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The fear of the unknown vs. your familiar past

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I’ve been thinking about an event recorded early on in the book of Genesis, one that took place thousands of years ago, yet still has implications for us today.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that most people are familiar with, or have at least heard something about. It’s a story of both destruction and deliverance, one where the central theme is God’s willingness to forgo righteous judgment if only a few God fearing people can be found.

As the story goes, the search for righteous citizens is futile, thus God orders the complete destruction of the cities by raining down fire and brimstone. Not a pretty thought, to be sure. The only escapees are Abraham and his wife, his nephew Lot and his wife, and their two daughters.

As they are running for their lives, the angels who delivered them warned them not to look back. Unfortunately for Lot’s wife, she could not resist the temptation to do just that. Here is the high price she paid for her disobedience:

“But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”   Genesis 19:26

This story is now thousands of years old, yet the central truths of it still ring true today. God is still a righteous, loving, and forgiving God. And man is still prone to looking in the rear view mirror instead of looking ahead.

Lot’s wife looked back because she wanted to see what was happening to her former home. She felt an emotional attachment to the city, so much so that she disregarded the clear warning of the angels who had been sent to rescue her.

Aren’t all of us guilty to some degree of doing the same thing? Instead of forgetting those things which are behind and pressing toward the mark (Philippians 3:14)….we are drawn back to familiar territory. We gravitate toward the known and comfortable, and resist the unknown in front of us.

The familiar is a powerful force in our lives, and I dare say all of us enjoy the comfort we receive from being surrounded by the familiar things we have accumulated.

The flip side of this however is that the familiar can also become a huge burden that wears us down as we endeavor to journey onward with Christ.

This burden is always present to remind us that we don’t really need to press on into uncharted territory, not when we can stay here in the relative calm waters of familiarity. Besides, there is a certain element of fear when dealing with the unknown, and we all know how we feel about that!

In spit of these things, there is a very real danger in allowing the familiar to rock us to sleep. If we choose to permit this, we risk missing the greatest adventure we could ever partake of!

This Great Adventure is going to be the primary emphasis of “A Front Row View of the Church” in 2018. I will be sharing from the word of God how that the words of Jesus in John 10:10 “…... I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly, are the key to unlocking this Great Adventure.

I am excited about what God has in store, and trust you will be encouraged to put yourself out there, where The Great Adventure beckons!

Ron

 

 

 

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Searching for God in all the wrong places

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“It would be rather nice if we lived in a world where everyone’s beliefs came true for them. The Christians would go to heaven, the Muslims to paradise, the Buddhists and Hindus would achieve nirvana, and the atheists would have a peaceful rest. Unfortunately, that’s all wishful thinking. We don’t know what’s true or not…”         Comment taken from an article published on http://www.religioustolerance.org/li_01.htm. Author Grace Li.

Unfortunately, this statement is not uncommon to hear in today’s era of “religious tolerance and enlightenment”. The idea that “we don’t know what’s true or not” is prevalent throughout the world, giving billions the “out” they are looking for in their vain attempt to hide from the One true God.

Even more unfortunate, however, is the fact that this is a lie, on par with one of the greatest lies ever told. When Satan told Eve that if she ate of the forbidden fruit she would not die, it birthed doubt into her heart that perhaps what God had said was not really true after all. Therefore if what God said then wasn’t true, it must be OK for mankind to figure it out on his own by making his own choices.

That worked out real well for Eve, didn’t it?

Fortunately for all of mankind, the response to those who subscribe to the errant belief that “we don’t know what’s true or not” was given two thousand years ago when Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, spoke these words:

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

This declaration however, does not set well with those who want to be free to create or choose their own pathway to a personal paradise. It is rejected by those who refuse to humble themselves and repent of their sins.

None of which changes one thing that Jesus said. This is yet another stumbling block to the unbeliever. The fact that unbelievers reject the word of God changes nothing, because the truth is that our opinions do not matter. What matters is TRUTH, and the word of God is TRUTH. Reject it or accept it…it is still TRUTH.

Popular authors and TV hosts alike all offer differing opinions about how to get to God, or how to reach their version of “paradise”. Talk show hosts like Oprah, for example, argue that Jesus is not the only way to God, as seen in this YouTube video.

What Oprah and her millions of followers fail to understand however is that since the Garden of Eden, men have claimed to have stumbled upon “another” path to enlightenment. Her views, as well as all others that are in opposition to the Bible, are nothing new. They are simply wrapped in a more deceptive, easier on the ears package that appeals to the flesh.

Looking for God…in all the wrong places.

The words of Jesus that declare Him to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, are offensive to the world, of this there can be no doubt. How dare anyone lay sole claim to be the only way! This reeks of arrogance to the unregenerate, who wrongly believe everyone is free to worship or believe anything they wish.

This is, in a nutshell, one of the reasons why there are so many false religions in the world today. To believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God removes man from the equation. It renders man’s efforts useless, and man cannot accept the fact that he is not in control of his eternal destiny.

Man’s answer therefore, is to create his own religious belief system that fits into HIS values, beliefs, and ideas. How’s that working out for mankind anyway?

You see, Jesus Christ basically declared for all eternity that He didn’t need our help. He did it by Himself by fulfilling God’s plan of redemption for mankind. Thus, He can truthfully say that He is the Way, He is the Truth, and He is the Life.

There is no other way. There is no other truth. There is no other life.

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.   Isaiah 45:22

Apart from Him, all else is shifting sand.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

Another Black Friday is upon us! Run for your lives!

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Get ready America! The annual “let’s show the entire world what Christmas is all about ” spectacle is almost upon us!

Black Friday 2

thebalance.com

OK OK, a bit dramatic I suppose. And for the record I actually have ventured out on a Black Friday, twice. So I’m preaching to the choir here.

What bothers me about Black Friday is not the shopping. It’s the total lack of control that a lot of people exhibit as they step over, on, or through people in a mad dash down the aisles.

In a word, it’ the GREED that really gets to me.

You’ve all seen the pictures and videos I’m sure, and no doubt this year will provide a plethora of additional subjects for our viewing pleasure.

Lately however, I’ve come to understand that what we observe on Black Friday is really just a microcosm of our society as a whole. Greed, selfishness, a lack of restraint, all are hallmarks of a people far from God.

I know, I know, that was a real downer wasn’t it? Bah Humbug!!

The truth is though, the Bible actually foretold this type of behavior would come.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, ‘ 2 Timothy 3:2-4  ESV

Does this sound like anyone you know? Does this sound like…gulp…you? I sure hope not!

This is the world we have created, and now must deal with. There’s nothing new about that, except that it gets worse every year. There is no Christ in Xmas, just as Black Friday has nothing to do with Christmas. No surprise there.

At least with the advent of online shopping we can avoid getting steamrollered by the impatient hordes who have waited for hours and sometimes days for the opportunity to be the first to bust through the doors. Of course, even with online shopping there are those pesky “Porch Pirates” to look out for!

Porch Pirate

Medium.com

If you’re headed out this Friday, stay safe and by all means stay out of harms way.

Oh, and if by chance it would cross your mind, there really was a baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem.

You can read all about it here.

Have a great Friday!

Ron

 

Thanksgiving Memories

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Thanksgiving Day has always been my favorite holiday of the year. When I think back to my early childhood, Thanksgiving Day was always the holiday I looked forward to the most. Aside from getting out of school for a few days, the expectation of seeing Aunts and Uncles, and cousins my own age to play with was something I looked forward to with great anticipation.

Well, that and knowing there was going to be a mountain of great food to eat! Even today, my wife believes the food is the real reason I love Thanksgiving. Me, I’m not saying one way or another.

Those happy times are forever etched in my mind, and as another Thanksgiving approaches, I enjoy remembering the laughter and non-stop chatter around our crowded kitchen table. I remember how that all of us kids who had to sit at the “kids table longed for the day when we could set at the grown-up’s table and join in.

For days and days my parents would be preparing special things that were only served on Thanksgiving Day, and I know that they always brought home the largest turkey the store had. We could also count on any visiting relatives to bring along even more goodies, and could my Aunts ever cook! I think I could write an entire blog just about my mom’s turkey and dressing, and my Aunt Marlene’s chocolate pie made me wish I had eaten nothing else but that!

The men in my family always went hunting on Thanksgiving morning, and being a young boy I wasn’t allowed to tag along because I would either slow them down, get hurt, or some other made up reason to keep me home. I was forced to stay behind and endure the heavenly smells coming from the kitchen, which, I can finally admit, wasn’t so bad after all.

At long last the dinner hour had come, and everyone gathered in the kitchen. I honestly don’t remember if anyone said Grace before the meal, as none of my family was particularly religious. If they did, I’m sure it fell on deaf ears with me as I stared at a turkey leg, or a large ham, knowing that very soon I would be enjoying a heaping plate of delicious food.

After dinner, the family would all find a place to sit in the living room, where we would spend hours reliving the important things that had happened in our lives over the past year.

Back then, we might have been able to get a football game on one of the three TV channels our old black and white TV pulled in, but no one ever thought of turning it on. Why spoil such wonderful family time by inviting a football game into our home? Our family was the main attraction after all!

Late at night, when everyone was tired and had to leave to return to their own homes, we knew that for at least one more year our family was, well, still a family. It’s funny how that even after all these years, I can still remember the feeling of security I had just in knowing that we were family.

Today, my own small family celebrates Thanksgiving in much the same way as I did as a child. Sure, there aren’t nearly as many people around the table, and the amount of food is a lot less than what is needed for a huge family. My wife cooks a pretty awesome turkey, and her baked beans are legendary around our house, so we have plenty and then some.

The most important things are there however. A deep, abiding love for one another, a home built upon the sure foundation of Christ, and the knowledge that no matter what comes our way in this life, we are family.

As my family gathers around the table this Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for. God blessed us to make it to retirement, He brought me through a very serious health issue, and my family is healthy and prospering. To say we are blessed just doesn’t seem adequate.

My prayer is that all of you will have a memorable Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by those you love and care about. I hope everyone slows down a bit and takes the time to create some memories and new traditions that can be passed down to the next generation. Talk to one another. Enjoy one another. Make time for one another.

The Bible describes this life as but a vapor. It’s gone before you know it, so live each day to the fullest.

Most of all, be thankful. Be thankful for one another, and thankful that you can enjoy this time together as a family.

Be thankful to God for His many blessings.

Ron

We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near.   Psalms 75:1

Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!   Psalms 107:8

God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary

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Several weeks have passed since the devastating hurricanes in Houston, SW Florida, and Puerto Rico. The news trucks have long ago departed for their next assignment, the local newspapers have pushed any stories related to hurricanes to the 3rd page, and those not seriously impacted by the storms have returned to their normal lives.

hurricane Maria

NASA satellite photo of hurricane Maria

For the tens of thousands whose lives were devastated however, normal will never be “normal” again.

Living all but the last year of my life in the Midwest, I had never encountered a hurricane until Irma came rushing through SW Florida. Like most Midwesterner’s, I never thought much about hurricanes, as tornadoes and the occasional blizzard were the worst type of storms we had to deal with.

Believe me, my thinking has been altered after witnessing the devastation all around me, and I’ll never think of these storms the same way for the rest of my life.

To gain a better understanding of the situation, I was privileged this past week to attend a meeting of SW Florida pastors and their associates where we were to receive an update on the various rebuilding projects in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. After a wonderful fellowship meal, we were ushered into the sanctuary for a time of worship, which I have to say was much needed and appreciated.

MWOA worship

Broadway Community Church, Ft. Myers FL.

There were two local pastors there who spoke of the devastation their churches received at the hands of hurricane Irma.

To see the videos and pictures, plus hearing their first hand accounts, was a bit overwhelming to this previously “sheltered” country boy.

It was immediately apparent that it’s altogether different seeing the news on TV vs. hearing it from someone who lost everything. Listening to the anguish of a now homeless mother, seeing the tears of those rendered helpless, these are very powerful and very moving things.

Of course, many churches and businesses in the area suffered catastrophic damage, just as thousands of homes did. Trying to grasp the level of devastation to families who have lost everything is not easy to do. No wonder such a feeling of helplessness hangs over the affected areas. Can anyone blame those who ask “God where are you”?

 

The main speaker of the evening was the denominational leader for Men and Women of Action for the Church of God, who gave a riveting,”boots on the ground” account of their work in Houston, SW Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, and Maria have kept them going nearly non stop, and to say this team has been busy would be quite the understatement!

His message centered around the theme of how God will take ordinary men and women and use them to do extraordinary things for the kingdom. MWOA 1

I heard powerful stories of God’s provision and care to those in need, and it was a blessing to see first hand how ordinary men and women are transformed into the hands and feet of Jesus.

This is real ministry. 

The main takeaway for me was that even though during a major disaster we sometimes feel as if God is a million miles away, or question why He didn’t stop it from happening in the first place, the truth is God is never far from us.

In this life it is very likely that we will never understand why we must endure the catastrophic events that are a part of our lives. In reality, we can drive ourselves nearly crazy trying to figure these things out.

What I have found to be most important is not the “why”, but rather knowing that in spite of the storms of life, God is there to help us pick up the pieces and rebuild. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, etc. are just as much a part of life as the personal tragedies we endure. Yet in spite of it all, God is still God!

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;    Isaiah 59:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.   Psalms 46:1

Be blessed!

Ron

Bloom where you’re planted

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No doubt you’ve heard the expression “bloom where you’re planted”, a phrase frequently heard in church. I was reminded of this phrase when I came upon the tiny plant you see below as I was walking on the beach.

beach plant 2

A tiny plant flourishing in spite of it’s harsh environment

What with the frequency of “church shopping” these days, where parishioners are leaving their current church for greener pastures, it’s worth repeating that unless there are Biblical reasons for leaving, staying put is normally best. 

While many today are running here and there seeking the “next big thing” that God is doing, mature Christians realize that the “next big thing” is largely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Either that or it’s a work of the flesh, disguised as the work of God by those looking to capitalize on those believers who are easily captivated by catchy slogans and theatrics.

Staying put where God has planted us affords Him time to refine us, to weed out those things that hinder us. This in turn produces blooms and new growth as our relationship with God grows deeper.

My hope is that we all bloom where we’ve been planted so that the body of Christ is strengthened.

 

Why is this so difficult?

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Giving to God what is rightfully His. Why is this so difficult? Is it because His requirements are so out of reach for us mortals that we give a weak, anemic effort?

To answer that, let’s first understand what His requirements actually are.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?   Micah 6:8

Anyone? Can anyone give a reasonable explanation as to why it is so difficult for us to do just these THREE things? To do justly and treat people fairly, to be kind one to another, and acknowledge that there is One much greater than any of us…is this so hard?

Or how about this? (emphasis mine):

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ‘ Matthew 22:35-40

Anyone? Can anyone give a reasonable explanation as to why it is so difficult for us to do even these TWO things? For us to love God with our entire being, and to love one another as much as we love ourselves, is God asking the impossible of us?

It seems so trite, so obvious for us to say that the reason we struggle with doing these very doable things is because we live in a fallen world. Or that it’s because the enemy is hard at work.

As if he hasn’t always been hard at work.

Here’s what I think. Like everything else in life, we make time for the things that are important to us. With unending devotion we sacrifice for what we deem necessary. We exert monumental effort to achieve our dreams.

Don’t we?

And the things that are not important to us…..

Ron

 

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