Marking a Milestone

Yesterday I published my 2000th post on this blog.

I started blogging many years ago when blogs were new.  The first one lasted over five years before I took a couple of years off.  At the time, I decided to dump my blog and delete all my original posts, and now I still wish I had a few of them.  

Then in January of 2013, I launched this blog intending to write a few times a week. Over the past three years, I have made a specific effort to post something five days a week.  It is now part of my regular morning routine, and I find it the perfect place to connect my enjoyment of writing, my goal to help others in faith, and a creative outlet for all the things that flow through my thoughts.

Yesterday, I knew it was a unique blog, so I want back to why I am here on the internet – because I want people to know about the grace of Jesus and the second chance he gives each one of us. 

Along the way, I have had days where only one person read what I wrote and other days where hundreds stopped by to read.  Whether it is one or a thousand, I just keep hammering away and hope to churn out a few posts that will bring people closer to Jesus.  Hopefully, with 2000 of them, at least a few were worth your time.  Thanks for reading and all praise to Jesus.     

Jesus My Savior

One of my favorite lines in an old hymn is in the song “How Great Thou Art.” The chorus starts with, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee.”

I love the image of my praise coming not from my voice, mind, or heart, but rather from the very core of my being.  The essence of that song is about our creator God and his son Jesus. 

I am incredibly thankful for Jesus and the salvation he brings.  I am grateful every single day, but today I want to pause and focus on the remarkable gift of a second chance in Jesus.  January is almost over, and I am reminded how much I need his grace every new year, month, week, and day. 

The other line in a song I love is from the song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” The chorus finishes with, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” 

Today the world seems dim as my soul sings out in thanksgiving to Jesus. 

Making a Difference in This World

It is an admirable goal to make a difference in this world. I believe the desire to change the world for the better is a God-given instinct that comes with being made in his image. We must also be very clear about one major issue surrounding our quest to change the world.

Good works will not get you into heaven.

The only thing allowed into the presence of God is perfection. You and I are not perfect. We make two fundamental errors in our thinking about the good we do. First, we can never do enough to become perfect. You cannot balance the scales of your failures with good works. Some believe that if they just put in enough effort to make the world better, then all their shortcomings are erased and forgotten. That is not how God’s justice works.

Our second flaw is that we will never do all the good that we could. Every single one of us, even the most concerned with social justice, occasionally pass the people with their cardboard signs. We are busy, have our kids with us, or do not have any bills small enough to give away. There are so many good things for us to do that when some of them cross our minds, and we dismiss them, revealing that we are not truly good all the time.

There are other issues with works-based salvation, and most people of faith recognize these problems. I fear that over time we have assumed people understood this truth when they have not. Believers have told people we are to love God and then love our neighbor. Over time the first part about loving God has been lost, and now we have people who are only concerned about doing good and have no time for Jesus. This exchange has taken the truth of the gospel and replaced it with social justice for salvation.

I hope and pray that Christians will be people who make a difference in this world. But I want to make sure you are a follower of Jesus first and doing good works second. Trust Jesus alone, and then make a difference. Love others because he first loved you.

Develop a System that Works

I know what I will write will not apply to certain personality types, but it might help someone. 

If you are a person who longs to improve your life, either physically or spiritually or both, let me give you a piece of advice from my journey. 

The first thing to do is develop goals.  Decide where you want to go and who you want to be? Once you have goals, then you need to build a plan to achieve those desires.  How do you get from here to there?  My suggestion is that you create a system that works for you. 

For example, I wanted to lose weight last year.  So I set a system in place to achieve what I dreamed.  For me, that meant getting up at the same time every day.  I had to get up earlier than usual because it was the only way to find time to do it.  Going for a walk and eventually running during the exact same time frame every morning was the best system for me to do the exercise needed to change my body. 

The same type of routine is true for my spiritual life.  I started a habit 13 years ago in which I start at the same time and follow a regular plan of action, including praying for the same basic things each day.  I have a system for praying, reading the Bible, keeping a thankful journal, and having a few moments of meditation to start my days.    

You can apply this type of thinking to almost anything.  Do you want a better marriage? Develop a plan and systematize it to meet your needs.  Plan out mealtimes, no phone or tv times, date nights, and go to bed together.  Do you want to know God more?  Then develop a plan to make it happen and apply it to your life.  Do you want a better relationship with your parent or children?  Then there are steps you can take to make it happen.  The list is long of the things you can do to change your life for the better.  If your mind is anything like mine, then you can make a system to see it happen – the same actions day after day and week after week. 

My simple advice is to develop patterns and rituals that will help you improve.  Waiting for inspiration will never happen.  It is the routines that will make you a better follower of Jesus.

A Life You and I Want

My wife and I have been discussing our plans for vacations in the coming year. I need to make plans now as a preacher in order to secure someone else to come and speak that Sunday. Every time this conversation occurs, it always feels odd because I’m not particularly eager to leave home. Sure, there are a few places I would like to visit, but there is no place I would rather be than where I live right now.

One of the goals has been to build a life that I did not feel the need to escape. My dream has been to surround myself with people who like, support, encourage and enjoy me. I look forward to going home and being there with my family. There is no need for me to be removed from my surroundings to find joy, fun, and laughter.

Through the years, I have noticed that numerous people hate their life and do everything possible to avoid themselves. They look forward to going to work and relish a workaholic lifestyle. Others plan repeated elaborate vacations as a way of separating themselves from their mundane existence. Still, a few feel the urge to drink alcohol, often to excess, because they think it helps them relax and let go of their issues. Given a specific situation, there have even been people who slip into drug abuse, whether illegal or prescription. I see people everywhere who are not comfortable in their own family, home, or possibly their skin.

I am blessed to have the life I want. It is not perfect, but it is wonderful just the same. I do not want to be anyone else, live with anyone else, or go anywhere to make me happy. The biggest reason for this reality is because I am building my life the way I believe God desires. My wife and I seek God’s will through his Word, prayer, and in the community of believers. This gives a right relationship with our work, stuff, friends, and family. Through the years, we have given ourselves to the way of God first and foremost, and the result is a life we never feel like leaving. The great part of following Jesus is that it is a blessing to our world, other people, and it is best for you.

Calling an Audible

This year’s football season has provided something unexpected. Without fans in most stadiums, there has been the ability to hear more clearly what the quarterback says as he waits to receive the ball during pre-snap. People watching have experienced all the things that he yells, especially the words, “Kill, Kill.”

For those who do not watch football, let me explain that he is not yelling out orders to exterminate a player from the other team. Although, if that were an option, I am sure most quarterbacks have some player they would like to eliminate. No, this is a shout to kill the play that was given in the huddle. The quarterback sees the defense and no longer wants to use the play that was initially called. He wants the team to know his decision, so he yells to his left and then to his right, notifying everyone on the field.

This process of play selection and changing is referred to as calling an audible. The quarterback’s voice changes the play to a second pre-selected play or shouts out another option before the play clock runs out.

Every week as I watch football, I am reminded of two essential truths. First, sometimes you are not able to do the thing you want. The defense is set. Your opponent knows your tendencies and has a plan to trip you up. Second, do not be afraid to change the play at the last second. The most successful teams have quarterbacks who can read the defense well and make changes with only seconds to play.

All this is true not only in football but also in the Christian life. The devil knows enough to make your best-laid plans fail. Sometimes you have to change your plans and follow how God is leading you. It takes a keen mind in tune with God’s word and his will, along with years of practice, to know when to make a change, but it is a skill that can be developed.

I believe God surrounds us with divine opportunities and appointments if we keep our eyes open to his leading. Maybe what you had planned today, this week, or weekend will need to hear, “kill, kill,” so that God can send you a different direction to do his work. Flexibility can be the key to obedience.

Only One God

Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God in charge of the world and nothing else. Biblical monotheism is a belief in a Godhead, often called the Trinity, that exists in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Godhead is described as the three in one.

That is it. That is all that Christians believe.

This conviction also means there are a large number of things they do not believe. They do not believe in luck. Personally, I have spent the past few years trying to eliminate the word from my vocabulary as I hear it used dozens of times a day, and I simply don’t believe it exists.

The list could go on and on. Christians don’t believe in luck, karma, superstitions. Neither do they believe in palm readers, psychics, Ouija boards, voodoo, reading tea leaves, bent spoons, ghosts, or fortune-tellers. They don’t throw salt over their shoulder, knock on wood or use dream catchers. They do not carry a rabbit’s foot, four-leaf clovers, or horseshoes for good fortune. They realize there are no such things as magic, horoscopes, astrology, wizards, or spells that can change people’s fate. There is a long, long list of things of which the followers of God do not believe.

I often think how crazy the people in the Old Testament were for trusting wooden and stone idols. They made them and then bowed down to worship them shortly after it was created. Are people today that far removed? We think an item we bought or an object we found somehow changes the outcome of games or brings good fortune. Believers today are called to push back from the belief in other powers the same as the people did in the Old Testament; just today, it wears different names.

Online Church?

A minister I know recently vented his frustration with people staying home and doing Church online. He stated that it was not Church and might even be unbiblical.

The problem with his line of reasoning was that he did not understand the nature of the Church using the internet. Unfortunately, many other people are making the same mistake, and I want to address this issue today.

First, we need to be clear that the internet is simply a tool. This is the same as the Church using printed materials, projection screens, and even buildings. We live in a time where there are more tools to be used by God’s people than ever before. The internet is one of those tools we can leverage for the Lord’s work.

Second, the goal for Christian leaders is always the same. We are called to help develop people into fully mature disciples of Jesus. Part of the discipleship process is connecting believers into a community we call the Church. These goals are inseparable for people who take their faith seriously. Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. His commands include loving one another in the name of the Jesus we serve. This is best accomplished as a community. This is why the next book in the Bible after the story of Jesus is the book of Acts that tells how the first believers worked together to form this new group called a Church.

Three, using a particular tool does not change the goal but enhances it. The Church owns a building to make it easier for people to gather for worship, serve, learn, and provide the various ministries needed in its setting. The goal is not to get people into a building but to see them become fully mature disciples of Jesus, and we use the facility to accomplish it. The same is true with the use of the internet. The goal is not to have you sit in front of a screen at specified times. It is not used to form a group of people we call an “online Church.” The people of faith are merely trying to use another tool to help people become all that God desires for them as individuals and as a community.

This week, if you start watching a worship program, a sermon, or someone teaching the Bible, you need to understand that it is not Church. That is something the Church is using to make you more like Jesus.

When Things Get Back to Normal

Over the past six weeks, I have heard several people use the same statement. As they talked about the year 2021, they have said with optimism, “When things get back to normal…” I suppose this phrase comes with the potential of a new year or possibly the distribution of a vaccine. Still, people are looking forward to positive changes in the coming months.

My issue with this thinking is the misguided belief that life will one day return to what it was like before the past year of Covid. The world has changed, and there is no going back. Things like hand sanitizer, masks, foggers, disinfectant wipes, latex gloves, and other safety precautions will always be a part of our lives. The fear of getting sick and the possibility of it leading to death will never be erased. In Church, the tools we use like social media and streaming videos are now part of our culture. Some of the people who stepped back from regular worship attendance are never going to return, while others have gone to other places. Many changes are here to stay no matter how badly we want things to return to what we knew before all of this.

Through the centuries of the Christian faith, the landscape has changed dramatically with new discoveries, inventions, and breakthroughs. Some of these changes have been for the better, and a few have made things worse. Still, we press on. As Jesus followers, we keep moving forward in the faith the God is working in all of this. Instead of longing for a past that will never return, we are to embrace the future possibilities for the kingdom of God. Sure, there are things about life before Covid that were wonderful, but some of those things are gone forever. The future for faithful people still shines brightly despite the changes. For believers, this is not a time to look back; instead, it is the moment for us to look forward and move confidently into the future God has prepared for us.

Hope is the belief that God has better things in the future than what we are experiencing right now. Christians are people of hope, both for eternity and on our journey in this life. I am not excited for when things get back to normal, but I am hopeful that God is doing his mighty work, and one day all of this will grow the kingdom of God in this world.

In Your Corner

During a boxing match, there are a set number of rounds for actual fighting.  The length of each round and the number of them depends on the boxer’s age, weight, and skill level.  Between each one of these, there is a break that is signified by a bell.  At this point, the boxer returns to their assigned corner for rest with their team of coaches. 

Everyone needs people in their corner.  If you are taking a beating and need some encouragement, you need people there to support you. If you are giving a beating, you need someone to keep you focused on the rest of the fight.  If you are in a match that is even, you need someone to point out the places you might improve to achieve victory.  You need someone in your corner to fix your cuts, offer advice, and give you the pep talk you need to go back for another round. 

This is an analogy of life.  We all need someone in our corner.  We need people who will help us with each day in which we struggle.  There are people who we need to encourage, inspire, and instruct us through the battles we face each day. 

Somedays, it is crucial for us to make sure we have someone in our corner.  Other days we need to evaluate the people there to make sure we have the people we truly need.  Every day is an excellent time to ask yourself, who can count on me to be in their corner?