Love


Recently I counseled someone who had become rather melancholy about church, worship, and just the whole image of modern day ministry. The smorgasbord of appeals being made from an array of sources makes choosing a church (even Christ) very difficult, and has caused some to be discouraged to the point of disinterest.

The Bible says such a period would emerge. Paul told his colleague and friend there would come a time when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3), and even said some would eventually abandon the faith (1 Tim 4:1). With the deluge of preachers and self-proclaimed prophets afoot in cyberspace and the world today, it is becoming more and more difficult to know exactly what and who to believe. A lot of stuff out there may sound good, but so much is neither good nor sound.

Is there an actual litmus test for determining legitimacy in ministry? How can one know what and who to believe? Or even know who is real? Our Lord said clearly without regard for personality, charisma, gifts, degrees, apparent success, and the like, there is one sure tell sign. He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35, NIV) Succinctly, amidst all the hype and pseudo-energy that characterizes a lot of contemporary preaching, the love of God must and will be unmistakably clear to help confirm if a message and messenger is truly real. The power of God’s love is still able to woo sinners unto repentance if we would simply trust Him.

Remember our childhood days? While we could hardly afford a bicycle, most kids were enamored by the speed and sound a motor cycle made. Too dangerous and expensive for most of us, we remained content to ride our bikes, but would make an inexpensive modification to its operation to enhance our experience. We would simply take a playing card (any card) from a deck of cards, and a clothes pin from where mom would hang the laundry, and clip the card onto the frame of the bike so it would flap against the spokes. Remarkably, it created for us a noise that gave the sense we were riding a motorized cycle. There was only one problem. While it made a lot of noise, it actually had no power.

Chew on that, my brothers and sisters. Please don’t be guilty of the same. Be encouraged!

God favored me in a most refreshing and remarkable way the other day. After years of searching (and simply refusing to give up), I was able to reconnect with a dear friend I met over 30 years ago while we both were serving as young officers in the United States Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. Reassigned to a new installation in 1981, I moved on and we simply lost contact. We had not spoken since.

Finding him was not easy. It took time and effort, and the closer I got (it seemed), the more challenging the search became. When finally we spoke, the excitement in our voices was both unmistakable and indescribable. We laughed and cried as we talked. I was especially moved as he told of his painful path over the years. Injuries, sickness, difficulties, and even the shadow of death were all a part of his peculiar journey. On several occasions he shared how he almost lost his life in a few accidents during overseas maneuvers. His story brought me to more tears, but I was (and am) so happy to discover he was alive and well.

Of all the things he shared, his voice was strongest when he told me about how God alone had kept him and had brought him safely through. Confidently, he reported he held faithful membership with Eastern Star Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Reverend Jeffrey Johnson serves as pastor. He cited their motto there is the church “Where Jesus is exalted and the Word is explained.” What he said next shook me to the core. He said, “Reg, you know I’m not a preacher and I may not be able to explain the word like many others; but I can assure you of one thing; can’t nobody beat me exalting Him. Believe that!” There was even more joy!

In His own mysterious way, God granted me another measure of His grace by allowing me to reunite with a dear friend and brother who I have not seen in three decades. Incredibly, and perhaps equally as long he was also looking for me.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m really excited about this reunion. I have only heard his voice, but I’m still glad about it. I have yet to see his face or even shake his hand, but I still have joy about it. Just the prospects of seeing him in the near future give me great encouragement, and each time I tell of this experience, my joy excites others.

I should tell you there is a Great reunion scheduled! In these days of economic challenge and personal difficulty, keep pursuing this Friend–the Lord—while He may be found. You, too, will find joy unspeakable and full of glory. In fact, you will be surprised to learn some good news in your search. This Friend has also been looking for you!

As I exited my vehicle at Wal-Mart this past Thursday, I noticed a young couple exiting their vehicle at the same time. Strangely, we had to park a good distance from the main entrance since the parking lot was rather full. I couldn’t help but notice how the guy was dressed. He had on a bright yellow cap with a huge green “G” on it, with a grass-colored bib that was turned backwards on his head. He also wore a green jersey with a huge number four centered on it. White striped on both the shoulders and the sleeves accented his garb as he sported some khaki colored knickerbocker-type shorts that came down to his knees. A pair of sandy-colored sandals finished off his attire that plainly declared he was a Green Bay Packer fan.

Interestingly, earlier in the week, the Packers found themselves on the losing end of a widely publicized battle against their Chicago arch rivals—the Bears. It was a great game that kept fans (and viewers) on edge as it came-down-to-the-wire. In the closing moments, the Bears skillfully positioned themselves to kick a winning field goal to break the 24-24 tie. Green Bay was helpless to do anything realistic with the ensuing kickoff. The game ended 27-24, Chicago! Pundits indicate the Packers actually gave the game away. That was on Monday night! Yet, on Thursday, a man gracefully and publicly wore his Packers regalia without shame. I thought, “What would make a man continue to wear his favorite team’s paraphernalia even though his team lost a game they should have won; and sadly had let him down?” It’s really rather simple:

1. He was clearly a loyal fan and unashamedly loved his team.

2. He knew this game (Monday night’s) was just “one game” and the season wasn’t over.

3. He also knew that Sunday was coming and there likely would be an opportunity for redemption.

Are you a loyal fan of Christ’s church? Or are you someone playing the victim and participating in the negativity about others who fail or fall? My prayer is that we—Christ’s church—will soon embrace these principles. It does not matter who it is or what they have done (or what they may be accused of doing). True believers will (1) always remain as loyal proponents of the church of Jesus Christ just because they love the team; (2) they will work hard to remember this is only one game (e.g. one fumble, one dropped pass, one missed field goal, one flag, one fowl, one strike, one delay of game, or one un-sportsman-like conduct call, etc.), and that the season isn’t over; and (3) they will keep in mind that Sunday is coming; and there should arrive (prayerfully) a fresh opportunity for redemption.

Remain loyal, my brothers and sisters! Keep wearing the Lord’s regalia; and know that God alone is this game’s Official—He’s the Umpire, the Referee, and the Line Judge—and He alone has the power and is in the position to determine if any of us should remain on the team, or can continue to play the game!

In case you don’t know, Green Bay defeated Detroit today!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Not twenty minutes ago I made a hospital visit to the room of a gentleman who underwent a successful kidney transplant procedure last evening. We have been praying for Brian for a few years now that God would graciously allow him a chance to have a good kidney. The surgery went without-a-hitch; the new organ is an excellent match and is functioning fine. Brian told me he felt better than he had in years. Up and moving around, he was watching a football game with his family when I left his room.

As I drove back to my office, I thought about the anonymous donor family, and uttered a simple prayer for them in light of their apparent loss. To be sure, somebody—who we do not know—had to die in order for Brian to have this new opportunity to live a healthier, better quality of life.

His is no new irony! In fact, it is a very familiar paradox for many of us. We who know and enjoy redemption could not benefit from such were it not for the fact that Someone had to die that we might live. Bless His holy name!!!!!

The principle difference between these observations is clear. In Brian’s case, an accident made it possible for him to receive his new-lease-on-life. For you and I, it was no accident. Jesus died on purpose in order for us to have the privilege to live. Didn’t He do it?

Isn’t that good news?

On Wednesday, April15, 2009, I underwent a second operation.  This time it was to repair my shoulder.  You see, I tore my rotator cuff on my left side—my non-dominant side—trying to catch myself from a fall on the day following knee surgery in January (the 8th).  Some may be thinking, “Is dude falling apart?”  I certainly hope not.  It just happened.  Praise God, the operation went well and I’m on the mend.  God is good!

 

When I arrived at the clinic for this outpatient procedure, I alerted the medical staff of my prayer concerns for this undertaking.  I told them my prayer was when they got in there, (1) the damage would not be as extensive as they originally felt, (2) the operation would last as long as they had planned, and (3) healing and recovery would be much less than they had predicted.  Well, the operation was scheduled to be two and a half hours, but only took an hour and a half.  As I shout about that, I’ll have to keep you posted on the rest of the story.

 

On Thursday, the 16th, my sister flew from Carrollton, Texas, to spend a few days with me.  She’s the baby of the family and the only girl among four children.  Joyfully she came and literally ministered to me from Thursday until Sunday.  Besides making sure I took my meds as scheduled, she also prepared wonderful meals to my delight.  Angela (that’s her name) is an excellent cook.  Her husband truly appreciates it, too.  For the most part, the primary thing she needed to help me do was to adjust my sling so I could periodically reposition my forearm.  My post-op instructions are to keep the arm and shoulder very still (immobile) for the first week.  Beyond that, there wasn’t much she needed to do.  Her presence did me more good than anything.  When Sunday rolled around, we went to church and came home until her late afternoon flight.  I made arrangements for her to get to the airport.  As she was about to leave, I got up from my bed and reaffirmed my genuine appreciation for her taking the time to come.  We embraced; I cried unreservedly as we held each other!  I couldn’t help it.  I was (and am now) extremely grateful.

 

There is no substitute for family.  Yes, we were raised in the same house and grew up in the same family as brother and sister, but I do not take it lightly that she chose to come to Omaha to see about me.  I’ve mentioned in an earlier composition how if I am ever to experience family, it is usually at my expense; and then, when I am the one traveling to visit them.  Not so, in this case!  She came to see about me, and I am so thankful she wanted to and was able to do so.

 

Eventually (and after she left), I drifted off to sleep.  A few hours later, my phone rang to apprise me of her safe arrival back in the Dallas area.  Upon hanging up the phone, I thanked God, again, for the gift of family; and more especially the sweet spirit of my only sister, Angela.  It’s no wonder mom and dad gave her that name—she is an Angel like none other!  Thanks, Ang!  I love you!

Many of my parenting experiences have given me greater insights into the love and care of our Sovereign God and Heavenly Father. When at the moment of their occurrences, they were basically universal incidents most parents at times endure, after-the-fact (and often several years later), their value (like precious diamonds) has appreciated greatly as God uses them for our common good and His glory.

It was a strangely quiet evening in our home in Texas. My son and I were there alone as his mom and younger sister were together at the store. Uncomfortable with the silence, I moved from the couch to find out what he (my son) was doing. Peaking into his bedroom, I did not see him there. Neither was he playing in either of the other bedrooms. I turned and went back down the hall to his room and remotely heard a faint voice utter, “Daddy.” I ran inside toward the other side of his bed. There, on the floor, my son lay with his small, three-year-old arm pinned between the bed rail and the box springs. The slats had fallen and left him stranded, unable to get free. Gratefully, I removed his unharmed arm from its trap, and picked him up and held him in my arms. The dried tears on his little face revealed he had been there for not a few moments and had become too weak to struggle; and was just too tired to even cry anymore. Well, I wasn’t. I held him close, kissed him affectionately, and sobbed with much regret.

Here is another classic example of our (my own) unfortunate parenting deficiencies. As hard as we may try, and as bad as we may wish to do well, we sadly (and often) fall short. Conversely, we serve a God who is the Supreme Parent; and never fails in His custodial duty. God never fails! I wish to offer three things about God as I reflect on my own deficits in this event:

1. Our God never has to look for us as if He can’t find us. God actually knows our thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:2), and the deepest secrets of our hearts (Psalm 44:21). Our silence in no way inhibits His super-sensory-capacity to be aware of our circumstances. He knows!

2. Our God always hears us when we call. Unfortunately, while I did not hear my son when first he cried out to me, our God does not have that problem. He certainly hears us whenever we call (read Psalm 66:19). Bless His holy name!

3. Our God will always come to our rescue. The old song says, “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s always right-on-time.” In spite of what we may have gotten ourselves into, God will readily intervene in every tragedy, and relieve us of our pain (Psalm 40:1-2; 46:1).

Perhaps you have fallen and can’t get up. Call on Him, and He’ll answer your prayer. In Psalm 116 at verse 1, it says, “I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” (ESV) Verse 2 continues with a reason why and a recommended response. It states, “Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore, I will call on Him as long as I live.”

If you need Him (and you surely do), you should call on Him! He’ll be there! Watch and see!

Several summers ago I sent my son (age ten at the time) to the grocery store approximately two blocks from our then residence. My youngest (his baby sister) asked if she could go with him. She was only five, but I figured she would be okay. About twenty minutes later they stormed back into the house frenzied with emotion. She was crying uncontrollably, completely disheveled, and markedly in pain. Her brother breathlessly (and apologetically) detailed what happened. On their return while negotiating a steep hill that contoured a parking lot adjacent to our street, than to stay on the sidewalk, she tried to be like her big brother and climb the incline. Almost at the top, her foot slipped. She tumbled all the way back down to the asphalt parking lot and tragically scraped her bottom (the lower side of her hip). She was visibly injured and in a great amount of pain.

The situation required immediate attention. Placing her onto her bed, I carefully eased her briefs aside to inspect the damage. The skin was surely broken and the whole area was contaminated with grass, dirt, and debris. It needed a thorough cleaning to avoid the potential of infection. After getting a warm wash cloth and a mild cleanser, I tried to lie her down in order to get to the area and properly wash the wound. She simply was not having it. Apparently very sore, she was yet significantly upset and bent on not willing to allow me to do the job. I tried tearfully to persuade her, but to no avail. Finally, I told my son to help me hold her down so we could clean her injury and apply an antiseptic ointment. With her fighting and screaming at the top of her lungs, and him and me crying as well, he held her down as I executed this dreadful and difficult duty so she could be better. Whew! I almost died! When we were finished, I went into the master bath in my bedroom, closed the door, sat down, and wept like a baby.

You must know to reflect on this incident brings me to tears even today. I cannot recall a more difficult episode in my parenting assignment than the one I just described. Perhaps it brings to mind a similar event in some of your lives as parents. If it does, think about this, too. As heartbreaking as the task may have been for me, I had to do it if she was going to get better.

Well, one day we (you and I) fell down the hill from grace. The plummet left us badly bruised and sorely contaminated with the dirt and debris of this world. Desperate measures were necessary to help us, or otherwise we would remain infected. So God got Jesus to help Him. As painful as it was for both of them, the Son (Jesus) held on to us with all His might at Calvary, while the Father (God) cleansed the area—our hearts—and washed away the sin. In order for Him to help us, He first had to hurt us (even Himself) so we could at last get better. Aren’t you glad He did? I know I am!

Be encouraged, my friends! These are clearly some painful days and many are actually hurting for the moment. Try to keep in mind when God gets through, you’re going to feel so much better.

Exhausted from her ordeal, my daughter fell asleep. When she awakened, she came to where I was quietly sitting and got on my lap, and rested her head on my chest. In the midst of it all, and as tough as it was for her to take, she never doubted my love. Psalm 147:11 confirms this indisputably. It states, “the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope (trust) in His unfailing love.” (NIV, parenthesis, mine).  Even when God allows us to go through pain, He still loves us.  Keep trusting Him!

There is no limit to which our God will go in the interests of His children. I learned this truth as a young man preparing to leave Arkansas on my way to Fort Benning, GA., to serve as a commissioned officer in the United States Army. On the eve of my departure (temporarily living on the estate purchased by my grandparents in Pine Bluff, AR), I made several last-minute long distance phone calls to special people in my home town (Arkadelphia). I spoke with my parents (of course), my brothers and my sister, a few select members of our small church, and particularly a wonderful lady named Sister Flora Cotledge—our childhood caregiver. She loved (and still does; at ninety-plus years of age) our family like her very own.

When at last I was able to lie down to go to sleep, it was well after midnight. My plan was to get up early for my long journey to the base in Georgia so I could be sure to report for duty as ordered on time. I awakened before the sun rose, and upon opening the front door of the house, I was overwhelmed by a shocking discovery. Parked outside in the driveway were my mom and dad patiently waiting for me to get up and be on my way! No doubt with little sleep (if any) since we last spoke, they made the seventy-five mile trek through the night just to see me off before I left. They actually came through the darkness, over the winding roads, in the wee hours of the morning just to be with me, to pray for me, and to reassure me that they loved me.

These are tough economic times in America. By the grace of God we have a new President at the helm. Some difficult and very painful decisions already have been made; and more are sure to come. The forecast is bleak and uncertain to say the least. I wish to offer some good news! While we are facing these apparent challenges as a nation and as individuals, we do not have to face them alone, nor make the journey by ourselves. Our loving God knows, He cares, and He will come see about us. Even in the darkness, He will make the trip through the night just to be with us, just to comfort and encourage us, and to reassure us of His unfailing love.

Receive these words, my beloved friends! Immanuel is already here! Don’t lose heart! Trust Him! He will come through! “…weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Delightfully, I was able to go home for Christmas.  Getting out of the frigid cold of the Midwest and seeing family was great.  Sadly, if I don’t make the journey during holidays, I rarely experience my biological family.  On the other hand, God continues to afford me the means to make the trip. So, with joy I drove home.  The Lord spoke to me along the way.  I wasn’t bearing huge packages all wrapped and tied with bows.  No, the Lord showed me I was giving them something far better.  Here’s what He said:

Twas in no department store, nor on sale in a mall;
Tis precious and quite valuable, some might consider it small.
Has no special wrapping, not for placing up under a tree,
This year I gave my family the singular gift of me.

Gifts are not just deposits we get from God when we pray;
No, actually WE are the gifts from God, given to be given away.
No need to shop and search in that season wherein we all give,
Just share yourself in special ways, and love them as you live.

God has made each one a gift, though we’re all made of clay,
Yet, a gift is never really a gift until it is given away.
So, next time you want to bless someone, than buy; here’s what you can do;
Experience the miracle of loved ones, and give them the gift of you.

That’s exactly what He did!

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