Archive for December, 2015

Matthew 14:13
Jesus Withdraws To Solitary Place

Have you ever got bad news that someone has died suddenly? It’s a gut punch when someone you know who was alive and vibrant one minute and then the next thing that you hear is that they are dead. You are stunned and sometimes you just have to be alone with your grief. When you get shocking news of death, it can knock you for a loop. I experienced such a thing twice in my life.

On June 28, 1980, two weeks before, I got married the first time to my high school sweetheart and first wife, Lisa, her brother, Lex, was killed in a single car accident while on his way home from the nightclub where he was a part-time DJ back in those days. He was home on Christmas break from Clemson University. He was a radio DJ on weekends and spun records at nightclubs as well. While on Christmas break, he was working at WQOK and at O’Sullivans as much as possible. While on his way home, he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road and flipped over several times in a field and died at the scene. Gut punch to his sister and the whole family. Life changed for Lisa that day and it consumed her. She drifted into a life of defeatism and medications from which she never really recovered. Although she had periods where she would function fine in the world, she was never really the same. The Lisa that I knew from dating died with her brother that day. She never was the same. She medicated her way through life, to the point that she quit working in her early 30s and died at the relatively young age of 54, one month shy of her 55th birthday. Her body was just wore out from the strain of grief, medications, and self-imposed exile. Death can consume you and defeat you. Since it was not my brother who was killed suddenly, I cannot condemn Lisa for her way of dealing with Lex’s death, I can observe how she let it defeat her and let it consume her. Life was viewed from a point of view of being defeated by a severe blow. Sure, we grieve and we should. No one should tell us that we should not grieve. Death of family member suddenly does change us. We will never be the same nor should we be. If we love, we risk pain. We are left behind. However, the shame lies in that Lisa had the potential to be whatever she wanted and could have been this amazingly talented nurse but she let her brother’s death and other factors in life defeat her and she permanently withdrew from the flow of life. Certainly, Lisa had more than her share of death and pain in life. Her father was killed in a car accident when she was three years old back in 1963. In that same car accident, her mother was left partially paralyzed and could only walk with the assistance of others. She raised Lex and Lisa from a wheelchair. Life dealt Lisa a raw deal. No doubt about it. And in the end, she let the raw deal defeat her.

The second time I experienced this news of sudden death was when I was married to my second wife. My stepson, Trey, was killed in a car accident on February 25, 2002. Even then, at the accident scene, although injured, he was still conscious and we held to the belief that he was going to be OK. While in the ambulance though (his mom in there with him), he started to drift in and out of consciousness and began to complain of severe pain in his stomach area. The medics recognized that something was wrong and began working on him in the ambulance. When they arrived at the emergency room at Greenville Memorial Hospital, they whisked him away to the operating rooms immediately. He was in surgery for what seemed like forever. Periodically, someone from the OR staff would come out and tell us that there problems with internal bleeding that they were working through. He was in surgery long enough for his stepsisters and brothers to get there and many members of the extended family that lived in Greenville and Spartanburg. Never though did we imagine that the doctor would call Trena, the kids and I into a separate meeting room and tell us that the invincible sixteen year old, Trey, was dead. It was gut punch that changed the course of life for us all, especially for his mother. Although Trena was permanent and irrevocably changed by the death of her son, she did carry on. I have lost touch with her after our divorce was final and since all the kids and stepkids are now grown and we never conceived any children together. I last spoke to her on the day of our final hearing which was in November 2004 so I am not clear as to how she has handled life these last 11 years but I do know that she got back to work, got back into the world and carried on in whatever changed form that might be following the death of her son.

I am not condemning Lisa and exalting Trena here. Surely, if anyone had an excuse to take the road of death overwhelming and occupying us, Lisa was the poster child. Surely, I do not know how Trena has handled Trey’s death since we split in 2004. However, I simply look back at what I observed. They did deal with death differently during the time I observed. I am not claiming that one handled better than another and most definitely do not claim to have any knowledge of the relationship that either one had or has with Jesus Christ.

Why do I bring up these ex-wives at all? They are examples of how we humans process death of a loved one. It is also to transition into today’s very short passage for review today. It is one verse, but yet it so packed with power that there is a whole blog in this one verse. It is to show us Jesus knows this experience (the loss of a loved one) and his reaction to it is what we can learn from. Let’s read of Jesus and his reaction to sudden death of a loved one in Matthew 14:13.

 
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

 
There is some debate as to how closely related Jesus and John were. Many believe that Jesus and John were second cousins based on Luke saying that Mary and Elizabeth were cousins when describing the relationship between the two women. So, without definitive evidence otherwise, we will go with the fact that Jesus and John were second cousins. So, they were related. As well, Jesus and John ministries intersected as well so there was a professional relationship as well. We know from Scripture that these guys knew each other well. John knew that his cousin was the Son of God and knew it to the point that when Jesus asked John to baptize Him, John balked initially at the idea. Jesus earlier in this Gospel spoke of the greatest of John the Baptist. Could you imagine being at their extended family get-togethers? John and Jesus hanging out in the corner talking shop about their respective ministries. I don’t that such things happened but just imagine! Since Mary and Martha were so close because of their mutual understanding of the significance of the children that they gave birth to, it would be safe to assume and a good bet that Jesus and John probably saw a good bit of each other growing up. So, these two knew each other well. They knew each other’s divine and scripturally foretold missions. There had to be great love and respect for one another from their family connection and from their divine respect for each other’s place in God’s plan. Although Jesus knew, as God in the flesh, what was going to happen to John, it does not take away his human reaction to the death of dear, dear friend and family relation. From a human point of view, as Jesus was as fully human as he was fully divine, the death of John was a gut-punch. He knew it was coming from his omnipotence but it doesn’t lessen the human emotional impact of it. A dear friend, a family relation, it probably hit Jesus pretty hard. He had to get away from the crowd. He couldn’t handle the overwhelming emotions that He must have been feeling. He just wanted to be alone with his Abba Father. He withdrew from his mission for a moment. He needed time to grieve privately. Although I am sure that Jesus knew better than anyone that John was eternally safe in the arms of the Father in heaven, but in His humanness, He was going to miss His fellow cousin and preacher, John. We can sometimes tell ourselves that our loved one is in a better place but it does not take away the pain of them not being physically present in our lives anymore. Jesus I am sure felt that same pain. Add to it the fact that John was taken way too young through a sudden death and not by old age, Jesus had to be filled with shock and grief. He need to pray and commune with His Heavenly Father. He had a range of emotions that He had to process through with His Father.

Here we see that Jesus did grieve over the death of a loved one and a dear, dear friend. Jesus grieved. We know that He wept over death from the Lazarus story. Jesus grieved and Jesus wept over the loss of loved ones. Although not stated here, we are safe to assume that in His humanness that He probably wept over John when he got away from the crowd. He probably had emotions of humanness that He was having difficulty processing and He had to get away. From this, we know that Jesus understands our grief when in this fallen world, loved ones are taken from us far too soon. In His humanness, He could not process that this was part of God’s plan. He knew that it was but in His humanness, it was emotionally difficult to process. John died horribly. At the whim of a teenage girl at the request of her politically driven and jealous mother, John was beheaded. That had to hurt and even anger Jesus. From this episode, we knew that Jesus knows grief. He experienced it. He lived it. So, let no one tell you that you cannot grieve over the death of a loved one. It is a natural human response. We love. We grow attached to the people in our lives. When we love, we risk pain. Pain happens when we have those relationships severed through the loss of the relationship or when people die. Jesus knows this pain and He wants us to come to Him with our confusion and anger and all those wild emotions that overtake us in grief. He knows those emotions. He has felt them. He experienced life as we experience it and He wants us to know that He can not only sympathize with our feeling, He can empathize with them. He has been there and done that. He wants your anger to be expressed to Him. Tell Him that you are angry at Him. He can handled it. He knows why you are angry when someone dies. He has had the same range of emotion. We see it here in this one verse. He wants to come to Him when you feel like your control over life is gone. He wants you to seek Him in this dark hour where nothing seems to make sense anymore. He wants you to cry out to Him at this time when it seems that you do not know what to do and what to do next. He wants your raw emotions and feelings of helplessness. It is now that we learn that we do not control our lives and it is now that we see that life is limited. It is now that we see that we do not control the world around us and we feel helpless. It is now that we need Jesus the most. It is now that we must rely on Him to get us through each day or we can let death consume us.

I love the reality of this passage, because it has so much to teach us as well. In the same sentence, we see Jesus withdraw to be alone with His Father, but the world crashes in. The crowds follow. Jesus had to get away but the crowds follow. Life crashes in during his time of solitude. I like the way that Justin Deeter says it, “Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes for a second. How would you respond to seeing the crowd on the shore? You might think, ‘Really God, ministry now, I just want to be alone!’ You might even hate these people, wishing they would just all go away.” No matter how much we want to withdraw, life marches on. For Jesus, ministry needs continued. For us, life goes on. We still have bills to pay. We still have kids to raise. We still have job and/or home responsibilities that continue. We must process grief on the fly. We must process grief. Yes, we all need time to grieve particularly in the immediate aftermath of a sudden death. Jesus did too. The emotions are overwhelmingly intense in the immediate aftermath. The emotions are so raw and so overwhelming that we cannot even think of handling even the most mundane routines of life. We need the time of grief. We need that time to wrestle with emotions and feelings of helplessness. We need to cry out to God. We need to real enough to admit that we are angry with God. We need time to realize that we are overcome with emotion and that we are helpless to move forward. It is in these times, we can come to realize that we need God more than ever. We come to realize that we are not in control and that we are not made to understand everything under the sun. We are changed by the death of a loved one. We will never be the same and should not expect ourselves to be. Death in our midst changes who we are and how we view life. It is right to grieve. It is right to cry. It is right to be changed. It is right to have loved someone so much that we feel pain at their passing. It is right to have difficulty trying to reconcile our pre-loss of a loved one person with the post-loss of a loved one person. Our friends most surely just need to be there for us and let us process in their presence. We need their comfort and presence more than we need for them to tell us how to process our emotions. So, don’t get me wrong in this blog, it is alright and perfectly normal to grieve and carry that grief with you for the rest of your life.

However, what is not right is to let the death of a loved one effectively kill two people. We can let death conquer us or we can go on living. Jesus could have said “Sorry, folks, I cannot deal with you guys. Go away.” Jesus doesn’t respond in that way. Jesus sees the crowd and he has compassion on them and he immediately got to work healing their sick. Although Jesus grieves the loss of his dear friend, his grief empowers him for ministry. In the midst of his emotional pain, Jesus turned outward instead of inward. Rather than turning in on himself and thinking “woe is me”, he turns outward to serve and to love the crowds. If we give in to death, let it overwhelm us permanently, let it become an excuse for not continuing on to live the life that God has given us, Satan has won. We live in a fallen world where death is part of life. Sudden, gut-wrenching death is often part of life. We have a choice to let Satan win or to let death of a loved one become part of our ministry to the world. We can let it rule us or we can make it part of the changed person we are post-death of a loved one. We can withdraw from the world and show the world that it is a hopeless place or we can take one step at a time in recovery from death and show the world that death does not define us and that it can be conquered through complete and utter dependence on Jesus Christ. He knows our pain. We must cast our cares on Him because He knows what we are going through. Jesus carried on with life, even though I know in His humanness that he probably felt the pain of John the Baptist’s sudden death with Him the rest of His earthly life. Jesus carried on with His ministry. Jesus teaches us that we can use our use our grief for ministry. We must be so very careful that in our mourning we don’t turn our sorrow in to self-pity and self-loathing. We can become self-ish, self-centered, in our grieving. One of the dangers of life is always seeing life through how it affect us only. By nature, we are selfish creatures and we can be self-ish in death as well. We can make the world about how it has dealt us a raw deal. We can make the world about how people do not understand me because I have lost someone close to me. We can make life about people making exceptions for us because we lost someone. We can make life about excusing our behavior because we lost someone. Death of a loved one can make us give in to our own selfishness and even deepen it to a point that we lose everyone in our lives because we can only see ourselves. Satan smiles. Death claiming more than one victim!
We have a choice. We can let ourselves be consumed by death or we can use it to power on in life in complete and total dependence on God. We can use our own pain to either destroy ourselves or to help others. Our sorrow can empower us to love and serve others who suffer. We can identify with them and minister to them. We can be examples of the power of the cross to move on. All that hurt, all those emotions you feel, take them and use them to show compassion on people who desperately need the love of Jesus. In your brokenness, God is able to use you to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. In your desperation, your dependence on Jesus serves as a powerful testimony to this lost and dying world. It is ok to grieve. It is ok to cry. It is good to mourn for lost loved ones, but may our emotions turn outwards to radical, Gospel driven, compassion rather than self-centered, self-destruction. We can choose to let Jesus’ resurrection be an example of conquering death or we can let Satan win and go to the grave with the ones we love and stay there.

Jesus shows that that we can and must grieve the ones we have loved and have lost. It is right and natural for the death of a loved one to change us and make us different from who we were before. Our grief is evidence that we have loved hard and deep. We must mourn. It is natural to mourn. It is natural for sudden death to blow us away and change us. It is part of life. We all have lost a dear friend suddenly. We all have lost a family member suddenly. And if you haven’t yet, it is a certainty that you will experience the pain of death of a loved one in some way or another during your lifetime. That’s what makes this passage so practical, so powerful, so real. Jesus mourned. Jesus needed time. Jesus needed time to grieve. Yet, even though he carried His grief over John the rest of His life because he was equally human as He was divine, He did not let the sudden death of John end His life and His ministry. He is our example. We must carry on. We are left behind for a reason. We have opportunities to minister as a result of our pain and through our pain. We can turn our grief into ministry. We can minister to others that you can survive this. We can minister to others that we will never be the same and should not expect to be. We can minister to others that life can give us a raw deal but in Christ we can carry on as we deal with grief. We can minister to others that the only way we get through these things is to hold the hand of the Man that understands, Jesus Christ.

Pointing people to Jesus Christ is what Christ followers are to do in this life, even in things that we do not understand in this life, like the sudden death of a loved one. Pointing people to Jesus through our pain. Using our past as our ministry, that’s what we do. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 14:1-12
John the Baptist Beheaded

I have no cute or clever introductory illustration to begin this blog today. In this blog, I am the illustration myself. Today, my illustration will be interwoven into the story. No clever opening to make you laugh or to make you go “Hmmmm!” just straight to the story. Let’s dig in…

Many of us read this passage and condemn Herod Antipas for allowing lust, pride and need for approval overcome him. How can we do that? It is the story of many of us. It is a modern-day story set 20 centuries ago. This story might as well be my story as much as Herod Antipas’ story. It is my story. The intertwining of the need for approval and intertwined with sex is my story. When we make the approval of others the reason for being, we live a tortured life. When we make the approval of others our god, we cannot see God. We make choices in life based on this need for approval which have consequences far beyond the moment. But we cannot see beyond the moment to moment need for approval. Let’s read about Herod Antipas below, in Matthew 14:1-12,

 

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

 
This passage resonates so much for me for I see so much of myself in Herod Antipas prior to my beginning to mature in Christ. I see my life story in this seeming little insert between Jesus’ extended discourses about the kingdom of heaven. I have always wondered why Matthew chose to place this story where he placed it. It is apparent from the verses that by the time this story is shared by Matthew that John the Baptist is already dead from what Herod says about Jesus. Why stick it here between the parables and the feeding of the 5,000 men. I think the purpose of the interjection between major stories of Jesus’ ministry is done purposefully because this passage is about recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and being blinded by our own desires and needs. Herod’s story is no different. Herod’s story demonstrates how we can easily make other things our gods to the point that we cannot see Jesus Christ for who He is. Herod’s story is my story.

From my earliest memory, feeling accepted and not being considered an outsider has been part of who I am. Maybe this was really a dream that I had once but it is seared in my memory as if it was real. I am in one of the bedrooms of parsonage in the Homeland Park community of Anderson, SC where my dad was serving Homeland Park & John Wesley United Methodist Churches. I am a little tike just barely about to walk and talk. I have nothing on but those little fitted pullup shorts that toddlers wear. No shirt. No socks. No shoes. Everyone else is dressed like regular grown ups including my older brother by 18 months. The discussion is about going out to eat somewhere (a rarity in South Carolina in the early to mid-1960s in a mill section of town). I wanted to be dressed up like everyone else even though I was a toddler. I didn’t want to be the kid with just short pants on. I imagine this is a dream because I am toddler in this dream and caring about being like other people is not a typical thought. But this dream is so real and it is the theme of my life. Being an outsider trying to fit in. Seeking approval and never feeling that you totally have it. It is crippling and it is real. I see this in Herod in this scene. He wants approval to validate who he is. It is a life of fear. It is a life of getting to the zig when everybody else has seconds ago already moved on to the zag.

Herod’s decisions are based on what other’s think of him and the consequences can be disastrous. He had John arrested because of the fact that he did not want the world to really think about his taking his brother’s wife as if she was his bride. He probably fell in love with this woman because she made him feel approved and accepted regardless of the morality of the situation. He wanted to quiet John by killing but he was afraid to do so because of public opinion of who John was. He was easily manipulated by his need for approval. He also confused sexual attention and lust as approval. His lust ruled him because sex was approval. If he could sway a woman into bed with him, it gave him the approval he so desperately desired. That’s why he let his desire for Salome and her dancing cause him to make a fateful decision. His desire to gain approval through bedding down Salome caused him to get backed into a corner where he had to follow through on his word. He had a man of God beheaded because he could not back down on his word to give her whatever she wanted. His fear of disapproval from his powerful dinner guests forced his hand to give Salome what her mother had put her up to asking him for. Herod knew John to be a special man by whom he was fascinated. He had him killed to maintain approval. He shut down a voice of God simply because of his desire for approval. Doing what he knew to be right took a back seat to finding approval from others, particularly women. His story is my story.

As I had told you previously, from an early age, I felt like an outsider. Never part of the inner circle. Always on the outside. Growing us as Methodist preacher’s kid did not help this feeling. Until I was 14 and moved to Travelers Rest, SC, we had moved on average every two years. Always the new kid. Always an outsider. Always doing what was necessary to gain approval. As I have talked about here before, I often threw my brother under the bus to gain acceptance from the local kids in the towns in which we lived. Sure, my brother as a child often invited much of the ridicule heaped upon him. However, he was my blood and I should have not cared about the crowd and stood with my brother even when he invited ridicule upon himself, even when he treated me as if was a dunce in his eyes. But, I was the chameleon growing up. Fitting in. Trying to gain the approval of the crowd. That was me. I was like Herod Antipas in that way. Finally, when we moved to Anderson, SC for the second time when I was 12-13 years old, I became truly popular. Part of the in-crowd. I was a big man on campus at Lakeside Middle School on the west side of Anderson. Approval. Acceptance. BMOC! Then, the Methodist Church in South Carolina screwed it all up. We were to move again in June 1976. We were to move to Travelers Rest. What? Is that a town or a rest stop on the highway?

I was heartbroken when we moved to Travelers Rest. From popular kid to nobody with the close of the moving van door that early summer day in June when all Methodist preachers in South Carolina who have new appointments must move. Although, in 2015, Travelers Rest has become this chic-y little hamlet to live in, back in 1976, it was just a small town completely separate from Greenville. Now, it is truly a suburb of Greenville, but back then it was just a small town at the foot of the mountains that enjoyed its isolation from Greenville. It was there that I felt truly alone and truly a stranger in a strange land. I had friends galore in Anderson and here I was just the new kid trying to become part of a small town teen hierarchy. It was not until the fall of that year that I started dating the young, talented organist and one of the two churches that my dad was serving that things started changing. It was through this young lady, Lisa McDowell, that I gained access to the social structure of teen-dom in Travelers Rest. Thus, began a cycle of my life and my view of myself being tied to how a woman felt about me. Over the next 17 years, I began to equate sex with validation of who I was and how the woman in my life felt about me. Needless to say this was a recipe for disaster. Ours was a volatile relationship that ended badly. Although our marriage produced our two beautiful daughters, the relationship itself was mountains and valleys for me. Sex and approval. Relationships with family were alternately good and strained based on how Lisa felt about my family. My feelings were pushed down about whether she was right or wrong because of sex and approval. Because of the loss of her brother to a car accident in 1980, it changed her and led her down the road and cycle of addictions and recovery that added pressure that finally blew up our marriage. Because of my disgust and anger over the long cycle of addiction with her, I found my afffections elsewhere. Did I learn anything?

Although I changed zip codes to the Berea area of Greenville when I jumped from one marriage to the next within 2 years, my own addiction to approval and measuring it by sex lead me to the same type of relationship again. I granted my second wife, Trena, great power. I was madly in love with her because she helped lift me out of a destructive relationship with Lisa and made me feel normal again. However, the relationship was the same again. It was about sex and approval. I measured my feelings about myself through access to sex. I equated this access with love and approval. I am ashamed to admit that I allowed this access, the animosity between Trena and Lisa, and the lack of a relationship with Jesus Christ to send me into a maddening dance that you think of when a person with a gun is shooting at your feet and telling you to dance. It was up one day. Down two. It was utter chaos of the soul. If I thought things were hard to manage with Lisa, it was equally so or even harder with Trena. Managing one marriage and the whole ex thing with kids was like juggling. Keeping all the balls in the air was difficult. I almost completely ruined my relationship with my daughters over sex and approval. I was not a deadbeat dad, but to maintain peace in my home I only did what was legally necessary for my children. At the same time, trying to maintain alimony, child support and keeping the peace in my home, it led to a string of huge mistakes financially in addition to the parental mistakes with my kids. It was a disaster of growing proportions, but I was blind to it all because it was all about sex and approval. These financial mistakes of my own doing were the beginning of the end of the second marriage. I was willing to keep my kids at arm’s length to maintain the sex and approval thing going. I was willing to make financial blunders to keep it going. Although we managed to survive the financial mistakes I made, the responsibility to my kids was the death knell. It was not until my oldest daughter went off to college and required more than just legally required child support to survive at college that the juggling act began to unravel. College is expensive and kids at college need more financial support than just tuition. This fact sent my tenuous cling on sex and approval and my God-ordained responsibilities to my children, particularly my child in college, on a collision course.

In the midst of all this sex and approval cycle, I accepted Christ as my Savior in December 2000. For those who believe that immediately upon salvation your life goes from cloudy to sunny immediately, I can assure you that it does not. Sometimes, it actually gets worse as the Holy Spirit begins working in your soul. There are mighty struggles that go on as we let go of our previously held belief and as we let go of our previously held gods. That was true with me. The Holy Spirit begins opening your eyes but it is a slow process when you are stubbornly clinging to your gods. So back to the story. In order to keep the juggling act going, it led to lies about my support of my oldest child. Covering up support beyond the monthly child support check. This all came to a head in a mighty confrontation in the Summer of 2004, three and a half years after I gave my life to the Lord. Another marriage ended. My god of sex and approval failed me again. Did I learn anything? Not yet. For the next two years, I was awash in the loneliness of not having a steady relationship and no way to measure my approval. A string of failed relationships followed. But the Holy Spirit was working on me. I thought the world would explode when Trena and I split up but it didn’t. During this time, the Holy Spirit moved me away from everything I had known. I had lived in Travelers Rest and the Greenville area from 1976 to 2006, when because of changing jobs, he led me to Rock Hill, SC. It might as well have been a foreign planet. After 30 years in and around Greenville, God had me where He wanted me. Alone. No wife and no way to measure my approval and in a brand new town. That was when He began His work in me. That’s when He led me to the woman that He intended for me all along.

During my years after Trena, I dated a lot and began to gain more confidence in myself about dating. The world had not exploded when Trena and I split and I had begun the process of restoring my relationship with my daughters. Things were getting better. But still, I was all about approval of women and the game of single life in the 21st century. I measured my value still by sex and approval of women. It was then that this newly confident dude that ran into a woman who didn’t think I was all that and I couldn’t convince her that I was. Elena was not the girl next door but she was the girl downstairs in my apartment building in Rock Hill. She was not impressed with me as this dude about town. She was fresh off a break up of a marriage herself so she was not looking for a relationship and was not looking to get entangled in a modern day sexual relationship. But God made her intriguing to me. Instead of trying to bedding her down, we became friends. Since she was not interested in a relationship, we actually became friends. Because the relationship did not start in the bedroom, we became friends. Because it was not about showing your best side to get the prize, we actually opened up to each other about our skeletons in our respective closets. We actually became best friends helping each other grow up. It was not a relationship about the games men and women play to get the prize, as I will call it. She was intelligent and bright and I didn’t have to dumb down conversations with her. She was challenging. In the meantime, we fell in love with each other. It was amazing that she accepted me for who I was, not what she wanted me to be. We know each other’s mistakes and failings and yet we accepted one another as the flawed persons that we chose to love. But, hey, God was not done yet.

In God’s grand plan to get me to further open my eyes about where my approval should come from, He knew that I could easily get caught up in this whole female approval thing again with Elena and that something drastic was required. So, He orchestrates the buyout and closure of the company’s corporate office where I was working in southeast Charlotte. Immediately, I landed a consulting gig in Duncan, SC with America Fujikura, Ltd. (AFL). That required me being in Duncan five days a week and then back home to Rock Hill for the weekends. That was training for what was next. This consulting job at AFL ending up being long-term and they sent me out to their division in Santa Clara, CA to help develop better internal controls in the finance department of Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI), a subsidiary of AFL. This happened in May 2008. While I was out there, and in October 2008, the Controller at FAI (who was completely and totally over her head in that position) decided to leave the company. Immediately, I was offered the position. To get out the consulting world (where you could be out of work for weeks or months in between consulting gigs), I accepted the job. The intention of the parent company, AFL, was for me to get the accounting mess out there cleaned up and ultimately move the accounting function in Santa Clara to AFL’s headquarters in Duncan. No one knew how long that was going to take and I accepted the job knowing that. OK. Now I was on the complete other side of the country from my family and from my new girlfriend. It was a lonely trying time. But it was during this time that Elena and I grew closer and closer as friends. We would only get to see each other once every couple of weeks for a weekend either back home in South Carolina or when she we fly out to California. However, it was during this time, that I finally began to grow up. Elena simply loved me, warts and all. No longer did I have to dance for approval. Finally, Elena moved out to California in August 2009 to be with me. We then decided to live in God’s way through marriage in March 2010.

While we were out there alone and away from everything that we knew back home on the east coast, we learned about how marriage is about being best friends and making the marriage bigger than our own needs. Elena accepted Christ as her Savior out there and I began to grow up as a Christ follower out there. That time out there was necessary for both of us. We had to learn that the marriage is the most important thing, bigger than both of us out there. We had to learn to put God in the center of our marriage because He is what we had to depend on out there. Everything that we knew previously was stripped away out there. God is amazing when we open our eyes and clear away the gods of our making. He orchestrates what others call coincidences. The falling in love with a woman that didn’t care about who I was or what she wanted me to be. Necessary. Taking me away from her for long stretches so that I would not make the relationship about sex and approval and making it about revealing yourself and becoming best friends despite those flaws. Necessary. Moving her out there so she would encounter Christ through some faithful servants of God and dear friends in Livermore, CA. Necessary. Tearing us away from the familiar back east and making us alone and making us see that our relationship was bigger than us because all we had was each other. Necessary. Encountering challenges to our fears about marriage and guidance into doing it God’s way by Luke and Felisha. Necessary. Putting God at the center of our marriage and nothing else. Necessary. Preparing us to return back east and settling this time in Duncan, SC as maturing Christians. Necessary. If it were not for these events that some would call coincidence without seeing God’s hand in it, Elena and I would be in the same old cycles of relationships that we have had in our past. He stripped us down and broke us down so that we could find each other and grow up about relationships and marriage and about Him. To quote Tom Cruise in the move, The Last Samurai, “what could be more necessary!”

I am still growing up in Christ and there are many flaws in me that He is still working on to this day. But breaking the strangehold of making women, relationships with them, the center of my being, God had to take drastic measures. I have found, because of the woman He guided me to, that I do not have to dance to be accepted. That true love is acceptance. I spent a great deal of time from 2004 forward blaming Trena and Lisa for what those relationships became. However, I have come to realize that I made them my gods. I made their approval my gods. I was not the spiritual leader of my household in those relationships because I abdicated my duties to gain approval. I used to blame my dad for moving me around all the time and particularly for that fateful move from Anderson, SC to Travelers Rest, SC in 1976, that set the cycle of my adult life in motion. I do not blame him. He was simply doing what he was called to do. It was all part of the plan. God has plans. He orchestrates our plans and the interactions of all those 7 Billion plans on this planet. My past is my testimony now. It is part of His plan for my life. If my life had been perfect, I would have no testimony. My life is testimony to the changing, healing power of Jesus Christ when we accept Him as our Savior and He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. Now, I can look back on those mistakes and use it in my testimony of what happens when you make people your gods. When you make approval your god.

Just look at Herod Antipas. He lived and died for public approval but yet He was a king. He needed no approval but his reign was faulty and erratic because of his constant need for approval. He would not do what he knew was best for his country simply because he desired the approval of others over doing what was right. I can so identify with Herod Antipas. I cry for Herod Antipas because I know him. I lived his life. I lived that roller coaster life for most of my life. It is only through the patience of God, the persistent work of the Holy Spirt, that I draw my value from Him and not others. When I think of the person I used to be, I cry for that Mark Bowling. I cry for the stupid things he did just for approval. I cry for the pain that Mark Bowling felt because of making the approval of others the measuring stick of his life. I cry for that Mark Bowling because I never want to be him again. I cry for joy at the changes that God has wrought in my soul over these years. I thank God that he cleared the clouds away and saved Elena for me til now so that I can be the husband she needs and be the husband that leads our household toward a deepening relationship with Christ. I cry for joy that my value and her value come from Him first. I cry for joy if this testimony helps someone see themselves in it and it leads them to turn to God for help.

Thank you God for delivering me from who I used to be. Thank you for your patience while you were maturing me through your grand plan for my life. I thank you and give thanks that I see you as the source of my value. I pray that others will find this blog helpful in their journey to Christ. I pray that others will see that God does indeed have a master plan for our lives to bring us back to Him. I pray that people see that Christians are just as flawed as anyone else. I pray that people see that we are all works in progress. I pray that we all see that God is not done with us yet. I pray that we all can have our lives redeemed by a faithful and loving God that has the patience to watch, prod, guide and kick us in the rear end as He matures us in Christ. Thank you Lord for loving me that you guided me to you and matured me in you even though it was tough and painful at times. Thank you for the pain of growing up in Christ. I look back at the old me and I am disgusted and thankful that I am not him anymore. Ten years from now with more chiseling through the work of the Holy Spirit, I will look back on 2015 Mark and say, man I am glad that I am not him anymore. I thank you Lord for the pain and maturation that you will put me through to make me more like you, day by day, year by year until such time that you see that I am ready to be with you, perfected in your presence forever. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 13:53-58
Jesus Is Rejected in Nazareth

My brother is a career preacher. He has been a preacher in the United Methodist Church here in South Carolina and for a while in south Georgia since he finished seminary way back in 1984 or ’85. To me, though, he is my brother. I do not really know my brother in preacher mode. To me is my one and only sibling who is like night to my day. He is like oil to my water. We are diametrically opposed in every way. I am Republican. He is a Democrat. I am a Clemson Tiger. He is a Carolina Gamecock. He talks incessantly while I am more of listener. We have never really been close. We have our spells where we are closer but it is never an ongoing deep relationship. We are just too different. I love him as my brother but we have different interests, different points of view. Over the years, we have just been at odds with one another. We are only 18 months and 2 weeks apart in age. We have always been competitive with one another. There has always been that competitive jealousy between us from practically since I was able to have a cogent thought as a child. We fought like cats and dogs growing up. It was rare that we were on the same side of an issue. Just as an extreme example, one time when he was almost 6 and I was 4, I did not want to play “rolly bat” with him (if you are unfamiliar with this game, please see http://allpoetry.com/poem/11845633-Rolly-Bat-The-Game-From-My-Childhood–by-Tyna-D.-S. for the rules). My brother became so mad at me that I would not play the game he wanted to play that he hit me over the head with the baseball bat. My friends who may be reading this are probably saying to themselves now that this incident explains a few things! LOL! But back to the point, my brother and I have issues that it has taken years to resolve about one another. We are finally in a place in life that we do not feel the need to compete with one another. Recently, I paid him as big a compliment as ever when I told him that he must be doing something right as a preacher, just look at his career. Since after his first appointment in the United Methodist Church, he has stayed at his appointed churches for no less than 4 years, the last several appointments have been at least six years. His current appointment in the Greenwood, SC area finds him in his 7th year and most likely will be back for an 8th year when appointments are made in June 2016.

To me, he is my brother. He is not a preacher. To me, he is the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker. When I talk to him, all I hear about is the politics of the United Methodist Church in South Carolina (who’s moving where, who is becoming a District Superintendent and who is not, the inner workings of a connectional church). I never hear about people or salvations or things like that. Thus, to me, it seems that the church is a job to him like any other rather than a passionate calling. However, when you look at the evidence of his ministry career, he must be doing something right. He must be effective. He must be discipling his various flocks over the years into deeper and deeper relationships with Christ. With regard to the politics of the church, I am sure that he does well at that but if he was not effective in his local church, he would not stay places as long as he stays. It’s the old saying, “ball don’t lie” used by basketball players. It means that in basketball, you can talk a good game but on the court the truth comes out. Talent will show on the court regardless of the talk. That is what I see in my brother. In the Methodist Church, you move when you are no longer effective at a given church. As long as you are effective, you can stay at a church for a long time. So, for me, although I know the real R.T., my brother, and it is hard for me to see the R.T. Bowling, III, the preacher. But ball don’t lie. He’s a good preacher. Why do I bring this up? It leads us to our Scripture reading for today. In Matthew 13:53-58, we find the following from the Word of God:

 
53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith

 

 
There are two things that I think that we can use from today’s passage. First, it is hard for people to accept the changes that the Holy Spirit has wrought in us through our faith in Jesus Christ. Second, faith is a requirement for miracles in our lives. In the end, we find that it doesn’t really matter what other people believe as long as we are faithful to our Lord and Savior. That’s what matters.

Just as I have a hard time seeing my brother as a minister cause I knew him way back when, it is similar with my walk with the Lord. I am sure that there are people in Travelers Rest where I did my teenage years and most of my twenties that would find it hard to believe that I am a part-time pastor at my church. There are friends in the Berea area of Greenville where I spent my thirties that would scoff at me being a preacher in training, that I went to seminary. In both places, they knew me pre-salvation. I was a different man then. I did many things that I am not proud of now. However, when we accept Christ as our Savior, He changes us from the inside out. We are not what we once were. The Holy Spirit comes to live inside us and He changes us from the inside out. The things that I was comfortable with back in those days revolts me now. I am a different man. I am a changed man. The same is true for anyone who has met Jesus Christ and accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. We are changed by Him. There will be those who will never believe it. They will never believe that we have changed. That is the miracle of Jesus Christ. He changes people. He redeems that which seems unredeemable. He can take the foulest and make it clean. He can take even the modest hardened heart and make it soft. He can take the worst criminal and make them effective disciples. He can take our pre-salvation stories and the redemption through Jesus Christ and make our stories connect with others who are experiencing the same life and witness to them. Our past can become our testimony of the miracle of Jesus. As that great hymn writer, Charles Wesley, once wrote in that traditional hymn that stirs my soul every time I hear it, Oh For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, says,

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Jesus set us free from our sin, from our past, from who we were, from what we were, from what others think of us. It does not matter what others think of us because of who we were. It only matters where we are going. It only matters who we are in Jesus now. We are redeemed in his blood on the cross. Miracles happen in lives that are submitted to Jesus Christ. It does not matter if you were a wild child preacher’s kid trying to prove that you were not a holy roller. It does not matter that you ran from the hypocrisy of what you saw in the church. It does not matter if that was an excuse just to live a life of excess and immorality. It does not matter if that was the old me. It does not matter what your old you story was. It is what we are in Christ now. There is nothing that you have done that is ever so bad that Jesus Christ cannot redeem it when we ask Him into our hearts. Jesus performs miracles in the lives of those who have faith in Him. It simply does not matter if you were formerly a liar or a thief or an adulterer or mired in unbiblical sexual behaviors, or if you were a greedy bastard, or if you were a worshipper of false gods, or anything that you formerly were. Jesus can reclaim it and perform a miracle in you and through you. It does not matter what your hometown thinks. It does not matter what your old friends think. It only matters that you believe in Jesus Christ and He has changed you through the action of the Holy Spirit in your soul. It is never too late to turn to Him and beg His forgiveness for the person you used to be and have Him redeem you from the foul person that you used to be. It does not matter what others think of you or what they knew of you way back when or just a few months ago. A changed life that gives glory to God and seeks after God daily is the miracle of faith in Jesus Christ. When we keep our eyes on Him and not on what others think of us, we have our focus in the right place. Our past is meaningful only in the sense that it screams of the miracle of faith and how it change us. His blood availed for me.

Faith can bring miracles. It changes lives. Jesus can do miracles in a life. Jesus can bring about miracles when there is faith. When we have deep faith in Him and deep trust in Him, He can bring about miracles that we never thought possible. A lot of us give lip service to our faith in Jesus. How much do you trust Him. How deeply do you believe that He can perform miracles? If He can change you from the person you were to a Christ follower, can we not trust Him to perform other miracles in life? He can heal souls but do you believe He can heal disease. How deep is our trust? We can trust Him to create radical change in life through prayer. Do you believe that Jesus is great for spiritual change but do you believe that He is no longer in the tangible miracle business? How big is your God? If He can change the man you are from the foulest to the heart seeking after God, let us trust Him so deeply that we can pray for healing of disease. Let us trust Him to provide for our needs when we need it the most. Let us trust Him to change others. Let us trust Him to perform miracles that we know are miracles when others try to explain it away. We experienced a miracle at our recent Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway that you may discount for lack of faith. We thought we were going to run 50 turkeys short of what we need to service the guests who came to our campus that day. We had several reputable people count the remaining turkeys. People with meticulous minds that would not miscount the physical number of turkeys in the refrigerated truck. You might expect a miscount if one person did the count twice. But we had two or three different people count the turkeys and we were going to come up short by 50 turkeys. Somehow, some way we had enough turkeys to service every single family that came to our campus that day to get complete Thanksgiving meals (turkey and fixings) to take home to their families. It was a bona fide miracle in our minds who knew of the shortage. Tell me what you will that there was some logical, reasonable explanation. To me and to our team, it was a real miracle of tangible proportions. That is faith in action. That is God providing for us when we needed it most. That was God showing out. Let us have such deep faith in Him that we can see the miracles when they happen. Let us not be people of little faith even in the church that we cannot see the miracles when they happen. Let us be that people with that deep, deep faith that we can pray to our Lord for miracles and see them happen when they happen. The greatest miracle of all though is the changed life despite the unbelief of those who cannot fathom how this person was changed into a Christ follower whose life has turned around 180 degrees. Others will rationalize it away and others will not believe it but it is a miracle of grand proportions. Let us believe in a God of miracles. Let us pray for change in the hardest heart and watch it happen. It may take 40 years of praying for the desert to be changed into fertile ground but we must have faith. Let us believe in miracles through faith in Jesus Christ!

We will have our doubters in the miracles that Jesus brings to a person’s life. But it does not matter what other people think. It is only our relationship with Jesus Christ that matters. Do not let others detract you from your faith in Jesus Christ. Submit to Him and let Him change you from the inside out. Let Him do the miracle in you. In the end, it does not matter what other people think. Just as I see my brother as that dude that hit me over the head with a baseball bat when we were little, just as I see him as just a dude that chose to be a Methodist preacher because it was a job and was the family business so to speak, rather than an effective man of God who has discipled Christ followers well enough to stay long periods of time at each of his church appointments, it does not matter what I thought or what I think of my brother. He may have his flaws, but he has done real kingdom work through his full-time ministry these last 30 years. Others are not going to believe what change has occurred in us. Others are going to doubt God’s miracles in us and in the things that we pray for and trust Him to do. It does not matter what others think. It matters the faith that we have in Jesus Christ. He is still in the miracle business. In you. In me. In the world around us. Have the faith to see the miracles!

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 13:47-52
The Parable of the Fishing Net

We live in politically correct days. We can to be inclusive and not exclusive. Anything that smacks of excluding people is condemned. Gay marriage is celebrated and almost revered my mainstream thought. Anything that is even remotely perceived as being anti-African American is roundly squashed whether what has been said or done has merit or not. We want to rewrite history books to make the world seem more inclusive to our children. We want to tear down monuments to men who rightly or wrongly were pivotal in our nation’s history. We want to the world to be a place with there are no winners and no losers. We teach this to our children in sports today. There are many children’s sports leagues where we do not keep score and there are no championships to be won. We are becoming a nation that, in the interest of inclusion and in the interest of everyone being happy, we have forgotten that the world is not sitting around the campfire singing kum-bah-yah like we want them to. The world is designed for there to be victories and defeats. The world does not give trophies labeled participant. It is often through our greatest defeats that we learn our greatest lessons about life. We learn that sometimes no matter how hard you try with all the talent that you have sometimes you are going to lose because you come up against someone or a team that has more talent than you.

Certainly, in life outside of sports, there are injustices in this world that prevent others from participating on a level playing field and those are the things that we should fight for so that there are level playing fields. As Christ followers, we are to see every man as created in the image of God and there are things that we should fight against with everything we have to prevent. Racism, sex trafficking, poverty, and any other thing that prevents people from reaching their full potential as a child of God created with great value in His image should be our aim as Christ followers. At the same token, we should not participate in things that use the whole child of God thing to the exclusion of God’s Word about behaviors that are against God’s plan for man. At the same token, God’s Word says that we should work hard as honoring to God. God’s Word denounces laziness. In God’s Word, it realizes that God has talented us all differently and that we will not all excel at everything we do. Some areas we are winners. Some areas we are losers. God does not condemn those who excel. It celebrates them. God’s Word does not offer a helping hand to those who are lazy and not willing to work. God calls us to show compassion and give a person a helping hand but it does not say that we have to repeated reward those who will not use our helping hand to get back on their feet. God’s Word asks us to seek to give Him glory by obeying His Word and living holy lives that point to Him. God’s Word realizes that people make choices that have consequences. God’s Word realizes that we are humans and that we will make mistakes and it is from our mistakes that we learn and move on. God’s Word realizes that by our own choices, our free will, there will be those who reject Jesus Christ and those who will accept Him. God’s Word says there will be consequences for that choice. This evidence of real consequence is seen in Jesus’ parable of the fishing net. In Matthew 13:47-52, Jesus says,

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
There are several lessons that we can learn from this parable. The first is that there are going to be winners and losers in the eternal battle. The second thing is that the key to victory is understanding who Jesus really is and not who we want Him to be. From this discussion, we will find that the choice of eternity and where you spend it is clear and it is up to us, with no takebacks, to make the right choice.

The reason that I opened up this blog with a discussion of political correctness is that it points out the head in the sand mentality that we have in today’s world. We do not want there to be tough choices. We don’t want there to be consequences to choices. We have become a world where we are more interested in preserving our houses that we cannot afford, the brand new cars in the driveway, the best clothes, the cutest kids involved in sports that reward their mere presence. We want our vacations at the beach. We want big Christmases. We want our toughest choices to be is to which credit card bill we are going to pay first. It’s all about us and we don’t want anything to get in the way of that. As a result, we don’t want to offend anyone because it might mess up the good thing we got going. We really don’t care about right or wrong. What we care about is working for the weekend and going to the beach in the summer. Rewrite the history books if you want as long as it does not bother my lifestyle. Political correctness points us to not caring. Political correctness points us toward anything goes. Political correctness points us away from tough decisions. Political correctness tells us even in religion that everything is OK. Believe what you want to believe. It’s kind of like every kid getting a participant trophy. As long as you believe something, you will get to heaven. All roads lead to heaven. We don’t want to tell you what you believe is wrong because it might offend you. The plain and simple truth is that all roads do not lead to heaven. Jesus Christ said that He and the Father are one and that it is only through Him that we can reach the Father. You have a simple choice here. Either you believe this or you don’t. Yes, you have the free will to make this choice. God gave you that free will so that you would not robotically say yes to Him. But the choice we make on this question is not one that does not have consequences. In our politically correct world, there are no consequences. There are no winners and losers. There are no fatal choices. Everybody wins in the end. We can have takebacks and do-overs, because there cannot be anything that has consequences. However, the reality of life is that there are consequences to actions and decisions. Your choice on Jesus is a win/lose question. It is the eternal choice with eternal consequences. The charge given to us as Christ followers is to do the hard work of telling the story of Jesus. However, because of free will there are those who will reject the truth found in Jesus. There will be winners and losers. There are no takebacks on this one. There are no family histories to blame. There are no socio-economic struggles to blame. There is consequence to this decision and it is yours and yours alone to make. Accept Jesus as the Son of God who died for your sins to make you right with God and be changed from the inside out by that decision through the work of the Holy Spirit. Winner. Reject Him and believe that anything we believe is OK and that a loving God would never condemn. Just believe in politically correct goodness and you are in. Loser. Eternal consequence that cannot be undone.

In allowing for political correctness that all faiths can coexist and none of them are superior to others, we must reduce Jesus to something less than He is. In order for Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism to all be roads to heaven, we must make Jesus into something less than He is. We must make Him into a self-help guru. We must make Him into simply a man. We must make Him into pacifist. We must make Him into a hippie, peace-loving, non-judging wimp. We must throw out his claims of deity. We must throw out his parables about judgment. There cannot be all faiths lead to heaven. It is simply a logical inconsistency. The mere fact that each religion gives a different definition of how we can get to heaven makes this argument. All religions cannot be right and in conflict at the same time. It is simple logic. It is the order of logic that there is one correct answer for every question in life. We must use logic to deduce which is the right answer. Therefore, all religions cannot be right at the same time when each gives a different answer to the critical question of how we get to heaven. Only one can be right. All others then are proven to be the false answer. Christ claims to be the Son of God, and that no one reaches the Father except through Him. Bold claim. That’s not an all roads lead to heaven response. He claims to be the one and only way. That’s not kum-bah-yah. That’s not anything goes. That means that we have to make a choice about Jesus. When we make the right choice about Him, we see that He is the Son of God. He is God in the flesh that broke into human history so that He could become the perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The Old Testament points us to Jesus. The OT teaches us that we are expected to be a holy people but yet are a people who are incapable of being fully holy 100% of the time because of our sin nature. We all have it and we are condemned by it. It is because of our sin nature and the permanent taint that puts on us and our inability to be good 100% of the time during 100% of our lives that we are condemned to be separated from God in an eternally real place known as hell. It is from the Old Testatment that we learn that we need a Savior, a substitute to stand in front of God and take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. It is Jesus, as God in the flesh, that is the only way that redemption can happen. He was the only perfect, sinless one that can stand before God on our behalf as holy. No other is equal to Him. He is God so He is the only way. Not Mohammed. Not cultural Judaism. Not Buddha. Not the fanstasy gods of Hinduism. Only Jesus. Your choice. Be seduced by the sounds good/feel good political correctness of all roads lead to heaven or see Jesus as the culmination of God’s redemptive plan for man and that no other can be who Jesus is. Anything less is to call Jesus a lunatic or liar, to quote CS Lewis. As Christ followers, if we truly believe that Christ is the only way then we cannot just stand and say that believing in other religions is OK or that believing in nothing is OK. There are eternal consequences to the choice about Jesus. All roads do not lead to heaven. Then, we must take Matthew 28:19 seriously. When we make disciples, it means that we have developed relationships, lead people to the cross, and then helped them mature in their walk. We do not make disciples with hate. We make disciples with relationship and then pray to and trust in God to do Holy Spirit work in another person’s soul. We are called to make relationships by Christ. We are not to give up on the Matthew 28:19 calling that Jesus gave us. Sure, people are going to reject us. Atheists in their smugness are going to reject us. Those who believe in other religions or an amalgamation of religions are going to reject us. Does that stop us? No. It has been proven that people must encounter the Holy Spirit on at least 8-10 occasions before they will open their heart to Him. We must never tire of sharing who Jesus Christ really is and why this choice is the most important choice in life.

There will come a time, either at our own death or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first, that there will be the end of political correctness. There will be judgment. There will be winners and losers. There will be the point at which we cannot waffle on Jesus. We will be judged. We will be the good fish or the fish tossed aside. No takebacks or do-overs. Done deal. Your decision on Jesus determines your eternal future. We will find at our death or when Jesus returns that this question is the crucial one. There will be no excuses. No shoulda, coulda, woulda. Its either you did or you didn’t. What’s it gonna be?

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 13:44-46
The Parables of the Hidden Treasure & the Pearl of Great Price
Every couple of years at Christmas time, there is a toy that becomes the thing that every kid has to have. Parents go nuts trying to find this perfect toy. They will pay any price for it. Back when my girls (Meghan and Taylor) were young, there were several of those years.

When Meghan was real little, it was the Teddy Ruxpin bear. Parents would pay any price for it. A few years later when Taylor was born, it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that. The Fisher Price vacuum that Meghan apparently wanted bad enough for Santa to come back and bring because he “forgot it.” There was, of course, the Fisher Price kitchens, the easy bake ovens, and Barbie’s dream houses that Meghan and Taylor had to have over the years. As they got a little older and technology got better, Gigapets were all the rage. A few years later, Meghan and Taylor were all ga-ga over Super Nintendo.

Also, In that era, we also saw Sega Game Gear become the hit toy of Christmas around the country. The mid-90s saw Power Rangers action figures take over. And then of course, during that time there was the Tickle Me Elmo that really took parents by storm. Then, there were Furbies and then Pokemon. Then as time passes, it was the Razor Scooter and then, oh man, the X-box – boy did we parents pay through the nose on that one. Next up was the PS3. Then, the Ipod Touch. Then, there was the Wii entertainment system. Next stop was the iPad, and the iPhone, and the Kindle Fire. What will be the most sought after gift for our children this year? It is certain that there are parents out there right now, today on Christmas Eve, trying to find that one gift that all parents are trying to find. Today is the last chance. Zero barrier is approaching. Must find today. Some parents will pay any price to find that one have-to-have gift for 2015. Have you ever experienced that as a parent? The sad thing about all that hustle and bustle is that six months from now, the importance of that gift to the child will have waned. Or maybe even sooner than that. It may be that they play with it while on Christmas Morning and then get disinterested in it and not play with it much at all after that. And the thing that irks a parent the most is that the day after Christmas the same toy that you paid three times the price for prior to Christmas is now on sale for half or a quarter of the price that you paid for it.

It is kind of the same thing for grown-ups with their own toys. When HD televisions first came out, everybody had to have one. It didn’t matter what the price was, we just had to have it. My first HD large screen television cost me over $800. Five years later when I had to replace it, we bought a bigger screen HD television that had more capabilities for half the price that we paid five years ago. The thing that is common to these scenarios is that with human things, things that we create, is that they fade. There is always something better to come along to capture our fancy that makes what we have now seem old and lousy. You almost done want to purchase anything because as soon as you do you get off on the exit ramp of being locked into what you have now while technology keeps on advancing down the interstate of progress. Human things fade. Human creations get old and lousy. They become worthless over time. That is not what Jesus is talking about today. He is talking about the kingdom of heaven, that which is eternal. In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus says,
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

There are several things that we learn from this passage that we can apply to our lives today in the world in which we find ourselves. First, in each of these parables, we find that to central characters stumble upon their treasure. Second, we see that when they find their treasure, they are willing to do anything to possess it. Finally, we must decide how deep we are willing to go ourselves for this Christ follower thing. In the end, we will come to see that we must place our value in things that matter in eternity not the temporal things of the here and now.

The first thing that we notice from these parables is how there is a randomness to their finding their treasure. The man walking through the field and the merchant both stumble upon the great treasure that they end up sparing no expense to obtain. When you really think about this, it reminds us that our salvation is a gift from God not something that we have to do something or not do something to get. Our salvation is not something we earn. If earning was the basis of our salvation none of us would have it. We can never undo our sins or our sin nature. We are tainted by our sin beyond repair. We cannot go about doing more good than bad. One sin disqualifies us from ever existing with God in heaven in eternity. Just one. That’s all it takes to disqualify us. We cannot keep a ledger of good deeds vs. bad deeds and think we are going to win the debate. Just as drop of creamer changes the color and taste of coffee permanently for that cup so it is with sin. It changes the color of our coffee no matter how small the drop is. We are permanently stained or changed by one sin not to mention the tons of sins we commit daily. Thus, we can never do enough to earn our salvation. It is a gift. It is like finding a hidden treasure buried in a field. It is like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. We did nothing to earn the treasure or the $20 bill. It is a gift freely given to us by a Father who loved us so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, same in essence and nature as the Father, to be the reconciling sacrifice for our sins. Jesus took our punishment for us. We have been set free. We won the lottery. Through no effort of our own, we have been freely given a gift beyond measure. We are condemned to hell by our sins, but we have been given a stay of execution by a God who loves us that much that He does not want to see us get what we really deserve. We have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat through Jesus Christ’s freely given gift of salvation by faith. Notice too that these treasures were there all along and available for anyone to find. These men did not have some exclusive right to what they found. This tells us that salvation is available to anyone who finds Jesus. There is no exclusive country club. All are welcome to find salvation in Jesus Christ. Men of all colors can find it. Men of all “religions” can find it. No one is excluded. Everyone has the opportunity to find this treasure.

The second thing that we notice here is that once the man in the field and the merchant have stumbled upon their rich treasure. They are not willing to give it up. They are willing to pay any price for it (just like a parent on Christmas Eve is willing to pay any price for that ultimate toy of Christmas for their child). That reminds us of the lives of thanksgiving we should be living. We should be thankful for the gift than we have been given. Nothing else has greater importance to us after salvation. In our salvation, we find joy and peace that goes beyond anything the non-believer can understand. No longer do we find ourselves defining ourselves by what toys we have. We define ourselves in the pearl of great price that we have been given. Everything else is just trinkets and toys to us. Our salvation freely given permanently seals us into the eternity that we desire, spending it at the feet of our God, praising Him in eternity. That is our focus after salvation. We live our lives to please God and from that comes the overflow of blessings to others. We have our pearl of great price. We have our hidden treasure. Nothing in this world has greater value to us than our salvation.

The final thing that we notice here is the challenge to us as Christ followers. How deep are you willing to dive into this ocean of following Christ? Are you just going to hang out on the shore forever or are you going to grow and dive deeper. Are you willing to go and do whatever God calls you to do? Or are there excuses and reasons that you cannot be all-in when it comes to following Christ? Are you willing to pay any price to follow where Christ leads you? Are you willing to give up the fine house, the fine salary, the comfort zone in which you find yourself? Are you willing to give up all your earthly toys to follow Christ? I will follow you Lord, but… These are famous words of most all Christ followers. We want to follow Christ but only up to the point that it really costs us something. What if there was really a cost and not just benefits to being Christ followers here in the USA? What if times change and being a Christian was an economic and even a life-threatening liability to us like it is in most countries outside the Western world? What if you would suffer economic sanctions because of your professing publicly by words and actions that you are a Christ follower? How deep would we go then? What if you were taxed three times higher than everyone else because you are a professing Christ follower? What if you were cut off from your family for saying that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh and that you believe in Him as your Savior? What if you were put in prison for this belief? What if you had a gun to your head for this belief? How much does this hidden treasure, this pearl of great price, mean to you? We must be willing to be Christ followers when it costs us something not just when it is a side benefit to us. Our faith should mean so much to us that we will stand on it no matter what it costs us. It is the eternal that matters to us not the approval of this world. Let us be such a people. The ones that hear God’s call and follows no matter where it leads us. Let us be a people that views our eternity as more important than present day approval. Let us be a people that stands upon our faith in Jesus Christ regardless of what the flow of public opinion is at this moment. Let us stand with Jesus Christ even when it will cost us something. Let us be willing to place eternity with Jesus as the pearl of great price to us that overrules anything else that we may value in this life. Let us be that people.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 13:31-33
The Parables of the Mustard Seed & the Yeast

Have you ever noticed that the biggest of family feuds started over something small? Someone said something, maybe unintentionally, that offended another family member. It may begin with something someone did or didn’t do that offended someone. It then begins with the offended person not showing up for the next family gathering. Then, the game is on. The feud then takes on a life of its own as remarks and actions get added to the fire. What was once just a smoldering ember then becomes a full-fledged forest fire with fuel constantly being added to the fire. After years, though, will all the fuel that had been added, people not talking to one another, people talking through others, the feud takes on a life of its own. After years, no one really remembers the details of what started it to begin with. If feuds go on long enough, they affect generations and whole branches of families being pitted against one another. That’s a negative example of something small and insignificant growing into something far greater than what it was originally.

We can all relate to this negative example. I know that my family can. My Uncle Doug left our family when I was about 4 years old over some very rude comments that my grandparents, Doug’s parents, had made to him on one of his visits back to see Pop and Granny back in 1966. Uncle Doug never came home again after that, even when his parents, my grandparents passed away in 1979 (Pop) and 2009 (Granny). Even after my last living grandparent passed away in 2009, he stayed away even then from his own remaining family, his four brothers and their respective families. He persisted in disassociating himself from his Bowling family roots from 1966 until his death earlier this year in August 2015. From 1966 til now, he persisted in saying that my grandparents were not his parents even in his obituary. His children and his children’s children I do not even know. Rude comments for sure were made by my grandparents from what I understand from my dad and my uncles. I was too little to remember what was said. But that’s family, we seem to hurt the ones we love the most, but it is family that we are and should give the easiest forgiveness. However, in this case it never happened. Something small became something big. A small ember became a raging fire. What was the sad thing was that if Doug had just rejoined the family, we would have accepted him with open arms despite the decades of his raging against the family. Again, this is a negative example but it shows us how something insignificant can become something far greater than what was originally expected. That’s how I relate to the mustard seed and yeast short parables. I look at my own extended family.

The smallest of things can become something great in positive ways as well. Just look at what Jesus says about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said in Matthew 13:31-33,
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
What can we learn from this passage? There are two things. One is overarching and the other is individual. I think that we learn that what happened on Calvary was an insignificant event by worldly standards but became the most significant event in the history of mankind. It is significant in world history and It is cosmic in its implications. The second thing is that salvation may seem insignificant to others but has eternal implications for the receiver of God’s grace. The tiny mustard seed and the scraggly plant that it produces becomes a host to all kinds of life. The impact of the kingdom of God is the same way.

First, let us begin with the human historical nature of how Calvary is like the mustard seed. What seemed like the killing of a radical prophet that was a thorn in the side of the status quo, the establishment of his day seemed insignificant to the Jewish Sanhedrin (the ruling council of religious leaders) and certainly to the Roman Empire. Jesus seems like this irritant to the social order that they finally had gotten rid of after him getting people all riled up for the past three years. It was by worldly standards at the time, an insignificant crucifixion in an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire. Palestine was a conquered part of the empire but it certainly was not the most significant part. It’s significance lie only in its crossroads nature. It connected the European part of the Empire by land to its North African and Arabian sectors. It was a passthrough. Soldiers and diplomats assigned to the region from Rome saw Palestine as a stepping stone in an upward climb or punishment as part of the decline of a career. It was not seen as the ultimate assignment. So, while assigned there, you simply wanted to survive it and get back home. Keep the peace. Make sure the economy was working right and get the heck out at the end of your assignment. So, this Jesus thing was just a bump in the road of Jewish history and Roman history at the time as it would seem to the Jewish and Roman leaders at the time. But something happened that day at Calvary and three days later (by Jewish time reckoning). We will talk about the resurrection next, but let’s continue down this history road first. This little insignificant event became like yeast introduced into dough. Instead of killing an innocent man and getting rid of a problem. The Romans and the Jews, from a historical perspective, inadvertently started a movement. From this little tiny insignificant event on an insignificant day in an insignificant part of the Roman Empire, the world was changed. The empire was changed. From this armpit of the empire and this insignificant, just one of many, crucifixions came this amazing movement known as Christianity. The faith could not just be contained in Jerusalem. Those who were disciples of Jesus Christ changed the world. The faith spread from Jerusalem to the entire empire in very short order. It was a raging flame that burned throughout the empire to the point that it become the official religion of the Roman Empire by the beginning of the fourth century after Jesus’ death on that insignificant cross, on that insignificant hill, in that insignificant regional center of political power (Jerusalem) in the empire, in that insignificant region. What happened that day in that tiny armpit of the empire became the symbol of what is now the faith of 1/3 of our planet. What has grown from that mustard seed! What has grown from that little bit of yeast on that day over nearly 2,000 years of human history ago.

Second, let us look at the cosmic nature of what happened that day. Sure it is easy to see the human historical implications of the kingdom of Christ followers that began with that insignificant crucifixion on that day. But let us consider, here at Christmas time, what the cosmic nature of both the nativity and the cross mean. Let us think about it. By human standards and in the history of the world, Jesus was just a kid born in a cultural backwater town of a once great but now conquered nation. It was an insignificant kid born in an insignificant town in an insignificant region of the mighty Roman Empire. Even within the conquered nation of Israel, it was a blip on the radar of Jewish society. He was just a kid born to this poor young couple where there was a question as to the timing of the pregnancy. A poor kid born to a poor young carpenter/handyman and his young wife. But it was so much more to those of who know who Jesus really is. It was God breaking into human history to be Immanuel, God with us. Mighty God who is mightier than the Roman Empire, mightier than anything we as humans can do or create, subdued his glory to become a baby. He entered human history. He came as baby. Imagine the Lord of the Universe subduing His mighty glory and limiting Himself to a human baby’s body. He grew up in human flesh. He lived the human life. He experienced everything we experience. He humbled his glory to be among us. He came to do what only He could do. He came to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system. God had been training His people for this with the OT sacrificial system. Through this training we were learning that we were unfit and unworthy because of our sin nature to exist with a Holy God in eternity. The sacrifices were to teach us of our need for forgiveness. The sacrifices of animals were to show us that there was need for substitutionary sacrifices for our sins. It was to point out how repeatedly we fall short of God’s glory and there needed to be a way to make us right with God when we approach Him with humble hearts seeking forgiveness. But it was an imperfect system that needed to be repeated because the sacrifices were from our own imperfect world. There needed to be a perfect way to complete the training, to complete the OT sacrificial system. Jesus was God in the flesh. He came to earth and broke into human history and lived the perfect life. There was no sin in Him though He was tempted. There was no sin in Him because He was perfect because He was God Immanuel. He came and lived the perfect life. He did not sin. He was thus the perfect once and final sacrifice for our sins. The Romans and Jews thought they were simply getting rid of a political nuisance but they were acting out God’s plan. Jesus on the cross was more than just the death of a political rebel. It was the plan. It was the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. It was necessary. Jesus says on the cross to His Father that “it is finished”. This is more than just a man saying that His life is over. It is Jesus of the trinity of God saying to His co-equal Father that the plan was complete. The OT sacrificial system was complete. Now, we have the once and final sacrifice that is the permanent substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. No longer is there a need for annual sacrifices that have to be repeated. The perfect sinless life, the only perfect sinless life in human or animal form to have ever existed. There was no more need of sacrifices. The cross finished it. All we have to do now is believe that the cross was God’s redemptive plan for us. We simply have to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and that the cross where He died for us pays the price for our sin nature. He took the punishment that we deserve in eternity. He is our Savior. He is our Redeemer. The cross did it for us. That’s what God said it was for.

It was more than just a guy dying as a rebel on the mechanism of Roman execution. The man on the cross is more than just a rebel, more than just a great philosopher, more than a radical rabbi, more than just a do-gooder, more than just a self-help guru. It was the redemptive plan of a mighty God. It was the perfect sacrifice of God Himself on the cross because He loved us so much. He loved us so much that He broke into human history and was born a child, grew up as we grow up, experienced all that we experience, but did not sin where we do sin. He came to do all that so He could be on that cross that day on that insignificant hill in a conquered town in a conquered land that was considered a cultural backwater to the Roman Empire. It was oh so much more than that. It was cosmic. It was grand plan. It was God on earth to save His children. It was the vehicle, the one and only vehicle for reconciliation to God because it was God on that cross. There can be no other way that this cross on that insignificant hill in that insignificant town. Everything else that we may try to put in its place is just man-made religion. It is only this cosmic event, the center point, this intersection of God and His creation that matters. This seemingly insignificant event to the rest of the world is what the world will be judged by in the end – the cross from this insignificant hill in this insignificant town in this insignificant region in a conquered land. No other event is so pivotal. Seemingly insignificant but of the utmost eternal importance. Every soul will be judged on the basis of the significance that we place on this seemingly insignificant point in human history. Do you see it as the God of the universe sacrificing Himself for you or is this just an insignificant event in an insignificant town?

When we see the cross as God in the flesh dying for our sins, when we see Jesus as more than a rebel crucified, when we see that He died for the punishment we deserve as sinners the cross is the most significant event in human history. God saved us from an eternity in hell. When we see our Savior crucified, it is love unparalled. When we think of God loving us that much, it is overwhelming. It changes us. We know we deserve hell because we never, ever can be good enough. One sin taints us from ever spending eternity with God in heaven. The alternative we know is the eternal suffering in the flames and emptiness and pain and eternal suffering of hell. Jesus saved us from that. It changes us. We live lives of thanksgiving for what He has done for us. We live differently. We want to please our Father in Heaven for what He did for us through Jesus on the cross on that day way back then. It is joy to please Him. It is joy to tell others about Him. It is the single most significant thing that happens to us. That seemingly insignificant moment in human history when we accept Christ as our Savior. It changes the world. It creates ripples in eternity. I well up with emotion as I write this. We are saved. Human history is insignicant in comparison to where we spend eternity. Where will you spend it? There is more than this life that we make so important but in reality it is insignificant. What seems insignificant to us, eternity, is real and it is forever. Where are you going to spend it. You will be judged on how you see this cross in that insignificant town in that insignificant place. Is Jesus a self-help guru to you? Is He a great philosopher? Is He a radical rabbi? Or is He the Son of God who died on the cross for your sins and took the punishment you deserve because of your sin nature? Is this an insignificant question or a question of eternity for you? What is your answer?
Amen and Amen.

Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43
The Parable of The Weeds & Its Explanation

There are those a-ha moments in life. When you finally get it! Something that seemed a mystery to you before now seems clear.

As an accountant in my secular profession for the past 30 years, I am the king of spreadsheets. I can construct multiple tabbed spreadsheets linked together with complex formulas such that you can drop data in the main spreadsheet of a workbook and have it be drawn into reports that are beautifully designed because of all the formulas and links that I build. I love a good spreadsheet. Yes, I am spreadsheet geek. Few things make me more satisfied as when my complex spreadsheets work on the first try. However, there are times when I have built a complex workbook with interlocking spreadsheet tabs where the result is wrong and I must figure out my mistake. When you are an accountant and you work on a spreadsheet and you wonder why you can’t get the data to balance with what you know the total should be and you get frustrated and walk away. After letting the spreadsheet sit for a while, you come back to it and you figure out your mistake almost immediately. What you could not see before, became immediately clear. You, then, feel so foolish for having spent hours not seeing the hour and now you found it almost immediately. Here, Jesus speaks in a parable that at first does not seem clear, but when He explains it, the meaning is so obvious that you feel foolish for not having seen the answer right away. Here, in this passage, there is the parable, Matthew 13:24-30, and there is its explanation, Matthew 34-43. When Jesus explains the parable in vv. 34-43, it is like that a-ha moment as an accountant when you figure out your formula error that was ruining your spreadsheet and you kick yourself for not seeing it before. Sometimes though, you can’t figure out the error because there’s a time limit, a deadline that you must meet, and you have to give up on it and start over.

Jesus makes it clear here that it is only because of God’s Sovereign Patience that evil is allowed to exist in the world. His Sovereign Patience allows evil to exist only to allow Christ followers to flourish and produce disciples. His Sovereign Patience is only to allow time for people to turn to God. In the end, though, God’s Sovereign Patience will come to an end. There is an end to our time here on earth and there will be an end to the earth when His patience is complete and the game is up. There is a deadline for making this spreadsheet we call life work. Greater still, this collection of multiple spreadsheets into a workbook that we call the earth will meet up against this deadline. There will be judgment for us all as individual spreadsheets and for the entire workbook. There will be judgment for each one of us and for all collectively at the end of the age. Let’s read through God’s Word and see what Jesus has to say,

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

….

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
What becomes clear and evident when you examine this parable and its explanation is that is only because God allows it to exist so as not to destroy his fruit-bearing disciples. Evil exists only so as to allow those that are Christ followers to flourish while they are here. In His Sovereignty, God could easily scrap this spreadsheet and create a new one right now that has all its formula problems fixed. This world is a faulty spreadsheet with critical formula errors that we have created not because God created it that way but rather because of user error. We have made our spreadsheet faulty from the beginning. We decided almost from the beginning to take shortcuts in creating this spreadsheet called life. From the beginning, we listened to Satan say to us that instead of obeying the rules set down by God for our own good that we know better. It is like taking a shortcut in creating a spreadsheet when you know you need to go through the hard work of creating the necessary formulae to make the whole spreadsheet workbook to work together properly. One flaw introduced in a spreadsheet workbook can bring the whole thing crashing down. Our world is that flawed formula in the spreadsheet. The whole thing has gotten screwed up and the result can be traced back to the beginning where the flaw of sin was introduced. Evil exists because we messed with God’s perfect formula. In God’s spreadsheet workbook, everything worked together because of His Sovereign design. We messed it by tinkering with the formulas even when He told us not to. Evil exists because of us listening to Satan. However, evil exists only to allow those who produce fruit in this life to do what they are planted to do. God has his people here who obey Him because of their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and through the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. We are those good plants that produce the good fruit. We are here to be God’s representatives here on earth. We are to carry the banner. We are to be the examples of what can be in a life fully devoted to God. We are to be the city on the hill. We are to be the light. We are to be the salt of the earth. We are here to spread the Word of the kingdom.

The existence of those that shake their fist at God is only because God is patient and willing to allow them time to turn to God. If God wanted to give no second chances, He could end this thing right now. He has not yet. He wants to give people every opportunity to turn to Him. In His Sovereignty and in His parental love for his rebellious children, He wants to give us the time to turn to Him. He wants us to see that our spreadsheets have formula flaws on our own. He wants us to admit that there is the flaw in the spreadsheet that is making it not work for us. He wants us to admit that there is a flaw in our formulas of our spreadsheet and seek His help in restoring the formula that God had originally designed into our spreadsheet. God could just trash our spreadsheet and start over. He could delete our file. He could trash it. But He is a loving God who wants to give us every opportunity to turn to Him. But there is a deadline that He in His Sovereignty that only He knows that will come. There will be a time where the searching for the correction to the formula in the spreadsheet will no longer be tolerated. There will be time when the deadline hits.

There is a time limit and the reality that is hell will be made clear to us. Jesus says that there will be judgment. At the end of our lives or the end of the earth, Jesus is telling us here that there is a hell. It is real. Jesus talks about hell as much as He does about heaven. Jesus says hell is real. He is giving us time to find the flaw in our formula but there is a limit. We do not have forever. Let us not be deluded into listening to Satan who says that you can circumvent God’s Word and still reach heaven. Satan tells us nowadays that God’s Word and His design that is ageless and timeless is no longer valid. He tells us that we do not have to obey parts of God’s Word because it no longer socially relevant. What was once sin is no longer sin, according to us. We have redesigned the formulas to say that has been against God’s Word forever is no longer a sin. We have justified sin as acceptable by changing the formula of our spreadsheet that was designed by the original Creator of the spreadsheet. We pat ourselves on the back because we found a way to take a shortcut around the original design. However, the Timeless One designed this spreadsheet. It is His spreadsheet and He will say one day that you can no longer play with the formulas. You will be judged on your obedience to His Word. We will be judged as to whether we trusted His formula or created one of our own. Time will be up for us to accept the original design. Hell is real. Jesus said so. Where do you stand? Have you changed the formula and your spreadsheet keeps producing faulty results. How is that working for you? Time is running out. Seek out the Original Designer and ask Him to restore His formula to your life. Seek God. Obey God. Time is running out. The deadline for fixing your spreadsheet problems is approaching.

Amen and Amen.