The Exclusivity of the Christian Faith

I wholeheartedly believe that the only way to gain entrance into the heavens is via experience with the Jesus of the bible. He was a real person who lived a sinless existence and died at the hands of an angry mob. Yet it was all a part of the grand plan of the creator of this universe. Believing who he was and embracing him as the only bridge from the state of human sin to arms of a holy God is what I am convinced of is what is needed to become a child of God. Every fiber of my being tells me this is true. I would hope that all who identify with the name and person of Jesus feel the same way. I guess you’d say I am ALL IN, and wonder who in their right mind would only be “partially in”?

The thought for this current writing is something that is a bit hard to write about. It shines light on a subject that “ought not be”. It examines from real life view about something that seems missing from people who are “sold out” believers in Jesus the Christ. It is in the subject of giving. But before you grab your wallet, I’m talking about giving in a different sense. I’m talking about giving of one’s self to others in a exercise of faith. I’ve noticed for quite some time that Christians, and churches, create events or “ministries” with the purpose of helping others or meeting some need that they see in the community. They plan, they recruit others for help, they spend large sums of money, they craft events for the community to participate in for little or no charge whatsoever. Yet, by design, they sometime leave you with the feeling that they are a stingy bunch. They want the outsider to come and participate, but boundaries are put in place that make it seem restrictive or even miserly.

What made this thought come to the surface is a recent event that we attended. We took our young granddaughters to a “fall festival” (Halloween substitute). The event started pretty early so we had to rush to get there in time to park, walk and then take the kids to booths set up for games. Each booth had large tubs of candy for kids to have after completing whatever challenge each game afforded. Yet each child was only allowed 2 pieces of candy. The place was full of booths and people. So busy in fact, that the kids had to wait in line for each game. This place was full and kids of all ages and all seemed to be having a great time.

But after one of the games ended my granddaughter was digging through the candy looking for something that was not chocolate (she doesn’t care for it?). The lady manning the booth told her “dear you must only get 2 pieces”. My wife was puzzled at that rebuke since the she was just looking for something other than chocolate? It wasn’t as if the kids were “loading up” at each stop. So we carried on to the next booth for the next 20 minutes or so and waited our turn in line. After about the 4th booth a man (obviously in leadership) from the church walked by and waived at the booth attendants as if to say the event was over. So when it was our child’s turn the booth people just said “sorry it’s over”. So we went quickly to three other booths hoping our girls could get a few more pieces of candy before calling it a night. But it happened several more times and the event was OVER. The tubs of candy were still half full, yet it was 7:30 and we were all done. Our oldest was not only upset by not getting very much candy but wanted to simply play the games.

I know this all sounds a little silly, but we felt like outsiders at our own church. We brought our granddaughters for a fun experience at OUR church. But it was over in a flash and we took them back home with buckets almost empty. This event underscored how I think we as Christians behave in this world at times. We have the one true answer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, yet we place so many rules and restrictions on the prize that we leave the unbelieving world still in unbelief. The true gospel is one of inclusiveness and fullness, not one that closes the gate and refuses the prize because the ending hour has come. We have a redeeming work to do as believers yet we are shirking that calling if we limit what we do to time and space, and candy.

When others see Christians like myself I believe they should see people who are givers and people who go way beyond the call of duty in serving others. We are called to serve God. I learned long ago that the only way I can honestly and effectively serve my God is by serving others. And when we serve we should do so lavishly, as if each person we serve is our own child or grandchild.  People should see and experience the grace and mercy of the cross by seeing me lay down my own wishes and desires by the way in which I love and serve. That’s how people are drawn to the love of Christ. Words can be optional, but the way in which we treat others gives us opportunity to share they hope that we have within us.

Narrow IS the gate to salvation, but everyone should be given opportunity to see the path by the way Christians love and serve.

 

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They Took Him Down Alright

The Lord Jesus Christ had an excruciating week leading up to his death. The religious leaders couldn’t take him any longer. He was a threat to their way of life. They thought that the laws they so carefully tried to follow were being mocked by this man. Yet he looked beyond the detail of the law and saw people and he saw their need. He knew people didn’t need a strict adherence to a set of rules and regulations. They needed a kinsman redeemer.

They found a judge in that Thursday night who probably owed them favors. And with a trumped up trial after hours they brought their so-called charges against this man Jesus. With the help of a kangaroo court this sinless man fell in the hands of an angry mob. They handled him as if he was less than a human. Little did they know he was much much more.

Yet this man who’d loved others beyond explanation submitted himself to torturous pain. He could have ended this horror with a single word or thought. Yet in the dark of this night he would allow his mocking crowd to do their bidding. In the crowd that night there were possibly some of the very people who’d witnessed him heal a blind man or raise his dead friend from a tomb.

Anguish and humiliation continued through the night. This man was not getting away with his crimes of passion. A determination had been made to end him, once and for all. So they took him down alright.

They probably wondered how this man could’ve endured the beating that he’d already taken and still be alive and conscious.  In his final hours he still had the compassionate thought to reach out to another condemned man. The doomed soul beside him realized that this man Jesus had to me more than just a common man, not just by the way he lived by by the way he was dying. Even in his final agony this common thief received the passion of the Christ, and he believed.

So under the watchful curious eye of bystanders the execution of this Galilean carpenter came to an end. Even in his final gasps of breath he was asking his father to forgive his executioners. This was evidence enough to show that he was more than just a man. So they had their way took him down.

This story must be over.

Passion Week – What Does that Really Mean?

By many, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is referred to as Passion Week. For some the word passion might be a confusing term, especially in the world in which we live.

For me that word has a much deeper connotations than just a sensual human response. One definition of passion says “having a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something”. Another is “intense, driven, mastering a feeling or conviction”.

I admire musicians who have true passion in the way they display a total surrender in the the way they perform. They can convey a message with such force that you are left with little doubt about the importance of the message. They just lay it all on the line with unfettered emotion. If you cannot sing with passion, why bother?

People are passionate about many other things in life too. They can encompass the entire spectrum of humanity. Even in the realm of business there are those who are totally engulfed with a passion for their goods or services. The truth of the matter is, if you bring a passionate zeal to your work or avocation, you will excel and exceed in whatever you do. Regardless of your craft, people will follow and respect you because of your depth of commitment.The intent of my writing today is to examine a passion that far outweighs all other human pursuits or desires.

There was a lowly man who took up residence on earth and walked among us. He was from humble beginnings and led a simple life. This gentle man of whom I speak had a calling and a purpose. He may not have been a master builder or a great musician of ability or craft. But his goal and purpose pushed him to the ultimate level of passion. His resolve was born out of who he was. He was bred as a servant. His DNA fully tilted him to love people with a unique passion unknown before he came. His strong resolve led to his ultimate demise very early in his life. You’ve probably guess that I am speaking of Jesus, the Christ.

When he looked people in the eye, his gaze went directly to their core. He saw them where they were, yet loved them in spite of who they were. He was a magnet to those around him. He exuded a passion for life, but it not his own. The compassion he had for people was powerful enough to make rugged fishermen drop their nets and follow him without reservation. He just commanded a presence about him that was inexplicable. And he still does now.

For those of you who know and follow this man Jesus, he still has that magnetic draw and power. To become like him empowers you. To walk with him encourages you. To know him changes you.

As we ponder this week of “passion” we should be reminded how far his care and concern took him. It led him to to an early grave as “religious” leaders declared him their enemy because he obviously had a greater influence than they. Those same people took him down, or so they thought. There’s more to this story. Stay tuned.

God. Is He Someone I can Pray to?

God is our Father and our creator. That is my story and I’m sticking to it. That is something I was taught in my upbringing.  Since God is our Father, that makes him in essence and in character, our Dad.  Being a perfect Father, we know that he must enjoy the interaction, respect and reciprocal love from his kids.

Long ago in my life experience I gained a great respect for God. That was even before I could say that I had a personal “experience” or relationship with him. As a child, when others would pray, I was taught to bow my head and close my eyes (simple I know). But if I knew nothing else personally about God, at least I knew to respect Him and revere who he was.

When we speak God’s name, mention him in passing or even simply think of him, he is acutely aware of us and at full attention and ready to hear from us. The scriptures instruct us to pray without ceasing. I think we all know what that really means. It means that in every situation we should have God’s name on the tip of our tongue asking him for guidance, comfort, and every other thing we could possibly need. Prayer is reaching out to God. It is also acknowledging that He (and he alone) is our source and strength. I’m a guy who loves fun and find some sort of humor in anything. It’s just how I’m wired. But mixed in with my humor there is a serious side to me as I think of who God is.

God expects us to call on him in thick and thin. I think it has to be a wonderful thing to him, when we call on his name to a simple conversation with him and lovingly thank him for being who he is. This conversation can be equated to telling our earthly father – I love you daddy.

Our paw owns it all. He’s really a rich guy. He lavishes his wealth on us each day. At times I feel like a spoiled brat the way he blesses and cares for me, even when I’ve been a fool. But in his goodness he knows what’s best for us. He also knows full well when to withhold his wealth from us and correct us.

The next time to have the need to reach out to your father for advice or strength or even to just thank him, don’t hold back. Speak his name, call out to him boldly. He will hear your voice and respond to you in grace and love.

God inhabits the praises of his children, all day – everyday.

O Holy Night – Part 1

On the early morning of this new year I find myself awake early. The past week has been a bumpy ride, literally. Following Christmas day there were errands to run and  the decompression after the buildup to Christmas Day. Upon settling in my old easy chair to watch a little TV, little did I know that silent night was about to become anything but silent.

The networks were being preempted by the weather on this warm and sticky December Texas evening. We knew we had a cold front on it’s way and heavy rain coming the next day. Texas weather is a crazy thing. We laugh, but all four seasons can happen in a single day.

As I watched the weather guy track a heavy thunderstorm, that was starting to turn ugly, little did I know that weather front had a late Christmas present for us.

One storm had produced a tornado south of Dallas and it had tracked almost to the downtown area of Big D. As I watched the trajectory of that storm, I told my bride that I was more concerned about the eastern side of the track because that is where we were sitting.

A few minutes later I lost satellite signal. Usually when this occurs it will rain pretty heavily within a short time. I waited for the sound of rain on my chimney. Nothing.

As I sat in my recliner looking out through my patio door I could see some flashes of light that were most likely lightning strikes from an approaching new storm. Being the constant weather watcher that I am, I stood and looked out to the southwest to see in the back-lit sky what surely looked like what they call a wall cloud.

I summoned my better half for a look. She saw what I saw. It was a cloud hanging lower than the surrounding clouds. And there were flashes of light that made it evident it was more than a wall cloud.

I opened the door and stepped on the patio for a better view. That’s when I heard “that” sound. It was a roar with a loud motor grinding pulsating. It appeared several blocks from us. I quickly tried to determine if it was headed left or right. It was neither. It was coming our way.

I loudly called out to my wife that we needed to head to the main bathroom. I’ve always been a scoffer at the warnings to get in the tub. This time I knew better than to question what my ears and eyes had seen.

So with pillows in place and Miss Sadie in (our dog) we closed the door and waited. A mere 60 seconds had passed when we heard a couple of loud “booms” and a little vibration. Then quiet. I said it’s over. And it was.

The “easy” part was now over.

 

A Cold and Starry Night

Do clear, cold, starry nights make you think of days gone by like it does for me? Something is mystical and magic about gazing in into the heavens on a winter night. I think it is awesome to realize that the sky we view on any given night is the same exact view that we’ve surveyed our entire lives. And on a grander scale, that sky has been the same for a really long time (like forever)!

On a cold night in a distant past most of us know of and accept the story that there were men who had a simple yet important job of tending sheep. And on that special starlit night these wranglers realized there was something different about that fluorescent sky. These stargazers had much experience with night skies. They had an intimate knowledge of the details and scope of the horizon. They had they viewed that same scene night after night for a very long time. Other than watching for predators and strays, I’m sure these fellows spent considerable time talking among themselves about a myriad subjects. But on this night they had something big and new to think about and discuss.

For them to see a new light in the sky must have more than just a passing interest. It would be equal to us hearing or seeing an unidentified object of unknown origin flying in our direction. It was, no doubt, one of those things that would shake anyone to the core. These sheepherders probably didn’t know what to make of what they were witnessing? They, along with countless other night watchers, must have been talking about this new light in the sky for weeks and months to come.

This new light in the sky seemed to somehow be focused and directional, unlike the other sparkles in the sky. The special light seemed to be shining towards a place. Even with the sky’s visual rotation, this particular light stayed in place and pointed in a direction. It didn’t lose its intensity as the night faded.

I may be spending a great amount of effort in painting a scene that would have been present in that night, and that sky. There is great reason for the concern and special wonder of this night sky, and that star. For you see the light that was burning brightly in that night sky pointed to the place where a human kind would become supernatural royalty. This great light and event was because of the birth of single child. The child of which I speak was more than just the pride and joy of new parents. The great illumination pointed to a hope for all mankind.  For you see, God became flesh that night, as the savior of the world was being born. This single event signaled to the world that something was new and different. I’ll bet there was electricity in the air and an excitement that was inexplicable.

So the next time you gaze the night sky, see if you can imagine what it might have been like to see that Star of Bethlehem that night. That star still shines but it is now visible to all who believe in the baby toward whom it pointed. He later became a kinsman redeemer and king. Jesus the Christ was born and is still our star and guide.

The Powerful Names of God

 

Most Wednesdays I post to a private FB group of guys I’m part of. I summarize what I’ve gleaned from a weekly video series. The past 6 weeks or so our study has been on the Power of God’s Names by Tony Evan. There are over 80 recorded names for God. In this study we covered the names we hear the most, like Jehovah, Elohim and Jireh and several more. The Final word of the study was the name Emmanuel. Besides the name Jehovah, Emmanuel is the most recognizable name, since it is used a lot at Christmas in verse and song.     

 

The names of God reveal to us the many different attributes of God. Like Mighty Warrior, Everlasting Father, Healer, Redeemer, and the list goes from there. Emmanuel- means “God with Us”.  The “with us” refers to Jesus, the Christ. Each and every name for God is replicated in the person of Jesus. HE embodies each one of the names and attributes fully. He was fully God and also fully man. That’s one of the mysteries of the triune God. God is One in three and three in One. The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Whatever we need or desire from God they are all embodied and avail in the God/Man Jesus.  

Philippians 2:5-11 is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. It sums up Jesus Christ very well.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

If you desire anything from God you will find it available to you in his son Jesus. It is not rocket science or brain surgery, but it will send you to heaven and will give your brain the ability for correct thinking. That will lead to a life filled with goodness and wonder. It is very complex in nature and scope byt that’s God’s business. But very simple to claim him as your own. That’s our business.

                                                         
The message in Philippians 2:6-11 has blessed me for 44+ years.

The Compelling Days of Easter

 

I have days when I am compelled to write. Writing is simply a revelation of what is going on in one’s mind. Today is one such day for me.

 

Driving back from lunch it dawned on me that this is Easter week. It usually slips up on me. For those of you who’ve seen what I say on here, I am someone who believes in traditional values. I lean pretty far to the right on most social and political issues and I don’t apologize for that. I’ve a passion for life and liberty and justice. I enjoy simple pleasures. I enjoy humor. I relish passionate spiritual music from another era (crazy I know). I get jazzed and motivated serving others. That’s my calling.

 

But this week of the year pulls from me something that is from the depths of who I am. I know I’m a husband and a son and a father, and now I’m also a Pops. But who I really am is one who believes in the power of the cross of Christ. Yes, I realize it was a cruel and bloody event a long time ago in history that some people cringe and want to ignore. But the event of the cross was the pivotal point in all of human history. God made a bridge to himself with the horrible and brutal death of the God/man Jesus Christ. I’ve learned about him, I’ve prayed to God in his name. I’ve relied on him to carry me when I had no more strength. I’ve seen his hand and I’ve seen his heart. No human reasoning could ever change my mind about who I KNOW he is.

 

So as I ponder this week and the junk He was given to endure, it puts a big lump in my throat. I realize he did what he did to pay a debt for me, that I was incapable of honoring. Whatever you’re doing this week I urge you to stop and ponder the Christ who laid it down for us all. Embrace and accept him. Take the gift that is being freely offered to you, and don’t look back. If you do, you will realize and experience something called resurrection. That word means that something was dead and had new life breathed into it. You’ve heard that story. He died and went to a grave. His detractors thought they had snuffed him out. But he had new breath pumped into him a couple of days later. He stood up and walked out of his place of defeat and displayed God’s power one early morning. That is the story of Easter. I hope you see it and experience it like I have.                   

Left Turns. Ever made one?

LEFT TURNS
Right turns when driving are fairly easy, aren’t they? Most states allow a right turn on red light, if no other traffic is coming. Some times there are arrows that allow right turns. But for the most part in America we could all agree that turning right is fairly simple.
Left turns however are another matter entirely. My most poignant remembrance of a left turn was when I was a little bit younger (OK, a lot younger!). I met regularly with two older men on Saturday mornings for coffee, encouragement and prayer. The route to our meeting place required a left turn at an intersection. One particular morning when at the signal light and turning left, I proceeded to make my turn at the end of the light’s cycle.
On the other side of the intersection another driver was coming through the intersection, also at the “end” of the cycle going straight. That morning we met without a handshake. It was a small disaster. The other driver T-Boned me on the passenger side of my car. I had my driver’s window down at the time and the impact flung my eyeglasses into the street and we run over later. The right side window exploded and some of the flying glass now resided in my face.
After the spinning stopped I surveyed the scene and realized my little car was done, Caput, totaled and basically a nice new U shape.
I made my meeting that day after a brief discussion with the other driver, the police, paramedics and a few other “concerned” citizens that were worried about us clearing the intersection. My meeting guys saw the blood and the no glasses on my face and said, “What the heck happened?” “I said, well I was just making a left turn, when………”
I survived that crash. My car didn’t. Had my pregnant wife been with me in the passenger seat that morning most likely she or my unborn son might not be with us today. It was that bad of a collision.
How can out life be changed so quickly and drastically with a simple left turn?
As I look back on that day and survey the many days of my life since that time, I can tell you I’ve had and seen many other “Left Turns” in my and countless other lives. Can you recall those times when your world changed in an instant? Was it a phone call? Was it a birth or death you witnessed? Was it coming home to an empty house unexpectedly? Or maybe it was that day you were called into the boss’s office for some bad news?
My bride and I were discussing just last night how many of our friends, co-workers and others we’ve known of the past couple of years who’ve had some drastic and even fatal left turns. Often without any warning, we’ve seen settled lives get toppled in an instant. Is it that we are just getting older and everyone around us is too, or does it seem that problems for all of us are mounting up like pending storms?
Regardless of why, we will ALL have LEFT turn(s) in our lives. It is just part of the human experience. How, oh how, do we prepare for such events and drastic changes? I think we can’t. We just have to live our lives in such a way that we keep our “bags packed” to some degree. Bags packed thinking also means we need a level of faith and trust in our creator God that He is the one that is ultimately in control of our lives. If you don’t believe this to be true, I surely wish you would consider seriously trusting Him for your own destiny. He’s the one whose set my life back on the road after many, many left turns. He is working out his will in our lives and HE is good ALL the time!

Ready to Retire? Always!!!

Well, today we say farewell to my good buddy Curtis. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mr. Curtis for almost 4 years. When I walked into this place for the first time (through what I thought must have been the back door to the business) I was smack in the middle of the customer service department. I was there looking to interview for a new job and Mr. Curtis was the first person that greeted me.

It really helps when you walk into a new place seeking employment to find some like Mr. Curtis. Whatever fear and trembling I must have felt was tempered quickly by the ease of style and friendly character of this fellow. While waiting for the person interviewing me, it was only a few sentences in that I and my buddy were talking food and especially BBQ. Funny how God uses people and passions together very quickly, isn’t it?

Well, I ended up getting the job. And I worked in a different building but shortly thereafter we moved to another location and all of us were finally all together. It was here that I learned about the life and adventures of Curtis. And what a storied life! I thought I had done a lot of things in my time. But I met my match.

Once you meet Curtis, you will never be the same. And if you’ve met him you will understand (without a doubt) that he has a deep and abiding faith in our God. And yes we do share the same One and only God, expressed in the form of Jesus the Christ.

Speaking of Jesus, one of Curtis’s common questions is to anyone he knows is this – “Did you know that Jesus loves you and I do too?” I would kid him at times and say “I sure hope so!” Or I might tell him “I know Jesus does, but I’m not sure about you.”

He ends all Facebook or email messages with “Love Ya”. Now it takes a real “manly man” to boldly tell someone (anyone) that he Loves You. But that’s how he rolls. And it is his signature.

He told me last week that he would be moving on to greener pastures this week and move to the retirement home. Well, at least he has plans of staying home more. And fishing. And singing and whistling and humming. And doing just about anything he wants to.

But I have a suspicion that as he enters this new phase of fun that God will have some new things for Mr. Curtis to be involved in. And I’m sure it will be spreading good news somewhere in his world.

We all have “stories” to tell about our lives. But Curtis really does have a life changing story of redemption. He’d be the first to tell you that he was a real stinker in his earlier life. And it wasn’t just doing all the wrong things. He was a real life agnostic. Webster’s defines this with several flowery words. Doubter, Scoffer, Cynic, Skeptic, Unbeliever.
agnostic – a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)
It’s interesting that the descriptors of such a person seem to all be negative. But the Curtis that I know is anything but negative. So how’d that change happen?
It was a complex, yet simple, change that he attributes only to God’s “wonder working power”. Not only was Curtis ill and close to death more than once, but he was despondent, depressed and pretty much without hope. Yet in the midst of his pain, someone kept praying for and encouraging Mr. Curtis that he’d turn to God for help and healing. Finally Curtis did “simply” turn to God for his “complex and complete healing power”. I can’t recall how many years ago that was, but the main point is, it was not a temporary “fix”.
God took that piece of clay that was broken and made it pliable again. And what he reconstructed was a “man after God’s own heart”.
I didn’t know the old Curtis Shelton. I only know the redeemed man that God healed and changed. Happy Trails my friend! I know you’ll keep telling the Good News of God’s redeeming power.