Tag Archives: grace

Just Return; He’s Looking for You!

This afternoon I did a live video on Facebook.

I normally do one, a short “Encouragement Time,” every weekday around 2pm.

The subject of today’s video was that of the prodigal son in Luke 15.


You know, I’m not perfect. Are you? Do you ever do things you’re ashamed of?

Do you ever sin? I do. I know perfectly well what it’s like to wonder whether God even wants to hear you confess and repent. I mean, really, hasn’t He heard it all before?

But the story Jesus tells of the Prodigal is one that displays the wondrous love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness of the Father. Yes, the story is really more about Him than the wayward, muddy, starving son.

When the young man reached his lowest point, there in a hog lot, starving and alone, he remembered the goodness of his father.

When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.'” – Luke 15:17-19 CSB

Because he had already spent his inheritance (he thought), and since he had treated his own father like he was dead, there was no reason to expect a “Welcome home!” However, he knew his father’s slaves had it better than what he had – which was nothing and no one. He’d have to take his chances.

So, when the broken and filthy young man returns, the reception he receives is more than he could have ever hoped for. Already looking for him, the father spots his son on the horizon and runs to him! No doubt expecting the worst, the son falls on his face and attempts to make the case for indentured servitude. Maybe this would keep his father from killing him outright.

Humble, prostrate in the dirt, not even looking up to see the tears in his father’s eyes, he expects – or rather hopes for – the customary foot upon his neck, the accepted symbol of becoming a slave. But, instead…

…the feeling of a bristly beard upon his ear…

…an arm on his back…

…a rough palm cradling the other side of his head…

…and tear-drenched kisses?? Not the sole of a sandal? KISSES! Yes, kisses on his neck!

More joyful to receive his son back home than determined to reclaim his honor, the exuberant father drowns out the pitiful son’s pleas and cries out, “My son has come home!”

Instead of putting his foot on the boy’s neck, the father had humbled himself and descended to the place where his lowly child lay in the dirt. Instead of justice, He showed mercy.

And then Amazing Grace called out for a party!

God is the Father. You and I are the Prodigal. No matter how far we’ve drifted or run, He is still looking and waiting.

Let’s go home.

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Filed under Bible Study, Christianity, Family, God, grace, Love of God, Relationships and Family

Less Labels; More Grace (Are You A Racist?)

First, a Dog Story

George and I in Walmart. He’s the world’s best conversation starter 😉

I have the sweetest, cutest, snuggliest, smartest, dog in the world. His name is George.

Before George came into my life, I had in mind the type of dog I wanted, and it wasn’t a big one; I wanted a Chorkie. I thought that’s what I got when I drove 2 hours into South Carolina to purchase him. At least that’s what I was told.

But this morning I was curious and did a little research. From what it appears, despite what the papers said, George looks a whole lot more like a long hair Chihuahua than a little boy dog who had a Yorkie daddy.  I think I was deceived.

So, through the course of conversation, one of our daughters asked me, “Are you OK with that?” With words of consolation, she then texted, “He has Yorkie coloring.” I replied, “Well, it’s not like I’m going to return him for a refund.”

Seriously, I have had this dog since August and have watched him grow, watched him learn, and felt my heart swell with affection. Do I get rid of him now because he might be a different breed than what I originally thought? Do I keep him because he might be the right color?

No! I love George! He’s part of our family.

Preference vs Prejudice

Folks, we show preferences all the time, and not only when it comes to selecting a particular dog bread we feel best meets our needs and desires. Preference is not a dirty word, nor a crime.

For example, I knew in advance of getting George that I did not want a German shepherd. I like German shepherds, but there’s no way I could keep one where we live – it would destroy the refinished hardwood floors! My preference was for a small, loyal, thinks-he’s-bigger-than-he-is little buddy, one that could meet me at the door without chewing it off the hinges.

Now, had I been offered a long-haired Chihuahua, I would have said “no.” Because of their typical “yappy” nature, their incessant shivering, and the whole “legally blond” thing, I preferred something more like a Yorkie (but Chorkies cost less). However, my prejudice (a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience) against owning a long hair Chihuahua proved unfounded. He is nothing like what I thought a long hair Chihuahua would be like.

“Breedism” and Racism

A pit bull bears it's teeth in this photo taken in New York City. A similar animal attacked a Michigan couple Sunday night, leaving them hospitalized with severe injuries.Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Credit: WHIO TV

But there are dogs I do not like – never have, never will. I do not like Dobermans, Rottweilers, or pit bulls. Actually, I can’t stand pit bulls. Frankly, I wouldn’t get too upset if you told me the whole breed had become extinct.

Honestly, not all pit bulls are bad dogs; some are very sweet. But in my personal opinion, none can be trusted and each one is a potential killer waiting to snap. You could, quite literally, call me a “breedist.” I think any other dog breed is better, despite any statistic or evidence to the contrary.

Racists and breedists are very much alike: Both hold prejudiced opinions of entire groups; they believe one group is inherently better than another; and no amount of logic or evidence can change their opinions.

Let’s look at some examples of what could be considered racist or breedist statements:

  • Never leave your pit bull alone with your child, not unless you want your child to die.
  • Never let your white daughter date a black boy, not unless you want her to get raped.
  • All dogs may go to heaven, but let one of those Rottweilers come in my yard and I’ll send it there.
  • Yes, God made all men in His image and Jesus died so all men could be saved, but if you bring in those black kids, don’t be surprised when things wind up missing.
  • See that big Doberman with the studded collar? He’s probably mean as the devil.
  • See that colored boy in the hoodie? He’s probably up to no good.

But now let’s look at some examples of what is NOT racism or breedism:

  • Ms. Brown was bit by a friend’s German shepherd several years ago. So bad was the bite that she required stitches to close the wound. Now, anytime she sees a German shepherd, a cold chill runs down her spine as she fights the urge to panic.
  • While at the counter paying for gas, a young African-American male in a blue hoodie stormed through the door and hit Mr. Jones with a bat, then robbed the store clerk before shooting him. Now, anytime Mr. Jones is approached by a black man in a hoodie he feels threatened.
  • The neighbor’s dog, a brindle-colored bull dog mix, often comes to our front door begging to come in and play with George. He’s a sweet dog, and he means no harm, but he doesn’t belong to us – he’s not our dog – and it won’t be two minutes before he “marks his territory” on our furniture. So, we say, “No!”, you can’t come in!
  • We should require better security at our nation’s borders so that people from other homes don’t waltz in through our front door like it was their own. We like invited guests, not assuming ones.

I’m tired of everybody throwing around the word “racist” when racism is rarely at play. For example, I’m NOT a breedist because I wanted a small dog more than a big dog (even though I was originally prejudiced against long hair Chihuahuas).

Also, because I pastor a church that’s attended by white people, I’m no more a racist than the pastor down the road who leads a black congregation. Where and how we prefer to worship should not be a necessary indicator of anything.

For the record, I do not believe I’m superior to anyone for any reason, including my skin color, my nationality, my sex, or my faith. I’m not a racist.

Who’s to Blame?

Yet when it comes to the fears or misconceptions we may have of each other, it might be a good idea to determine where all those prejudices are getting their start! Who promotes the stereotypes? Maybe it used to be where we grew up, but America is much more diverse and cross-cultured than it was back in the 1860’s and 1960’s.

Who regularly portrays negative images to sell a product? How many movies have you seen with cuddly pit bulls or Dobermans?How many Hollywood films have you seen where an innocent victim is attacked in a dark alley by three white guys wearing pastel-colored Izod’s? Many of the stereotypes that perpetuate prejudice are actually fueled by the same Hollywood studios that preach to us about bigotry and racism.

Check out this report: “What Hollywood movies do to perpetuate racial stereotypes.”

There’s always going to be the one who thinks himself superior to others, whether consciously or subconsciously, and much of that is going to be due to ignorance, not hate. For example, many early European missionaries to Africa felt their race was inherently superior to the “descendants of Cain,” yet they lovingly gave their lives to reach them with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

But much of what is labeled as “racism” today is, I believe, a manufactured commodity of the media culture; they create the fear, keep people ignorant, and feed off the perpetual misconceptions. The rest is nothing more than name-calling in order to shame, silence, or intimidate one’s political or social opponent.

Racism is wrong. Racism is a sin! But calling something a sin that’s not, in order to bring about a desired response by shaming people into fitting your personal template, whatever that may be, is nothing less than manipulative, tyrannical, cultural legalism.

So, why don’t we forgo all the name-calling and honestly get to the root issues that generate fear, distrust, and division. I’ve got a strong feeling most of us care more about each other than the other knows.

Less labels; more Grace.

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Filed under animals, Culture Wars, grace, legalism

Five Things About God’s Hands

Artist: Rebecca Brogan

Maybe you are at a point in your life where you doubt God. Maybe you doubt He cares. Or, even if He cares, you wonder why you can’t see it.

I hope the following list of what God’s hands do will bring you some comfort and encouragement.

  1. They Created Man (Gen. 2:7). As much as we would like to think that we are self-made, there is a Hand that formed us from the dust of the earth. We are not like the rest of creation which was simply spoken into existence; we were fashioned by the loving, artistic hand of the Creator, and His fingerprints are all over us.
  2. They Contain the Believer (John 10:27-29). The believer should never worry about his salvation. He should never worry about being stolen away. Thank God that we are in His hand, and nothing, not even ourselves, can remove us from His omnipotent protection.
  3. They Chastise the Child (Prov. 3:12; 13:24; 22:15; 19:18; Deut. 8:5; Rev. 3:19). God is not a Father who encourages “timeouts;” He knows how to apply loving discipline to our seats of instruction. If more parents would worry less about the world’s wisdom and suggestions and follow the wise instruction of Scripture, we might not have as many entitlement-claiming, over-grown bratty children running the streets demanding their own way.
  4. They Carry the Broken (Isa. 40:11). Praise the Lord for His mercy and love! As the gentle shepherd who must sometimes break the leg of the wandering lamb, God must discipline us. However, it is then that He carries us close to his bosom where we learn to love being in His presence.
  5. They Catch the Stumbler (Psa. 37:23-24). There are times when we stumble, but because He is holding our hand, we will not “utterly” fall.

Jonathan Edwards preached in 1741, it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” But as a child of God, there is no better place to be!

David said, even after he had sinned, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord…” (1 Chron. 21:13). He knew the truth that brought comfort, a comfort the world does not know: “The LORD will not cast off his people…” (Psa. 94:14).

Praise God for His loving, providing, protecting, parenting, and guiding hand! 

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Apple Pie and Amazing Grace: Doing Better than I Deserve

The Question

It came from Africa.

No, it wasn’t an animal trying to eat me, or a disease for which no one has a cure (which is more scary). It was a question, one asked by a Facebook friend in Uganda.

Pastor Ndahayo Shine asked: “How are you?”

imageHow am I? How does an American answer that question? I mean, seriously? What do I have to complain about?

Honestly, at the very moment Pastor Shine’s question popped up on Facebook Messenger I was eating a warmed-up piece of apple pie (as American as it gets).

Pie, I tell you!

I’m eating pie, and I get a question regarding how I’m doing from a man in Uganda. Africa! The place where famines kill more people than the NRA is blamed for!

So, I replied with the following answer:

“I am alive, not hungry, and not hurting. I have a roof over my head, a car in the driveway, and children who love me. My wife is faithful, the police are not after me, and the dog hasn’t chewed anything important in a long, long time. I guess you could say I’m doing better than I deserve.”

Am I Blessed?

So many times we answer questions like “How are you doing?” with things like, “I’m fine,” or “I’m blessed.” However, to be honest – which I try to be most of the time – I’d rather admit to being “fine” than “blessed.”

Why is that? 

Saying that I’m blessed has a sneaky way of implying that those in other places – like Africa – are NOT blessed, at least not as much as me. I mean, what does it say about Christianity and the character of God when those who are “abundantly blessed” are the ones who rarely feel the need to trust God for their next meal? What I own or what’s parked in my driveway is not a mark of spirituality, nor should it insinuate I’ve lived a life more worthy of blessing than my brothers and sisters living in poverty.

If I am blessed at all, it’s not because of anything I’ve done or deserve; I am simply the recipient of God’s grace. I have been allowed, according to God’s sovereignty, to live in a country where leftover pie in a functioning refrigerator is commonplace.

Jesus made it pretty clear who the “blessed” really are. They are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers (Matthew 5:3-9). And if that’s not enough, “…Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…” (Revelation 14:13).

What I Don’t Deserve

While saying “fine,” I’d bet the temptation to answer the question “How are you doing?” with complaints is almost overwhelming for most. Oh, admit it – you say you’re “fine” because you don’t think the person asking is really that interested in hearing your list of ailments, worries, and irritations.

You probably answer with “fine” because you don’t want to sound like a cry baby or a hypochondriac, right? Because, admit it, you feel you deserve better than what you have; you don’t really feel “blessed,” do you?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t deserve anything but hell. Yet, for some reason God has allowed me to be the recipient of many good things which I don’t deserve, even if I have worked for a lot of it.

I don’t deserve a faithful wife, loving children, and a devoted dog. I don’t deserve to be a pastor, have a regular income, or be respected in my community.

I don’t deserve electric appliances that make life easier or the home in which I live. I certainly don’t deserve the freedom to come and go as I please without having to rely on public transportation or worry about being stopped by thugs demanding to search my car.

How am I doing? What can I say? I just ate pie…because it was there…and I wasn’t even hungry! If I’m blessed, it’s abundantly above and beyond what I need.

God is good, but His grace is Amazing! 

 

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Filed under America, Christian Living, Life Lessons, Thanksgiving

Do You Have Hope Without Jesus?

In Acts 16:30 the Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?

“Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear

William MacDonald wrote the following comment in his commentary:

“This question must precede every genuine case of conversion. A man must know he is lost before he can be saved. It is premature to tell a man how to be saved until first he can say from his heart, I truly deserve to go to hell…Many people today seem to have difficulty knowing what it means to believe. However, when a sinner realizes he is lost, helpless, hopeless, hell-bound, and when he is told to believe on Christ as Lord and Savior, he knows exactly what it means. It is the only thing left that he can do!” (MacDonald, W & Farstad, A. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson or Logos)

Do you have hope without Jesus? Then you’re without hope. Simply hopeless.

And that breaks my heart.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” – Acts 16:31


If you would like to talk with someone, there is a phone line open 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-NEED-HIM (1-800-633-3446). Someone will be happy to show you how to be sure you have eternal life. Don’t wait.

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Let’s Get Controversial…Where Do the Babies Go?

Hanging Out

Right now I am sitting in the office of the Ringgold Wedding Chapel, just hanging out, so to speak.

I’m here, today, to officiate 3 weddings, but in one wedding that is about to take place the family brought their own minister.

I don’t feel like going and watching a wedding just for the fun of it, and I don’t want to sneak over and steal any food from the reception hall while the bride and groom are otherwise distracted. So, like I said, I’m just hanging out for a little while.

What a perfect time to stir up a theological stink, right?

Babies

We should be thanking God for the surging tide of pro-life sentiment sweeping much of our nation right now! I firmly believe that the killing of infants in the womb is murder, for I believe that each and every fetus is an actual human being, regardless whether or not they vote for Republicans or Democrats.

But all this talk about abortion, the right to life, and millions of babies has brought back to mind a conversation I read years ago on a Calvinistic website (Monergism.com). It was just one of several “conversations” that eventually pushed me from Calvinism and helped define my theological stance as that of “provisionist”

The conversation was between two pastors and the subject was the funeral for an infant.

The first pastor discussed how challenging it had been to preach the funeral for a child, just a baby of less than a year old. He went on to say that the only thing he could do to help the grieving parents cope with the loss was to reassure them that one day, some day, they would be reunited with their child in heaven (since both parents were believers).

The second pastor, however, brutally chastised the first pastor for giving the parents of the dead child a false hope! Yes, he rebuked the first pastor for telling the parents they would one day see their child again because – now get this – he had no way of knowing if the deceased baby was “one of the elect.”

The second pastor said a better thing to have told the parents would have been the truth…that if the baby had been one of the “elect” they would see him again, but there’s no way to know till we get to heaven.

I still remember the burning indignation that welled up within me as I read that. With my face flush, I hammered out on the keyboard something akin to the following: “If I had been one of those parents, and you had told me that about my child, I would have given you the opportunity to go see where my baby went.”

Where Do They Go?

But, let’s be honest, what else is the reasonable conclusion to the Calvinist position on this subject? Are all babies who die too early to have accepted Christ (including those murdered in the womb) members of the “elect,” or is there the possibility that some were predestined to salvation and others were predestined to damnation? Even though some of you Calvinist friends of mine might not believe in “double predestination,” what is your answer to this?

Are we going to accept the proposition that God, the one who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” is the same God who would, for His own pleasure, doom any number of consciousless infants to an eternity in hell? Is that EVEN a possibility within your theological systematic?

You may use the comment section to calmly and kindly discuss. 

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Filed under Abortion

What’s the Difference In Tears?

Without God, tears are spilt; with God, no tear is wasted.

That’s the difference.

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Filed under Christianity, Faith, Life Lessons, wisdom, worship

My Saturday-Morning Play List

This morning I woke up with a tune – including the lyrics – in my mind. 

The only problem is that it was a song I heard yesterday when I was channel surfing on a long drive. It was the new song by Ariana Grande, a totally degenerate ode to selfish lust at the expense of others…just because you’re bored…

Even after reading Scripture, the song (along with mental images) kept coming back. It was literally making me sick…it had to go.

So, I picked up my phone, went to YouTube, and selected the following three songs in the order you see below.

There is a logical progression to the list. I hope you enjoy it. Praise Him!

 

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Filed under Culture Wars, grace, music, worship

Grace Doesn’t Keep a List

This morning I want to look at a verse from Proverbs. But before we do, let us read it in a couple of versions.

He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth [very] friends. – Proverbs 17:9 KJV

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. – Proverbs 17:9 NLT

Now, let’s talk about it.

Reminding 

Have you ever had someone remind you of a mistake you made years ago? If you are a husband, like me, then the answer is “Yes!

I may be running the risk of alienating many female readers, but men who are married know that mistakes made today are likely to be discussed tomorrow…and next month…and ten years from now. You see, wives are endowed by God with the uncanny ability to remember every time a man goofs up. I am convinced it’s an ability given to them to help even out the “weaker vessel” playing field.

However, I have also learned something else about wives – they know when to draw the line. If they wanted to, they could talk all day about the stupid things we men do; but they don’t. They remind us just enough to keep us humble, but not enough to break our spirits.

Most wives actually love their husbands, you know.

Repeat Reminding

Sometimes it is necessary to remind a person that is about to make a mistake what happened in the past. For instance, a true friend who might have been robbed by another friend who was drunk, or on drugs, might remind that person of his actions when he is tempted to take another drink. The reminder can be a warning designed to preserve a friendship, if not a life.

On the other hand, there are people who like to bring up the past on a regular basis. Their intentions are not to prevent anything, but to manipulate and control. That is what Solomon was talking about in today’s proverb.

The word translated repeateth is in the “active participle” tense.  So, to put it another way, the person who is losing friends is the one who is continually bringing up the past.

Gracious Love

Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” In other words, it is hatred that keeps uncovering the pain of the past, but love heals as it covers. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything must be forgotten, for even though a bandage covers, the bandage only signifies a wound was there in the first place.

Of course, that’s what makes grace so great. Without sin there would be no need for grace; but because of sin, grace abounds. A love that is real is a love that testifies something is covered.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

– Julia H. Johnston (Grace Greater than Our Sin)

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Do You Hate to Sin?

I hate it when I sin.

Some people hate to get caught, but I wasn’t caught. No one saw or heard or anything – only God.

I hate it when I sin because of the feeling it leaves, the drain on emotions, and the sense of powerlessness that leads to feelings of failure, defeat.

I hate it when I sin because I knew better! I knew better! It’s not like I didn’t know the consequences. It wasn’t like this was something I’d never before encountered. I just walked right into the sin and just committed it, just like it was the natural thing to do.

Oh, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? Nature. That battle between the redeemed and the unredeemed, the spirit and the flesh. How I look forward to the day when this tent in which I dwell is redeemed, also!

I hate it when I sin!

But you may be asking, “Aren’t you a pastor? Aren’t you supposed to be a spiritual and religious leader? How can you be talking about ‘sin’ like this? Won’t it hurt your reputation?”

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

The Truth is in me. I’m not perfect, just forgiven.

And that’s really why I hate it when I sin; it’s because I know I’m forgiven! Yes, I’m already forgiven! I’ve been saved, justified, reborn, adopted, and have received the righteousness of Christ…and I know a little about what it took for that to happen…

“Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear

It took the Cross! It took Calvary! It took Jesus bearing my griefs…carrying my sorrows…being stricken and smitten of God…being afflicted…being wounded for MY transgressions…being bruised for MY iniquities…accepting MY chastisement…and taking MY stripes so that I could walk away free (see Isaiah 53:4-5).

He – Jesus – did all that for me…all because of my sin…because He loves me (Romans 5:8).

But you may ask: “If you know you are already forgiven, then what keeps you from going out and sinning all you want?”

Two reasons. First, my “want to” has been changed. Second, it’s like the Apostle Paul said it: the love of Christ constraineth me (2 Corinthians 5:14). The thought of His love for me…what it took to redeem me from sin…to purchase my salvation…what He endured on that cross…the scourging He willingly accepted…it’s like ropes wrapped around me, binding me, “constraining” me.

Nevertheless, there are times when I sin. And I hate it. Romans 7:15-25 just about sums it up.

I thank God that where my sin did abound, grace…OH! What a word!…did much more abound (Romans 5:20)!

Then you may ask: “Well, if there’s more grace than there is sin to forgive, why not just keep sinning so that grace may ‘abound’ even more?”

Read Romans 6, is all I can say.

If you sin just because you can…there’s probably something major you’ve missed along the way. Maybe there’s nothing “constraining” you.

I hate it when I sin.


God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:10-13 CSB

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Filed under Christianity, grace, Love of God, Struggles and Trials, Theology