No Turning Back

no-turning-back

Back in the early 70’s, when I first became a Christian, we sang the little song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” I thought some Hippy from the Jesus movement wrote it. I had no idea people had been singing that song for a hundred years! The story of the birth of that song is fascinating. It goes back to the 1800’s when a missionary led a man and his family to Christ in the village of Garo in North East India. It was a rough neighborhood. The villagers were headhunters! The village chief was not happy about the conversions and commanded the man to deny Christ or watch his sons be shot through with arrows. The man humbly replied, “I have decided to follow Jesus and there is no turning back.” The chief gave the signal to the archers who immediately shot the man’s two sons. The chief told him to renounce his faith or his wife will die next. The man answered, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow,” and his wife was killed. The chief gave the man one final chance to save himself, but he softly declared, “The cross before me, the world behind me,” and he was shot dead. After some time, the chief could not stop thinking about how the man was willing to give his very life to follow Jesus. He too became a believer and announced his new faith to his people, which led to the entire village of headhunters converting to Christ. The Welsh missionary, who was an eyewitness to these events, told the story to Sanhu Sandar Singh, an Indian evangelist, who then put these words to an Indian tune called Assam.

As new believers, we sang this song as a declaration of our commitment to follow Jesus and leave our old lifestyles behind. Tears would flow down our faces as we passionately sang this song to the simple three chords played on someone’s guitar. The song had a deep impact on me then and now. When I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior on Monday, February, 23rd 1973, my decision to follow Him was firm. He was the one I wanted to give the rest of my life to. Many other teens made the same decision at that time as well. The cover of Time Magazine on June, 21st 1971 had a pop art picture of Jesus with the title The Jesus Revolution. Millions of young people were finding new life in Christ. What an exciting time it was!

After a few years much of the excitement faded. Thousands of teens were slowly drifting back to their old habits of unrestrained sex, drug and alcohol abuse, the occult and false religions. Many of my closest friends started to drift back into their previous lifestyles and stopped hanging around those of us who wanted to continue pursuing Jesus. I can clearly remember looking out the front door of my parent’s house thinking about my friends who no longer wanted to live a Christian life. I could hear the still small voice of Jesus from deep inside me asking, “What about you Kevin? Will you still follow me?” I answered in the same way the apostle Peter did when Jesus asked him the same question, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.” I knew there was nothing waiting for me in my old life. My only hope was Jesus.

It makes me happy to see some of the people who came to Jesus at the same time as me still pursuing Him passionately. I watch them in church still singing, still playing their instruments, still worshiping God wholeheartedly, and still serving the Kingdom of God in various ways. It thrills me even more to see those who are about ten to fifteen years older than me still head-over-heals in love with Jesus! They have experienced the best of times and the worst of times, yet they have followed their Good Shepherd faithfully for fifty or sixty years.

After forty-four years, I still want to walk as close as I possibly can with Jesus. I can’t let circumstances distract me from following Him. Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’” (Mark 8:34-35, NKJV). It doesn’t matter what my financial situation may be, if I’m employed or unemployed, if I’m healthy or not, if I have lots of friends or no one, if I’m happy and on top of the world, or in a deep valley; my confession must be, “I have decided to follow Jesus and there is no turning back.”

There’s nothing I want more than for my spouse, children, grandchildren, friends and family to have eternal life with God, but their choices cannot have any bearing on my decision to keep following Jesus. He said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 NLT). I need to keep my focus on Christ and declare, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.”

Regardless of how bad or scary the world gets; my hope is in Christ alone. As I follow Him, my heart will sing, “The world behind me, the cross before me.” I can’t look back. There’s nothing back there for me. Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NKJV). I remember the Happy Goodmans (Yes, I’m that old) singing a Gospel song with the lyrics, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I’ve got to make it to Heaven somehow…but if I could, still I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” I said, “Yes” to Jesus over forty years ago and I’ve never regretted the decision to follow Him. Now, there’s just no turning back.

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Just Not Feelin’ the Love

people-on-bench

For decades I’ve prayed asking the Lord to help me love like Jesus loved, or at least like my former pastor did. His name was Herb Sweat and he had the ability to make everyone feel like they were the most special person in the world. I loved that guy and so did everyone else. I wanted to feel great love and compassion for everyone I came in contact with. But some people are easy to love―others, not so much.

Jesus commanded us to love one another (see 1 John 15:17). It wasn’t a suggestion or just a good idea, it was a commandment. Christians know we are commanded to love one another, but it’s easy to forget when we are caught up in the day to day struggles of our busy lives.

Back in the late 70’s I heard Dr. Len Evans speak on the Theology of the Love Commandment. I was deeply moved by his message. Recently, I’ve been thinking about his message. He has passed on, and his book “Love, Love, Love” is out of print, but I was able to find some of his notes and a list of scriptures that he assembled simply titled “Love List by Len Evans.” I printed seventy-seven of those verses from the New Testament to read and meditate on. I quickly came to a surprising revelation as I read those verses. The word “love” was not used to describe a feeling. It was always used as an action word, a choice or a mindset. Emotion had very little to do with the word in the New Testament.

The realization that love is an action word and not an emotion set me free! I can obey Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and even my enemies without necessarily feeling deep affection towards them. As I examined those seventy-seven verses (there are many more), I noticed the New Testament is precise in its definition of love. It tells us exactly what love is, and what it is not.

A well-known portion of scripture read at a lot of weddings is 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s called “The Love Chapter.” It tells us what love is, and what love is not in verses 4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Those attributes of love are words requiring actions and/or positive mindsets, or refraining from negative actions and/or negative mindsets. I must confess the first description of love is the one I struggle with the most. Honestly, I have almost no patience. I’m tested on this one daily. I have no patience for red lights, traffic jams, long checkout lines, or being told to “hold please.” The other morning my love was tested at my favorite greasy spoon diner. I ordered my usual bowl of oatmeal and after a few minutes I saw the cook place it under the warmer light. My mouth began to water for that clumpy goodness covered with heaps of brown sugar and low-fat milk (got to cut back somewhere). I quickly scanned the restaurant looking for my waitress, so I could calculate how long it would take her to grab my oatmeal and deliver it promptly to my table. She was at the cash register ringing up a customer’s check. This isn’t good I thought to myself. Suddenly the words “love is patient, love is kind” popped into my head. I just ignored those words because I was hungry and longing for that oatmeal and now a couple more people got in line to pay for their meals! What’s going on here? Where is her priorities? Hot food first! Cold cash second! “Love is patient, love is kind.” Oh, I get it. This is a test. I began quoting “love is patient, love is kind” to myself over and over again. But I could feel the tension rising as I looked at my oatmeal, then at the waitress, then at my oatmeal and back to the waitress. I had to reach into my pocket and pull out the little index card that I had written this verse down on and read it over and over again until my waitress brought my oatmeal to my table. What was the second part of that verse? Oh yeah, “Love is kind.” I smiled and said, “thank you.”

I wasn’t feeling the love but I was able to practice it just the same. The fact is, if I don’t show patience to someone, I’m not really loving that person. And if I’m not giving love I really don’t know God at all. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4:8 NIV).

Sometimes we do feel compassion towards someone in need, but we don’t have to feel it to do it. Recently, I was approached on a city street by a middle-aged woman begging for money. Even though she was painfully thin and said she was hungry, I knew what she really wanted was drugs. I gave her my last $5. She said a pizza cost $8 and asked if I could cough up a few more bucks. I showed her my empty pocket and she moved on. The man I was with was a little irritated by her tenacity. I wasn’t bothered. I went for a stroll up the street a little later that evening and she asked me for money again. I told her I already gave her my last $5. Later the man I was with and I went outside the building after dinner and sure enough, the woman asked for money again. He was agitated by her persistence, but I felt only pity towards her. God created that woman to be so much more than a drug addict begging for money from strangers. My heart broke for that poor woman. I felt genuine love (God’s kind of love) for that lost soul. Sometimes we may feel compassion that motivates us to act in love, but we don’t need to feel anything to obey Jesus’ reminder, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

LOVE IS AN ACTION WORD, A CHOICE and a MINDSET, NOT JUST an EMOTION.

C.S.Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

The New Testament describes love as patient, kind, honoring, protecting, trusting, hopeful, persevering, humble, gentle, forbearing, forgiving, generous, tender, and compassionate. Love doesn’t hold a grudge, delight in evil, harm others, become easily angered, dishonor others, or boast. It rejoices with the truth, speaks the truth, values others, covers a multitude of sins, and never fails. It is not proud, selfish, self-seeking, vain or harsh. Love causes us to look to the interests of others and even lay down our life for another.

I believe 1 John 3:16-18 (NIV) sums it up, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

It Was the Woman You Gave Me

the woman you gave me 2

After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they both hid from God in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:11 & 12 God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” Adam gave the answer that married men have been repeating ever since, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

Someone once said, “Every man needs a wife, because many things go wrong that he can’t blame on the government.” For thousands of years husbands have been blaming their wives for stuff that goes wrong in their lives. Wives get the blame for everything from lost car keys to heartburn. If a man’s car isn’t running right, somehow it has to be his wife’s fault. It doesn’t seem to matter how far removed she is from her husband’s problem, somehow and someway she is going to catch blame for it.

I’m as guilty as the next guy playing the blame game. I was thinking about my ancestor Adams’ statement, “It was the woman you gave me” and came to realize he was not only blaming his wife Eve for his disobedience, but he was blaming God as well. “The woman YOU gave me” says it all.

The Bible says in Proverb 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD.” Proverb 31:10 says “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Ephesians 5:28 tells us “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

Scriptures exhort husbands to love and honor their wife. She is God’s precious gift to him. If someone gave a beautiful fine China tea cup to a man and he thoughtlessly used that teacup as an ashtray or filled it with dirt and made it into a planter, he not only dishonored the gift but the giver as well. Husbands who don’t honor their wife as a precious gift, dishonor God.

Husbands, what if we stop playing the blame game with our wives and use our great (x 142) grandfather Adam’s words to honor the gift and the giver? When God asks us why we no longer act, live and smell like a barbarian, we should simply reply, “It was the woman you gave me.” If He asks why our bathroom smells like Lilacs and the toilet tank has sea shells on it, we can say, “It was the woman you gave me.” If He asks us why our home and our world is beautiful, we’ll have to respond, “It was the woman you gave me.” If he asks why our children are so wonderful, we need to admit, “It was the woman you gave me.” Finally, when He asks us what’s the most precious gift (with the exception of Jesus) he has ever given us, with a grateful heart let’s declare, “It was the woman you gave me.”

Let me say, “Thank you Lord for the woman you gave me.”

That Figures

Just My Luck

Have you ever sighed “That figures” after something bad or disappointing happened to you? My wife used that phrase several times a day. I couldn’t help but notice the frequency of those two words coming from her lips. I got to thinking about what those words actually communicate and I believe hidden below the surface of those words is a curse. Without trying to be overly dramatic, those two seemingly innocent words are destructive. When someone says, “That figures,” they are proclaiming the belief that they have come to expect consistently bad, or at least disappointing results in their life. For example, if your car breaks down along the road and you moan, “That figures;” you are declaring that you have come to expect cars, washing machines, computers, or anything mechanical to break whenever you use them. The thought process behind the words “that figures” is, if anything can go wrong, inevitably it will for me. Along the same line of thought are the phrases, “Just my luck” and “I can never win.”

I suggested to my wife that she should curtail her use of those words because of the dangerous side effects they might produce. She agreed and went to work immediately eliminating those two words as her default response to every adverse situation. It wasn’t easy for her to break the habit. When she received a disappointing piece of news, she would catch those words just as they were coming out of her mouth. “That figggggg” she would mumble. Soon it was down to just, “Thattttttt.” Then eventually the phrase was completely gone from her vocabulary.

We worry about when someone lets a swear word fly, but the real curse words are in disguised as innocent. Christians are not under a curse of constant bad things happening to us. Yes, bad things happen to Christians, but we need not live in fear or expectation of those bad things. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” Galatians 3:13 NKJV. On the contrary, the Bible declares we are a blessed people. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” Ephesians 1:3 NKJV.

God is a good God. That’s just who He is. He doesn’t take sadistic delight in making our stuff break down, causing things go wrong for us, or causing us to have constant disappointment. He’s not an old man with a big stick ready to beat you down every chance He gets. The Bible says “God is love.”   He is a loving Father who desires good things for us.

When we focus on and trust in God’s goodness to us, maybe the words “that figures” don’t have to be curse words. Maybe we can turn them around to be words of praise. For instance, “I woke up alive and well to a brand new day. That figures!” Or, “I have some wonderful friends and family who love me. That figures!” Another example might be, “I have a job and I made it to work this morning safe and sound. That figures!” Let’s continually remember the fact that God is good. He is for us and not against us. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31) He loves us greatly. Our declaration every day should be, “I am deeply loved and greatly blessed by God. God is so good to me.  That figures!”

OTHERS

Silhouette of helping hand between two climber

I woke up the other morning and asked God to help me realize I’m not the only person in the Universe. That’s how I live most days. What am I going to wear today? What am I going to eat? Where I going and what am I going to do today? I focus so intently on my needs and desires that everyone else in the world gradually disappears.

God took my prayer seriously that day. I drove to the only place in town that gives free air for tires and an older gentleman was ahead of me putting air in his tires. I panicked when I saw how slow he was at the job. Doesn’t he know I’m in a hurry and how valuable my time is? How inconsiderate he was to arrive 5 minutes before I did at the air pump!

God reminded me of my earlier prayer request. I realized this man was also part of the universe. I was not alone. God prompted me to pray for the man while waiting for him to fill up his tires (all four of course). I asked God to bless this older gentleman, give him health, and improve his golf swing. I don’t know, he looked like a golfer to me.

While this was happening I looked over and saw a wealthy businessman I know pumping gas in his brand new BMW. Without warning I could feel envy starting to rise up within me. I now had two people in my universe. God prompted me to pray for the businessman as well. As I prayed for him envy melted away. I recalled that this man consistently gives a tremendous amount of money to his church and many other charities. He also employs quite a few people and pays them well. He has restored dilapidated buildings in his home town and boosted the local economy. Most importantly He is a genuine man of God and his wife is a godly woman. He has a wonderful family who love and serve the Lord. The more I prayed for him the more I appreciated his integrity and all he has done for the kingdom of God.

Our culture strongly promotes achieving our dreams. Motivational books and speakers tell us that it doesn’t matter what your dream is, just go after it and never stop. This message has become popular in our church’s pulpits as well. Is our dream for the benefit of others or just for selfish desires? Are other people included in our dreams only as stepping stones to achieving our goals? What if our dreams don’t align with God’s dream? I’m concerned about our young people constantly being bombarded with the “Go after your dreams” pep talks. I think it’s better to tell them to find out what God is doing on the earth and go after that. Make His dream your dream.

What ever happened to sermons and exhortations to “Die to self” and to lay down our lives for one another? (see Jn. 15:13 and 1 Jn. 3:16). Our culture’s version of Christianity has become so individualized, all we care about is God’s blessings to us personally. Philippians 2:3-5 NLT says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

Brian Hathaway has estimated that 44% of the letters of the New Testament are about how we should get along with one another. The Greek word for “one another” is “allelon.” It occurs 59 times in the New Testament as specific command to love, serve, forgive, encourage, comfort, and honor one another.

I love the story about General William Booth which occurred near the end of his life in 1910. Due to poor health and failing eyesight he would be unable to attend the annual convention of The Salvation Army. It was suggested to him to send a telegram to encourage all his faithful solders; which he happily agreed to do. Not wanting to waste the ministry’s money on a lengthy telegram, Booth decided to send a one word message. After announcing General Booth could not attend the convention, the disappointed attendees perked up upon hearing that he sent a special telegram to them. With great anticipation the crowd listened as the moderator read the telegram to them.   It was simply the word “Others.”   Signed, General Booth.

Common as a Stone

Stones

I’ve had a taste of success, but not much more than a spoonful. I’ve recorded three contemporary Christian records and authored and published two books. Though the songs and books touched thousands of people’s hearts, financially they lost money. I’ve owned and managed a couple businesses that did fairly well, but they never made me a millionaire, or even close to becoming one. We all do our best but largely still remain Average Joes. For the most part we are common, ordinary people.

King Solomon was so rich the Bible says he “made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones” (1 Kings 10:27 NIV). There is nothing more common than a stone. The Bible recognizes our commonness, but defines it as a qualifying attribute of those called by God. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NIV).

Jesus told us God can make “children of promise” from stones. “God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT). If necessary, stones can shout God’s praise, “Jesus replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”’ (Luke 19:40 NIV).

As a young boy David used a small stone to defeat a giant. “(David) chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him” (I Samuel 17:40, 49 & 50 NIV). Common stones are powerful weapons in the right hands.

Along with the chief cornerstone (who is Jesus), God is fitting all of us common stones into a strong and beautiful superstructure that glorifies Him (see 1 Peter 2:5-8). Those same common stones are transformed into “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9NIV).

By the world’s standards we may seem unsuccessful, common, invisible, weak and foolish; however, those are the exact materials God uses to build something special. It brings Him great glory to create something out of nothing. So rejoice fellow commoners! We are the ammunition in God’s powerful slingshot to “cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5a NKJV). He loves using the weak to conquer the strong, the foolish to outwit the wise, and the common to display the extraordinary greatness of God. Now that’s what I call success!

A Real Life Cake Boss (Finding Life Significance)

June the Cake Boss

I’ve been struggling lately with feelings of insignificance. I know those feelings come straight from the pit of hell, but I still wrestle with them. They never come when I’m on top of the world and feeling special. The devil waits until I’m not feeling unique and then he hits me with the thoughts that the things I do and say are meaningless. Deep down I know it’s a lie but I catch myself entertaining those thoughts far too long, leading to hopelessness and depression. The Bible is clear that every life counts. Our significance is proved by the fact that Jesus gave His life on the cross for us. We are valuable to God our creator. The psalmist David knew this fact when he penned the words, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:14).

My mother-in-law is one of the most godly women I know. She is an inspiration to me and everyone who knows her. She spends her time doing good for someone every  day. Even at 88 years old she visits shut-ins and comforts those who are sick and hurting. One thing she does that has become a tremendous blessing to people is she bake cakes and gives them away. Her cakes are out of this world! She is a real life “Cake Boss!” Whenever I’m invited to a party, she bakes a cake for me and it’s always a big hit. People love her cakes so much that she is now baking all the time. I’ve heard her say she had to bake as many as three cakes done in a day. Baking cakes has become almost a daily activity for her. She has to buy ingredients in bulk at Sam’s Club to just to keep up with the demand! She calls it her “cake ministry.” And it is. People rave over the taste of her cakes. I finally figured out her secret ingredient. It’s LOVE. She bakes her cakes for the glory of God. I know she brings a smile to His face as He watches her work so hard in her tiny kitchen. She gives those cakes away because she loves Jesus and she loves people. She can’t wait to get up every morning and bless someone with a fresh-baked cake. Her life has significance and she knows her reward awaits her when she stands face to face with her Lord.

I’ve too often let the smallness of my words or deeds influence my feelings of significance. I’ve performed musicals for small audiences and felt like it was a waste of time. But for the 60 people who paid good money to see the performance, it was a special event. I’ve spoken and sang at small churches and wondered if my words really made any difference, only to have someone tell me years later that my message had a profound impact on their life.

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Even the simple day to day routine of eating a meal can be for the glory of God. The apostle Paul instructs us in Colossians 3:17,23, & 24, And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Knowing that our words and actions matter to God and He will reward us accordingly gives meaning and significance to our day to day lives.

The American definition of success is “bigger is better” and unless we are reaching the masses, we are not important at all. However, in God’s economy, small does not equal trivial. Jesus said faith as small as a mustard seed could move a mountain! Mary Engelbreit told us, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” That’s still good advice. Our significance comes from God who created you in His image. We are valuable to Him and to the people He has placed in your life. Your life matters to God.  Cake anyone?