bother you hours after you supposedly unwind? When you're on your day off, are you always waiting by the phone in case work calls? Do you spend your down time getting caught up on projects, or planning the following week? Do you dread the next day at work because you'll have to face the backstabber? If you answered 'yes' to any of these, you may need to re-evaluate what takes priority. 

You have to remember that work is where you go to earn a living, not where you go to live. Did you catch that? You do not live at work, you go to work to support your life. There's a big difference. Being able to recognize the difference will help keep criticism from others in perspective when it happens. If work itself doesn't define you then neither will the opinions of a sarcastic backstabbing coworker.

Third: Look for opportunities to follow a perfect example.

What is the ultimate act of betrayal that you could think of? Have you ever had someone you trusted steal something from you? What about breaking their promise? Have you ever had a significant other leave you for someone else? All of these would seem like pretty serious offenses of betrayal, yet I can still think of one far worse.

How about one of your closest, most trusted friends literally selling you out to people who want nothing more than to kill you? Not only does he give you up for money, but he leads them directly to you so that they can kidnap you? And during your trial, the friend who said he would defend you to the death denies knowing you not once, not twice, but three times. Wouldn't that be a serious betrayal? The people I'm referring to is obviously Jesus and his apostles, Judas and Peter. Jesus was betrayed by two of his closest friends, to be kidnapped and ultimately put to death all alone. I can think of no worse act of betrayal or backstabbing than that done by the apostles to Jesus. However, being perfect as Jesus was, He found opportunity even in these repugnant acts.

The fact is, Jesus was able to turn acts of betrayal into acts that ultimately served Gods purpose. Judas, though he betrayed Jesus, served Gods purpose by initiating the act that shed perfect blood. It is this blood that now makes atonement for our acts of betrayal against God in our many sins. Through Peter's denial, which Jesus predicted beforehand, taught Peter to fully trust in Gods word. Like many lessons in life, it was learned the hard way. Yet it was a lesson that Peter was able to utilize to be the leader of early Christians that God needed him to be. 

So what about you? Are you able to find some positive aspect in an act of betrayal? I suppose it would depend purely on the individual circumstance, however, we know of at least one positive aspect of every troubling time- it builds patience. James 1:2-4 says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Do you find pleasure in the fact that you are going through a hard time at work? No, that would be ridiculous, and that's not what James is saying. What he is saying is turn those hard times into something positive that you can learn and gain from. Doing so will grow your patience. Don't hold on to hard feelings, whether they be directed toward other people, or at situations themselves. Doing so does nothing to change the person, or the event. It only changes you because it makes you bitter. 

Hurt feelings only make you bitter, never better. Think about it, God, who is far wiser than us doesn't hold on to hurt feelings. He forgives our shortcomings time and time again (1 John 1:9), and He wants us to forgive others also. In fact, we cannot expect forgiveness of our sins if we cannot forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:15). When we realize the motivating factor behind someone's negative actions is usually to cover their own personality flaws, suddenly the sting of emotions is not as severe. Remember to keep your priorities in perspective. You work to live, not live to work. Jesus set the example for us in dealing with all things, including dealing with hurt caused by others. Look for a positive in all negative, but be warned: it may take you a minute to find it. So while you look for it, go ahead and offer the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perception Is Reality: Managing Stress

How do you keep a guy like the Apostle Paul down? Think about it for a minute. If you leave him alone, he'll convert the whole world. If you put him in jail, he converts the jailer. If you put him in prison for years, he writes over half the New Testament. If you threaten him with execution, he tells you you're doing him a favor! You can't keep a guy like that down, and it is all because of one reason.


In my conversations with people about stress, one thing continues to stick out to me. Life depends on our attitudes. It doesn't matter what our circumstances are. What matters is our attitudes to these circumstances. The old adage is, "perception is reality." While I'm not 100% sold on this concept for every situation, I do believe that our perception can alter our reality.

I understand that this is easier said than done. Trust me, I know. When the bank account depletes and the bills grow, it is hard to find a reason to have a good attitude about that. Or what about being a mother-to-be, who is going through a divorce? Where's the silver lining in that thundercloud? It's easy to believe that it doesn't exist. After all, to a person who doesn't worry about altering their perception, a broke check book will never be full enough, and a broken heart will never mend. But notice that both of these problems are found in their perception of the events. Sure, you can work harder or longer hours at work to fill the bank, but again, "more money, more problems." If your perception or attitude about problems is not drastically changed, you're doomed to suffer the same debilitating fate.

Stress is a crusher. There is no doubt about it. In a 10 year study by cardiologists of men aged 35-59, it was found that people who do not properly manage their stress (Type-A personalities) more than double their risk for coronary heart disease. I know this to be true from personal experience. When I worked as a Corrections Officer for the State of Tennessee, I was stressed to the max. In fact, I was 21 years old and taking blood pressure medicine. The fact was, I was not managing my stress. I was allowing my stress manage me.

But let's focus back on Paul. How did Paul manage his stress? If you read any of his letters to the early church, one thing stands out above the rest. Paul did not worry about himself, and if he did, he certainly didn't complain about it. In fact, overwhelmingly, his letters dealt with uplifting, encouraging, and correcting others in their spiritual walk (Phil 4:8). He instructs others to avoid those who would cause stress (Romans 16:17), and rebuked those who created turmoil, regardless of their position in the church (Galatians 2:11). Paul was on the track of living a stress free life.

But how is that possible for a guy who spent almost 4 1/2 years locked up in some form of jail? He recognized the things that were worth his time and effort to change, and the things that weren't. He knew the difference. This was Paul's way of managing stress, and it apparently worked well for him.

So what about you? Do you know the difference? Can you recognize the things you can change, and those you cannot? Are you managing stress, or is stress managing you? When it comes to managing stress, each person is different in what works for them. But each person must find that 'thing'. What are you doing to affect your perception toward your reality? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chris Vest, Guns and Amazing Grace

Chris and his fiancée, Krystl Miller

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;"-Matthew 5:44

How do you define grace? How would you explain it to someone who has no concept of the word? The number of different answers to this question may very well be dependent only on the number of different people you ask. However, like anything else, the concept of grace is perhaps best understood when an example is first given.

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines Grace as "a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency". While other definitions are given, this is perhaps the most understood concept of the word. Grace can be a hard thing to learn. Often times we expect grace for ourselves from others, yet we're not so quick to give it. We tend to wait a very long time before it is given to others, if we even give it at all.

However, that wasn't the case for Chris Vest the night of March 17th, 2011. You may know Chris best as the drummer for one of my favorite bands Framing Hanley. Recently, Chris and his fellow band mates played a show in Poughkeepsie, New York as part of the American leg of their tour promoting their new album. They had just wrapped up the show and Chris went to grab some takeout from a restaurant near the venue when the unthinkable happened. Chris found himself, along with his tour manager, being chased by a man who tried to rob them.

Remember when I said that Chris displayed grace during the incident? What happened during this understandably terrifying event was when Chris' grace kicked in. He was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about this incident.

(KEY: MS-Mike Swims, CV-Chris Vest)

MS: "Whether the threat of violence was real or not, you were recently a victim of a crime where violence was threatened against you. How did this go down?"

CV: "I went to get some food after playing a show. The place was a block or two away from the venue in Poughkeepsie,NY. When I walked into the restaurant I started getting hasseled by a guy to give him money. Not like your typical street lurker though, very forceful and telling me to give him money. I knew that I was going to be hassled as soon as I left. I got on the phone with the my tour manager (Amir) as I left so I could call for help if it was needed. As I walked out I gave the guy the rest of my change and as I put it in his hand he tried to grab my food out of my hand. I let my tour manager know what was going on and he came running to help. The guy let go knowing that help was on the way and I walked away as quick as possible. I kept checking back to make sure that he wasn't following me. My tour manager caught up with me and we walked back to the venue as I was telling him what happened. As I was talking to him the same guy rides by on a bike and tries to snatch my food out of my hand again. Amir kicked his bike as he went by and the guy stopped in the middle of the road and acted like he was reaching for a gun. We both immediately ran for cover and Amir called the cops. The guy continued to chase after us while reaching for a gun. Once we got into a crowded area with more people around he took off. The cops showed up shortly after and began a search for him. They found him within a few minutes but after searching him he had no weapon on him. He may have been bluffing the entire time or he may have gotten rid of what he had. Either way, because he had nothing on him at the time there was nothing that the cops could really hold him on."

MS: "Many people believe that God allows us challenges to overcome in order to better prepare us for difficult times we will face in the future. You had a similar incident happen before. Do you believe that the first incident was used to prepare you to recognize this potentially deadly situation, and help you react appropriately?"

CV: "Yes, In some ways I do. The incident I went through before was much more severe. I actually had a gun put to the back of my head and trapped in a place where no one could see me or come for help. I didn't have quite as strong of a faith then as I do now. The first time all that went through my head was "I'm about to die" and how much it was going to hurt my family. There is no doubt that God was watching over me and protecting me. Without him I certainly wouldn't be alive right now. This time I instantly felt something wrong and began praying to God for His protection. I knew that he was the only thing I needed to get through the situation and he delivered me from it."

MS: "Wow! Your first robbery made the second seem like day camp! What was the first thing that went through your mind when it actually happened?"

CV: "I went through a bunch of emotional swings that completely wrecked me at the time. At first I was scared, then shocked, then angry, then I was thankful. I just couldn't really get my emotions under control. I kept switching back and forth from one feeling to another after it happened. It brought up a lot of my feelings from the last incident and really made me do a lot of thinking."

MS: "You’re engaged to get married, and she was shopping for her wedding dress the day you were mugged. How did you break the news to her about what happened? It seems there is no good way to make that call."

CV: "No, there was absolutely no good way to break that to her. We were just beginning to date when the first occurrence happened and it was already hard on her then so I knew it was going to be extremely hard this time. She knows me better than anyone in the world and she could instantly tell that something was wrong when I initially got on the phone with her. I was already having a hard time keeping it together but when I heard her tears I completely broke down. At that point I was not only feeling the pain from what I was dealing with but what she was going through as well. She had actually been sending me text messages with different wedding ideas as the event was taking place. I just couldn't imagine someone having to call her and tell her that I would be coming home to her in a casket. Just the thought of that ripped my heart out. She is an incredibly strong woman though and she was able to eventually shake it off and even help me pull out of it. I really don't know what I would do without her love and strength. It was yet again more proof as to why I am marrying her."

MS: "That sounds like a great girl. You're a lucky man. The fact that you immediately prayed to God for His protection speaks volumes for your faith. Where did you get faith like that? Is it something you gained on your own, or like the disciple Timothy, gained through a faithful family?"

CV: "I can't really say that it is something that I have gained on my own but more like something that God has instilled in me. I haven't always been so strong in the past but God has really taken my faith to all new places. Sometimes it seems like your faith grows stronger each time it is tested. My faith has been tested quite a bit over the past year and every time that God's word holds strong and true my faith is only magnified. My [preacher] has repeated Proverbs 18:10 time and time again. As I stood in the restaurant I instantly heard in my head "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." I began praying for God's protection and as always he delivered."

MS: "The Lord works in mysterious ways (Romans 11:33,34). How has this affected your spiritual life? Has there been any impact?"

CV: "It has only made my faith stronger. Day after day I ask God for His will to be done and for Him to provide me with a way of magnifying His name. As scary as this situation was I know that there was a purpose for it. Maybe it was for me to be reassured that His word will always remain true or maybe it was so my events could inspire someone that is in a bad place in their life right now and need some help. There has been countless times in my life when I don't understand what God is trying to do but He eventually shows you. It may be days later or it may be years later but I truly believe that God has a plan for every single one of us and His will is good."

MS: "You said in your story that you pray to God that He help the man who mugged you. How do you possibly pray for a guy who just tried to hurt you?"

CV: "It was very hard to contain my emotions in the beginning. At first I was very angry and just wanted the guy to get what he deserved. Then it hit me that this is not what God wants for us. If Jesus forgave the same men that beat him and left him to die on the cross then I can surly forgive someone who tried to rob me over a few pieces of chicken. My fiance's father was also a very big motivator for me. He was shot several times a few years ago and he was hanging on to life by a thread. After he fully recovered he forgave the man who had shot him. He not only forgave him but began working in a prisoner ministry program at the exact same prison that the man who shot him was in. His courage, strength, and faith have always been such and inspiration to me, especially through these times."

Chris' example has not been lost on me, and it is the reason I wanted to share it with you. All too often grace and forgiveness is the one thing we lack, not for ourselves, but for others. Often we expect it immediately on our behalf for our faults, but we're not so quick to reciprocate to those who would ask of it from us. Chris was put in a most precarious situation, one that would cause me personally to understand if he had carried a resentment for his attacker. Yet, because of someone else's example, Chris found the wisdom to rise above simple human emotion, and give the thing God Himself gives: 


Wonderfully powerful,  amazing... Grace (Romans 3:22-24).

However, the example didn't start with Krystl's dad. Like everything else, there's a much bigger story behind all of this, and it starts 2,000 years ago with Jesus, who was nailed to the cross. As he hung there, he used His dying breath to pray for those who put Him there (Luke 23:34). Again, God's grace prevailed for those who were undeserving. Still, I wonder what the parents of yesteryear, the ones who said rock and roll was the devil's music, would think of Chris Vest and the example he gives to so many? I'd imagine that regardless of their opinion, it wouldn't matter. Chris would probably pray for them, too. 

After all, that's what Christ asks of us (Matt. 5:44).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Message Within the DNA Code and the Question of 'Who Sent It?'

All across the globe, scientists have set up multi-million dollar facilities whose sole purpose is to scan the vast regions of space looking for distant radio signals. While some of these facilities come with steep price tags, the scientists who run them assure us that the price is well worth the cost.

And it appears the high investment has finally paid off. Scientists have announced that they have discovered a radio transmission from a far-away galaxy believed to have been sent by intelligent beings who, like us, are searching for other intelligent beings. The scientists are busy decoding the signal in hopes of interpreting the message contained within it. Regardless of the message contents, it is being hailed as a touchdown for the scientific community, evidence of intelligent beings aside from mankind.

The only problem is that I completely made this last part up. Yes, it's true that multi-million dollar facilities have dotted our globe for some time now, but the cost has not been recouped in the form of receiving transmission of any signal sent by an intelligent being. Not a single blip, bit of static, or scratch across the airwaves has been interpreted as evidence of an intelligent being.

Not from outer space, anyway.

But what if they had found one? No doubt the scenario would play out just as I had said it would, but with much more fanfare. And that would be fine, because it would be an exciting thing. The observance of solid, irrefutable scientific evidence of an intelligent mind existing somewhere other than with mankind. That would be exciting, right? Of course.

Why is it that if a radio signal were intercepted from deep in space, it would widely be held as evidence of an intelligent source, yet the DNA code is not? The question begs an answer: why isn't DNA, which is accept by virtually all scientists to be the conductor of all information in the human body as it relates to its make-up and functionality, not accepted as prima-facie (face value) evidence of an intelligent source? After all, if there is a message being passed through the DNA code (which there is), then there would necessarily have to be a place that the message originated from. In other words, there would have to be a mind that the message first originated from, and was then passed through the conductor called DNA.

This is very unpopular with many scientists because if we say that the DNA code is in fact a carrier of a well conceived message, it would necessitate an Original Sender of the message. This sends chills across many scientists necks because the very concept of intelligent design goes against the foundation in which they've built their careers on.

However, such a belief would be in perfect harmony because it does not violate the very principle that virtually all science is based on. The Law of Causality says that no 'effect' can be greater than its 'cause', and there must be a clear reason why the 'effect' is needed before the 'cause' initiates it. If we say that God is the originator of the message that is carried by the DNA code, then we have a Cause that is certainly greater than the 'effect', keeping in harmony with observable science.

Surely it would be hypocritical of us if we readily accept one message ("the effect") as being originated by an intelligent being ("the cause"), but not another.

Thou Shalt Not Micro-Manage Thy God

I wouldn't necessarily call it a "New Years Resolution" per-se, simply because I purposefully don't believe in New Years resolutions. I believe that we should be working on improving ourselves year-round. Not just at the beginning of the year. However with that being said, one of my goals for self-improvement this year has been to trust more in God, and less in myself. I thought I was making great success in this effort.

...That is until today.

While it is true that I have cut out any and all attempts to bargain with God to get my way, today I recognized a fatal flaw in my journey to fully trusting in God. My problem hit me like a news flash across a television screen. While I've cut out all bargaining efforts, under the surface the attempts to stay one step ahead of God have been alive and well.. and very sneaky I might add.

The problem with this behavior is that all of the supposed success I've made in my journey to faithfully trusting Him hasn't been success at all. This is because the root problem still remains the same- a lack of trust. You could rightfully say that I haven't been fully trusting in God like I thought I was. Though I have stopped negotiating with God, I have been trying to interpret every little thing that happens in my life on a daily basis, and trying to find out what it means- like a really bad boss who assigns you a project and then micro-manages every step along the way. Simply put, I've been trying to read God's play book in order to anticipate His next move.

The problem with this is that, like every other great mind, God cannot be micro-managed. And that's what I've tried to do. I've cut out the bargaining process and taken up the role of a micro-manager. However, it ends today. To paraphrase Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5, God is in heaven, and I am on Earth. What could I possibly have to tell to Him? The answer is 'Nothing.'

The good news is, this is a journey I don't mind starting over on. I've been so richly blessed in my efforts to trust Him so far that I look forward to seeing the rewards that will come from this leg of our journey together. Starting today I'm going to stop worrying so much about what goes on behind the scenes and just enjoy the show that's on stage in front of me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Only Time God Ever Got In a Hurry

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."- Luke 11:20

How many of you remember your teens and twenties? How many of you would like to forget much of your teens or your twenties? I have had some very interesting experiences in both decades that I lived (miraculously) through, but would rather forget. When we're young, we think we have the world figured out. There's an old saying that goes something to the effect of, "In your entire life, you'll never be as smart as you were in your teenage years.".. or something like that. I'm sure I knew the quote better as a teen.

Before we've lived life, we believe we've got life figured out.

Before we truly know anything, we believe we know everything.

Before we are taught patience, we're extremely impatient.

God's Amazing Patience

This seems to certainly be the case of the young man whose story Jesus tells in Luke 15:11-32, a young man better known to many as 'The Prodigal Son'. We're all familiar with the story, but I want to share something interesting found in this story.

Throughout the Bible we see that God is a very patient character. When we consider the actions He took, they overwhelmingly show that He never gets into a hurry. Consider when God sent Joshua to march around the walls of Jericho in Joshua chapter 6. He could have collapsed the walls immediately upon Joshua setting his eyes on them, but He didn't. He had the army march around the walls for 6 days. This was an act of patience. Or how about God telling Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-19? God told Naaman through the prophet to go dip into the water seven times. He could have healed him on the first plunge, yet He required Naaman to dip seven times. This again, was an act of patience. Consider how long God waited to send Jesus to Earth? Thousands of years. Again, another example of Gods great patience.

God Runs Out to Meet Us

However, lets take a look at the one time in the Bible that says that God ever got in a hurry about anything. Going back to the prodigal son (who is a representative of you and me), notice that the father (representing God) notices his son "while he was still afar off" and ran out to meet him with a hug and kissed him (Luke 15:20). The only time God ever got in a hurry in the entire Bible was when one of His children were returning to Him.

While reading this story, I notice two more things of significance that I'd like to share with you. First, the father was obviously anxious and waiting for his wayward child's return home. Notice in Luke 15:20 it says the father saw him "when he was still a great way off.." The father recognized his son's youth and waited for the day when wisdom and life experience would bring the son back home. The father was found waiting and watching, and because of this, he recognized his son from a great way off.

Second, notice that the father did not require the son to come groveling down at his feet before he accepted him back home. The father saw him from afar off, and ran to meet him where his son was on the road leading back home. The decision was already made by the son to return home, and the father met him where he was and welcomed him home there. This is symbolic of Gods acceptance of us wherever we are in life. Once we make the decision to obey His will, He doesn't require us to be perfect before He accepts us as His children. He accepts us where we are, in the condition we are in, and walks us step by step into His perfection. God accepts sinners and turns them into saints.

We've all heard the saying, "patience is a virtue". Well, when it comes to accepting His children back, I'm glad it's one that God doesn't exercise for our sake!