Light of the World

 

 

 

People love Christmas lights.

 

Even the most hard-core Grinch, even the Scroogiest Scrooge can’t help but appreciate the beauty of all the multicolored lights on homes, businesses, churches, trees, bushes, fences, and virtually anything on which a light can be hung.

 

And, I will grant you that many of these displays often seem to have nothing to do with Jesus.

 

But they do.

 

The tradition goes back to the first Christmas trees, when people would put candles in them to symbolize Jesus as the light of the world.

 

So, even the most full-on Griswold display of excessive electrical consumption with all of its depictions of snowmen and Santa and elves and reindeer and all the things your Bible never mentions have their origins in the Lord and Savior of the world. 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5 (NIV)

 

Indeed, the darkness has no chance against the light because the darkness isn’t actually a thing. Darkness is the absence of light. While the frequency, the wavelength, the color, the intensity, and even the speed of light can be measured and studied, darkness has none of those properties.

 

Darkness is, literally, nothing.

 

There are places on this earth where life can exist in darkness, but its most often not total darkness and the life that does exist there is strange and twisted, hideous and macabre, lacking in beauty and color.

 

Going back to John 1:5, the word most often translated “overcome” is rendered “comprehended,” “apprehended,” “put it out,” “overtake,” and “perceive.”  The Greek word is κατέλαβεν (katelaben) and Strong’s defines is as “to take eagerly, i.e. seize, possess, etc.”

 

Indeed, the darkness has never seized hold of or taken possession of the light that is Jesus Christ. The darkness cannot snatch away the light because the presence of light destroys and negates the darkness. The darkness cannot even comprehend or begin to understand the brilliance, the marvelous and majestic glory, of the light.

 

And, when we associated light with glory, I cannot help but think of the angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds:

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified…” Luke 2:9 (NLT)

 

They were terrified. There, in the dark of night, in the rocky hill country outside of Bethlehem, some lowly shepherds had Heaven open up before them and all the light of the eternal throne room of the One True God shine down upon them as an angel spoke to them. And they were terrified.

 

As the KJV puts it, “sore afraid.”

 

So scared it hurt.

 

The light is indeed marvelous. All life on earth, even the life that lives in near darkness, depends on the light for life. Light and life are inexorably linked together. 

 

Light was the very first thing God spoke into existence. 

 

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:3&4 (NIV)

 

And when God gave us His Son to be the light of the world, He put a light in the sky to announce His birth and guide men to Him.

 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1&2 (NLT)

 

And, after they had talked to Herod and inquired where the could find Jesus, verses nine and ten tell us:

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 

 

Yes, they were filled with joy. 

 

Even though the darkness tries to forget about the light, the light still shines in the darkness and the darkness never had a chance against the light.

 

It flees. The darkness is utterly destroyed –wiped out by the light. 

 

So, when you look upon those Christmas lights, remember that they are about Jesus. Every bulb, every twinkle, every sprinkle put on a Christmas cookie symbolizes Jesus, the Light of World.

 

And remember that we are called to be that light:

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5: 14-16 (NLT)

 

And, just as the light was the first thing that God spoke into being, the light will be there for all eternity:

 

Today’s Praise

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. Revelation 21:23&24 (NIV)

That Christmas Spirit

Listening to Allen Jones on Kinship Christian Radio the week before Thanksgiving was like… like a writer struggling to come up with words to describe a junkie anticipating his next fix without offending the junkie.

 

Now, before I irreparably offend Allen, let me be clear that I am NOT in any way talking about drugs or any illegal substance of any kind here, but one could pretty easily tell that Mr. Allen Jones was seriously jonesin’ for some Christmas music last week.

 

I love Allen like he’s family, (we are related only as brothers in Christ) but I could tell he had put himself on a leash that was as tight as a banjo string strung between a sleigh containing every present Santa would deliver on Christmas eve in all the world and a hundred dozen magical flying reindeer. 

 

Don’t get me wrong. This is a good thing. 

 

If you’ve ever listened to a radio announcer who hated playing Christmas music on a different radio station, you would be grateful that Mr. Allen’s Christmas Spirit seems unquenchable. 

 

By the way, there’s a reason I capitalized “Spirit” in the last sentence. 

 

As I wrote on this blog about three years ago, the Christmas Spirit is the Holy Spirit.

 

If you think I’m doing a little stretching of my own, keep reading.

 

Let’s go all the way back to some Old Testament prophesy: 

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD– (Isaiah 11:2 NIV)

 

Yes, Isaiah prophesied that the Holy Spirit would rest on Jesus. That’s not surprising from where we sit now.

 

But look what Matthew says about how Mary come to be with child:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18 ESV)

 

And surely, we all remember this conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:31-35 NIV)

 

After Jesus is born, there’s an old guy who’s been hanging out in the temple forever and: 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2: 25-32 NIV)

 

That’s three times in three consecutive sentences that Luke tells us what was going on in Simeon was the work of the Holy Spirit!

 

Still not convinced? Try this on for size:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5: 22&23 NIV)

 

Did you get a little Christmas glow when you read that?

 

I thought so.

 

Yes, Virginia, the Christmas Spirit is indeed the Holy Spirit. 

 

And that’s why this time of year is our best chance of letting people see Jesus in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot talk anyone into believing in Jesus, but the Father can draw people to Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

The glorious part of this is that we do not have to try to grab on to God to shine with the light of the Holy Spirit. We do not have to grasp at being godly, for if we empty ourselves of pride and arrogance and receive the Holy Spirit like servants humbly and obediently receiving a precious gift, Jesus draws people to Himself. 

 

We just have to let Him.

 

So, this Christmas, do not let the busyness or the rush or the hectic dashing about quench the fire of the Holy Spirit in you. Let those Christmas songs sink in and fill you with a glow that will make others wonder why you’re like that. Encourage and fan the flames of the Holy Spirit in others. If a co-worker is quietly playing Christmas songs at their desk, ask them to turn it up. Share some Christmas cookies early. Go to a Christmas concert and invite some friends. Invite a friend to church two weeks BEFORE Christmas! Give someone a gift who would never expect to receive one. Donate generously to a charity. Do your shopping while humming –or better yet singing out loud– a Christmas carol!

 

Or go on one of Kinship’s social media pages and participate in our Kinship Christmas Carol Takover by posting a video of yourself singing a Christmas Carol!

 

What are they going to do? Throw you in jail for having too much Christmas Holy Spirit? 

 

Today’s Praise

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13 (NIV)

 

Praisegiving

The Sea of Galilee, taken from the Mount of Beatitudes. (Photo by author.)

 

There have only been a few times in my life when I got a glimpse of the real magnitude of the love of God.

 

The first one was when I was maybe nine years old. I don’t remember if it was a Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, but I remember being flooded with peace and joy and light and love –and I knew it was Jesus. I knew I had been saved.

 

The second time was much, much later. I was on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic in 2015. It’s a very long story, but I had been sick and I was thanking a sister in Christ for taking care of me. I spoke almost no Spanish and she spoke almost no English. I had a two-dollar Spanish-English dictionary in my hand and she looked me in the eye and said something in Spanish that started with “Denada” and ended with “amo.” 

 

I didn’t need that $2 dictionary to know she had said, “You’re welcome. It is all done in love.” 

 

And in that moment, the Holy Spirit poured out on me an overwhelming sense of the magnitude of God’s love for me and all people.

 

And it changed me forever. 

 

It happened again in May when I went to Israel. I cannot explain why, but the Mount of Ascension and especially the Sea of Galilee brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I’m talking about uncontrollable, pouring-out-my-heart blubbering tears.

 

And then, just a couple of days ago, I was praying and God again showed me how much He loves. This time it was just a little gasp, just a brief moment of having my breath taken away –but it reminded me of all those other times He gave me a glimpse of what lies on the other side of this dim reflection in the mirror. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

 

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that in all those cases where I tried to describe how big God’s love is, I really didn’t do a very good job of it. 

 

That’s because it is impossible to describe. Words are not enough.

 

Some of my favorite songs have tried to describe it:

“Your love, oh Lord, reaches to the heavens,” sang Third Day. 

 

“Your love, it is extravagant,” sang Casting Crowns.

 

Cory Asbury sang God’s love  is “reckless” as He leaves the ninety-nine and comes searching for the one lost sheep.

 

In “Oh How He Loves Us” David Crowder  sings:

And He is jealous for me.
Love’s like a hurricane. I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.

 

A beautiful old hymn called “The Love of God is Greater Far” (which I’ve heard on Kinship Christian Radio sung by Mercy Me) says that if all the sky were parchment and all the seas were filled with ink and every reed on earth were a pen and every man on earth a scribe, to write the love of God would drain the oceans dry. It ends with, “Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.”

  

And while they are all beautiful, glorious songs, and even though the Holy Spirit does move through word and song, none of them describes the love of God completely and adequately.

 

Of course, there are many verses in Scripture that speak of God’s love:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 1 John 4:16

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15

 

 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:26 

 

Certainly, those verses give us some of the attributes of God’s love for us, and they are all true…but as for really describing that love in all it’s fullness, I’m still coming up short.

 

One of my favorite set of verses is Ephesians 3: 17b-19:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

 

Paul writes as if the love of God has physical dimensions –and hopes that the Ephesians will know it, but openly acknowledges he cannot adequately describe it because it surpasses knowledge.

 

And that’s because there are really are no words to describe that which is infinite. 

 

In purely human terms, it is impossible to truly, fully, adequately understand or describe the infinite love of an infinite God.

 

But there is one thing that shows us the width, the length, the height, the depth, of God’s love for us:

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

 

It is that image of Jesus on the cross, that moment when the sky went dark and the rocks split in two and the dead came out of their graves and the curtain of the temple was torn in two and He cried out, “It is finished!”

 

Because in that moment, in that one moment that changed the history of the world more than any other moment in history, our sins were forgiven and His love brought us back to Him as the sons and the daughters we were meant to be. In that moment, when we had done nothing to earn it or deserve it, love conquered all the sin and darkness and hate and evil that this world would ever generate. 

 

In that moment of infinite love, that pinnacle moment of the ultimate public display of affection, He did what we could not do. He described His love for us in a moment that could never be forgotten or denied. 

 

He wrote it on our hearts, signed it in His blood, proved it to all the world forever when He stepped out of the tomb alive, and sealed it with a guarantee from his own Holy Spirit for every soul that would come to believe in Him.

 

So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving and thank Him for food and clothing and homes and family and all the innumerable physical blessings He has poured out on us in His great love, let us celebrate a Praisegiving for a love of our very souls that we don’t have the words to adequately express. 

 

Today’s Praise

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. 1 John 4: 15-16 

 

(All Bible verses above are NIV)

 

Godtown

 

 

For regular readers of this blog, you may remember that I went on a trip to Israel last May with about 30 other people. Three of those people were affiliated with a ministry called, “Godtown.”

 

That’s a pretty interesting name for a ministry and I was, of course, intrigued.

 

They also have a cool logo that says, “Love God, Love People,” so how could I resist that? 

 

Well, it took me about six months, but last week I finally followed up on my curiosity after a dear sister posted a video of ministry actually taking place in Godtown.

 

Godtown is a community of about 30 missionaries living in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood of St. Paul called “Frogtown.” It’s very near the State Capital along University Avenue in the Thomas-Dale neighborhood. I was unable to find any historical documentation regarding an abundance of frogs. 

 

The missionaries of Godtown minister to and evangelize in the local community and they send out missionaries to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ all over the world. It’s a training ground for missionaries to grow and learn and be equipped to shine the love of Jesus Christ locally and globally.

 

One of their goals is to reduce crime in the neighborhood by building relationships through their Safe City Project. This involves a community center, two community gardens, and a wide variety of events throughout the year to bring people together. They help with food, shelter, alcohol and drug addiction, domestic violence, and basically all of the human needs a ministry of this kind encounters.

 

The buildings where the missionaries live where purchased and renovated by Godtown. In addition, they have been involved in the renovation or repair of about twenty other houses in the neighborhood.

 

They also host teams from local churches who wish to participate in their ministry, and they send missionaries out to local churches to engage them in the Great Commission and serve as a mission base. 

 

Obviously, that’s all right in my wheelhouse, but why am I writing about this on the Kinship Christian Radio blog?

 

Certainly, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and it is absolutely wonderful to see what Godtown is doing in the name of our Savior because it encourages and lifts us all up, but there’s another connection that made me grin from ear to ear.

 

You may remember that KJLY, Kinship Christian Radio’s first station, started with a recurring dream that came to a farmer named Maury Schwen in the early 80’s in which he saw a radio tower with the words “JESUS IS LORD” on it. Through much prayer by many people, Kinship Christian Radio came into being and was blessed by the LORD over and over. 

 

In a strikingly similar way, a lady named Jen Tolo had a recurring dream of a dilapidated house with a golden cross hovering over it. She and her husband, John, found that house under the golden cross of the Church of St. Agnes in Frogtown. It was in foreclosure at the time and they didn’t have the money to buy it, but through much prayer, God made a way and Godtown was eventually born. 

 

When I stopped in on the people of Godtown one morning last week along with my friend and brother Kenny Ortiz, I wanted to get an idea of who they were and what they were doing and if there was a way to partner with them in fanning the flames of the Holy Spirit in local churches around the state.

 

Kenny and I were immediately welcomed in like family. They started with an hour of heartfelt praise, then began studying Scripture and talking about how to effectively present their testimonies. As they went around the room telling how they came to be in Godtown, it was amazing how many had been drawn there by a dream of some kind. 

 

God does truly work in mysterious and amazing ways.

 

We talked, we laughed, we basked in the glow of the Holy Spirit, we went out to lunch where I experienced a delicious Vietnamese soup called phở for the first time, we ministered to a homeless man looking for work, and before I knew it, I had spent six hours with some wonderful people I now count as family.

 

In the end, I was quite certain this had not been my last trip to Godtown.

 

Today’s Praise

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14 (NIV)

 

Answers. Light. Hope!

 

It is once again time for KinshiChristian Radio’s Share-A-Thon! 

 

 

It’s a glorious, wonderful, amazing, and very busy time for the staff of Kinship Christian Radio. 

 

Of course, I very much enjoy the various food-related events associated with Share-A-Thin… (Oops. I think that was a wishful-thinking Freudian typo just there.) 

 

As I was saying, there’s some really good food associated with Share-A-Thon, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to partake. 

 

Here’s the schedule of food and fellowship events:

KJCY Soup and Sweets at Family Life Center in Osage – Door Prizes – Special Gifts for the Kids! Tuesday, Nov. 12  4:30 – 7PM.

KJLY Soup and Sweets at New Creation World Outreach Church in North Mankato – Homemade Soup, Chili & Pie – Door Prizes  Wednesday, Nov. 13 from 11AM – 1:30PM

KJIA Soup and Sweets at Spirit Lake Presbyterian Church – Make Your Own Sundaes – Door Prizes – Special Gifts for the Kids  Thursday, Nov. 14 from 4:30 – 7PM

KJYL Share A Thon BBQ at the studio in Goldfield – A BBQ with all the fixin’s!  Thursday, Nov. 14 from 5 – 7PM

Gene’s BBQ the final night of Share-A-Thon at the KJLY studio in Blue Earth – BBQ Ribs, Potato Salad – Beans – Chips – Dessert  Thursday, Nov. 14 from 4:30 – 7PM

 

Now, while I certainly do enjoy the food and being with Kinship staff and listeners, my favorite part of Share-A-Thon are the listener testimonies on the air. The ways in which people have found answers, light, and hope through the ministry of Kinship Christian Radio are truly a wonderful testament to the work of Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

 

It’s both humbling to know He uses ordinary people to accomplish His purposes and glorifying to Him to see the power manifest in the lives of friend and neighbors all around us. 

 

You will hear of lives changed and transformed, of wounds healed, of broken hearts made whole. And all of it is made possible by words and music sent out over ordinary radio waves. What’s not ordinary is that He uses those radio waves to deliver answers, light, and hope into lives so in need of His love.

 

It really is a miracle.

 

And it happens every day.

 

Long ago, I heard a pastor on KJLY say that praise of the LORD creates an atmosphere the enemy cannot move through. 

 

As I put that into practice, I started to pray every day that the LORD would enable me and help me to live a life of praise to Him. 

 

And that changed my life because living a life of praise fills me with gratitude and joy –and that is a far, far better way to live one’s life than grumbling and complaining and constantly waiting for things to get good enough that I have nothing to complain about.

 

A recent news story on Kinship Christian Radio told about how scientists have “discovered” that people who are grateful are healthier, happier, and live longer. 

 

Those of us who are living a life of gratitude are not surprised by this news. 

 

That’s an example of a good answer.

 

I’ve also found myself lifted up on more than one occasion by just the right song at just the right time with just the right lyric. When Bear Rinehart of NeedtoBreathe sings, “God of mercy, sweet loooooove of mine, I have surrendered to your design” in the song “Multiplied” a light goes on every time. 

 

“Oh yeah, HIS design,” says the little voice in head.

 

And all of this gives me hope because I know He loves me, His ways are better and higher than my ways, and He’s got this. All I have to do is be a disciple. 

 

The disciple is not in charge. He just follows Jesus, learns from Him, and goes where He sends him. 

 

It’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

 

And so, dear readers, enjoy Share-A-Thon. Come spend some time with the staff, listen to the testimonies and all that takes place over the airwaves, and share what the Holy Spirit leads you to share with the ministry.  It’s not mandatory. It’s a joy.

 

 

Today’s Praise

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. Ephesians 1:18 (NLT)

 

Ask

A dear sister in Christ recently showed me something in Scripture I had not noticed before.

 

Luke 11 begins with one of the disciples asking Jesus to teach all of them to pray and from this, Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. He continues to teach about prayer, emphasizing persistence in prayer and assuring them that all who seek will find and to all who knock, the door will be opened. (Verses 5 – 10)

 

Then, in verses 11 and 12, He says, 

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

 

That’s a very familiar passage, and I have long taken to heart that it means if we ask our Father in heaven for the things that we need for our physical bodies, He will most certainly provide it. But, what my sister pointed out is in the next verse:

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

 

The teaching is not primarily about asking for our physical needs. It’s about asking for the Holy Spirit!

 

Of course, our Father does indeed provide for all our physical needs, but the point of knocking on the door in the middle of the night and being persistent in prayer is not for bread, but for the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead! 

 

The same Spirit that was hovering over the earth when it was created, the same Spirit He breathed into the man of dust to bring him to life, the same Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance as children of God! 

 

We’ve all felt that Spirit ebb and flow in our lives. 

 

There are times on the mountain top when the Spirit seems very near and fills us. There are times when we despair and the Spirit seems very far away indeed. There are times when we’re in a rut and the day-to-day grind makes it seem as if the Spirit is silent. There are times when we need the direction and guidance of The Counselor who is the Holy Spirit.

 

But, in the context of these first thirteen verses of Luke, I get the distinct impression that Jesus is saying we who are His disciples should persistently, even daily, ask to be fed and filled with the Holy Spirit as if we’d be spiritually starved without it. 

 

From its very inception, prayers were lifted that the power of the Holy Spirit would go out over the airwaves of Kinship Christian Radio. It’s an absolute miracle how the Holy Spirit works and that this amazing power can be shared and delivered to others via the gift of radio. 

 

In about six days, Kinship Christian Radio’s Share-A-Thon will begin and you will hear the testimonials of many, many listeners who will describe how this ministry has blessed them. As they speak, listen for and pay attention to how the Holy Spirit worked in their lives by giving answers, light, and hope through the music, the preaching, the teaching, the tapestry of the announcers, and the testimonials of others over the radio.

 

And, if you would, please pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to bless and lead this ministry to the praise and glory of the name of Jesus Christ. 

 

Today’s Praise

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,

what no ear has heard,

and what no human mind has conceived” —

the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1 Corinthians 2:9 – 13 (NIV)

 

Even When the Rains Come

 

About a year ago, I joined a mission team that ventured to a small town in southeast Texas called Vidor to help fix homes damaged by the 60 inches of rain dumped on them by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. ( See “Kin” in the blog archive.)

 

About a month ago, tropical depression Imelda came along and hit Vidor again with another 40 inches of rain, flooding many of the same homes that were devastated by Harvey. (See “Overcomer” from Sept. 26 of this year in the archive.)

 

Some of the homes damaged in Harvey weren’t even fully repaired before Imelda hit.

 

None of the hearts torn apart by Harvey were ready for what Imelda did.

 

My friend and brother in Christ, Pastor Skipper Sauls of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, had his own home flooded again. 

 

The home where I spent a week last year installing ceramic tile on the floors had 14 inches of flood water cover that tile.

 

Now, you’d think that ceramic tile would survive being flooded, especially since it was installed over a concrete floor. But, those floodwaters carry with them bacteria and mold spores that seep into the grout and even into the tiny spaces under the tile in the mortar that holds them down. Skipper says leaving that tile in place is an open invitation for respiratory disease.

 

The family living in the home is understandably despondent. I would be too.

 

All that work will now have to be repeated. 

 

They will persevere. They will repair the home with help from their church family and life will go on.

 

Eventually.

 

But getting from where they are now to where they will eventually be actually has the potential to be more difficult than the first time. The FEMA trailer they lived in for over a year while their home was repaired is gone. Imelda didn’t generate the press Harvey did, so there is less state and federal help. And, for people who did have flood insurance, the insurance companies seem a little less compassionate than they were during Harvey.

 

And thrown into all of this are countless miles of drainage ditch, acres and acres of bayou and wildlife areas, restoration of wildlife areas involving placement of dredge spoils, road construction that may have effected drainage patterns, and probably a dozen other factors I’m not aware of. Obviously, an effective, well-maintained, and properly-designed drainage system is essential in an area that’s all of 20 feet above sea level.

 

It also doesn’t help that in the year in between Harvey and Imelda (2018) the area received 88.75 inches of rain, or about 50% more than the long-term average.

 

On the day our team first went to work on a home that had not been damaged by Harvey but was soaked to the point of having to remove all of the drywall, a two-inch rain resulted in full ditches and flooded roads outside the home. (See photo.)

 

The situation is so frustrating and seemingly hopeless that a respected town councilman in Vidor resigned his position and is in the process of moving out of town because his home was flooded by Harvey and again by Imelda –and there’s no assurance it won’t happen again.

 

But it’s not hopeless.

 

Fear and mistrust and hopelessness can seep in through and work their way into what seems solid and impermeable. All of those things are a disease that will indeed kill us –and it will be a slow, gasping, painful death. 

 

The cure is the truth. 

 

The cure is Jesus Christ. 

 

The enemy of our souls would like us to give up. He’d like nothing better than to see us bite and devour each other.

 

But the truth is, the darkness can never extinguish the light.

 

The people I met are not giving up. Even though many of their possessions were destroyed and their homes severely damaged, there were those who were drawn closer to Jesus by it. 

 

I saw God moving to grow His kingdom not despite adversity, but because of it.

 

I am still kin with these folk, just as a wrote last year. Just as Scripture says, when one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.

 

And, as I have written before, all who believe in Jesus Christ, all who have the Holy Spirit, have been adopted into that same kinship family.

 

So, will you please join me as my Kinship Christian Radio family in praying for our kin in Vidor?

 

Mighty and everlasting LORD, God of mercy and truth and grace, we lift up to you our brothers and sisters in the Vidor area, asking that you would encourage them, provide for them, give them hope, and let the truth, the whole truth and nothing but your truth soak into every aspect of the situation in the areas affected by the flooding. Lord, please grant that all would be to the praise of your glory and in the mighty name of Jesus Christ! AMEN!

 

Today’s Praise

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. Psalm 145:13 (NIV)

 

 

Photo by Brett Miller, used by permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Develop Biblical Decision-Making Skills

You know how sometimes things in the Bible just keep coming up in your life?

 

Well, for me, I keep bumping into this concept in the Bible of casting lots.

 

This goes way back to Exodus where God has told Moses (in great and specific detail) how to construct the tabernacle and all its furnishings and even how his brother, Aaron, is to be dressed as high priest. This includes an ephod (a long, sleeveless garment) to which is attached a breastplate which is adorned with twelve precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. When we get to Exodus 28:30, we find this:

And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly. (ESV)

 

Exactly what the Urim and Thummim were is unknown in this day and age. What we do know is that they were used in the casting of lots, which is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament.

 

As far as we can tell from context, casting lots was a lot like rolling dice or flipping a coin. Some people believe they were one light stone and one dark stone, identical in size and shape, put into a pouch in the breastplate and withdrawn by the priest to reveal yes or no answers and/or determine guilt or innocence. The words “urim” and “thummim” have various translations and derivations, but they essentially mean, “cursed” or “faultless.” An example of using lots to determine guilt or innocence is found in Joshua 7 and in Joshua 14 we see the Urim and Thummim being employed for the very weighty decisions of dividing up the land of Israel among the 12 tribes.

 

They are also mentioned in Proverbs 16:33, where we find:

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

 

This leads me to believe there was more than one way to cast lots. Obviously, casting something into one’s lap is different than a priest reaching into a pouch and picking out a stone.

 

Whatever the case, the exact mechanism isn’t known, but we do know that people at the time believed God was responsible for the outcome of what the lots showed. The disciples cast lots to pick a replacement for Judas Iscariot. (Acts 1:26)

 

And in that, I find something amazing.

 

I have been on more than one committee formed to study a situation and make a decision which very easily could have been made with the flip of a coin. Typically, such a committee meets over and over again while vacillating between the choices at hand, spends a great deal of time trying to smooth over and mitigate the ensuing and inevitable personality conflicts, gathers endless conflicting information and opinions, and finally comes to the conclusion they think the boss is most likely to agree with.

 

God, on the other hand, has a much more efficient method.

 

“Flip a coin. I got this, folks.” (My paraphrase.)

 

It’s a beautiful, genius way to handle things.

 

I mean, if we believe that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of anything and everything, what are we worried about? If He can create the entire universe simply by speaking it into being, why can’t HE decide if the carpet in the sanctuary should be light beige or dark beige?

 

(Actually, if we truly gave Him a choice, I think He’d pick blue and purple and scarlet with threads of gold woven in like in Exodus 26. But I digress.)

 

The glory of the whole plan is that a decision gets made. God, in His incredible wisdom, mercy, and grace spares us from endless meetings and the ensuing drama of personality conflicts.

 

We roll the dice, we flip the coin, and we move on.

 

Done.

 

As I have aged, I’ve come to realize that many of the decisions I have agonized over really didn’t matter. I could have been just as happy with either decision I could have made and, on more than one occasion, the inability to make a decision resulted in not making a decision, which was effectively a decision to do nothing.

 

And, more often than not, that turned out to be the worst possible decision.

 

Obvious exceptions to this are accepting Jesus into my life and marrying my lovely wife, both of which I can categorically state are not to my glory, but His.

 

Not that long ago, somebody posted something on Facebook that was of the same kind of pure genius. This person noted that when a man and woman try to decide where they should go out to eat, the ensuing discussion can rival the Nobel Peace Prize selection process for drama and time consumed. This Solomon-like individual suggested that the man say to the woman, “Honey, guess where I am taking you to dinner?”

 

And whatever she said, that is where they ate.

 

Genius.

 

Today’s Praise

“Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” 1 Chronicles 19:13 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Grace Wins

 

We’ve all heard the news: Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murder in the death of Botham Jean.

 

The trial lasted a week.

 

The jury deliberated less than a day.

 

And in that time, the media coverage was relentless.

 

There was outrage and their were protests.

 

And then Botham’s brother, Brandt Jean, took the stand to give a victim impact statement and said:

“If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.

And I don’t think anyone can say it — again I’m speaking for myself and not on behalf of my family — but I love you just like anyone else.

And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.

And the best would be: give your life to Christ.

I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.

Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.

I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?”

 

And then the judge allowed Brandt Jean to give Amber Guyger a hug.

 

And in that moment, Jesus changed everything.

 

In that moment, grace won.

 

All the hate and division and wedges the enemy of our souls had been driving between us forever were carried away in a tsunami of grace.

 

You could almost hear Jesus saying, “It is finished.”

 

And there was reconciliation.

 

There was forgiveness and grace where it was not earned, where it was not deserved, where no one expected it.

 

And in that moment, what had been a senseless death was suddenly used by God to teach us all what Jesus really looks like.

 

Brandt Jean is only 18 years old. When you watch the tape of him speaking those words of grace, you can tell he’s not saying those words for his own glory. If anything, it seemed to me he couldn’t quite believe that he was there in that time, in that place, saying what he was saying.  He seemed uncomfortable at best.

 

But there he was.

 

And after he gave that convicted murderer, thmurderer of his own brother, a hug.

 

And Amber Guyger sobbed uncontrollably.

 

After that, Judge Tammy Kemp consoled the Jean family, and then she left the courtroom and came back with her own Bible and gave it to Guyger, pointing out John 3:16 and assuring her that she could be forgiven, that she could change her life.

 

And the onlookers and the lawyers in the courtroom were in tears.

 

Because that’s what grace, –the real, true grace of Jesus Christ– does to your soul.

 

Since then, pundits and lawyers and people who were not there have raised a number of “concerns.” There were complaints and protests from The Freedom From Religion Foundation. And the media tried to make this too, a circus.

 

But what cannot be changed is that Jesus was right there in that courtroom and He changed lives, just like He has been doing for 2,000 years. Jesus stepped in where the best we have to offer is rumors and lies and innuendo and hate and He poured out eternal mercy and grace and truth and love.

 

And the darkness did not understand it, nor could it stop it.

 

Today’s Praise

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

 

 

So long Twin’s Baseball! By Allen Jones

So long Bomba Squad, rally squirrel, and the incredible Minnesota Twin’s 2019 baseball season.  The word disappointed would not quite sum up my feelings today after the Twins ended their playoff push with three straight losses to the terrible, awful, and dare I say evil New York Yankees.

The truth is, the Yankees are an incredible baseball team, I just have a hard time allowing myself to admit that through my burning hatred of that particular ball club.  I’m not exaggerating either when I say…

I HATE THE YANKEES!
I despise their large contracts, ridiculously good bull pen, and players who never seem to want to smile in their official pictures.

Normally when I watch a baseball game I really enjoy appreciating what makes an opposing team so good, but not with the Yankees.  I have too much hatred in my heart to appreciate anything about the Bronx Bombers.

At least that’s how I felt until I saw a heartfelt post on social media by a friend this morning.  My friend Joe was born and raised in New Jersey and is a die hard New York Yankees fan.  Joe shared a picture of himself, his son, and his dad at Yankee stadium some years ago before his father passed away.  No gloating, no terrible comments about the Twins, just a son remembering a special moment with his dad who is no longer here.

It was in that moment that all hatred for the New York Yankees vanished and I remembered why I love the game of baseball so much in the first place.  It’s a kid’s game.  A game fathers and sons have been playing and sharing for generations.  Mothers and daughters have been sharing it too and I think that’s only going to increase as the sport moves forward.  Special memories with family and loved ones have been created around the game of baseball for well over a century and that’s not going to change anytime soon.  I suddenly remembered what unites all baseball fans, regardless of their favorite team, and I was quickly aware of how exhausted I was by focusing on what divides us instead, especially over the last three Twin’s games.

As a culture, we are constantly being bombarded with what divides us.  What divides our world, our country, and our churches, but what about all that unites us?  How about our desire to be valued, loved, and to be seen as worthy in this life?  How about our desire to take care of our families and raise children who won’t go astray?  How about our desire to make a difference in this tired and broken old world?

How about Jesus Christ?

No, not everyone believes in Him, follows Him, is saved by Him, but everyone is affected by him.  In fact, you could say the whole world spins on the axis that is Jesus Christ.  Everyone will face a singular and pivotal question in their life… Will you accept and believe in the Son of God, and his life saving message and sacrifice?

The world seems a lot more simple and profound when gazing through the Christ lens.  It’s not about sides or teams, it’s about souls being saved.  We will all have different thoughts, opinions, theology, interpretations even, but the gospel of Jesus Christ unites us all, and will affect us all, especially at the end of this life.

I just pray when I get to heaven, I don’t find out that Jesus is actually a Yankees fan.