Nail Biting Truth

Hammer_hitting_Nail-274x330While watching a baseball game this weekend, I heard one of the announcers say: “Boy he really nailed that pitch.” His play by play analysis of the game reminds me that English can be a curious language.

Think about how many different ways the word “nail” is used:
• You can buy a box of 16 penny nails.
• You can use a hammer to hit a nail, but you never want to hit a fingernail or drop the box of nails on your toenail.
• You can get so frightened that you experience “a real nail-biter.”
• You can test the firmness of something and find it to be “as hard as a nail.”
• When you get your point across in a discussion you really “nail it on the head.”

If you have ever watched a carpenter build a house, you know the importance of a nail. The framer will skillfully attach one 2X4 to another by hammering a nail through one and into the other. Without this framework, the house would soon crumble and fall to the ground.

Nails are also an essential element to the foundation of Christianity. Paul called this truth to the attention of the Colossians: “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross (2:14).”

Jesus died for you when He was nailed to the cross as a sacrifice to pay for your sins. Because He had lived a sinless life, He fulfilled the requirements of the Old Testament Law, and the Law was nailed to the cross with Him.
In the New Testament, the death of the Law is carefully interlaced with the power of grace—“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Take a look at your hand. On the nail of your pinky visualize a red “G.” On the ring finger, paint a big red “R,” on the middle finger take some red ink and print a large “A.” On your index finger a “C” and then polish your thumb with a red “E.”

Every time you feel a sensation in a finger, hold your hand up, and see the message in the nails: It is Grace! Every time you see GRACE, remember the nail-pierced hand from which it flows.

Six Years Ago Today

4-july_1100030757012814-intSix years ago today, I had the honor of speaking at a Flag Day Ceremony. Since today is Flag Day, I thought I’d share the speech I gave on June 14, 2008 . . .

We gather here this 14th day of June to honor the emblem of our country. This is the day set aside to honor the stars and stripes that decorate the banner we recognize as a flag of freedom.

This flag defines patriotism, and S]several days ago I received an email from Becky Demo that addresses this subject:
“A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America”, for an amount of “up to and including my life.”

That email is more than rhyme and cheap rhetoric to people like Jim and Becky, and their son Jason who has served several tours in Iraq and to those of us who call ourselves veterans. To us it is more than mere sentiment—It speaks of sacrifice!

Henry Ward Beecher spoke of this sacrifice: If anyone asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him – it means just what Concord and Lexington meant; what Bunker Hill meant; which was, in short, the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world had ever known – the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties. Our Flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings. Beginning with the Colonies, and coming down to our time, in its sacred heraldry, in its glorious insignia, it has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: divine right of liberty in man. Every color means liberty; every thread means liberty; every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty – not lawlessness, but organized, institutional liberty – liberty through law, and laws for liberty!

I can recall my four years of service in the Air Force, and each evening when the colors were retired and taps was sounded; and, almost without fail, these memories bring goose-bumps with them. I love everything this flag symbolizes, and the words of Wilbur D. Nesbit capture the essence of my feelings for the flag.
He wrote: Your Flag and My Flag—

Your flag and my flag,
And how it flies today
In your land and my land
And half a world away!
Rose-red and blood-red
The stripes forever gleam;
Snow-white and soul-white –
The good forefathers’ dream;
Sky-blue and true-blue, with stars to gleam aright –
The gloried guidon of the day, a shelter through the night.

I find it interesting that one of the first things we teach our toddlers is parade etiquette. We teach them to hold the flag in their tiny hands and to proudly wave it. Jared Gomez, a young cousin of mine and a former El Dorado toddler, has grown into manhood as a marine. As I speak, Jared is about to depart for a third tour of combat. It is the sacrifice of young men and women like him who define the significance of the Flag and give meaning to the word patriotism. They grow-up to serve our nation, to defend it and to take the chance of returning home in a flag covered casket having made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the cherished virtue called freedom.

When speaking of rights and duties associated with freedom, Calvin Coolidge said:
We do honor to the stars and stripes as the emblem of our country and the symbol of all that our patriotism means.
We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth. It represents our peace and security, our civil and political liberty, our freedom of religious worship, our family, our friends, our home. We see it in the great multitude of blessings, of rights and privileges that make up our country.
But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights, we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done. A yearly contemplation of our flag strengthens and purifies the national conscience.

On this Flag Day, June 14, 2008, we stand here to pay tribute, to honor old glory, and to offer our gratitude to those who have fought and died for this country. This flag should serve to remind us of our obligation to preserve the freedom that is ours today. It is a freedom that did not come cheaply, and it is a freedom that will only be maintained if the present generation and the ones to follow are willing to pay its price.

Bells, Whistles, and Anniversaries

bells-and-whistles3When I check my phone of a morning, I find an email from Google Calendar, and it reminds of my schedule for that day. When the gas tank in my truck reaches a certain level, the computer in my truck sounds a beep and displays a message on the dashboard. This is a reminder that I can only drive another 50 miles before I run out of gas.

Reminders come in different forms. Some are sounds like bells and whistles; others are anniversaries recorded on the pages of a calendar; and, some can be as a simple as the old string tied to your finger or a note scribbled on the palm of your hand.

The purpose of communion in a church service is to remember—“Do this in remembrance of me,” is what Jesus said when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Psalmist knew the importance of reflecting on the goodness of God, and he wrote: “Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore! Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth (Psalm 105:4-6).”

God even went to extreme measures with some of the more colorful figures in the Bible. Both Jacob and Paul were left with a physical ailment to serve as a reminder of who they once were and where God was taking them.

Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, and the pain in his hip caused him to walk with a limp the rest of his life—a reminder of the presence of God. Paul was pursuing and persecuting Christians like a raving madman until met Jesus on the Damascus Road. This is where I believe Paul received his “thorn in the flesh” that vexed him the remainder of his life.

What reminds you of the goodness of God? I encourage you to take some time over the weekend to pause and remember. Turn off your cell phone; find a quiet spot; read the first six verses of Psalm 105; and, flip through the pages of your mind to reflect, remember and see how God has been present in your life.

As you “remember His marvelous works which He has done,” you will be able to give Him thanks, and the peace of God will find its way into your life.

The Goodness of God

roof4It is a rare occasion when I hear anyone speak of Paul Bunyan and Babe. I thought of the mythical lumberjack and his blue ox early this morning as I listened to the thunder and felt it’s presence as it shook the house.

Mom used to attribute the fearsome nature of a thunderstorm to Paul’s anger, Babe’s stomping, or a sack of potatoes being dropped on the floor of the sky. When things calmed down, she might say: “Well Paul and Babe have made their peace.”

The calm after last night’s storm and the memory of Mom’s explanation, brought the word “reconciliation” to my mind. Paul spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 5: “God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ; and he has made us agents of the reconciliation. God was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself—not counting their sins against them—and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct to you through us. As his personal representatives we say, ‘Make your peace with God.’ For God caused Christ, who himself knew nothing of sin, actually to be sin for our sakes, so that in Christ we might be made good with the goodness of God (Phillips Version).”

According to this verse, when we make peace with God, we become “agents” or “ambassadors” of God in the peace-making process. The first step in the process is to realize the source of our peace—“we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5).” The second step is to understand that God works through His children to get His message to the world.

There is no place in the verses above that even hint at the idea that we are secret agents with a coded message. Instead, we are to shout from the rooftops that Jesus became sin, so we could be made good.

Now here’s the best part: You are made “good with the goodness of God.” When God looks at you at, He doesn’t see a bruised peach or a smashed tomato. He sees His divine perfection at work in you. You are no mistake—you are His answer and agent to the world!

The bellowing thunder early this morning was not Paul Bunyan expressing his displeasure; it was the clap of Heaven, and God celebrating His creation. You may look into the mirror with blurry eyes and see the reflection of messy hair and a wrinkled face, but God sees the reflection of His Son in you.

You are God’s morning miracle, and you are good because of His goodness. He has a message to share and you are the agent through which He will speak peace to the world.

Faith: Who? Why? and Where?

Question Everything Clean_0Studies have shown that people with no faith are more likely than their religious counterparts to suffer from depression and are more likely to commit suicide. I believe faith makes a difference because it provides you a sense of meaning and a purpose for your life; and, it offers you hope beyond the grave.

There may be times when you struggle with the big “W” questions of life:
• “Who am I?”
• “Why am I here?
• “Where am I going?”

Without God in the equation, finding answers to these questions can be difficult. Animals are guided by their instincts, but mankind needs the Spirit of God to solve the riddles of life. If God does not exist, both man and the universe are without hope. If there is no life beyond the grave, the future of man is exactly that—grave! Without the hope of the cross and the power of the resurrection, life is little more than a flickering candle that fades and is engulfed in a consuming darkness.

One of the accounts that helps to verify the claims of Christ, the crucifixion, and the resurrection is found in the words of John. He was present with Jesus from the early days of His ministry, at the time of the crucifixion, and he was also a witness to the empty tomb.

If the biblical record was inaccurate, why would John continue to fabricate a hoax? If he was spreading a myth, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose, but John spoke the truth; and, he dedicated his life to the cause of Christ.

As an old man with a still vibrant faith, John wrote: “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, and verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy (I John 1:1-4 The Message)!”

I hope this blog will strengthen your faith and help you enjoy the joy of knowing Jesus.

A Moment or A Minute

downloadWhat’s the difference between a single moment and a single minute? If you were watching Wheel of Fortune last Thursday night, you know the answer—a trip to the Dominican Republic. A contestant shouted “minute,” and the correct answer was “moment.” His error cost him a trip to what some travel enthusiasts would describe as a trip to paradise.

When you read the New Testament, you will find Paul using the concept of time to impart some spiritual truth:

• Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God. Don’t get your stimulus from wine (for there is always the danger of excessive drinking), but let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God! Thank God at all times for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And “fit in with” each other, because of your common reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:15-21).”

• Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

• Listen, and I will tell you a secret. We shall not all die, but in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, every one of us will be changed as the trumpet sounds! The trumpet will sound and the dead shall be raised beyond the reach of corruption, and we who are still alive shall suddenly be utterly changed. For this perishable nature of ours must be wrapped in imperishability, these bodies which are mortal must be wrapped in immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53).

The three verses above can be summarized by saying you are to live life with a sense of responsibility that is seen in the wise use of time; the momentary trials of your life are to be seen through an eternal perspective that compares them to the glory that is waiting for you in heaven; and, you are to look to the future with hope because your frail mortal body will be wrapped in immortality.

The difference between a minute and moment is so minute it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what you do with the moments of your life today. The moment you take to consider your relationship with Jesus might just change the minutes of your eternity.

623: A Balanced Life

new_mx623wn_500For several years now, I’ve worn a specific brand of tennis shoes. They are the “623” made by New Balance.

As I took a sip of coffee and started my devotional time this morning, I noticed my shoes on the floor in front of me. I saw something in the “623” logo on the shoes that I had never seen before.

The significance of “623” just occurred to me—Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’m certain New Balance has never connected the salvation message of Romans 6:23 to their tennis shoes, but every time I lace them up and put them on, I’ll think of this verse.

This shoe theme reminds me of one of the principles that John taught: If you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. He said: “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him (I John 3:17-18).”

What about your talk and your walk? Is it consistent? When people hear you talk, do they hear the love of God? If people follow your path and walk in your shoes will it lead them to Heaven?

Paul’s words to the church at Rome are significant to this discussion: “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace who bring glad tidings of good things!’ (Romans 10:13-15).”

623: I encourage you to take 6 minutes to read this blog 2 times, to think of 3 people who you can influence with your talk and by your walk, and to pray that you can be the one who brings the “glad tidings of good things” to them.

Ignition Contrition

A spilled salt shakerIn an act of public contrition General Motors has fired 15 employees and reprimanded 5 others following a cover-up regarding a faulty ignition switch. This glitch in technology has been linked to several accidents and deaths, and it has prompted an apology from GM’s Chief Executive, Mary Barra.

Ms. Barra described the behavior of GM as a “pattern of incompetence and neglect.” She also said: “We will accept responsibility for our mistakes, and we will do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again (WSJ Online).”

What is a pattern? It is the customary manner in which a business or organization operates or the behavior that defines a person.

In Paul’s letter to Titus he writes about a pattern or example that is to be followed. As you read it, notice what Paul says about a person’s individual responsibilities and the character traits he emphasizes: “Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled, showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way. In your teaching show integrity, dignity, and a sound message that cannot be criticized, so that any opponent will be at a loss, because he has nothing evil to say about us (Titus 2:6-8).”

Where is the self-control, integrity, and dignity today? They seem to have been replaced with crude conduct, a vocabulary of four letter words, and an anarchistic attitude.

In Colossians 5:6, Paul said, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt (wisdom).” Is grace and salt (wisdom) a pattern of your life or have you forgotten the grace and become too salty in your speech?

What A Delight

spectrum_3-021114-ykwv1Even though the life and ministry of Peter had as many ups and downs as a roller coaster, he was a witness to many of the pivotal moments in the early history of Christianity. One such incident was the transfiguration of Jesus.

Peter never forgot that life-changing moment and probably spoke of it often: “We did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).”

There is a five word phrase in Peter’s account that is found two other places in the New Testament. “I take delight in Him” is also found in Matthew 3:7 and Matthew 17:5. In both of the instances, God is expressing His approval and love for Jesus. The first was at the baptism of Jesus and the second was the transfiguration experience in which Peter was present.

If God delights in Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same? Not only did God say that He delighted in Jesus, but He followed that statement up with a command: “Listen to Him!”

In the Psalms and the book of Proverbs, there is a strong correlation between the word delight and the believer’s relationship with God:

• Psalm 40:8: I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.
• Psalm 119:16: I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.
• Proverbs 11:1: Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.
• Proverbs 12:22: Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.
• Proverbs 15:8: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.

We need to realize that “delight” is heavy with the fullness of God. Paul had this fullness in mind when he wrote: “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead (Philippians 3:9-11).”

When we truly know Him, and the transforming power of His resurrection, we will “delight” in Him, in His Word, and in His wisdom.

A Quick Lesson For A Slow Learner

1171053_show_ART_POS_defaultWell, I did it again! I engaged in one of my annual rites of Spring—I’ve suffered through my first case of poison ivy.

I guess I’m a slow learner. When I was a child I had a fascination with fans which resulted in bloody fingers. It took me a long time before Mom convinced me that if I played with fire I’d get burned; and, it seems like it takes the first dose of poison ivy to remind me to wear a long sleeved shirt and gloves while trimming the bushes.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a string around my finger or some form of a note to remind me to do the things I need to do. Without the reminders of Google Calendar, I would have trouble keeping my schedule straight.

Both Paul and Peter realized there is a need to stir up a person’s memory and to provide motivators for godly living:
• I Timothy 1:6: I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you
• Hebrews 10:24: let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works
• 2 Peter 1:12-214: For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. 1 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent (body), to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.

With this in mind, remember to remind yourself to be mindful of the things of God.