Unmerited Grace…Favor Undeserved

Unlimited Mercy…Matchless Worth

Heaven’s Best…The Worst in us

Abundantly Blessed…

O The Beauty of a Life Redeemed

One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple.   Psa 27:4 NKJV

The Beauty of the Blood

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Woodlandtown.org

 

 

Sunday afternoon my daughter and I went driving for a couple of hours as part of the requirement for her getting her license.When we drove past a local Church of Christ she asked me “aren’t they all churches of Christ”? Wow…what a question!

My daughter has been raised in church so she is of course well versed in “church”culture. Yet her question prompted me to ask her a question in return,which was “is it confusing for an 18 year old to see churches with so many different names”?

“It sure is” was her immediate response.

All of which got me to thinking: what kind of Godly relationship can we expect our children to have with the Lord when we who are supposed to be the leaders of the church are sowing so much confusion into their lives? How in the world are they supposed to know who’s right and who is wrong?

For example: according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there were an estimated 43,000 Christian denominations in 2012.

Forty.

Three.

Thousand.

Which begs the question:

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?  1Co 1:13 KJV

So I ask again: how is anyone,much less a young adult,supposed to figure out which church to attend,or which doctrine is the right one?

We have instilled in our daughter the importance of reading her bible and of having a right relationship with the Lord,but I have no illusions that she will agree with me on every single point of doctrine.Nor should I expect her to read from the same version of the bible that I do.She is an independent young woman who with God’s help must chart her own destiny.

So what of those who do not yet know the Lord but may be seeking Him? To which of the 43,000 denominations do they turn to? Yours? Mine?

Of course,all of us believe we “know the way”,or at least have some assurance that we are on the right track.And heaven knows we could start our own version of jihad,or holy war by laying claim to having the answers for everyone.For certain we all know that wars have been fought and inquisitions enacted throughout the ages all in the name of “church”.

Many Christians today like to believe that their church can be traced back to the Apostles and Disciples of Christ.Some believe that their church was started due to a direct revelation from God Himself.Still others lay claim to a particular religious figure from the past,or as in the case of most mega churches today they follow a personality.

But do you see how difficult it can be to sort through this mess of religiosity?

Catholic,Baptist,Methodist / Wesleyan,Lutheran,Presbyterian,Pentecostal/Charismatic,Episcopalian/Anglican,Churches of Christ,Assemblies of God,Church of God,Seventh-Day Adventist,Church of the Nazarene,Church of the Brethren,Independent Christian Church…and on and on it goes…

Jesus said that “Do [you] suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” Luk 12:51 NKJV

Jesus was NOT referring to the church in this passage! Any division in the church comes not from Him ,but from US!

If the church’s divine mandate is to go out and make disciples of all nations,is it any wonder the church is failing so miserably? We cannot even agree among ourselves what we are to believe! And we expect the lost to somehow look at us as the answer to their lost condition,to entrust their eternal souls to our care?

Something has gone horribly wrong in the church! It would seem that any person that disagrees with their church doctrine or polity is free to start their own…to the tune of 43,000 of them! And I can assure you I have seen this happen far too often.The next time you’re out driving in your city,start looking at the various church signs out there.The number of them is astounding! Are all of them right? Are all of them wrong?

I cannot presume to speak for anyone other than myself in matters of faith and salvation.We are all on a journey of our own.Indeed,we are instructed in the word to work out our own salvation:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;   Phl 2:12 NKJV

What I do know is that many established,long time Christians are finding themselves at a critical juncture in their faith walk.Gone is the confidence they once had that the church had all the right answers.The church has been silent for far too long on issues of grave importance.Either that,or they have given them a simple,cursory response when what was called for was the voice of God thundering from the nations pulpits!

To answer my daughter’s question:”aren’t they all churches of Christ?”,I have to be honest and say I think not.What I know to be true and without fault or wrong is not any church or particular denomination,but rather Jesus Christ Himself.

He is the spotless Lamb of glory,God’s sinless sacrifice offered once and for all for the sins of all men everywhere.

And upon this truth I stand.

The following headline in today’s newspaper immediately caught my attention:

“Groups pump millions into negative ads in Ohio”

The amount of money spent to discredit and defame another person is staggering,as the following paragraph from the story details:

“Spending this year by independent political groups with confusing-sounding labels like super PACS, 501(c)(4)s, and 527 organizations will almost certainly surpass 2012, when at least $85 million was spent in Ohio on the races for president,Senate,and the House of representatives.”Negativity 2

Sure could use a little good news today.

So let me break this down a bit more. Here in Ohio we have some of the poorest counties in the U.S. In the areas of the state hardest hit by the recent economic downturns(think “coal”),the state employment rates are at or above 9.6%,far above the nations 5.1% rate.The highest unemployment rate(Monroe county)comes in at a staggering 13.4%!(Source: March 2016 Office of Workforce Development – Bureau of Labor Market Information).

The lack of quality health care and housing for tens of thousands of Ohioans is appalling.According to a University of Akron study an Ohioan is born into poverty every 18 minutes.Am I the only one who finds this nearly unbelievable? And what of the nation? The numbers add up to millions!

Lest we forget,Ohio also has the dubious distinction of having one of the nation’s worse drug addiction problems.It has gotten so bad the the heroin “problem”in Ohio is making the rounds on the national news outlets.According to a CBS news report of 4/26/16,twenty three Ohioans are killed each week by heroin.

Sure could use a little good news today.

So let’s see if we understand all of this. The state of Ohio has an enormous employment problem,some of the highest in the nation. It has a severe drug addiction problem,so much so that every week another 23 people are killed by drugs. It has a depressing level of poverty,which by the way is being added to at the rate of another hungry mouth to feed every 18 minutes.

So yeah,I think that about sums it up.That’s a lot of negative information,is it not? Kind of depressing isn’t it?

Sure could use a little good news today.

Too bad we aren’t hearing much in the way of good news. What we are hearing however is that the special interest groups that control the finances required to elect your favorite politician are spending nearly $100 million dollars on negative TV and radio ads.

Wonder how much they give to fight poverty…lack of health care…hopelessness?

And don’t forget: the other 49 states are doing the exact same things.

One hundred million dollars spent on negativity. Negativity 1

Can you see what I see? I see heartbreak. I see destitution. I see destruction. I see a colossal crime being perpetrated against humanity. I see greed running rampant and an attitude of “it doesn’t matter what it costs so long as I get my way”.

Please don’t mistake this post as one of trying to drum up support for any particular candidate or party.I try my level best to stay away from entering the political fray because I know that my personal political views will not mesh with the majority today.It’s simply not worth it.I don’t discuss politics and I don’t allow myself to be drawn into mindless debates.

I am actually embarrassed and ashamed that as a state and as a nation,what we currently have running for political office is the best and brightest we can come up with. Or rather that money can buy.

Do you ever ask yourself “how did we ever get this way”?

From a Christian perspective I am deeply concerned about the precarious position America finds itself in today.Our enemies have uncovered our weaknesses,and they are many.The constant bickering and in-fighting among the various political candidates is a direct outcome of their lust for power and control,and serve only to widen the gulf between themselves and a desperate populous.

Can anyone argue that we are not reliving the actions of another nation that at one time was blessed beyond measure because they obeyed the Lord God? As we in America continue the downward spiral into the darkest reaches of sin,we continue to mirror ancient Israel who willingly chose to accept the leadership of fallen man verse the divine mandates of a Holy God.

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.     1Sa 8:7 NKJV

I ask you, how can we feed and clothe our people,how can we offer them an alternative to a lifestyle steeped in drugs,how can we create new opportunities for employment,when those who we elect to solve these problems have rejected the Lord in favor of corruption?

We need God. Whether you realize this or not,we need God.

More money is not the answer. Another politician is not the answer. Your preferred political party is not the answer. The Right is not the answer. The Left is not the answer.

And yes,in the interest of full disclosure even the church is not the answer.The wealthy church that does precious little to stem the tide of negativity in their neighborhoods has long ago abandoned it’s mandate of love and compassion.While the world that is outside the ark of safety in Jesus tumbles into an eternity without God,the church is more concerned with demonstrating it’s success and influencing the world.

All the while billions beg to see a demonstration of the power of the gospel.

the_gospel_changes_everything1

pastordaveonline.org

We are falling headlong into an abyss from which there will be no return,yet no one seems to care enough to acknowledge this.

The answer that America needs will not be found in an election booth this November.

It can only be found at the Cross, where we must repent of our backsliding deeds and return unto the Lord.

We simply cannot afford the high cost of negativity any longer.

I cannot tolerate anyone lying to me.

People who lie simply cannot be trusted because they are practicing deception at my expense.If you tell me something I am going to take you at your word and if I find that you have lied to me,well,good luck in earning back my trust in you.

Lots of people lie,and they tell all kinds of lies:

  • Big lies.truth
  • Little lies.
  • White lies.
  • Any kind of lie.

To some people lying is so natural that it seems they don’t even realizing they are lying.The truth escapes them and is foreign to them.They are in bondage to the enemy for indeed they are his children.Perhaps you know people like this?

As for me, I want to know truth.

I want to know God’s truth.I want to know God’s truth because it is powerful and above reproach.Even as men twist the scriptures for their own selfish,personal gain God’s truth remains.It cannot be changed.

It is because that God’s word is unchangeable and true that it has stood the test of time.While for thousands of years false prophets have tried to usurp His truth and change it into whatever convenient lie is required to dupe yet another generation,God’s truth is still setting free those held captive by Satan.

Jesus said that it was truth that would set us free.

John 8:32;  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

That my friends,is a very powerful statement.Lets look at the context of the scripture where Jesus said that.

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever,but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.    John 8:31-36   NKJV

If Jesus said that the truth would make us free then what will we be free from?

The trappings of Tradition…Religion…Guilt…Sin?

The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were obviously very religious,maintaining they were Abraham’s descendants.Because of their position they were blind to the real bondage they were in.It cannot be argued that they were free except in their own minds, and that because of the lineage to Abraham that they held so closely to.

Funny what we will say and do when our religious traditions are threatened,isn’t it?

The world is full of different religions,and all of them claim heritage to someone or something that they believe makes them better than,or holier then,all others.Not a day goes by that we aren’t bombarded with news accounts of one atrocity after another done in the name of religion.Or how often do we hear of another type of religious atrocity when we read accounts of wolves in sheep’s clothing, fleecing the flock to fill their pockets while their “sheep”wander about without a true shepherd.

Yet the fact is that unless they know the truth that Jesus spoke of,they remain in bondage to Satan to this day.This is the lie of the ages that has been sown in the hearts of men for thousands of years.The lie that says it doesn’t matter which god you serve,they’re all the same.After all,there is “good” in every religion(or church if you will).

No,Jesus made it as clear as he could.If we are to be freed from our sins,freed from our past mistakes,freed from bondage of religion and tradition…only the Son can make us that kind of free.

And that my friends, is the TRUTH.

 

A typical week finds my email inbox filled with the usual plethora of junk mail,solicitations,the occasional plea for money from a Nigerian princess,and a host of other offers “too good to be true”. email pic

On second thought, it’s just about all junk mail these days.

I have noticed a trend however in the emails I get from various ministries,and that trend involves numbers.Lots and lots of numbers.

Here is a small sampling of what I’m talking about:

“Do you want to see your church attendance grow by 30%“?

Five Reasons Church Announcements Cause Problems”

Seven ways members can actively prepare for sermons”.

Six Components of a Strategic Church Communications Plan”

Ten Sentences That Make Pastors Cringe”

“Avoid These 5 Bad Habits that Kill Church Growth at All Costs”

35 Random Thoughts and Tips on The Reading of Books”

Seven Church Facility Trends”

Five Reasons Why the Large Single Site Church Is Declining”

Umm…I think you get the picture.

Numbers. Apparently that’s what it’s all about.

Lest you think these samples are fictitious let me assure you that they are all from nationally known ministries and various denominations.I’m really not sure why I even get some of these because I sure didn’t subscribe to all of them.Wait…that’s why it’s called spam,right?

I’m not sure what’s behind the church’s fascination with numbers,but I can tell you that it resembles the world’s obsession with growth strategies and expansion planning with an uncanny resemblance.

Coincidence maybe?

I think not. From where I sit on the front row I hear an incessant clamoring for more,more,more.

More people in the pew.

More money in the offering plate.collection-plate-370x280

More and bigger facilities.

More of everything.

Except Jesus and His love.I can’t remember the last time I heard the call go out for more of Jesus.

What’s driving this insatiable appetite for more and bigger everything in the church?

I am of the belief that our carnal,or sin nature is the driving force behind all of this.Our nature is to want more of the things of this life more than the things of God.

It’s a heart issue.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.    Luke 12:34 NKJV

The church’s treasure is no longer Christ and His glory.It is in showing to the world that it is on equal footing with it’s wealth,opulence, and abundance.

In doing so the church has aligned itself with another church we read about in Revelation chapter three,the church of Laodicea.

Long gone are the humble shepherds who care for the flock God entrusted to them.In their place are PhD’s from the business community who know how to obtain financing and create mammoth structures that reach toward the heavens,yet know precious little about matters of the heart.

I cannot help but wonder how our Lord must grieve over this present generation.He who has given unto the church the words of liberty and life surely must wonder why that is not enough.

Why is the church not satisfied?

Why must the church always have more of everything but God?

I firmly believe in organization and structure in the church.But do we really need someone to tell us how to increase attendance by 30%?

Why isn’t 2% or 4% or even 5% sufficient,especially if the growth is real growth and not yet another bunch of church hoppers looking to have their ears tickled?

Six Components of a Strategic Church Communications Plan”? Really?  How about this for a “strategic growth plan”…

“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  2Ch 7:14 NKJV

Sounds to me like there needs to be a return to the old paths and cry aloud to a Holy God who said He would hear from heaven.

That is of course,if you’re all about the numbers….

Ron

According to the calendar it is Springtime.I said “according to the calendar” because around here you wouldn’t know it was spring by looking at the thermometer.Or my rain gauge,which had an inch of ice in it this morning!

Just a week ago we had 55 mph winds and lot’s of rain.This morning I awoke to the yard covered in snow.I would have taken a picture of that but the wind chill was a balmy 19 degrees,so I decided you would have to use your own imagination for that one.

So,yes it is supposed to be Springtime,but the weather doesn’t want to cooperate.In fact,as I look out my patio door right now it’s snowing again!

From watching the evening news I understand that millions of you are dealing with weather extremes all across the country,so I guess that means it’s just one of those years.

We’re all weathering the storms this spring.

Even the animals, for example.Right behind my back yard is a small pond that has an island in the middle of it.Like clockwork,every year about this time several Canadian geese fly in to do battle for this small pond in order to use it as their nesting sight.This year was no different as we watched several pairs of geese battle it out for this prime piece of real estate.Eventually,one couple reigned supreme and claimed the rights to the pond and the island,driving all other competitors away.

Within days the female was sitting on the island,just like every other year for the past 10 years or so that we’ve witnessed this annual ritual.She’s hard to see in this photo,but if you look closely to the left of the center of the island you can just make out her black head through the brush.

2016-04-09 14.17.48

This goose has weathered the strong winds,pounding rains,ice and snow,and the rising water that threatens the nest,and who knows what type of predators,all without ever leaving her nest.

She does this because nature has taught her that before she gets to experience the new life that will soon start pecking it’s way out of the shell,there are things to endure.

Freezing nights

Hunger

Loneliness

Storms that must be weathered

We’ve all heard the term “silly as a goose”or “they don’t have the sense that God gave a goose”,whatever that means.Yet I’m convinced that there is much we Christians can learn from these “silly geese”.

Things like Endurance

The female goose will not leave her unborn for any reason,and once the goslings are born she becomes even more protective.She stays right there through the fiercest of storms because she somehow knows that if she were to abandon the nest her unborn have zero chance of survival.So she patiently endures whatever nature throws at her,because a happy day is just around the corner.Branta_canadensis_-Calgary,_Alberta,_Canada-8

Maybe we should remember this: For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.   Psa 30:5 NKJV

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   Heb 12:2 NKJV   (emphasis mine)

All of us either have,or will have things which must be endured.Not because we don’t love God,or because we’ve done something wrong,or heaven forbid not because of what some false teacher may say, that it’s your own lack of faith that has caused your misfortune.If we endure with patience, victory WILL come.

Things like Commitment

The nesting goose is in it for the long haul.Over these past years of observing their actions I have learned that the time varies from when they start nesting till the goslings appear.No doubt there are a great many struggles,with weather being just one of those.Still,it doesn’t matter because none of those things will move the goose off her nest.

Reminds me of something Paul said here: But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.   Act 20:24 NLT

The King James version of that particular verse says it this way: But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

That should be our battle cry,that nothing will move me from my appointed destiny in Christ.

Things like Patience

There is something in nature that tells the goose that it’s going to take a lot of patience to bring forth her young. I watch the nesting goose on the pond and I see how she reacts to things that invade her space.Like the muskrat that swims around her island,and even occasionally takes a few steps up on the island.

Or the ducks that fly in to spend time on the pond.The nesting goose just takes it all in stride,annoying as it might be.Funny thing about these ducks.The male goose guarding the pond has no problem with them,but just let another goose act like it’s going to land and the baby ducklingfight is on!

If we’re to weather the storms that come our way,we need a great deal of patience too,as the writer of Hebrews reminds us:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,   Heb 12:1 KJV

Life has a way of testing our patience doesn’t it? At least,that’s been my experience so far!And this life really is a race isn’t it?

A race that has to be ran

A race that has to be endured

A race that has to be taken one day at a time

Just like the geese on the pond out back,we’re in this race for the long haul.

Weathering the storms is never easy,in fact the process can be painful at times because life’s storms come in all varieties;physical,mental,financial,illness,even death.But please remember this one thing the next time you find yourself battling the forces that are coming against you:

After the storm has passed,the sunshine is brighter than ever before.

Ron

I know what you’re thinking; well that’s a really dumb question.God can handle anything.He’s God after all!And everybody knows that God is still God,right?

Well…not everyone knows that.Or believes that.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time,and several recent conversations and “chance”meetings with individuals has urged me to write about it.

What do you tell someone who is standing on the edge of the abyss who doesn’t know that God can handle it?What do you tell someone who looks at you with “that look”in their eyes,that pleading,longing look that is more desperation than anything else?

They’re out there,those people who have no idea where to turn next.And they’re hurting in ways that most of us cannot comprehend.

Frightened.Hurt.Disillusioned.Wondering.Most of all wondering why.Why is this happening? What do I do now?

Most of us,when confronted by life’s challenges will fall back on the scriptures,and rightfully so for therein lies much of our strength and encouragement.Or we will turn to a Christian friend or leader for comfort.

For centuries Christians have garnered hope and strength from scriptures such as these:

For who is God, save the LORD? and who is a rock, save our God?   2Sa 22:32 KJV

For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.   Psa 48:14 KJV

For our God is a consuming fire.   Heb 12:29 KJV

All great words to live by.But what about these folks that don’t have scriptures,or words of hope to sustain them?No preacher or minister to turn to?

Connie;who just today stopped by my desk to say goodby.You see,today is Connie’s last day after 30 years of service.I used to be her supervisor,and we shared several laughs and memories from years gone by.She got quiet as she prepared to leave and told me that she was hoping that things would work out alright.I thought that was a strange thing to say on this occasion and just as I was about to inquire she told me that her husband had not been able to work in over four years.Depression,she said.She told me that she had hope that everything would work out,so I asked her what the source of her hope was.”Nothing really”,came her response.She proceeded to explain that “you gotta have hope or else nothing will work out”. Connie is hoping in hope.Doesn’t believe in God.Believe me,I know.

Or Nathan;who just last week answered the call at his post as a local volunteer fire chief only to get there too late to save the two young girls,sisters,trapped inside.Nathan isn’t Nathan at the moment,he’s still in shock at witnessing what no one should ever see.His friends are very concerned about him because the life of the party is mostly silent.Nathan isn’t much of a believer either.Like the majority of the world,Nathan believes his good deeds will ensure his spot in heaven.

Today my office phone rang with a call from Mike,who told me his dad has cancer.Mike is usually somewhat scatter brained on his best day,but today was different.There was fear in Mike’s voice,fear of losing his dad.Mike and his dad have a very special relationship,a relationship forged out of some difficult days from years past.Mike is “religious”. He goes to church on Christmas and Easter to appease his elderly mother.Every once in awhile in a half joking manner he’ll say something religious like “I’ll say a prayer for you”. The rest of the time Mike cusses like a sailor.Actually, I think he could teach sailors to cuss.

Finally,I would be remiss if I failed to mention the text I received today from Gene.Gene is hurting terribly right now because he’s having to do what he’s tried to avoid doing for many years.Gene is having to place his mom in a nursing home.Did I mention that Gene is a Mamma’s boy? He’s taken care of his mom for many years since his dad passed away,and in fact he once told me he’d do just about anything to keep her out of the nursing home.Thankfully,Gene is a believer,and so is his mom.

There are others that I have encountered today,but it is enough.

So what do you tell someone who is standing on the edge of the abyss,who doesn’t know that God can handle it? What do you tell someone who looks at you with “that look”in their eyes,that pleading,longing look that is more desperation than anything else?

You tell them God’s got this.

Because He can handle it.

Be blessed,

Ron