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Death does not have the final say

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In this post I want to speak about a subject that we all try to avoid thinking about: the subject of death. As I am sure you would agree, there isn’t a more unlikely or unwelcoming topic for a blog. Yet because death affects us all, and it has been front and center with me as of late, I felt it important enough to address in this post.

Over the past few days I have found myself in the unenviable position of having to deal with the subject of death far more than I care to. From the recent deaths of three brothers in Christ to the impending deaths of a couple more, it would seem that death is running unabated among my small circle of influence.

One of the men who recently passed was a millionaire many, many times over. His homes and incredible possessions spoke volumes as to his great wealth, and the exorbitant medical care costs associated with prolonging his life for a few months more meant little to him.

The other two men were about as far from wealthy as one could get I suppose. For these two, there were no millions of dollars from which to buy expensive medical treatments in the hopes of buying a little more time. The only thing they had to look forward to was to be released from the excruciating pain of an incurable disease.

It’s a peculiar thing, this thing called death and dying. It spares no one. It does not discriminate according to your wealth, or lack thereof. It plays no favorites. Leaving this life a pauper or a multi-millionaire makes no difference in the end, for death has a 100% success rate.

Should the Lord delay His coming, everyone reading this post will have their date with death. There’s no use in pretending otherwise, and while it is certainly not an uplifting subject, death is nonetheless coming for us all.

When it does, the only thing that will matter then will be whether we have prepared ourselves for what waits on the other side. You see, the Bible makes it clear that after we pass on, there is a judgement from which no one is excused. [1]

How we have lived in this life will dictate where we spend eternity. If we have lived our lives in service to the Lord, we know that Heaven and all of its splendor awaits us. Conversely, if we have rejected the Lord and chosen instead to live our lives selfishly without regard for others, we will spend eternity separated from God in a place of unimaginable suffering.

The greatest news of all however is that although death awaits us all, every born again child of God is assured that upon our last breath here on earth, we will take our first breath in Glory. In other words…death does NOT have the final say!

Jesus paid it all. His blood redeemed us from every curse, even the curse of death. For you see, whom the Son sets free is free indeed, and that includes freedom from the bondage of death. [2]

All of the men I have spoken about in this blog loved the Lord. All of them had made their preparations for eternity and are now enjoying a peace that I cannot even begin to fathom.

That’s what real freedom is. It’s knowing that death has been defeated at Calvary, and that life eternal awaits all who have surrendered their hearts to Christ. A life free of pain, discouragement, depression, tears, and any other thing that would not bring joy to us.

Sounds like the life for me, how about you?

Ron

[1] Acts 17:31, Hebrews 9:27

[2] John 8:36

O that I had wings like a dove…

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Have you ever wished you could just fly away to someplace where the cares and burdens of this life could not reach you? Or perhaps have your own remote island, far away from the noise and vitriol that envelops us today?

I must confess that escaping to such a place, where evil and hurt  cannot be found is becoming an all too frequent wish of mine. 

When I think of the fear, anguish, and overwhelming anxiety so prevalent in the world today I am drawn to thoughts of a place that Jesus said he had gone to prepare for us.

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.   [1]

That sounds like exactly the place I’m longing for. Truthfully, I don’t even care about the mansion part, it’s that last part that has me captivated.

Trouble, pain, and fear don’t only come calling to the average person like you and me, of course. The Psalmist David also knew what it felt like to have the world come crashing in all around him.

Having fallen from the lofty heights of the throne of Israel when he committed adultery and murder, David was surrounded by his enemies, including those of his own family.

Out of his anguish and distress he cried aloud “O that I had wings to fly like a dove, for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness”. Selah  [2]

I cannot begin to tell you how compelling it sounds to be able to wander far away and remain hidden, away from the evil turmoil of this age. Can any of you relate?

Of course, one does not have to commit adultery, murder, or any other egregious sin in order to feel the pressures of life weighing heavily upon them.

Life, all by itself, is often more than enough to cause us to become weary and discouraged. The oppressive isolation brought about due to the pandemic for example has left many of us drained and stressed. Who among us hasn’t felt this way?

Thanks be to God, however, that we can rise above the feelings of hopelessness and despair. David himself reminds us that God is our sustainer and burden bearer.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you; 
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.   [3]

It’s true, many of us would rather take to the air and fly away from all of the problems this life presents to us. Unfortunately, the last time I checked that was not an option. Instead, we can look to Scripture for support and encouragement.

Paul, in his wonderful exhortation to the Ephesians, tells us the position we must take when facing the storms of this life. He told them no less than three times to “stand”.   

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.   [4]

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   [5]

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,   [6]

Indiana Audubon Society

So, rather than wish we could fly away like the beautiful doves that are always at my house, God has called us to make our stand with Him.

I encourage everyone to spend an hour or two this week searching the Scriptures for examples of how that our God is a helper and sustainer to those who call out to Him.

I believe you will come away strengthened and encouraged by what you find.

Be blessed in Jesus name!

Ron

[1] John 14:2,3

[2] Psalm 55:6,7

[3] Psalm 55:22

[4] Eph. 6:11

[5] Eph. 6:13

[6] Eph. 6:14

Sorry America, but your rage is misplaced

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Coming out of the recent pandemic that saw a near complete shutdown of our society along with critical shortages of many essential items, I am struck by the things we now seem to have an abundance of.

Anger comes to mind as something we have in abundance. And hatred, let’s not forget the overflow of hatred in America. Oh, and I don’t want to forget one other thing we have in great abundance today; finger pointing. Can’t forget that now, can I?

Almost beyond belief, it would seem that the cataclysmic virus that had doomed us all to certain death really wasn’t the apocalyptic event prophesied by the media after all. How could it be, when hundreds of thousands are marching side by side not wearing a mask? Imagine that would you?

Things were so bad that we were strictly forbidden to go to church for fear of spreading this death defying virus, yet somehow or another congregating in crowds of tens of thousands doesn’t pose any health risks at all.

I mean, who knew?

Honestly, I’m thinking the wrong crowds are filling the streets of America. I’m thinking we awful, disease spreading, unenlightened Christians ought to be the ones pouring out into the streets of America to protest the theft of our Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of worship. [1]

Speaking of pouring out into the streets, I have lived on this earth for just over 65 years, and in that time I have seen many instances where people took to the streets out of frustration and anger over issues beyond their control.

I was just a boy of eight years of age when Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

I was thirteen when the infamous “Chicago Seven” were arrested for their anti war activities during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

Just two years later when I was a 15 year old, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of Vietnam War protestors, killing four and wounding nine. Living just a couple of hours from Kent State University, it seemed like it was in my backyard.

Since those tumultuous times of decades past, there have been several other noteworthy examples of citizens taking to the streets to protest for one reason or another. Abortion, LBGTQ, Environment, Guns, Women’s rights, Anti-war, and the Million man and Million woman marches have all made their mark on the fabric of American society.

Today, as our nation once again seethes with anger in the wake of the brutal, heinous murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, millions are again taking to the streets in a show of indignation and defiance of the status quo.

Of course, the violence that has erupted during the peaceful marches is the result of a well planned and well funded attempt to destroy the fabric of American society from within. There is only one word that most aptly describes what is being played out before our eyes: EVIL.

We can dress it up any way we like to, but it’s still EVIL. We can call it racism or bigotry or any number of other names, but it’s still EVIL. And this is what those marching and protesting in the streets do not understand. This is NOT an issue of race. It is an issue of EVIL. Even those violent criminals that have been unleashed upon our society are completely misguided. The issue here is not one group hating another. It goes much, much deeper than that.

What we’re dealing with here is of the spiritual nature. Don’t believe that? Read what the Apostle Paul had to say about the subject of EVIL.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (emphasis mine)

Did you understand what Paul meant? Our battle, your battle, is not with mankind. It is NOT with your neighbor who is of a different skin color than yours. It is NOT with those whose belief system differs from your own. No, the battle is against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

In other words, the battle is against the spiritual forces of darkness that exist in high places. Who is leading the charge of these forces of darkness at play in our society? Why, it’s none other than Satan himself. That’s right, and every person storming the streets today is being played by the devil. Not a popular sentiment, is it?

Why do you suppose racism still exists at the level it does today? Why haven’t supposedly educated, enlightened individuals been able to come up with a permanent cure for racism? The answer is so simple that its almost too simple. The reason racism still exists at its current level is because the cure for racism is the love of God, and the world has largely rejected the Source of this love.

It’s like the old adage about taking a knife into a gunfight. You can be the very best at using a knife, but against a gun you have virtually zero chance of success against your adversary. Fighting systemic racism by protests, even violent protests does nothing to address the root of the problem! To be sure, these marches have gotten the attention of the entire world. They have no doubt spawned new discussions (or soon will) on how best to deal with the problem.

But not one thing is being done to address the root of the problem: we have forsaken God.

And that, dear readers, is not something that can be corrected by marching down Main Street USA. It can only be corrected at an altar.

Have a blessed day,

Ron

 

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Psalm 2:1

 

[1] The Bill of Rights: Amendment 1

This Little Light of Mine

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How many have heard the old gospel song “This Little Light of Mine”?

It’s a song recognized around the world as a favorite of children. Many of you may have first learned this song in Sunday School or children’s church.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

Oh this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

 

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine,

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine,

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

 

Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine,

Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine,

Won’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Though originally written as a song of love, hope, and devotion to our Savior, This Little Light of Mine was also sung as an anthem of hope and courage during the American civil rights movement of the 1960’s. In fact, it’s still being sung today during times of civil unrest.

America could sure use a little hope right about now, wouldn’t you agree? And we certainly need to shed some light on these times of uncertainty, when it seems that this present darkness is overpowering what little light remains.

Thinking about all of this as I watch the carnage unfolding across the landscape of America, about how desperately we now need the Church to be a beacon of light and a sanctuary of love, I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Jesus when he told the Disciples to let their light shine.  

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.   

15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand , and it gives light to all who are in the house.   

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. [1]   

The Church, that is You and Me, has the answer to the cancer that is racism. We have the antidote within us to calm the fears of a nation bordering on collapse.

The love of God is that light of the world. It is shed abroad in our hearts so that men might see Christ in us. It is given to us that men might see our good works and give praise to God for them.

Now is not the time to hide our lights. It is for such a time as this that God has given you this light, that those stumbling in the darkness may see.

While the politicians and the media are consumed with finger pointing and spewing forth their poisonous venom, the Church must be the Church.

Whether your church’s doors are open or closed has no bearing on who you are in Christ. What God has placed in your heart is not regulated by politicians, but guided rather by a higher Power.

The command to “let your light so shine before men” is in essence the marching orders of every Christian. The light within you is the antidote for hatred, and it must not be hidden from society.

I encourage everyone to pray for the situation in America. Pray that men would desire peace, and that the Lord would send peace that “passes all understanding”. [2]

I know that many today hold to the opinion that prayer doesn’t work. The Bible, however, tells us that “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”. [3]

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

Oh this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Don’t let anything stop your light from shining. America and the rest of the world need to see it!

Ron 

[1] Matthew 15:14-16    

[2] Philippians 4:7  

[3] James 5:16 

 

If it’s all the same to you…

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Setting outside this morning, I am struck at how beautiful, calm, and peaceful it is here. The sun came up just as it always does, rising above the treetops in slow motion as it unveils an endless kaleidoscope of color. All around me butterflies are darting from flower to flower, gathering the nectar that ensures their survival. The colors and patterns of their wings give evidence that God’s imagination and creativity far exceeds our own.

Flying about are birds of all kinds, each singing their uniquely beautiful song. One can’t help but be envious at the incredible variety of sounds they make. It’s almost like attending a concert, where every song is different and if you hang around long enough, you will eventually hear that special one that thrills your heart. Occasionally, all the birds will start screeching at once, and we have learned that this is the signal that a Bobcat is hiding in the grass or under a shrub close by.

Squirrels, of which there are many, are chasing each other in an endless game of tag. Only the heat of the day slows them down, yet the evening finds them once again running all over my back yard.

In the dead palm tree that I intend to make a weathervane post out of, several birds have taken up residence in the holes the Woodpeckers have created in their search for insects. I’m pretty sure at least one nest has babies in it, so the weathervane post will just have to wait a while longer.

On top of that, a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk has recently taken a liking to the top of this palm tree. From atop this perch it watches for the slightest movement on the ground, and its arrival sends every playful squirrel on a mad dash to the safety of the thick cluster of gnarled Oak branches all of us have in our yards.

There is enough here to make this now retired country boy feel like there is no place I’d rather be. Unfortunately, I cannot stay here forever, as my increasing list of ministry responsibilities calls me out into the world to do what I know God has called me to do.    

Leaving this idyllic scene, I step out ever so cautiously into the world where I am immediately greeted by noise and chaos. I am confronted by people who are scared, angry, apprehensive, and uncertain. “When are we going to get back to normal” they ask. Shouts of “I can’t take any more of this” are heard on a frequent basis. The difference between my backyard and the outside world could not be more dramatic. I cannot wait to get back to my sanctuary.

Everywhere I go, the prevailing topic of conversation is COVID-19. For reasons I am not completely sure of, this virus has paralyzed most of the world. Yes, of course it is serious, however it does not mark the beginning of the end of the world as many in the media would have you believe.

If there is one thing this pandemic has revealed about us here in America, it is that we do not handle uncertainty well. Uncharted waters throw us into a frenzy of apprehension and uncertainty. We need to feel as though we are in control of our destiny, and right now control has slipped through our fingers leaving us dazed and shell-shocked.

Disease frightens us in ways that few things do, especially disease that there is no rational explanation for. The unknown tends to either frighten us or make us angry. We are fearful of that which cannot be explained to our satisfaction, angry at our inability to eradicate it by throwing vast sums of money at it, or even angrier at the level of distrust that exists among those who should be united in leading the efforts to solve this current crisis.

As I reflect upon the scene unfolding before us, I cannot help but think of the number of books I have read about other periods of hardship in America. Two World Wars, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, Polio, Poverty, etc.

Any one of these events could have brought America to its knees and prevented this nation from ever rising to the heights of prosperity it has become accustomed to. 

Yet none of them did, and the question begs asking “why didn’t they”?

I believe it was because of two primary reasons:

  1. Americans come from the hardy stock of immigrants who asked only for an opportunity. They supplied the hard work and “can do” spirit that enabled them to overcome adversity and misfortune. These hard-working men and women forged a nation out of prairies, forests, and mountains, willing to pay the price of endless pain and suffering to make a better life for their families. In short, nothing would deter them from taking full advantage of the opportunities before them.
  2. During past times of severe crisis, Americans always turned to God for help. Acknowledging their own inabilities, they looked to the One who could pull them from the depths of despair and hopelessness that often attempted to crush their dreams. They knew, as did their own ancestors, that survival meant they had to stare down adversity and press forward.

Today, I hear very little in the way of pleading for help from the Lord. I hear no cries for mercy, no repentance for the way that we have rejected the Almighty. It is as if God has been erased from our consciousness.

What I do hear are the voices of fear and uncertainty. As if on que, the TV newscasters cannot wait to tell us of the next shortage of meat, toilet paper, or hand sanitizer. Followed immediately, of course, by a camera shot of an empty grocery store shelf to prove the validity of their story.

I see the fear in some of the faces of the elderly at Walmart. You can always tell which ones have endured hard times before. They quietly go about their business and get on with their lives. They don’t hoard because they’ve been here before. They understand that any extra, unneeded purchases mean someone else who is in need may have to do without.

Those who have lived a life of relative ease are just as easy to spot. They are the ones who buy as much of a given product as allowed, because fear of the unknown grips their hearts. They have never done without or had to ration what they had in order to make it last. They are the ones with a grocery cart piled high with toilet paper and frozen dinners.

These are trying times, of that there can be no doubt. As for returning to normal, whatever that is, I’m not convinced we will ever see that again. I feel as though we have turned the page in the book of God’s prophetic timetable. To be perfectly honest, I believe we are on the threshold of the days Jesus described as the “beginning of sorrows”.

Even though it’s not possible, if it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon hang around my back yard and watch the coming events unfold. I much prefer the birds, butterflies, squirrels, and hawks to the anger and uncertainty “out there”.

Take care everyone, and remember: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble“. Psalm 46:1

Ron

 

 

What Are You Anchored To?

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Things have been moving along at a fairly good clip recently in spite of the quarantine/lock-down we’ve been under for the past month or so. I’ve been busy with church work, hospital visits, and recording radio broadcasts. Our church is busy acquiring new camera and recording equipment so that when we are able to make use of our sanctuary again, we will be able to produce top quality material to upload to YouTube, Radio, and our own Podcasts. We are working hard, using this “downtime” to better equip our church to reach our community and far beyond.

Speaking of hospital visits, there is nothing normal about visiting someone in the hospital now thanks to the Corona virus. As a matter of fact, my pastor was hospitalized for several days recently and he was not permitted a single visitor, not even his wife! Imagine having to communicate by phone while looking at each other through the window. These are strange times indeed.

A couple of days ago I received a call early in the morning from my pastor asking me if I wanted to go to the hospital with him to pray for someone. This wasn’t a member of our church or someone we knew, which of course doesn’t make a bit of difference to us, so of course I was happy to go along.

I didn’t realize until we arrived at the hospital that they weren’t going to allow both of us to see this person, so while pastor had his temperature taken and filled out the lengthy questionnaire, I decided to spend the time speaking with the family members gathered outside.

It has always amazed me what you can learn about people if you will just take the time and listen. During a crisis, especially when it is life and death, people are also more prone to listen to what you have to say as well. It makes for a good opportunity to talk with them about eternity, in fact I found this family very willing to talk about spiritual things.

So, for the next 20 minutes that’s just what we did. I learned that this family knew quite a bit about God yet were living their lives far from Him. I listened as I was told of how they used to attend church a long time ago, and in fact two of their daughters still attend church. Interesting, isn’t it, that the parents who used to take their kids to church many years ago now no longer attend, yet their children do.

Whenever you get in a conversation with folks who “used to go to church”, they always want you to know that. It’s a type of defense mechanism I believe, a way to let you know that they know all about God and church, so you don’t really need to go into all of that with them.

I think it’s called deflection.

At any rate, I gently reminded the person I was speaking with that what we used to do so far as attending church didn’t mean that we had somehow accumulated enough “points” with God to permit us to ignore Him today. I let her and her family know that God isn’t a genie that can be summoned to our rescue whenever it was convenient for us to do so.

Altusfineart.com

I find that a lot of people treat God this way. They live their life in whatever manner they choose and give little if any thought to eternal, or spiritual things. They can’t be bothered with religion, spirituality, or God. Those are things that one comes to terms with when they get old and are coming to the end of their days.

I used this family as an example as I was recording the radio broadcast yesterday. I was speaking from Mark chapter 4, the story of Jesus rebuking the winds, and how the disciples did the only thing they knew to do during this violent storm, which was to call upon Jesus.

The point I was making was that we cannot wait until we are in the storm to turn to God because there may not be time do so. The time to turn to Jesus is right now, before the next storm comes rushing into our lives.

And that is where I will leave this post. All of us have faced the storms of life, and it is for certain that storms will come again. The question we need to ask ourselves is this; “what are you anchored to”?

Will you be like the family I was speaking with at the hospital, with no anchor and no lifeline? Will the next storm find you tossed about, at the mercy of the wind and rain? Will you be forced to cry out to your “genie” to save you?

If you answered YES to these questions, then you need to turn your heart to Jesus. Don’t wait, don’t keep making excuses, just do it. NOW.

Trusting in His promise to never leave us or forsake us,

Ron

I guess it really is a small world after all!

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Since the quarantine has nearly all of us home bound and going stir crazy, I thought I would offer up a personal story that might put a smile on a few faces.

I recently came across a Facebook post of a lady playing a solo version of “The Lord’s Prayer” on her violin. From what I gather, she plays in a bluegrass band somewhere in Georgia, and this particular song was just beautiful. 

Through reading a few posts made by others who are her FB friends, I was able to determine that I actually know this person. Well, to be more precise, I used to know this person. Let me share the story with you. It’s going to take a while, so grab your coffee and settle in as I take you on a little journey.

Way back when I was in the second grade, our family home was nearly destroyed in a fire. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the middle of winter. I remember that because when the fire was discovered in our basement, we all ran out into the cold night.

Seeing as how we lived in the country, we were several miles from a fire department. By the time the volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene, there wasn’t much left of our home except for the exterior. Everything inside except for a few odds and ends was destroyed. All of our clothes, toys, and furniture was gone within minutes.

Most of the remainder of that night and the succeeding days were a blur, but I do know we all stayed at the home of one of our relatives for a couple of days. What a scary time that was for our family, but we were very thankful to be safe.

Within a few days of the fire my parents announced to all five of us kids that they had figured out a plan for us, since it was obvious we couldn’t live in our home any longer. My older brother went to stay with an aunt and uncle. My three sisters went someplace I no longer remember, and I was sent to the home of a coworker of my dads who lived a few miles from our house.

I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say I was somewhat terrified at being separated from my home and family, especially as I was now living with a family I had never heard of until now.

As I was about to learn, everything in my life was going to change. Not only was I now living with a family I did not know, this family would turn out to be vastly different than my own. Let me try to explain.

Both of my parents worked in a local factory, which meant that we were by no means wealthy. Far from it in fact. I’m sure that’s one of the primary reasons why we raised our own beef, pork, and chickens. Combine that with about an acre of garden and that’s how our family was fed most of the time.

We lived on about four acres of land in a small three-bedroom house constructed mostly by my dad. We had a couple of barns which held our animals, and this comprised all our “wealth”. So, as I said, we were by no means wealthy, yet I knew that we had a lot more than some families back in the early 60’s. 

My new host family however had precious little when it came to “things”. Other than a few chickens and their own huge vegetable garden, I don’t remember them having all that much, at least compared to what I was used to.

For example, I was used to watching my mom prepare huge meals for the family after her and my dad came home from their factory jobs in the afternoon. In contrast, even though my new family was basically the same size as my own, supper at this new house was a bit sparse compared to what I was used to. Nothing wrong with that, and I had plenty to eat, but it was different.

Where our house had a TV that on a good night could pull in two or three channels, they had no TV. Where we had faucets and running water, they had a hand pump at their kitchen sink. Where we had a nice bathroom, they had an outhouse. 

They also had something else we didn’t have at my house. They seemed to spend a lot of time praying and reading the Bible. I had never been exposed to any of that and didn’t know quite what to make of it.

Supper time began with prayer, as did breakfast. They even prayed before they went to bed! Their only source of entertainment, at least that I could see, was music. And oh, could they play and sing!

This family had four children, three boys and one girl. The boys played guitar and mandolin, while the girl played…yep, the violin. They mostly played gospel music, something I had never even heard of before. At my house, the only music I had heard was country music. Again, it was different.

All of them were very good singers, and this was my first time ever hearing what we now refer to as ‘tight family harmony’. I had no idea that there were actually different parts when people sang, such as tenor, soprano, and alto. Whatever it was, these kids had it in abundance!

I don’t remember how long I stayed with this family, but it was a few months. I really can’t say I remember many details of that time either, except that I was very lonely, and I missed my family terribly.

I had seen them several times over the course of those months, usually on the weekends, but of course it was never for a long enough time. The end of our visits became a dread to me because I always had to go back to my temporary home.

I’m not ashamed to admit that this little eight-year-old boy shed quite a few tears then!

The long-awaited day finally came when they told me that I would be going home the next day, and of course I could think of nothing else. Seeing my family again (even my sisters) was such a joy. Living in our own home again was magical, and life quickly settled down and became normal.

Under most circumstances I suppose that most people eventually move on after a tragedy strikes. As much as possible, the pieces of life are put back together again and as they say, life goes on. New memories are made, and old, painful memories are relegated to a place in our minds where they are best left undisturbed. 

Except that it doesn’t always work out like that. Take my host family for example. Who could have imagined the impact they would have upon my own family? Who could have ever guessed that the father of those kids would soon lead my own father to the Lord?

Seeing the outpouring of love this family had extended to his youngest son, my dad was so grateful that he accepted an invitation to attend church with his coworker, who by now had become a true friend. 

All because of a devastating fire that caused his family to be separated, my dad’s youngest son just happened to end up in the home of a Christian family. This is turn led my dad to church where he accepted the Lord as his Savior. Just four years later, my dad would step into eternity, safe in the arms of Jesus.

Quite the story, isn’t it? Except, as Paul Harvey used to say, “now for the rest of the story”!

Fast forward to my teenage years and I was invited to play on a local church softball team. Seeing as how I loved softball, I jumped at the chance to play. The fact that it was a “church league” didn’t mean much to me, especially since I didn’t even go to church. I just wanted to play ball!

So I rode my bike several miles to attend that first practice, and imagine my shock to find that the guy heading up the team just happened to be married to, wait for it…., the girl fiddle player of the aforementioned host family I stayed with so many years before!

Not only that, but she was the pitcher! Now try to imagine this: I’m waiting my tun at bat and I hear all the other kids having to answer a bible question before they were allowed to bat. Some sort of church requirement, I thought to myself. Naturally, I froze because I knew nothing about the Bible. 

So, I stepped up to the plate, wondering how in the world I was going to answer her Bible question. Would you believe I still remember that question? She asked me “what are the names of the first four books of the New Testament”?

Of course, I had no clue and was totally embarrassed. I started throwing out common names but never did get any of them right. To make matters worse, all of those goody goody church kids made fun of me. Eventually though they felt sorry enough for me and allowed me to participate.

My career as a church league shortstop didn’t last very long however, as it seemed they were not quite ready to have a heathen on their team. Seems I was a bit too rough for their tastes, or so I was told.

That ended my church attendance as well. Why go if they won’t allow me to play on their team was my attitude. This was also the last time I saw the violin player turned softball pitcher. Until I saw that Facebook video, that is.

Of course, this lady has no way of knowing that my dad was heard to pray in church one night “Lord, please save one of my children”. She has no way of knowing that God did exactly that, as I am the only one of five children to be a Christian. She has no way of knowing that the kindness and generosity her family showed me would ultimately lead me to Jesus, and that for the last four decades I have served in just about every capacity there is in church.

As I sit here writing this, I am overwhelmed at how God had His hand upon me all those years. The most amazing thing about that is that I wasn’t even aware of it. How incredible is it that God would direct the steps of a total stranger to accept me as one of their own, and that that experience would one day result in me coming full circle to serve God and minister to His people?

I don’t know about you, but you cannot make this stuff up. Even today, should someone tell me they don’t believe there is a God, all I would need to do is tell them my story. Coincidence? Not hardly.

All of us have a story to tell. Our life has been one page after another that if they were put in book form would provide one incredible testimony after another of God’s mercy and grace. Honestly, I think that all of us are the product of an event or a process that ultimately led us to the feet of Jesus, where we are now connected to the great family of God.

I guess it really is a small world after all, isn’t it?

 

 

THIS is what Jesus would do!

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Well, life is certainly different today than it was just a few short weeks ago, isn’t it? Emotions are running high, fear and worry dominate the daily news, and Americans are dealing with the unnerving reality of being told what they can and cannot do and where they can and cannot go.

Yes…these are difficult days, are they not?

In addition to the countless businesses being forced to shut down, many churches have been forced to close their doors as well, at least temporarily. 

For those determined to conduct church services, this has necessitated a move to more creative methods of ministering to our congregations. Facebook Live, radio, YouTube videos, even ‘parking lot’ church are all examples of how churches have had to think outside the box.

Here in Florida, our Governor has included attending church services in the “essential” category, meaning that houses of worship may remain open as usual, with the caveat that worshipers stay a safe distance apart from one another.

Naturally, this decision has been received in either one of two ways. On one hand, you have those who are cautiously elated at the prospects of assembling together again for worship. Then there are those who think this was just about the worse decision that could have been made. Like most things in life, I guess it depends on which side of the fence you happen to be standing on.

While I readily admit that the current environment has thrown us all for a loop, it is a curious thing to me that so many in the church still cling to the notion that the church is the building that they attend services in.

The truth is, that is simply not correct. The church has never been a building, a temple, or a cathedral. The Church has always been you and me. It has always been those people who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

All of this gives me reason to suspect that what I’ve longed believed is true: the Church has lost its identity. We have supplanted the truth that we are the church with the error that the church is a building.

Looking at it another way, the church has adopted the very same mindset that the citizens of this country have adopted when explaining the nucleus of our government. “We The People” has been tossed aside in favor of the government being more readily identified as a conglomeration of buildings in Washington D.C.

This isn’t a mere play on words, nor is it a simple issue of semantics. This is a very important issue for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Church was never intended to become an institution, or a building.

Institutions are typically cold, lifeless, bureaucratic entities that exist (hopefully)to serve the greater good of society. This does not describe the Church that we read about throughout the New Testament!

The Church is a living extension of the Lord Himself. As such, we ought to be asking ourselves if Jesus were here today, how would he respond to the current worldwide crisis?

Would Jesus shutter himself behind locked doors and close all of the blinds? Would He sequester himself apart from every person on the planet?

Would he refuse to heal the sick out of fear on contracting COVID-19? Would he turn away the hungry mother who cannot feed her children? 

Would he turn out into the streets the struggling family who suddenly find themselves without a steady stream of income? Would he run to the store and hoard as many necessities as possible?

Well, the Good News is that Jesus is here today! He lives in each and every one of his children. So the question of WWJD, is actually a question of what are we doing to respond to this crisis?  

Since it is an established fact that you and I are the Church, the hands and feet of Jesus, and not some ornate building, wouldn’t you agree with me that right now the Church should be leading the efforts to minister to and provide for those who are in dire need today?

Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to release some of the excess funds in our church treasuries in order to make a difference in the lives of people, the people that Jesus died for?

Perhaps you have heard about the church in Cincinnati that recently paid over $46 million dollars of medical bills for 45,000 families? Why should this be an aberration? Shouldn’t this be the norm?

As I keep reminding people whenever I can, as Christians we either are what we claim to be or we are not. There is no middle ground here. Either we are Christ’s representatives here on earth, or we are not. 

We cannot be Christian only when everything is going well in our lives. We cannot say we are followers of Christ and not follow Him wherever he may lead us…and that includes the current crisis we are experiencing.

Please understand me, I am certainly not advocating that you run straight to your nearest hospital and expose yourself to this virus. Absolutely not! We must be wise in times like these. We must follow the mandates of our local leaders. We must not do something that will prolong the crisis or put others in jeopardy.

Neither can we live in fear and torment however. We cannot be The Church if we are hiding behind closed doors. No, it is time for the true Church to arise. It is time to cast off the spirit of fear that is paralyzing our churches and leaving us incapable of serving others.

My prayer is that all of us would consider the needs of others during this time, and that we would remember that Jesus has called us for such a time as this to go forth and minister to them.  

That’s what Jesus would do.

Ron

Help in trying times

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I sincerely hope that this post finds all of you safe and as well as can be expected during these times of unrest and uncertainty. 

It seems that all of us are impacted in one way or another by COVID-19, and the staggering toll this virus is taking on the entire world leaves many wondering how much longer they can endure the restrictions, closures, quarantines, lockdowns, and empty grocery stores.

Of course, none of these temporary hardships can begin to compare with the loss of lives, those still hospitalized, and the hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases.

By actual count as of 3/28/2020 @ 3:16 PM EST the numbers look like this:

  • Coronavirus Cases = 650,926
  • Deaths = 30,299
  • Recovered = 139,555

Source = https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

All of this says nothing about the impact to families, businesses, schools, and even churches. The financial impact alone is almost incalculable. No one has a clue as to how long real recovery will take or even what that will eventually look like. 

Now that certain states are contemplating the closure of their borders, one has to wonder if we won’t soon see armed military guarding all entrances to states in an effort to stem the tide of this deadly pandemic.

If all of this seems more than a little surreal, you are not alone in thinking that. Americans all across this nation are now confronted with an enemy that strikes at will, and to date has met little resistance.

That being said, and contrary to the 24/7 NNN (Negative News Networks) portrayal of hopelessness, we know that we can go to our Lord in prayer for help and support during these trying times. All throughout the Bible we have examples of God’s people turning their hearts toward Him in their hour of distress, and we are afforded the very same privilege today!

Wanting to encourage our church family, yesterday I recorded a message for our church’s radio broadcast and entitled it simply Strength for These Uncertain Times. In this message I recounted the story of David and his army, who upon returning to their home base of Ziklag, found the city burned and their wives and children taken captive.

So distressed were David’s men that they talked among themselves of stoning David to death. Knowing he was outnumbered and that his life was in peril, David did the only thing he could do; he strengthened himself in the Lord his God. [1]

I love this particular story because it points to the fact that when we are at the end of our rope and out of options, God is more than able to help us if we will turn our hearts toward Him. David found this to be true when he recovered all of their families that had been taken.

For many of us however, God is always our last resort. We will try everything in our own power to fix, overcome, or otherwise do it on our own before as a last resort calling upon the Lord.

I would like to encourage all of us to tackle the challenges we are facing today in a different, even radical manner. How about we look to the Lord first instead of as our last option?

If we would just remember that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, it is my firm conviction that He will give us the strength we are all going to need for the days to come. [2]

It is true that we are facing an uncertain future, a future that is changing at such a rapid pace that few of us can keep up. 

Just as true however is the certainty that none of this has taken God by surprise. The very One that knew us while we were yet in our mother’s womb is also the One who holds the future in His hands. What is uncertain to all of us, God has already seen.

I end this post with a final thought from the Psalmist of Israel:

The Lord is on my side. I will not fear. What can man do to me”? [3]

Take courage beloved, God is still God, and He always will be God!

Ron

 

[1] 1 Samuel 30:6

[2] Psalm 46:1

[3] Psalm 118:6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cold, hard truth is that this COVID-19 virus is unmanageable for a President, a Prime Minister, a Chairman, or any governmental powers. If anyone says otherwise, or that they could have reacted better or faster, or that they have the solution, to them I say you are either a liar or you have no conscious. Otherwise you would have stepped forward and made your case.

This is the worst possible time to be pointing fingers, but the nauseating debacle of getting the stimulus package approved was a classic example of a childish game of “it’s all your fault”.

How disheartening that the politicians on both sides of the aisle made it clear that the 2 Trillion dollar relief bill wasn’t really about you, it was about them getting their pet projects approved.

Any rational person understands that every cent of that 2 Trillion dollars should be earmarked for costs directly associated with this virus, not more pork from Washington. Under the guise of a $1,200 relief payment, politicians from across this nation have once again shown us that they are not worthy of our trust.

I bring this up dear reader, because regardless of your political affiliation, what has just happened here shows you once and for all that you and I simply do not matter. We are merely pawns in this diabolical shell game between warring factions of arguably the most corrupt political system the world has ever known.

And that is a bitter pill to swallow. It didn’t start out this way. It was never supposed to be this way.

Unfortunately, it is, and no upcoming election will change things. The lines have been drawn in the sand. The word “compromise” has been stricken from the vocabulary of this current crop of politicians.

You want to know the real tragedy in all of this? What we are currently witnessing is mild compared to what awaits us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a vapor….

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Today I had the privilege of conducting the memorial service for the gentleman I introduced to you a few weeks ago, the man who had recently been given 30 days to live.

For a while things had taken a positive turn, so much so that the doctors believed it was beneficial to begin again to aggressively fight the cancer that had invaded his body.

This respite, as it turned out, was to be very short lived. Daryl passed away this past Sunday at 1:22 am. 

I must confess that the news of his passing caught me off guard. After previously being told that the doctors thought there was at least some hope, I had anticipated him being with us for some time.

So it was with great sadness that I received the report of his passing, especially since our church had basically “adopted” his family. 

Out of necessity I was asked to do the memorial service for Daryl  because our pastor is in the hospital awaiting surgery. I received the call yesterday morning that I would be doing the service, so needless to say it’s been a flurry of activity in preparation for today’s service.

Not coincidentally, this past Sunday also marked my official start as the new associate pastor of our church. To say that Debbie and I are busier than ever would be an understatement, but oh how we love it!

So, armed with personal notes from the family and my own ministry materials, we presented a message of love, hope, and compassion to this wonderful family. 

My message was short and to the point. I told them that at the end of our lives there are only two options as to where we will spend eternity.

Because Daryl had departed at a relatively young age (by today’s standards), I made a point that even if we lived to be 120 years old, compared to eternity that was a drop in the bucket. As the Bible tells us, this life is like a vapor, which means it doesn’t last very long.

I mentioned to the family that when we are young, all of us feel bulletproof and invincible. Let a few years pass by however, and those feelings of invincibility quickly fade away.

I could tell that this caused many of them to think about this, as the family was represented by a good mixture of all age groups. The younger ones especially gave this some thought, and I shared with them how that I felt that exact same way when I was younger.

I concluded my message by reminding them that when we come to the end our days, God doesn’t send us anywhere. We send ourselves to either Heaven or Hell based upon what we have done with Jesus Christ in this life.

I don’t think any of them had ever considered this before, and I pray it will stay in their minds until they each decide what they will do with Jesus.

Afterwards, our church had prepared a nice meal for the family, and that gave me an opportunity to get to know some of them. It was obvious that they loved Daryl, and the many children, grandchildren, and other relatives spoke so lovingly of him.

At the end of our time together I was pleased that so many told me they were comforted by the things I said. My hope and prayer of course is that they won’t just think on the things I said, but that they will also act upon them.

I think it would be wise for all of us to consider this issue of our life being like a vapor. The material things we strive for will one day be left here for others to deal with, because it is for certain that we will take no possessions with us when our time comes.

I close this blog with something a coworker of Daryl’s said to me today. It seems that many of them have been praying for Daryl for some time that he would give his heart to Jesus. He looked at me very seriously and asked me “do you think Daryl made it”?

My response was simply this: none of us knows the heart of another. What I do know however is that the Daryl that left this life was not the same Daryl I first met in the hospital nearly a month ago.

Many, many people have prayed for him, including some of you dear readers. In less than one month, Daryl went from a man who wanted nothing to do with “religion”, to a man who gladly and willingly reached for my hand when I asked him to pray.

Beloved, this life is like a vapor. Live your life in a manner that will matter for all eternity. Make it count. Really count. 

There are millions of “Daryl’s” out there counting on you!

Ron

 

 

 

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