Don’t Be Afraid of the Grape Jelly

“This is my commandbe strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord our God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NLT)

Uncertainty, and fear of trying the unknown is a very real thing, even . It can be reluctance of trying something new, or fear of major life changes. Recently a preacher spoke of how he loves to eat grape jelly on biscuits and gravy. Let’s just say the overall reaction was not positive, with most reluctant to consider even trying it. The following week, several members of the congregation did try it and said it was good, or at least not as bad as they had feared. One had said no for 39+ years and finally tried it, having to admit that it was not bad at all.
Have you ever felt that God wanted you to do something for Him that was out of your comfort zone? Did you fail to do it because of your fear of trying something new? It is so easy to rationalize not doing something by simply saying, it’s probably not God anyway, it’s just a random thought. We don’t do it and so we will never know what might have been the outcome if we had just trusted God and His promise to be with us wherever we go.
I can assure you that if you endeavor to serve God whole-heartedly, He will at some point challenge you to undertake something that you have never done before. I encourage you to look to Him at that moment and be strong and courageous, accept the challenge and just do it. Your life may never be the same again.

Lord, challenge me with something new. Show me how you want me to be your
disciple in an unexpected way. I will look forward to the ways you will bless others through my obedience, amen.

I Can’t Do That

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. (1 Peter 3:15 NLT)

It is not unusual for Christians to be hesitant about sharing their faith. We seem to have a natural reluctance to talk about God with people whom we feel are not believers. We can talk about Him at church and when we are with Christian friends, but to talk to a non-believer about our faith in an unseen God is a scary thing.

Paul says we must always be ready to explain our hope. Why do we hesitate?

  1. I don’t know enough about the Bible
  2. I am just learning myself, how can I share with someone else?
  3. I don’t put things into words very well
  4. I am naturally shy
  5. I don’t do well with strangers
  6. I am afraid they will make fun of me
  7. They may know the Bible better than I do

I have good news for you! God does not expect you to be a Bible scholar, able to quote a long list of scriptures. He is more than aware of your perceived short-comings in your ability to speak or interact with strangers. He can help with all of that. God only wants you to honestly share what He has done in your life. Just make a simple statement such as, “I believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sinful life and restore my relationship with God. Accepting that, He has changed my life and I am happily following Jesus every day”.

Any follow-up discussion will be led by the Holy Spirit on your behalf. He will give you words and insights which will allow you to be an effective witness as you testify of what He has done in your life.

 Lord, thank you for accepting me as one of you children. Please help me be an effective representative of your love for all. Amen.

The Garden

Adam is here. God placed him on the earth, the only human being. Adam must have just stood there, looking around in wonder at all the things he saw.    He had no family, no friends, no parents or childhood.  He had to learn all on his own what it meant to be a human. He was a perfect man, there was no sin in the world at that time so he wouldn’t have been afraid. Indeed, all the creatures around him were harmless to him and to each other.  The lions weren’t interested in eating the lambs, the eagle flying overhead did not even think about trying to catch the rabbit and eat it.  Apparently, at this point in time, every creature that God had created was given the seed-bearing plants and the fruit of the tree’s to eat. There is nothing in the story that God indicated that certain animals would eat certain other animals or even that Adam would eat animals.

Once God had finished his creation of Adam, and Adam had looked around a bit, God moved him to a garden that he had planted in the east, a garden that was called Eden.  This was a beautiful garden that was full of tree’s that looked good to eat from.  It was all available for Adam to eat, with two notable exceptions.  In the middle of the garden were two special trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God specifically told Adam he could not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  He said that if he did he would die.  He didn’t specifically say that he couldn’t eat from the tree of life.  It could be speculated that God actually intended for Adam to eat from that tree because he wanted Adam to live eternally.  Hold that thought, we will return to it in a bit.

At this point, God gave Adam a job to do.  He was to give names to all of the creatures.  The livestock, the fish, the birds, and the wild animals.  God brought them all to Adam to receive a name.  It was a big job and God knew that Adam would need a helper. Adam was still a perfect man, the absence of sin would have meant that he was not aware of loneliness.  Being alone was all he knew, there was no other alternative, and that was fine and normal for him.  But God, in his love and care decided that it was not good for Adam to be alone on this magnificent earth.  So to make sure he would not experience loneliness and to give Adam a helper in this huge animal-naming project he caused Adam to go into a deep sleep so that He could perform a little surgery.  He made an incision in Adams side, took out one of his ribs and then closed up the wound perfectly.  He then used this rib to create one of his most stunning creations, the woman.   God took the woman to Adam and Adam said, this creation I am going to name woman because she was created from the bones and the flesh of man.  I am sure he was thrilled with this beautiful companion.  At this point the man starts being referred to in Genesis as Adam.  It is uncertain whether it was intended to be a personal name. Adam is just the English translation of the Hebrew word for the man. 

Adam and the woman (she has not been named Eve yet) got along perfectly right from the beginning.  They had a totally open, honest and innocent relationship with no hint of shame.  They were able to run around the garden naked, eating fruit from the trees, playing with the various animals and enjoying life as the only two humans on earth.  At some point, Adam must have discussed the rules of the garden with the woman.  Remember, he had been given complete freedom to tend and care for the garden. He was told that he could eat from any tree except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So the woman knew of this restriction even though she likely hadn’t been told directly by God as Adam had.

Now the story starts to go downhill. Though there were surely many serpents or snakes in the garden, one in particular had become the earthly body inhabited by Lucifer (Satan, the devil) 

Being Holy


But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: be holy because I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

The word “holy” has always been a little scary to me, and I’m sure to many of us. It has connotations of a list of things that you can’t do, and who wants to give up all that stuff. The scripture quoted above from 1 Peter clearly instructs us to be holy. It bears repeating.

The Greek word for holy as used in 1 Peter is hagios.  The fundamental meaning of hagios is ‘different’. In the New Testament it has the meaning “different from the world” being “as the Lord.” It implies being set apart and being special to the Lord.

If being holy is a worthy goal, then as one that wants to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, I decide that I want to be holy. That is step one. Now that I have decided that I want to be holy, I want to be different from the world and more like Jesus; and I want to be separated unto him, I move on to step two – facing the fact that I can’t. Jesus was perfect after all. He never sinned. I on the other hand am far from perfect, and probably sin more often than I would want to admit to anybody other than Jesus. The fact is I cannot will myself to be holy. Therefore, if I have decided that I want to be holy, and I realize that I cannot do it, I must move on to step three – trust that God is going to do it in me. This is where faith comes in. God clearly wants me to be holy and I have decided that I want to be holy so by faith I expect him to do it in me. It’s no different than having faith to accept Jesus as Savior, or having the faith to believe that God wants what’s best for me.

So now I have decided I want to be holy, I have faced the fact that I can’t be holy on my own, and I have decided to rely on faith to believe that God can make me holy. So, step four – act accordingly. Since contemplating this assignment and praying about it, and meditating on what it all means, I am already finding that I am beginning to act a little differently when faced with a temptation, or something that might cause me to be less than holy. In short, I am acting out holy in situations where I might otherwise be less than holy. This is the result of the Holy Spirit doing holiness in me when I have no power to do it on my own. Now that I have reached that point, step five is critical – I must stick with it. It’s like the WWJD (what would Jesus do). When faced with a test, remember, what is the proper response for somebody that God has made holy. That is what I must choose.

Adam Arrives on the Scene

Chapter 2 of the ongoing Chapter Book, Being Real

The moon, fading in the early morning light, slowly descended behind the purple hills as the sun began to make its appearance in the eastern sky until gradually it filled the land with its light. The sky was a brilliant blue, stretching above a newly created earth.  As far as He could see there were forests of tree’s, green vegetation and all manner of living creatures. There were great seas, rushing rivers, great mountain ranges and verdant valleys.  Everything was watered by great underground springs.

All the animals were coming down to the river to drink of the pure water. All these creatures found something within the wilderness of the creation to eat and they all drank together without fear, though some were extremely large and ferocious looking while others were small, furry and shy. They didn’t have names. They shared the world side by side without conflict. Overhead great flocks of winged creatures circled together.  The river sang a happy song as it shared its water while it flowed down to the great sea. 

The waters were as full of living creatures as the skies were full of birds and the land was full of animals. God planned it so that every type of creature would procreate more creatures exactly like them so that they would fill the earth.  It was the sixth day of creation and God walked the earth.  He looked at all he had created and was very happy with what he had done. As he gazed around His creation, He noted that there was no one to cultivate the soil and no one to take care of all the beauty that He had created. He then stooped down and, in the midst of all His creation and in the presence of animals big and small, He said, “let’s make a man in Our image.” He scooped up a handful of dust from the earth and created a new creature which He called man. He gave the man two legs that so that he could stand upright. He did this because He intended that the man would oversee His creation. He gave him hands to take care of his duties, though he intended no heavy work. He gave him eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to beat in perfect unison with the rhythms of the universe. He gave him systems to operate his body with, circulation, respiration, muscle movement etc. And then He gave the man the most miraculous thing, something He called a brain. This one small part of the man would control everything else in perfect harmony. It would tell the legs to run or walk. It would tell the fingers how to pluck a fruit from the tree.  Most importantly, this creation He called the brain would give the man the ability to think and plan. He would not have the knowledge of good and evil, for He would know no evil. But He would have the knowledge of the love of His creator. The man was created to worship God. The brain would also give the man the ability to think a problem through and make choices. God would not force the man to love Him, but He would make sure that he would have no reason not to.

When He finished forming the man, He did something He hadn’t done with any of the other creations, He breathed His own breath of life into the man. He had so much love for the man. This would be his crowning glory. This man and others to follow would live forever in this beautiful world He had created. He would love them and make sure that they wanted for nothing. He would provide everything they needed and in return the man would care for all of the other creatures He had created.

He was very pleased with all that He had created.

Yes, There Is a God and He Made You

As promised, here is Chapter 1 of my new book Being Real, published chapter by chapter until finished, then to be published in paperback

Let’s start with the basics.  Either there is a God or there isn’t. “In the beginning God created…” (Gen 1:1)  That is a big statement. “God created the heavens and earth – all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.” That’s Gen 1:1 in The Message translation. Now I know that it is modern to believe that there is no God responsible for creation. Most scientists would have us believe that sometime in the ancient past there was an accidental ‘big bang’ that ultimately resulted in an elemental life form. Then, somehow a series of random environmental circumstances caused that piece of ‘life’ in the primordial ooze to start evolving into more complex life forms until, wow, a human!  So, in that belief system I am not a creation of an almighty powerful God but simply fortunate that all of my amphibious, reptilian, avian, simian ancestors were in the right place at the right time to somehow morph into a higher life form, eventually leading to a human being standing up on two legs and thinking for himself.  I’m sorry but that version just requires too much faith. Rather, I choose to exercise a lesser amount of faith and just take the Bible at its word. God decided He wanted an earth so he made one. He thought about how he wanted to populate it and ended up making elephants, lions, dogs, monkeys and even bacteria and insects.  When that wasn’t enough He decided that there needed to be someone to look out for all these creatures so He made Adam and Eve and caused them to have the ability to reproduce themselves.   He literally took a handful of dirt from the ground and formed it with His hands and breathed life into the first man, Adam.  Then, after deciding that Adam couldn’t make it on his own (sorry men), He took a rib from Adam and formed a woman named Eve.  Now there were living souls on Earth, in the garden. Hence, in 1946 here comes me, an ancestor of many generations of the created Adam & Eve. Consider carefully, which version of how you got here is easier to believe?

So who created God? Where did He come from?  This is a question that is often posed by non-believers.  I have a well thought out answer that should be adequate for our purposes – I don’t know!  Uh-oh, does that mean that the whole belief in creation falls apart?  Not at all, somewhere along the line we have to exercise faith in something.  In the big-bang/evolutionary model, can they tell us where those first particles came from that miraculously banged up against each other and created the universe? Can they tell us how somehow an inert piece of ‘stuff’ suddenly took on life? No!  If God has to have a provable beginning, then why don’t those swirling masses of gas and particles have to have a provable beginning?  I just find it a lot easier to believe as the Bible says in Revelations 1:8, “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come…” (New Living Translation)  I don’t have to understand where God came from, it is enough for me to see how everything around me points to the fact that it must be true, God just is and He made all of this!

Finishing Strong

     

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7 NLT)

As a long-distance runner I know what it is to run the race. I was always conscious of the need to start well and establish my pace early. As a new runner I often fought the temptation to go out too fast and then I would pay for that enthusiasm later in the race. I would settle into a good pace and always tried to make sure I had something left in the tank to assure a strong finish. There was no better feeling than finishing a 10-mile race with a sprint to the finish line.

I am in the last stages of the most important race of my life. This race began in 1969 and I am still running. The starting line was in Gilroy, CA when I knelt at a pastor’s couch and accepted Christ into my life. I committed myself to a life-time race of representing Him well in the world around me. There have been stumbles along the way. There have even been a few falls, but I managed to pick myself up each time and continue the race. I am still running.

I have been running this race for almost 50 years now. I am beginning to understand that the finish line is not far ahead. I recognize that my overall pace during the race has been good, because I am feeling a surge of energy and am beginning to slowly pick up the pace. If I finish successfully I will be up for the greatest race award ever. “And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 4:8) And I will hear those welcome words, ‘well done, good and faithful servant’.

Father, I thank you for the privilege to run in this race, and for enabling me to run well, give me the strength to finish strong . Amen.

Dealing With Death

“……I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better” (Philippians 1:21 NLT)

Really? Dying is even better? Once again I am faced with an untimely, unexpected death. Not my biological family, but a member of my spiritual family that I loved and respected. Like my son who was only 41, this brother passed before his time. I never would have thought that he would precede me in death, as he was much younger, still worked an active job in law enforcement and was a vital part of our churches outreach programs. And yet he is gone.

My brother lived his life to honor Christ, this much I know. I do also. When I consider the possibility of death, as an older citizen with a degenerative disease, I know that I would choose to keep on living in this life, doing all I can to bring honor to Jesus Christ. and yet, if I die, I know that I will be gloriously happy to see my Savior and Lord. I take comfort in knowing that that is the reunion that is taking place now between my brother and his God.

I am sad that I will not be shaking his hand this morning and asking him how he feels about the NASCAR championship, I will likely shed some tears with his family, but I know that my brother has passed from earthly happiness to eternal joy.

Lord, in times of extreme sadness, help us to always remember the ultimate goal of our lives, to live eternally at your side . Amen.

Testimony

 

I have been around for 72 years, and during that time there have been many changes that have impacted my life. I guess the first one I can remember that is important is when I changed from a bratty eight-year-old to a water-baptized Baptist bratty eight-year-old in 1954. Somehow, I made it through high school where I graduated as a shy backward boy and went on to become a mostly mature Air Force Sgt. I left the Air Force in 1969 and once again changed from mostly mature veteran to a rather loose-living drifter sleeping at various times in the desert, friends’ houses, or in an apartment where I was afraid to hear the landlord knock on the door. I went back to the town where I graduated from high school, and that is where I had my first real conversion experience. I committed my life to God, got married, and by 1978 I had four fantastic kids, two two-year college degrees and a ministerial license with the Assemblies of God church. After 23 years of marriage, I was once again single, floundering, not going to church much and generally just existing. I married Debbie in 1994 and once again, life changed dramatically. I felt like I was back on track, a wife to come home to, a job that I enjoyed and a move to Bakersfield which I liked much better than Fresno.

I had started running during my first marriage. I completed several 10K races, 5K races etc. but it was during my second marriage that I began to get serious about fitness. I was almost 50 years old but suddenly discovered a real passion for long-distance running, especially on the trail. I completed two half marathons, two 15 ½ mile trail races, a couple of 7 mile trail races and lots of 10K’s and 5K’s. I felt like I could run forever and totally intended to. I also became a fan of Spin, an intense program of indoor cycling, even becoming an instructor. I was a follower of Jesus during this period but was a little uncommitted as far as developing a relationship with a local church.

Life went well until 2012 when I lost my oldest son in a gun accident; I found myself without a close relationship with God and with no church family to support me. I soon found Bakersfield First Church and that was one of the major changes in my life to that point. I began to have hope that I could return to ministry and have an impact in my community.  Even though I was now 66, I was in excellent health, had a great relationship with my kids, a loving wife, and now a church family that I dearly love. All was well.

Then in 2015, I encountered another major life change, a change that threatened to rob me of my hope. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t know a lot about Parkinson’s at the time but quickly found out that it was degenerative and progressive. Almost overnight I lost my ability to run. Not that I didn’t try. I did not want to give up. I began running, some would call it slow jogging, but I could only run for about 1 min at a time. I would do intervals, I would run for a minute, walk for a minute and figured that I could slowly increase my jogging intervals until I could run at least a mile without stopping. That would be a real accomplishment in my eyes. One morning I left the house for a run/walk. My goal for the day was to run 1-1/2 mins, with a 1 min walk break. I didn’t even make it a block from the house when I suddenly found myself flat on my face on the sidewalk. With four cracked ribs, a big bruise on my forehead and skin rash on my knee, and feeling lucky that I had avoided a concussion, it was time to admit that I had to give it up. I didn’t get mad at God, I didn’t lose my faith, but I freely admit that I had bouts of depression about my future. I did not feel life-changing hope.

My neurologist told me that the most important thing I could do for myself was to keep moving. I decided that if I couldn’t run, maybe I could walk fast. I began to do cardio walks using my trekking poles. That was ok, but I felt too unstable to walk fast successfully without feeling like I could fall. But I had to keep moving. So I bought a rollator, which is like a walker but with large outdoor-capable wheels and a seat for when you get tired. I named it Red and now can walk 15 min miles and feel pretty good about the ability to stay active.  So now I walk 4-5 days a week. I also do some weight training, and love to workout on my punching bag.

Working out successfully is great, but what about my ministry? I am not called to pulpit ministry. I am called to pew ministry. God has called me to pray, to encourage and to write. I am working at developing this calling into ministry and I am now at a place where I can say that Parkinson’s will not defeat me and will not define me.

After much time spent in prayer, reading my Bible, talking with good friends, and receiving support and encouragement from a loving wife, I can stand before you and say that I do have hope. I did some study recently on Paul and his ‘thorn in the flesh.’ Here is what he said in 2 Cor 12:7-9 …… So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”  Though I don’t compare myself with Paul, I too say that Satan put this upon me and God is allowing it to remain to teach me valuable lessons. I stand on Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

I accept that. And I once again I have hope that God is not through using me yet

Dealing with sin

I know, sin is not the most popular thing to talk about. It is important to talk about it though because sin is insidious and rears it’s ugly head without notice. The fact that you are a disciple of Jesus does not give immunity from sin. 1 John 1:8 says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

To be clear, a disciple of Jesus cannot be living a sinful lifestyle. 1 John 3:6 makes it clear. “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him.” This verse refers to those who keep on sinning, living a sinful lifestyle. It does not mean that Christians can never sin. Read 1 John 5:16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life.” So if it was impossible for a Christian to sin, why would we need instructions to help a brother who has sinned?

What to do? Jesus purchased your salvation and you have accepted that gift and become His follower. You allow the Holy Spirit to guide your everyday life and make every attempt to live a holy life, and yet suddenly you do, say or think something that you immediately recognize as sin. We have all been there. It does not mean that we are not really saved, it does not mean that God has stopped watching out for us – it just means that we are human beings and continue to be subject to the influence of the fall.

Let me encourage you. When you sin, do not keep on sinning. Instead acknowledge your sin to God and ask Him to forgive you according to the sacrifice of His son and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to help you resist temptation, then continue in your service to God

In another post I will deal with what sin actually is.