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Indebted

Like many, I was surprised and saddened to learn of Billy Graham’s death yesterday. Since he was 99 years old, it was expected, but it was still a surprise.

As I reflect on a life well lived, I acknowledge my debt of gratitude to Billy Graham. He impacted my life in a number of ways.

  • My mother-in-law came to faith in Christ during one of Billy Graham’s first crusades in Los Angeles.
  • As a junior higher, my parents and my brother and I sang in the choir during a crusade in Anaheim Stadium. I recall going forward and rededicating my life to Christ during that crusade. I benefited from the follow up material afterwards as it helped strengthen my faith.
  • I attended the counselor training when a crusade was held in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
  • Our church participated in phone counseling after several of the Graham crusades.
  • Billy Graham’s practice of financial integrity and avoiding temptation with the opposite sex provided models to follow.
  • Our church participated in the My Hope campaign four years ago. It provided one more tool of how to share your faith.
  • A couple of articles I wrote were published in Decision Magazine.
  • My wife and I visited The Cove and The Billy Graham Library two years ago and were greatly impressed and encouraged.

Salvation, discipleship, equipping, resources, examples, tools, models, encouragement, ministry opprotunites … I am indebted to Dr. Graham in many, many ways.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2018 in Funerals, Heaven, News stories

 

Is there a “fast pass” to heaven?

The world was horrified last week to learn of another school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the midst of the tragedy, there were also acts of heroism as teachers shepherded students to safety. In particular, assistant football coach and security guard Aaron Feis used his own body as a shield to protect students. Taking a bullet and giving his life to save a student was a noble, heroic, sacrificial action.

Aaron’s action prompted one editorial cartoonist to suggest it was an automatic ticket into heaven.

 

It God grades on a curve, a sacrificial death would certainly rank higher than helping an elderly person cross the street. It would undoubtedly gain more points than donating blood, telling the truth, digging a well in Saharan Africa, curing malaria, or giving up your seat on a bus to someone with a broken leg.

But does God grade on a curve? Can one earn their way into heaven by performing good deeds? Do some actions guarantee one’s entrance into heaven?

In order to answer that question, we need to examine what Scripture says. Jesus told his own disciples that the path to God runs through himself.

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In an interview with a Jewish leader, Jesus said that eternal life is directly related to one’s faith in Christ.

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The apostle John reiterated the same point years later when he wrote his first letter.

1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

The apostle Paul explained that one needs to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Only then can we be saved and enter heaven.

Romans 10:9–10 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

If there was any question about how to enter heaven, the apostle Paul explained that salvation is determined by what God does for us, not by what we do for ourselves.

Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Good works, selfless deeds, and sacrificial acts are certainly valuable. While they might result in greater rewards in heaven, they won’t guarantee one’s entrance into heaven. Only putting one’s faith in Jesus for salvation will lead to eternal life.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Heaven, News stories, Scripture, Theology

 

Secure in the Storm

During times of difficulty and trial, whether it be my fall and broken hip, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, or the latest school shooting last night in Florida, I find great comfort and security by turning to Psalm 46. In 1996, I wrote an article on the psalm entitled “Finding a place to stand” that was never published. I share it below in the hopes that it encourages and helps you find a place of comfort and security.

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People everywhere are looking for security. We hear about financial security, job security, home security, security systems for our cars, and even preventative medicine that provides health security. We all want to feel safe, secure, and stable. We all want to be free from fear.

The problem we face is that we live in a world that is basically insecure. People board planes that they consider safe, only to discover that they have been hijacked en route.  Others go to work feeling safe and secure, only to receive a “pink slip”. And still others visit a doctor for a routine check-up, and instead discover that they have a life-threatening disease. Money, health, possessions, people, relationships, and houses all are subject to change at a moment’s notice.

So then, the challenge we really face is to find a source of security that does not change.The writer of Psalm 46 claimed that he had found such a source. He boldly declared that God was the source of his security.

Webster’s Dictionary defines security as safety; certainty; freedom from worry; protection, shelter. In this psalm, God–as the psalmist’s security–is described by those very words.

 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. . . The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. . . The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Psalm 46:1, 7, 11, NASB)

The psalmist used four key terms to describe the fact that God is a sure defense. He referred to God as a refuge, a strength, a help, and a stronghold.

When you were young and afraid at night, did you ever crawl into bed and pull the covers up over your head? I know I did. I believed that as long as I was covered, the monsters in the closet or the ones under the bed could not see me. And because they could not see me, I was safe.

God is our refuge and stronghold. He is our shelter, our hiding place. We can go to Him and know that we are safe.

When two children get especially angry with each other, what is one thing they might say? “My brother is bigger than your brother!” Or, “My dad can beat up your dad!”

Like little children, when we get into trouble, we want help from someone who is bigger and stronger than we are. God is that person for us. He is our strength when we have none of our own.

Besides describing God has our refuge, strength, and stronghold, the psalmist also stated that God is “a very present help in trouble.” Have you ever helped a child learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels? You run alongside, ready to steady the bike when it begins to wobble. Our children do not have to search for help because it is already present. In the same way, God comes alongside to assist us and to render aid when we are in a tight spot.

The psalmist called God the LORD of Hosts. It is a name of God that appears most often in the context of failure and powerlessness. In the Old Testament, this name was a great comfort, because it reminded Israel that the LORD of Hosts was a God who worked on their behalf to fulfill his purpose in their lives.

When we are in trouble and have no power to help ourselves, when we are under attack and require protection, when we reach the end of our rope and need deliverance, we can rest assured that God can and will work on our behalf.

The psalmist doesn’t stop with merely explaining that God is a refuge and strength. He went on to say that there are three changes in the attitude of the one who trusts in God’s protection and care. He stated that because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not strive.

The first change in my attitude is found in verses 2-3. Because I know for certain that God is my hiding place and provides strength to take action, and I am convinced that he is with me and ready to act on my behalf, I will approach life with a sense of confidence.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. (NASB)

The psalmist stated that he would not be afraid even though the worst possible natural disasters might occur. He pictured the likelihood of an earthquake, a tidal wave, and a volcanic eruption. (The phrase, swelling pride, means to rise up, or to surge, as the NIV translates it.) He stated, Even if the most stable thing I can imagine, a mountain, should crumble . . . even though the ocean be stirred up into 30 foot swells . . . even though Mt. Rainier should shake and tremble and surge with molten lava . . . even then I will still trust God.

Rather than become irrational and panic, the author of this psalm stated, In the likelihood of a devastating natural disaster, I will not be dismayed. I will not be paralyzed with terror.  I will not fear, because I know that God is my sure defense.

Perhaps the chance of an earthquake doesn’t wake you at 3:00AM in a cold sweat. What causes you to cringe is the possibility of your son or daughter having an accident with a drunk driver. Maybe the rumors of your company downsizing and the possibility of a layoff takes your breath away. Perhaps you’ve discovered a lump on your side and you’re apprehensive about what you might learn. Maybe you’re haunted by the fear of your parents getting Alzheimer’s or having a stroke and you won’t be able to take care of them.

If you sense a hurricane warning in your life, anchor deep in the knowledge that God is your refuge and strength. Then you can ride out the storm without being alarmed. The first result of knowing that God is my sure defense is that I will not be afraid. The second result is that I will enjoy a sense of stability and blessing.  Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, and I will not be moved.

In verses 4-6, the psalmist described a river flowing through the city of Jerusalem that brings blessing and joy. He used a metaphor to say that God is present among his people. (This concept would be well known to Israel since the prophet Isaiah also likened God’s presence to a river in Isaiah 8:6 and 33:21.)

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. (NASB)

In the Old Testament, God was present among his people through the temple. Today, God is present in believers through the Holy Spirit. God’s presence not only causes us to be glad and to rejoice, but also to experience a sense of security and stability.

That doesn’t mean that this person will never encounter problems. It simply means that in the midst of them, they will not be moved.  Just north of Los Angeles is an amusement park with an observation tower. Guests can ride to the top and view the surrounding countryside. Because of the danger of earthquakes, the tower is designed with a sway factor of 7 feet at its upper point. In the event of an earthquake or high winds, the top of the tower can rock 14 feet back and forth.  But it will not crumble because its foundation is secure.

In the same way, the one who trusts in God for his sense of security can withstand difficulty and disaster without being moved.

In addition to stability, the psalmist explained that God provides help when morning dawns. Have you heard the saying, “God is seldom early, but never late”?  Since dawn is the time of attack, God sends deliverance when it is needed the most.  Whether your night of trouble is short or long, you can rest assured that morning always comes.  And with the morning comes a renewal of God’s faithfulness. (See Lamentations 3:22-23.)

We do not need to be afraid because God is a refuge and strength. We do not need to be moved because God provides help when we need it most.  The third result that the knowledge of God’s presence and protection should produce in our lives is that we can relax and not worry.  Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not strive.

In verses 8-10, the psalmist stated,

Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (NASB)

I was part of a ministry team in Kremenchuk, Ukraine on May 9, 1995, the 50th anniversary of V-E day. Much of Ukraine was under Nazi occupation during World War II and the city of Kremenchuk was destroyed down to the foundations of the buildings. The population of the city went from 120,000 before the war to about 5,000 afterwards.  We watched old men in uniform, women with tears in their eyes, and somber children laying flowers at a monument commemorating the Soviet victory over Germany. We were moved by a 21 gun salute. There was one old grandmother who was sobbing, her shoulders heaving, as she cried for a husband? a son? killed in the war.

Our response to all of this was quietness and silence. We had nothing to say.  What more could we possibly add?

That is the response that the writer of this psalm suggested in verse 10. After telling them to view the remains of war and consider God’s work, he commanded his readers, Cease striving.  Be still.  Be quiet.

This command is not a comfort for the harassed, but is a rebuke to a restless and turbulent world. In the midst of noise and confusion, be quiet. When panic builds and the need to do something rises, be still. When the pressure mounts to worry and fret, cease striving.

The command is to stop doing one thing in favor of another. Stop worrying and let God be exalted in your life.  Be quiet and watch God work. Cease striving and know that he is God. This kind of knowledge pictures an intimate acquaintance. It comes through the process of enduring stressful times and then afterward reflecting on what God did to bring you through.

In times of distress, it is tempting to place our security in bank accounts, political alliances, military strength, personal relationships, and worldly wisdom. It is extremely difficult to relax and let God demonstrate his power.  Yet that is precisely what God wants me to do.

Do you live in strife and panic? Are you fretful and worried? Do you find your sense of security slipping away? Enter God’s invisible sanctuary of rest and trust him completely for your security.

To move closer to that goal, begin by making friends with silence. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that silence and I are friends. Acquaintances, perhaps. Life is filled with so many distractions and noisemakers. Gain control of them and allow yourself time to reflect.  Find a quiet place to think.

Then make a list of the things, people, circumstances, and situations that concern you and rob you of peace. What worry is your constant companion during your waking hours?

Follow that by tracing the phrases, “I am with you,” or “Do not be afraid” throughout Scripture to learn what God has promised to do for his people. Genesis 15:1, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 91, would be a good starting point.

Wrap your fears into a neat mental bundle, and toss them one by one into the trash as you read those verses. Ask the Lord to take each specific fear and replace it with his calm, victorious presence.

Finally, memorize verse 10. Each time you find yourself fretting and “sweating the small stuff,” or when you feel insecure, repeat that verse to yourself.  Jump start your day with it as you get out of bed in the morning.

If you do these things and place your security in God, you will be able to conclude with the psalmist, Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, I will not strive.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Encouragement, News stories, Personal growth, Psalms

 

I’m confused by double standards

I admit to being simple minded and naïve, but I do not understand the double standards when it comes to this issue of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Lest you be concerned, I don’t approve of sexual abuse or sexual harassment in any way, shape, or form. It is sinful and should be condemned. However, I am confused by the double standard surrounding this issue.

Dozens of women came forward to accuse former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault. The #metoo movement spread virally shortly after the revelations about Weinstein. At the same time, however, Hollywood produced the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which promotes sadomasochism. Despite being widely panned by critics, the three films were a box office success, which indicates a tacit approval and interest in deviant sexual relationships.

Gymnast Aly Raisman was one of the many who accused former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. However, she posed nude in the Sports Illustrated 2018 Swimsuit Edition and made the statement, “Women don’t have to be modest to be respected.”

In September 2017, the world mourned the death of Hugh Hefner. As the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy, he helped fuel and promote the loosening of sexual mores and the growth of the pornography industry.

I am confused. On the one hand, we rightfully condemn sexual abuse and sexual harassment. On the other hand, we feed, fuel, and promote sexuality and sexual misconduct through movies, magazines, and TV. Don’t we understand that the latter opens the door to the former?

It seems like the truth of Romans 1:18-32 is being played out before our very eyes.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Culture, News stories, Scripture

 

What were we arguing about?

If you have been married for any length of time, you know there comes a point when you and your spouse have an argument. You disagree over an issue, perception, event, or slight. As the argument continues, you begin to move away from the original topic and start piling on other matters. Pretty soon, you look at each other and wonder, what were we arguing about to begin with?

The NFL National Anthem protest feels like one of those arguments, especially now that the White House has weighed in on the matter.

Long ago in ancient times, or so it feels even though it was only last season, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers chose to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem as a way of protesting inequality between the races. (That is perhaps an overly simplified summary of a very complex issue.) The conversation then shifted to whether kneeling was disrespectful to the flag and to the military. Then it moved to solidarity among teammates. A report came out last week that Colin Kaepernick has supposedly reversed course and said he will stand during the anthem if he can get his job back. Then Vice President Pence left yesterday’s Colts-49ers game because several 49ers knelt during the anthem. A 49ers official said it was a P.R. stunt and at least one sportswriter was bothered because it upstaged the Colts retiring Peyton Manning’s jersey. Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys said anyone who kneels will no long play for the Cowboys. People are up in arms over the loss of free speech.

It appears the argument subtly shifted from inequality or injustice to free speech and the right to protest. The original issue has been lost amidst the rhetoric. Since the various sides cannot agree on what they are arguing about, no wonder we can’t solve the problem.

What were we arguing about?

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in News stories, NFL

 

In the aftermath of Las Vegas

3 Ways to Pray for Las Vegas: It’s a Powerful (Not Political) Act for Christians” – article by Ed Stetzer

“An Act of Pure Evil” — Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas – article by Al Mohler

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2017 in News stories

 

Creation is groaning

Everywhere you turn, you read headlines about severe weather. Houston, Texas is underwater due to Hurricane Harvey. Puerto Rico and the East Coast are bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Heavy rains paralyzed India, Pakistan, and Nepal this past week killing 1,200 and shutting 1.8 million children out of school. Ash is currently falling like snow in Seattle from fires burning in Central Washington. In the past week, there were earthquakes in Portugal, Indonesia, Alaska, Iceland, Northern Mariana Islands, Idaho, Argentina, Chile, and Vanuatu.

We want to blame Mother Nature and lament these as acts of God. However, we should take a look in the mirror and own the blame ourselves. I’m not talking about global warming or climate change.

What we are experiencing in severe weather is one of the consequences of sin. Romans 8:18-25 explains the hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural phenomenon are expressions of the earth itself crying out to be released from the bondage of sin.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Severe weather is like the earth going through labor pains prior to the return of Christ. The increase in frequency and severity may indicate that time is growing ever shorter. Perhaps it is time to repent, seek God’s face, and shout, “Maranatha! Lord, come quickly!”

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2017 in News stories, Scripture