9-11 13 Years Later

Today marks the 13th anniversary of one of the most tragic days in American history.  Most of us will always remember where we were and how we felt on September 11, 2001.

I was in a pastor’s meeting in Taylor.  I remember calling Judy and literally crying, though I knew she was okay.  I drove past a silent, unmoving Detroit airport.  Everyone I met was solemn.  Ben Negron called me and said we need to have a prayer time that evening.  We did.  And many others did as well.  I remember the next day putting out American flags on our driveway.  Nearly everyone honked their horns as they passed by in encouragement of our patriotism.  Do you remember watching our representatives in Washington gathering together singing God Bless America – Republicans standing with Democrats?

I remember hearing so many people ask for prayer for the families of those who died and for America.  I remember a full house on the following Sunday.  I remember watching the World Series that year.  The New York Yankees were in it and they changed the 7th inning stretch song ‘Take me out the ballgame’ to ‘God Bless America.’  Even America’s pastime recognized our dependence on God.

But now it is 13 years later.  Some things haven’t changed.

It seems when I watch the video clips of the airplanes hitting the towers, my emotions go right back to that day.  I still hurt.

I’m involved in our local Kiwanis club ‘Flag Project.’ We put up over 600 flags throughout our city.  Time doesn’t change my patriotism. I love America and love flying the flag.

I still love my wife and children and call to hear their voices.

We still have enemies.  The names have been changed but groups of people want to destroy America. The real fear is that many are now within our borders.

And God is still the same.  In tragedy it seems God is behind the scenes.  Many ask where God is when a catastrophe strikes. But He is still behind the scenes, moving the scenery to accomplish His will for His glory and our good.  His love for us is constant.

It is 13 year later and some things have definitely changed. 

Osama Bin Laden is no longer celebrating or hiding.  His death emphasized America’s resolve that, despite transition of politics and leaders, we will vindicate the death our citizens.

6,808 men and women who were alive in 2011, have suffered death in Iraq and Afghanistan due to their military involvement in Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.  We have not had another attack on American soil in 13 years and it is in great appreciation to our military that we continue to live in freedom.  But the families who have sacrificed so much are different 13 years later.

Today, our minds are consumed with the economy.  13 years ago our hearts were filled with love for one another and trust in God.  May it not take another tragedy to drive us to our knees.

13 years ago my family was 6.  Now we have 13. We’ve had 3 weddings and 3 grandchildren.  13 years later I’m called Pappaw.  May God continue to bless America so that my grandchildren can grow up in a country that is free.  May America be in a position of blessing so that my grandchildren will live with love not hate, peace not war, faith not fear.

God bless America.

Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Noah’s Ark

Thought you’d enjoy these words of wisdom I picked up.

1. Don’t miss the boat.

2. Remember that we are all in the same boat.

3. Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.

4. Stay fit. When you’re really old, someone may ask you to do something really big.

5. Don’t listen to the critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.

6. Build your future on high ground.

7. For safety sake, travel in pairs.

8. Speed isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.

9. When you’re stressed, float a while.

10. Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.

11. No matter the storm, when you’re with God, there’s always a rainbow waiting.

Finding Faith When the Storm Rolls In

10 years ago, August of 2004, Hurricane Charley went through Florida. With winds of 150 miles per hour, it was a Category 4 hurricane. It was the strongest hurricane to hit southwest Florida since 1960. Damage totaled over $13 billion and caused 10 deaths. We were on vacation near Orlando. It was the worst storm I’ve ever experienced.

You may have never been in a hurricane or seen a tornado, but you have probably been through a storm of life. Health, Finances, Relationships bring storms that cause fear as any natural storm.

In Mark’s gospel the disciples and Jesus are hit with a storm.

And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:35-41)

I found four truths from this story that will help you in a storm.

1.     Storms will come. 

Storms are inevitable. Peter tells us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12).

We live in a fallen world. And as Jesus said, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). In other words, good and bad happen to all.

Storms sometimes happen right in the middle of God’s will. The disciples were doing what Jesus wanted them to do. Storms even happen to those closest to God, like the 12 disciples.

2.     Jesus will be with you in the storm. 

Jesus does not abandon His disciples in the storm. However, the disciples wondered how he could sleep through the storm. He was tired after a long day of ministry and had complete peace and trust in His Heavenly Father.

They had words of criticism toward Jesus. How easy it is for us to complain and criticize God for not coming to our aid.

3.     Jesus will calm the storm. 

Jesus, abruptly awakened from a deep sleep, arose and without speaking to the disciples spoke to the wind & waves, “Peace, be still!”

At the perfect time during the perfect storm He exercised His power over the storm. God is never in a hurry, and the reason he is never in a hurry is because he knows exactly what to do at exactly the right time. He does not go by our time. It may even be when we get to Heaven that our storm finally finds peace. His timing is perfect. He will calm the storm at the right time.

4.     It is only in the storm that we really know who Jesus is. 

Jesus did not stop with calming the weather, for the greatest danger was not the wind or the waves; it was the unbelief in the hearts of the disciples. Our greatest problems are within us, not around us.

They could hardly have been ready for the reply. ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ This is the crux of discipleship. They needed Jesus to do things; He wanted them to trust Him. His very presence among them was all that they needed to survive.

I think the most amazing part of the story is the disciple’s reaction to Jesus. When Jesus asks them why they are afraid, it is the Greek word meaning fearful in the moderate sense. But after Jesus calms the storm, the Bible uses a different Greek word that means ‘great fear.’ They were afraid of the storm, but they were terrified of Jesus. They realized who it really was who was with them in the boat. It is one thing to be in the boat with someone you believe was sent from God to be a great teacher and spiritual leader. It is quite another thing to be confined in a small space with One whom you suddenly realize is the Lord of the universe.

Storms will give you a greater vision of Who Jesus is.

Nothing is too small for God to use…

I found this poem by Pastor Jack Hyles. If you feel insignificant, maybe this will help you realize that there are no ‘little’ people in God’s kingdom.

 

I’m just a little donkey, midst stallions tall and white;

They are each a golden talent, and I, a widow’s mite.

I’m just a little pebble, and each of them, a stone;

While I’m a stunted bramble, they all are trees full grown.

I’m just an unclean raven, while they are nightingales;

I am a little minnow, and they are mighty whales.

I’m just a little sparrow, yet they as eagles fly;

I tiptoe through the treetops, while they soar through the sky.

I’m just a little ox-goad, and sharpened swords are they;

While they are giant boulders, I am a piece of clay.

I’m just a tiny flower, a lily of the field;

I am a little slingshot, and they are mighty shields.

Yet God once used a donkey, while stallions envied near;

He tells us with the lily that He gives us what we wear.

He used a dirty raven to feed His prophet bread;

A little stone was chosen to pierce Goliath’s head.

He took a little sparrow to show us of His care,

And used a mite so tiny to teach us how to share.

A little cactus bramble was king of all the trees;

He brought down with a slingshot the giant to his knees.

He made a worthy vessel with one small piece of clay;

Oh mighty God of mercy, use me in power today.

3 Things You Can Learn from a Mustard Seed

I can remember when our children were ten or eleven they wanted to ride roller coasters at Kings Island but the sign said they were too small. They needed to grow a little bit more before they could ride it. It really made them mad because they wanted to ride that roller coaster then and there.

It’s no fun being small!

But in Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, we uncover the truth that “Little is much when God is in it.”

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it. (Mark 4:31-32)

The mustard seed was so small that it would take almost twenty thousand seeds to make one ounce. But the mustard shrub could grow ten to twelve feet in just a few weeks. Jesus’ point was that just as a tiny seed can grow into the greatest of all shrubs, so God’s kingdom can begin with a few people who truly believe and grow into greatness.

This parable says, ‘Never be daunted by small beginnings’. Small is great. We think bigness is best. We wait for the spectacular. But all God wants is a beginning, however small. That’s about all some of us have right now. So here’s some encouragement from the mustard seed.

1.     Size doesn’t matter to God.

You will never be too small for God and, as a matter of fact, you’re just the right size for God to use you right now. God doesn’t care if you can’t reach the top shelf in the kitchen, tie your shoes just right or that you can’t ride roller coasters. God is more concerned with what you’re becoming, not with what size you are right now.

2.     God wants you to grow.

It’s one thing to be small – it’s another to remain small. God always starts small and builds from there. God always wants to make the small larger just like a seed as it grows into a plant.

3.     There is nothing beyond God’s ability.

Even though you might be small; God can still do great things through you. When God is with you there isn’t anything you can’t do.

Edward Kimball was concerned about one of his  Sunday School students who worked at a shoe store in town. One day Kimball visited him at the store, found the student working in the back stocking shelves, and led him to Christ then and there. Dwight L. Moody eventually left the shoe store to become one of the greatest preachers and evangelists of all time.

Moody preached in a little chapel in Great Britain. That message changed F. B. Meyer, inspiring him to become an evangelist like Moody. Meyer came to America and in a sermon said, “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?” That remark led J. Wilbur Chapman to respond to the call of God on his life.

Chapman became a great evangelist and influenced Billy Sunday. who eventually took over Chapman’s ministry becoming one of the most dynamic evangelists of this century.

Inspired by a 1924 Billy Sunday crusade a group Christians invited the evangelist Mordecai Ham to come to Charlotte, NC and hold a series of evangelistic meetings in 1932. A lanky16 year old sat in the huge crowd came and gave his life to Christ. That teenager was Billy Graham. Billy Graham has communicated the gospel to more people than any other person in history.

And it all started with a Sunday School teacher named Kimball. Millions have been affected by his decision to go into a shoe store and share Christ with one person. Millions more will continue to feel his impact.

That’s not all…

Billy Graham came to Cincinnati, Ohio where a young teen, Marty Lewis, trusted Christ as Savior. He went home and eventually led his father, Joe Lewis, to Christ. Joe Lewis was the one who led me to Christ. And the story continues…

5 Things The Bible Says About Work

Don’t you think it kind of ironic that we have a long weekend and we call it Labor Day?  It’s okay with me, but shouldn’t they call it Rest Day?  Anyway, we have a day to give those who work hard a day of rest.  Government gives us one a year, but God gives us one a week.  I like God’s ideas best!  Whether you get a long weekend off, or have to work the whole time, I have a few thoughts about labor and work.

The secret to any success is hard work.  Whether it is the building of a church or a hot-dog stand, the making of a good life or good grades,work is the great secret to success. No amount of talent can take its place.  Some new research has shown that natural talent is actually due to the amount of work put into the effort.  The Bible has much to say about work…

1. Work is spiritual. 

“The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” (Proverbs 13:4). The great test of Christianity is obedience.  God has commanded us to work and when we work we please Him.

2. Work is succeeding. 

The word ‘work’ implies to produce or achieve.  When we do a job, we are to do it well and this leads to success. From childhood we should be taught that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Every job should be done thoroughly and carefully.  When your children are growing up and have a task to do, let them carry the task through to completion. They will learn character and you will gain a helper.

3. The worker should do what needs to be done. 

No task is too little to demand our best, and no task is too great but what our best plus God is enough.

4. If a person does not work, he should not eat. 

‘For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.’ (2 Thess. 3:10).  We do not help a lazy fellow when we feed him. Rather we help him when we teach him that if he does not work, he does not eat.  This is God’s plan.  Obviously, sickness and other circumstances may prevent someone from working. But God expects all of us to be producers.

5. One should learn to work without a boss. 

“Which having no guide, oversee, or ruler…” (Prov. 6:7). Nothing quite reveals the lack of character in a person more than for him to refuse to work when the boss is not looking.  The passage in Proverbs talks about the little ant, who has more character than a lot of people.

Work is spiritual.  One cannot be a good Christian and not work. One cannot be a good Christian and not obey. One cannot be a good Christian and not do his best at every task.

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians – Labor Day Thoughts

With the Labor Day weekend comes appreciation for the working man and woman.  We tend to celebrate the celebrity or the leader, but too often undervalue the common laborer who actually gets the work done.

‘Go to the top’ is the cry that every young person hears in our generation.  The truth is that the ‘top’ is rarely as large as the bottom.  The farther toward the top of the pyramid one gets, the fewer stones he will find.

The simple truth is that everybody cannot go to the top.  Actually, going high is simply relative anyway.  If everybody gets high, then high is no longer high.  If everyone gets educated, then no one will be educated, for these terms are but relative ones.

There was a time when a high school graduate was highly educated and considered more qualified than a college graduate is today.  This is not to say that one should not accumulate all of the education possible.  Neither is it to say that one should not receive training.  However, it seems that most of our educational institutions are training people to be leaders.  Why shouldn’t some schools train some students to be followers?

When everyone in a society becomes a leader, anarchy is inevitable. Far too many people who are meant to be Indians are trying to be the Chief, and many who are meant to be followers are trying to be leaders.  If we have a need today, it is for good Indians.

Were there no soldiers, there could be no generals.  Were there no children, there could be no parents.  Were there no employees, there could be no employers.  Were there no citizens, there could be no President, and if there are no Indians, there can be no chiefs.

Just as God calls some to be leaders, He calls more to be follows.  We need the Aarons and the Hurs to hold up the hands of Moses. We need some to go with Saul to Gibeah - a band of men whose hearts God had touched.  We need the seven men full of the Holy Ghost to help the apostles in their work. We need the deacons to hold up the hands of the pastors.

God, give us leaders, to be sure, but God give us followers also.  We have said, ‘Go to the top, go to the top, go to the top,’ so long that the top is heavier than the foundation, and it is bound to crumble.

Let us simply say, ‘Go as high as you can,’ But if you can go no higher than the foundation, you may still be used to hold up the entire building. Thank God for the Chief, but praise the Lord for faithful Indians!

I am so thankful for all the people who serve in our church.  We have several that are leaders. However, the bulk of our congregation are simple servants of God doing their job every opportunity.  These are the people who will make our church successful in God’s eyes.  The only thing He asks is that we be good and faithful.  Let us serve God in the position He has led us.  Let us make an effort to do a good job and do it consistently.

5 Ways to Make This Your Best School Year Ever

Back-to-SchoolIt is the end of summer vacation and the return to school.  I always loved back to school time. Buying new clothes & supplies, getting back with friends, and even finding my classrooms. As a parent, it was different. Dropping my children off at the front door of school was as nerve-racking for me as them – especially that first day of kindergarten. This year is my oldest granddaughter’s first day of preschool.

School is a vital part of growing up.  It requires dedication, commitment, and time, but it can also be really fun and exciting.  Whether it’s a kindergartner attending school for the first time or a senior attending school for the last time, here’s some advice on how to make this the best school year ever.

1:  Develop the Right Perspective

We live in a culture that is confused about the purpose of education. Parents and students conceive of education exclusively in measurable quantities, with grades, diplomas, and future jobs topping the list.

But there’s more to school than grades.  Not only does school teach academics, but it also is an opportunity to build character and strengthen relationship skills.  It is a time to develop talents, learn lessons about friendship, hard work, perseverance, patience, kindness, and diligence.  These are more vital to life success than grades.

2: Check Your Attitude

For some students, school work comes naturally and they enjoy books and learning.  For others, school work is hard.  Regardless, the key to having a great year is maintaining a positive attitude.

Attitude affects everything and can make a student’s time at school whatever they want it to be.  It can be fun and exciting, something students will look back on with wonderful memories, or it can a living nightmare.  It all depends on attitude.

3: Keep Your Priorities Straight

I encourage students to prioritize their lives in the following order: God, Family, School, Everything Else.  Keeping God as the number one priority doesn’t necessarily mean students spend all their time in church and in prayer.  It does mean, however, that a student’s relationship with God should be the most important relationship in their life.  Neglect of that vital spiritual connection will leave students without an anchor for their soul through the up and down trials and circumstances of their lives.

Next to God, healthy family relationships are the second most important relationships in the life of a student. When schoolwork pulls a student away from God or family, the school has become more important than God intended.

4: Organize for Success

Successful people are organized.  Students are no exception.  Nothing is more miserable than falling behind at school.  I can remember trying to cram for an exam or spending late nights finishing a reading assignment. To avoid this, students must maintain disciplined habits of time management and planning.  Keep track of multiple assignments and deadlines. It is a good idea to schedule these on a cell phone or simple calendar.

5: Try Different Things

School offers lots of opportunities for students to get involved and try new things like sports, drama, music, and art.  God has given students interests, talents and abilities that they might not even know they possess unless given the opportunity to discover. It’s okay for a student to try clarinet for awhile, then decide it’s not for them. It can be difficult for an athletic parent to permit his child to try out for the school play instead of the football team. But school is a great time to enjoy various experiences.

While these 5 tips won’t guarantee school will be easy, if a student follows them, they will grow and mature into the person God intends for them to be.  School, like everything in life, requires hard work and diligence.  So I hope this is the best school year you’ve ever had.

2 Principles for Spiritual Growth

I remember going through my growth spurt in High School. About every month I would measure myself to see how much I’d grown… until I stopped at 5’ 11 3/4”. I tried to do everything to get to 6’ but never did… even though I tell people I am. I wanted to grow taller so bad.

Have you ever felt that way spiritually? Have you ever been frustrated with your Christian life. You yielded to a temptation. You abandoned a commitment to God that you made. You discover that you are just not strong enough or mature enough to see your situation from God’s point of view.

The Apostle Paul had this same frustration: “… the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do…” (Romans 7:19)

I can relate to D. L. Moody’s quote: “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I’ve met.”

I think many Christians want to be stronger, a better Christian – but they are frustrated. What can a person do to grow in their Christian life?

Jesus uses farming illustrations to talk about the Christian life. In the Parable of the Seed, Sower, & Soils in Mark 4:1-12 one factor in successful farming is the condition of the ground. But even in good ground, there is another factor in successful farming – a hidden power that is also out of control of the farmer.

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come. (Mark 4:26-29)

This parable, only recorded by Mark, presents the steps to successful farming: sowing, growing, and harvesting. Seeds are sown. Time must elapse. And a harvest will come. The farmer can sow the seed and will harvest the crops. But the growth of the seed is a mysterious process.

I discovered two simple principles that will help you understand your spiritual growth. I hope it gives you encouragement.

1.     Our job is to sow. God’s job is to grow.

The farmer is responsible to sow. Only God can cause the seed to grow. Once the seed is sown, the farmer has no control over the seed. He is helpless. He must patiently await the reward of his efforts.

This is the same in your spiritual life. Your responsibility is to plant God’s Word in your life – by reading, studying, hearing, memorizing, and meditating throughout the day. God will bring the growth.

In regards to our ministry to others, we have a responsibility to spread God’s Word. He will cause it to grow. We can help others understand God’s Word, but ultimately it’s God who brings growth.

2.     Growth is slow but it will eventually show.

This parable teaches that spiritual growth cannot be measured by a stopwatch.  Just like our physical growth, it cannot be visually perceived. But over time, growth occurs. Growth is slow but certain.

The kingdom of God may be planted in us in an instant, but its growth becomes apparent only with the passing of time and the practice of faithfulness. Germination is spontaneous but growth is not instantaneous.

Yet, i is normal for a Christian to grow. If you’re not growing, something is wrong.

Our job is to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word in our life and the life of others, trust God, and wait and look for signs of life. God has only commissioned us to preach the Gospel to all nations. The results belong to Him. Our task is to scatter the seed, nourish the plants and reap the harvest. The harvest will come. We must have patience, hope, and faithfulness.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson

8 Facts About ALS – A little background on the Ice Bucket Challenge

A short time ago, Jason Richards called me out to accept the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I did and made a video.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has become a global phenomenon. You’ve no doubt seen hundreds of videos on Facebook and Twitter of people dousing themselves in chilly water. Celebrities including Martha Stewart, Steven Spielberg, Kobe Bryant and Justin Timberlake have taken part. My favorite is President George W. Bush.

Since the challenge has gone viral, a number of variations have popped up. But it typically goes something like this: If someone challenges you, you have 24 hours to donate $100 to the ALS Association or make a video of ice water being poured over your head and post it on social media. Many people do both, and some contribute much more. Participants are encouraged to pass the challenge on to others via social media.

According to the ALS Association, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $41.8 million as of Thursday, Aug. 21. The money is used to provide assistance to patients who have been diagnosed with ALS as well as to fund research for new ways to treat and ultimately cure the degenerative disease.

However, some anti-abortion organizations warn that ALS Association donates money to at least one organization (NEALS) that sponsors clinics that has used aborted fetuses in their research. No one is ever certain where every penny of their charity dollars go, but Team Gleason, founded by NFL player Steve Gleason, may be a better pro-life organization to send your donations. I did.

ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is also commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a neurological disorder in which the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement gradually deteriorate. It is eventually fatal, and there is no cure.

30,000 Americans have ALS. It commonly strikes people between the ages of 40 & 70. There is no cure for ALS. Lou Gehrig died in 1941 at age 37, just 2 years after he was diagnosed with ALS and retired from baseball.

One of my favorite missionaries, Carlos Demarest, suffered and died from ALS several years ago. A parent of one of my students in church, Dan Stedman, had ALS and became a Christian during that time.

8 facts you may not know about ALS:

  1. Every 90 minutes someone in the US is diagnosed with ALS
  2. It’s not necessarily an inherited disease. 90% of patients have no known family history of the disease.
  3. Symptoms aren’t sudden. Early signs include cramps, stiff muscles, twitches, or difficulty chewing or swallowing. Eventually patients cannot swallow or breath.
  4. It’s more common in men and white people. It’s about 20% more common in men than in women and 93% of patients are Caucasian.
  5. While the reason is unknown, military vets are twice as likely to develop ALS.
  6. ALS is NOT just an old person’s disease, many people in their 20s and 30s are diagnosed. In fact, Pete Frates, who started the Ice Bucket Challenge, was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at the age of 27.
  7. There are more than 150 potential treatments being looked at for ALS in the US today.
  8. People with the disease may be living longer. Most people live for 2-5 years after symptoms develop. Most die from respiratory failure. However, a new drug called Riluzole helps prolong life by 7 months.

Ed Dobson, pastor emeritus of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan was diagnosed with ALS. He said, “Honestly, I would still rather be healthy and not go through this suffering. I would exchange all the life lessons and opportunities to be healthy again. But … my ALS has been used by God to accomplish wonderful things for the kingdom, where even the worst suffering opened the doors to a new heavens and earth.”