Demo Day

January brings a fresh start. The new year is a clean slate on which to write the rest of our story. No matter how often we have tried and failed, every January represents a second chance to get right whatever is wrong. The past is behind us, the future has not yet come, and hope stands in the gap between them, filled with the possibilities of the present. On the precipice, we can either remain standing comfortably still in the status quo or dive deep into the time and labor intensive work of positive change.

If we choose change, we must first make room for the new by tearing down the old. Just ask Chip.

Chip and Joanna Gaines are a married couple with four children and the stars of HGTV’s wildly popular home improvement show, “Fixer Upper.” They own a construction and design business in Waco, Texas, where they renovate old, run-down houses, turning them into warm and stunningly beautiful homes.

Chip is the heart of the show, with his boyish charm and funny, quirky antics that endear him to his wife, Jo, and all the rest of us. Chip’s favorite part of flipping houses is the demolition process, when he uses a sledge hammer or crow bar and smashes walls, rips down cabinets and tears out old flooring in preparation for building and reconstruction. Every house Chip and Joanna remodel into a lovely new home begins with what Chip excitedly calls “Demo Day,” when he expectantly wields a hammer and sports his trademark t-shirt emblazoned “#DEMODAY.”

Today, my friend, is our Demo Day. It is time to identify and mark for removal unhealthy and unproductive habits, attitudes or patterns of relating, and to demolish those rooms in our lives that have kept us captive for far too long. The job is too big to do on our own. Chip certainly doesn’t tackle Demo Day alone, and neither should we. We need help knocking down the walls that stand between us and God’s highest and best.

First, we ask the Lord to give us the motivation, strength and desire to tear down what is rotten within so that he can transform us from broken to beautiful. Don’t resist his efforts to rip out what needs to go, to make room for what needs to stay and be built upon. It may hurt for a moment, but like pulling a bad tooth, it won’t harm and will benefit us.

God needs us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” so that there is room to make us kind, compassionate and forgiving toward each other, just as he is to us. Ephesians 4:31-32. God wants us to demolish those things in our life that have taken his place of honor. He will not build on the unstable ground of our self-interest and sin. But he will join our Demo Day crew and help us remove our crumbling foundations and replace them with the solid footings of Jesus’ truth and grace.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and put them into practice, then we are like a wise man who built his house on the rock. When adversity comes, our house will not fall because we have built on a sure foundation. But Jesus said that if, instead, we only hear his words and do not obey them, then we are like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the storms of life come, we will fall with a great crash because our house — our life — was built on shifting sand, something other than Christ’s teaching. Matthew 7:24-27.

Moving forward with the strength God provides, we next ask our family and friends to help us dismantle our bad habits by holding us accountable for positive change, calling us out when we allow room for unhealthy and negative patterns to continue. We give our loved ones a hammer of truth and permission to use it to rip down those strongholds that we may neglect to remove or refuse to see.

As we clear away the old, we begin to replace it with new, healthy choices day by day, moment by moment. No more business as usual. Ever so slowly, as we do our part and God does his, we begin to see our beautiful transformation as we increasingly reflect the image of God. Our lives begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit and it is then that we know, the best is yet to come.

Absent Christ’s return before then, tomorrow is coming. Summer is coming. Next year is coming. Who do you want to be when it gets here? What is your plan for getting there? No matter what month it is, every day is January, the opportunity for a new beginning. And it all starts with Demo Day.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” 1 Corinthians 5:17.

 

Free Lunch

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.” ―Titus 3:14

“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” —Proverbs 21:13.

As a young teenager growing up in rural Idaho with several siblings and a single mom on welfare, I regularly felt the shame associated with our indigent circumstances. I knew I was different than most of the other kids in school and it was a chronic, festering sore deep in my soul. Most of the time it was a dull ache, but occasionally something would happen to pick the scab off my wound and the stinging pain of my poverty would pour over me.

Free lunch was one of those humiliating trials. To eat hot lunch in the cafeteria at school, your parents had to buy you a lunch ticket. You could either buy single tickets or purchase five days’ worth of lunch vouchers on one large weekly ticket. If you were poor enough, you could apply for and receive free lunch at school.

Unfortunately, we were poor enough.

Initially, free lunch recipients were not issued lunch tickets to hand over to the attendant. If we wanted hot lunch, we had to say “free” to the cafeteria attendant as we passed through the hot lunch line, proclaiming our status as underprivileged kids not just to her, but to all our peers in line with us. No matter how hard I tried to whisper the word “free,” it always felt as if I was shouting “poor!” from a megaphone to the entire world. I preferred to skip lunch than go through that mortifying ordeal.

Somebody must have figured out that needy kids have feelings, too, because they soon came up with a better system for all of us free lunchers.

On Monday mornings, for thirty minutes before the bell rang to start school, you could go to a room on the second floor where an adult sat behind a desk. You told him your name and he checked it off the free lunch participant list in front of him. He then handed you a large weekly lunch ticket. When I left with that golden ticket tucked into my pants pocket, I was transformed from a stand-alone loser to a just-like-everybody-else winner.

It was a great system, provided you got to school before any of your friends and preferably before any of the other free lunch kids. It was important to get in and get out of there fast with your lunch ticket, before someone saw you entering or leaving that classroom. Although there was no sign over the door that read “Free Lunch,” there may as well have been, because everybody knew what business was transacted there. But at least there was the opportunity to avoid the daily shame of the lunch line for those willing to rise early on Monday mornings.

To those who have never stood in the soup line of life, this childhood indignity may seem insignificant, a small price to pay for a warm meal. But I can assure you that almost forty years later, the memory is still vivid amidst those fading in my middle-aged mind. While the wound of poverty has long since healed, I can still see that awkward young woman with sweaty palms and a pounding heart full of shame as she steals quickly into and out of the free lunch room.

This Christmas season, what will you see? In addition to the lights and beautifully wrapped presents, will you see the poor? As you listen to the carolers, will you hear the silent cries of the left out and left behind?

Christian, when you open your hands and hearts to the hungry and the cold in your community this year, will you do so in a way that preserves their dignity? What will you sacrifice to give the needy food, clothing, warm shelter and self-worth? Are you willing to give generously and anonymously? Will you say to yourself, but for the grace of God go I? Will you give these folks the time of day and not just a day’s worth of your wages? By your kindness and compassion, will you point them to the Savior?

May we remember that all who come to Jesus eat free lunch at his table. He has paid the price for our ticket to the heavenly feast by his atoning death on the cross. Because of Christ, there is no shame or condemnation for those who have accepted his invitation to make him their Lord.  We are all the same and rich in Jesus.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ and throughout the coming year, let us remember to give not just to those we love and who love us, but to all those in need.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Have you ever been betrayed by someone close to you? If not, wait for it. If you live long enough, one day you will feel the sharp and surprising pain of betrayal like a sucker punch to the gut that takes your breath away for not just a moment, but for a very long time, leaving you gasping and sputtering for air. The rug gets pulled out from under your blessed life and you are left reeling as the status quo irreparably shatters into myriad shards of memory.

Of course, the betrayer does not feel like they betrayed you, justifying their behavior with carefully crafted half-truths and excuses readily supplied to them by the Enemy. Denying their responsibility for your wound, they go on with their life, blissfully unaware of and unconcerned about the atomic aftermath of their actions for you. The truth between their reality and yours is often somewhere in the middle, beyond either of your line of sight.

You are left stunned, confused, and alone, the severity of the wound exponentially intensified because it is unexpected, delivered by someone you cared deeply about and who said they cared about you. Shocked and raw from the betrayal, you are at risk for the twin chronic infections of bitterness and resentment. You need immediate and long-term treatment to avoid permanent damage.

More than once I have been betrayed by someone I loved. Shocked, I felt the excruciating, life-sucking pain of betrayal pierce my heart and permeate the marrow of my soul. Over the years I have learned that time and the hand of God will cauterize and heal those broken places in my heart, but that I alone am responsible for deciding whether to nurture or to fight the infectious toxins of bitterness and resentment that threaten to invade and take hold. I have done both, and consequently have either delayed or expedited my healing and restoration.

I have learned that I cannot trust my feelings to help me do the right thing. It is an act of the mind and will, not the emotions to let go and let God take control, to forgive and release myself from the prison of bottled up self-righteous anger. Forgiveness is not saying the other person was right or that they did not hurt you. It is acknowledging that what they did was indeed wrong and brutally painful, but choosing not to dwell on the wrong that has past and instead concentrate on the hope that is ahead.  When you forgive, you purge the poison from within that threatens to destroy the life God wants you to live for your good and his glory. You abandon if only and embrace what will be.

Forgiveness is rarely a one and done event, but something you often must choose to do daily as you resist picking back up that which you have already placed at the foot of the cross. This morning, as I struggled yet again with forgiving someone I had cared about for betraying my trust, God spoke to me through his Word:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” —Ephesians 4:31-32, 5:1-2.

God wants me to forgive so that I am not destroyed by the malicious emotions that unforgiveness cultivates in my heart. He is thinking about what is best for me, not just the other person. His desire is that I leave the fragrant aroma of Christ behind wherever I go, and he knows that I cannot do that if I am harboring a spirit of bitterness or resentment. Because I am human, selfish and sinful, it is only through Christ in me that I can forgive and begin to fear less and love more.

As I close my Bible, today, like always, I write these thoughts to myself and ask God to use them to speak his truth and hope to you, too.

Time to Count the Cost

“There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice—which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.” —J.C. Ryle

“Things that will destroy man: Politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice.”—Mohandas Gandhi

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”—G.K. Chesterton

In much of the world, being a Christian will cost you something. You may be ostracized by your family or society, arrested or even killed because of your decision to follow Jesus. In America, up until now, Christians have not faced serious persecution for their faith because they have enjoyed a religious majority.  It has been easy and advantageous to be a Christian living in America.

The only sacrifices required of American Christians were to show up at church occasionally and avoid gross moral sin. Religious liberty was something we took for granted, enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by our national government. American Christians cruised along in life, characterized by their avoidance ethic more often than their love—focusing on the “thou shalt not” rather than the “thou shalt” commandments of their faith. For many, Jesus was just a convenient religious add-on, “useful for escaping hell in the end, but [who] doesn’t make much difference in what we live and love here.” John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” p. 108.

There has always been a social benefit to being a Christian in America. It has been easy to blend in with and be accepted by a culture that looked a lot like you. Because the values of our society mirrored Christian values, being salt and light rarely demanded that Christians stand apart from their countrymen who did not call Christ their Lord. They could trust their unbelieving but morally like-minded neighbors with the responsibility of establishing, enforcing and interpreting laws that were at least consistent with a Christian worldview.

No more.

Over the past several years, America’s society and legal system have adopted humanistic ideals and abandoned foundational Christian principles. Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile toward God and Christian beliefs related to sexual morality, the sanctity of life and the foundation of the family. Christians will soon find themselves not just socially rejected for their religious beliefs, but facing civil or criminal sanction for speaking and acting consistent with their Christian faith. This should not come as a surprise to believers. Jesus promised us that this time was coming:

“Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Mark 13:13.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Matthew 24:9-13.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” —John 15:18-19.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -Matthew 5:10-12.

Being Christian in the America of tomorrow will mean daring to be different from most Americans, standing on Biblical truth no matter the personal cost. It will involve being intentional about following Christ, getting to know who Jesus is so that they can become more like him and join him on his mission to save the lost. Christians cannot hope to influence the world for Jesus by simply avoiding badness and taking care of their families.  Even many unbelievers do that. Nor can the church continue to be known only by what it is against, but must begin to communicate by the way they live what Christianity is for—the gospel message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and redemption, where there is no room for fear and its corollary, hate.

Christians will soon face a crisis of faith. They will be called on to decide whether to embrace their identity as strangers and aliens in this world, standing on absolute Biblical truth and grace and refusing to comfortably fit in with a culture that contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of the real-life consequences to themselves and their families, or they will conclude that the cost of following Christ — social ostracism and civil and criminal persecution — is simply too great and will instead assimilate their values to those of the world.

May we not be found among those who shrink back, but among those who have faith in a good and sovereign God to save them. And may that gracious God transform us to live and love like his Son, so that the whole world will know there is a God who loves them. It is time to count the cost and be prepared to pay it.

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.’”—Luke 9:23-26.

Christians First

 

As a conservative, evangelical Christian, what was more disturbing to me than the conduct of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential election was that of certain evangelical leaders who jeopardized their influence for the cause of Christ by compromising Biblical principles for the sake of political expediency.

As a pro-life Christian, voting for Clinton was never an option. Even if I had trusted her and supported her policies (which I did not), anyone who champions herself as the protector of women and children and yet believes that it is just fine to kill a helpless, innocent baby as long he resides in his mother’s womb, including up to the day of delivery, lacks the moral capacity and judgment to lead a nation.

The other option was Trump, a man who flaunted his disregard for Biblical principles, shamelessly belittling, mocking, insulting, intimidating and personally attacking anyone who disagreed with him. Unrepentant, he claimed to be a Christian who had done nothing for which he needed to ask for forgiveness. His life was built on the love of money, which the Bible deems the root of all evil. Sexual immorality, greed and gambling were his trademarks. Donald Trump repeatedly demonstrated that he was unrestrained – a particularly dangerous character trait for a President and Commander-in-Chief.

The two major political parties told the American public and we in turn told each other that we had to vote for one of these two candidates to be the next President of the United States of America. To do otherwise was to throw away our vote or worse, to vote for the greater of the two evils rather than the lesser, as if the lesser was easily distinguishable. Those who declined to endorse either Clinton or Trump and voted instead for someone else were chastised for their naivety or, in the case of evangelical Christians who refused to board the Trump train, accused of spiritual snobbery. In a nation where we are supposed to be free to vote for the candidate of our choice, this election sure did not feel like it.

With the potential for the next President to appoint several Supreme Court justices, I understand why my pro-life brothers and sisters felt compelled to vote for Donald Trump, despite his immoral character. While we did not agree on that excruciating decision, under the circumstances neither do I fault them for voting for a candidate who at least professed to support the right to life. On the other hand, I was dumbfounded that some of my friends could, with a straight face, describe Trump as a humble or Godly man.

My greatest disappointment with this election, however, was not with these people or even the candidates themselves. It was watching a parade of Christian evangelical leaders line up to trade their biblical family values for a highly speculative seat at the Trump White House table. I was stunned as they abandoned the belief that the character of a President matters and enthusiastically embraced situational ethics, waving off the Republican nominee’s deliberate disregard for biblical morality, and accepting the proposition that the suitability of a candidate is relative only to who they are running against.  These evangelical leaders strained to justify their position by suggesting that Trump’s moral deficiencies were all in the past, despite clear evidence to the contrary from his own mouth. They misused the gospel of Jesus Christ to pressure Christians to vote for Donald Trump, arguing that God could use an evil man like him but implying that God could never use an evil woman like Hillary Clinton, as if either candidate had the power to limit the sovereignty of God.

As Brian Haynes, Lead Pastor at Bay Area Church in League City, Texas blogged on October 9, 2016:

“What makes me angry are “evangelical” leaders who rally behind Trump no matter how egregious or indefensible his latest escapade might be. It is as if we are willing to shout “liar” at Hillary Clinton while embracing the foolishness of Donald Trump. This is a double standard formed in partisan politics not gospel centeredness or in light of a biblical worldview. It is not as if we Christians can simply apply our worldview to one candidate but not the other.”

Despite what certain evangelical advisors led us to believe during this election, character still matters in the political arena because what a person thinks, believes, says and does in his private life will necessarily impact his politics. It is the height of hypocrisy to denounce former President Bill Clinton for lacking the personal moral integrity and character to run a country, and then twenty years later endorse another man for President whose sexual mores appear to mirror those of the former President, simply because that man is on “our side.”

When both candidates lack even that minimum level of character reasonably expected of a President, the solution is not to discard the belief that character counts, but to pursue an alternative. If the best the major political parties can offer are immoral options, conservative Christian voters should refuse to choose either, regardless of the political cost. Otherwise, Christians lose moral credibility, which has profound consequences not just for our nation but for all people.

Beyond sacrificing moral influence in the public arena, evangelicals who adopt moral relativism risk losing the ability to influence the culture for Christ. As Christians, we must remember our mission and purpose—that we are not called to save a nation or a culture, but to join Christ in his mission to save lost souls. Christians are strangers and aliens in a world which is at odds with the kingdom of God. If Christians hope to be salt that seasons the world with the gospel and love of Jesus, then they must remain distinct. In a world that is becoming angrier and darker, people need to know they can find hope in an unchanging God who will light the way with love.

If we are Christians, then we must be Christians first and stand on the absolute authority and wisdom of the Word of God rather than a political party platform. As we turn the page on this election, please join me in praying for reconciliation and healing among our citizens and for the next President of the United States of America. As Christians, let us remember our mission that we may be recognized not by our rhetoric, but by our love and our fruit.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” John 14:21. “This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:5, 8.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22─23.

 

Fear or Faith?

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” Mark 4:40.

The disciples were terrified as they watched the unrelenting waves crash over their boat on the Sea of Galilee and threaten to sink it. They were afraid of the deep water of the sea, viewing it as an abyss and a symbol of hell. In the midst of the angry storm and fearing for their lives, they turned to Jesus, who was sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat. Waking him up, the disciples cried, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus got up and, with three words, rebuked the howling wind and the raging water. “Quiet! Be still!” And just like that, all was completely calm.

He then turned to his disciples and rebuked them: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus understood that fear is the enemy of faith and one of Satan’s greatest weapons. Satan uses fear to cause us to forget that God is sovereign and in control of our circumstances. When we are afraid, we overlook God’s many promises to never leave us or forsake us. Our mind goes numb and we do not remember God’s guarantee to work everything together for our good. When we fear, we focus on the waves and not their Maker, forgetting that God is faithful. We begin to doubt that he is able to and will carry us through our present storm.

If we abandon faith in Jesus Christ and surrender to fear, we exchange the truth of God for the lie of the enemy. Instead, we must stand firm in the faith and be courageous.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

Today, American evangelical Christians are in a fierce squall on the eve of the dreadful 2016 Presidential election, and fear threatens to take the place of the peace of God in our hearts and minds. We need to remind ourselves that God is sovereign over all, including both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and he can and will use either one of them to accomplish his purposes. As Christian author Max Lucado writes:

“I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NCV).

 On one occasion the Lord turned the heart of the King of Assyria so that he aided them in the construction of the Temple. On another occasion, he stirred the heart of Cyrus to release the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar was considered to be the mightiest king of his generation. But God humbled and put him in “detention” for seven years. “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:28).

 Understanding God’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. When we realize that God influences the hearts of all rulers, we can then choose to pray for them rather than fret about them. Rather than wring our hands we bend our knees, we select prayer over despair.”

When the storm arose on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples temporarily forgot that Jesus, the Savior of the world, was in their boat with them.  When, after much fear and hand wringing they realized that they could not control their circumstances but fortunately, there was One in their midst who could, they cried out to him to save them.

For those of us who know Jesus as our Lord, we have nothing to fear with this election. If we place our faith and trust in God, he will give us peace both in the midst of this current political storm and, regardless of who is elected President, in its anticipated devastating aftermath. Just as he did with the disciples, God will lead us safe to shore.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save…. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” Psalm 146:3,5

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?” Psalm 56:3-4

“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible.  There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible.  Faith begins where man’s power ends.” – George Muller

Voting – A Small and Critical Sacrifice

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Thomas Paine, “The Crisis,” December 23, 1776.

Recently, I visited Colonial Williamsburg with friends.  We enjoyed the sights and sounds of this 300 acre historical area with still existing, restored and reconstructed buildings representing this once thriving, former capital of Virginia during the Revolutionary War era. Through the living history of people dressed in period costume who spoke and acted consistent with that time, and the many and varied 18th century buildings, shops, trades and other establishments, we experienced life as a Virginia colonist.

It was here in colonial America that our nation and the fundamental principles upon which it was built were conceived in the minds of great patriots like Patrick Henry and future Presidents Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison. Principles like responsible leadership, bravery, honesty, integrity, self-sacrifice, public service, and individual freedom were birthed by the blood of men who were willing to give much for the greater good. I left Williamsburg with a deep appreciation for the sacrifice and courage of the common colonial man and woman as well as a renewed sense of admiration and thankfulness for the vision, leadership and resolve of the men who founded our country as one nation under God. Men who understood that united we stand, divided we fall.

Our Founding Fathers proclaimed certain truths to be obvious:

  1. All men are created equal; and
  2. God gave all men certain non-transferrable rights, including the right to life, the right to be free, and the right to pursue happiness.

Relying on God for protection, these men, on behalf of all of their fellow colonists, declared our independence from Great Britain and pledged to their countrymen and to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

They did not want war and had done everything reasonably possible to avoid it, absent surrendering their freedom. That, they would never do.

Our forefathers understood that man’s right to liberty is God-given. Freedom was God’s idea long before they fought the War of Independence 240 years ago. God gave each of us free will – the right to decide for ourselves our destinies, whether to follow his ways or to abide by our own ideas of right and wrong apart from him.

Yet freedom has never been free. Freedom comes through sacrifice.

For God, that meant sacrificing his right as the Creator to control our decisions, including the decision whether to follow him or to reject him.

For the brave men responsible for founding our great nation, the cost of freedom meant that each one, without exception, had to be willing to sacrifice his life not only for the sake of his own freedom, but for the freedom of his family, his neighbors and of all those he would never know who would come after him.

If our nation builders wanted to breathe free, then they and their fellow colonists would suffer pain and severe hardship. Freedom would require great sacrifice.

But as Thomas Paine recognized:

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

Sacrifice.

What does that concept mean to you? What are you willing to give up to ensure that you continue to have the right to pursue happiness, the right to live free? Unless you have volunteered to join the military, unlike the colonists you will not likely be required to give up your life, or even your manner or standard of living.

What about the upcoming Presidential election? Can we be bothered to sacrifice 15 minutes of our time to register to vote, and then to fill out and submit a ballot? Is the gift of freedom which we have enjoyed for as long as we have been citizens of the United States of America worth at least that much? Or will we use the excuse when the election is over that we were too busy, we forgot, or that because we did not like either the Republican or the Democratic nominee, that we opted not to vote?

Please vote. It involves the most infinitesimal sacrifice and yet, is one of the most important rights and duties that we, as citizens of a free and democratic nation, possess and owe to our country, to each other and to our descendants.

I encourage you to vote for someone who embodies your values and who you deem fit to hold the office of President and Commander in Chief, an office once held by gentlemen such as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. If that person is Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, then by all means, vote for him or her.

But if neither of those two people possess the character, integrity and ideals that you hold dear, then please, do some research and vote for someone who does. Do not listen to the pundits who tell you that you will waste your vote or that you will be casting a vote for the “other” party’s candidate if you vote for anyone besides these two individuals.

That is a lie propagated by the longstanding, ill-advised and now defunct two party political system that was incapable of offering us candidates that we can vote for, rather than simply against. If we must hold our nose and vote for a demon instead of the devil, then that is no choice at all. A vote for either is a vote for evil. The truth is that if neither of these candidates represents our values and beliefs, and you and I and tens of millions of others vote for somebody else who does, then, even though the outcome of this election may not be altered, change indeed will come as another shot is heard round the world.

This shot will mark the beginning of a different kind of revolution. A revolution in which your vote will be counted with those who dared to stand against the Democratic and Republican political tyranny. A revolution wherein the winning candidate will have been elected with the smallest percentage of the popular vote in history, effectively representing a vote of no confidence and certainly no mandate for him or her. A revolution that will, eventually, end the absolute dominion and control over our government exercised by these two political parties.

With this shot heard round the world, we will begin to take back our freedom to vote for whomever we want to govern us from the political parties to whom we have too long voluntarily surrendered that right.

The Least of These

You know who they are. The luckless losers. The broken, bruised, battered and bankrupt. The weak and worn. The sick and the unsanitary. The helpless and hungry. The convicted and the crazy. The tired, toothless and torn.  The jobless junkies. The deceived and the deceivers. The least, left, lonely and lost.

The shadow dwellers, who like zombies come out in public, if at all, only under the cover of darkness to shop our grocery stores and wander under the stars safe from the sanctioning eyes and callous snubs of the clean and the normal. These are the least. And though we may not realize it, these are you and me but for the grace of God.

And, Jesus said, whether we care for them or ignore them will reveal the condition of our heart and thus, determine our destiny. Grace causes repentance, requires action and compels mercy.  One day, God will hold us accountable for our compassion or lack thereof toward the least of these.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:34-46.

Perhaps you, like me, have more often been counted among the goats on the left who look the other way than you have been gathered with the hospitable sheep on the right. Guilty of a hard heart and disparaging, dismissive thoughts, we go about our days uninterrupted by those for whom we truly could not care less.

Father, forgive me and all those like me. Open our eyes. Help us to see that these are our neighbors, who are just like us. Help us to see you, Jesus, so that when you give us the next opportunity to meet a need for another, we do it for you.

Take Back Your Right to Vote

If average Americans like you and I ever had the freedom to choose who will serve as President of the United States, we no longer do.

What this election has made crystal clear is that somewhere between 1776 and 2016 we delegated that right to two powerful political factions – the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. If a person wants to get elected President today, he or she must spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and affiliate with either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. These political organizations control our elections and thus control our nation. In other words, they control us.

If you are satisfied with politics as usual in our country, then you will not find this statement troubling. However, if instead like me you are fed up with both the Democratic and the Republican parties because neither of their Presidential candidates or their respective political agendas reflect your own values and beliefs on the issues and policies that matter to you, then the total and absolute control exercised by these two political entities over our nation should deeply disturb you.

Especially because you and I have given them this power. Every time we vote for a person simply because they are a Democrat or a Republican, and not because we agree with the particular candidate’s policies, values and beliefs on the issues that matter to us, we endorse the current two party political system and enable those entities to continue to control our nation.

George Washington, our first President, was also the only President who was not affiliated with any political party. In his farewell address, Washington prophetically cautioned against the dangers of political parties, including their vengeful and self-interested practices. He warned that “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

Washington was concerned that parties put their own interests above those of the country. Party members would feel beholden to and have greater loyalty toward their particular political party, and not to the nation as a whole. Parties were more concerned with ensuring that a member of their party was elected President than they were about electing the best person for the job.

As a conservative, I have been told that I must vote for the Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, or else I am effectively voting for Hillary Clinton. The day I vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to run our country will be the day they pry my ballot out of my cold dead fingers and someone else votes for me. Neither candidate remotely represents my Christian values and beliefs. So what am I to do? Throw away my vote by not voting? Vote for the lesser of two evils?

I am tired of voting for the lesser of two bad options. The last time I voted for a Presidential candidate because I actually liked the person and most of his policies, values and beliefs resembled mine was in 1984, the very first election in which I was old enough to vote. Ronald Reagan was the candidate and ever since then the quality of candidates for President has declined. However, this is the very first year where we are truly voting for the lesser of two evils. We have been told by the controlling political parties that we must vote for one of two terrible choices for President of the free world. The difficulty lies in trying to figure out which candidate is the most evil so that we can vote for the other,

But is their another option? Do we have to do what the Republicans or the Democrats tell us to do? Or, perish the thought, can we vote for a person whose positions on the issues most important to us best align with our own, regardless of whether he or she is the designated Republican or Democratic nominee? What would happen if we took control back from these powerful political machines by voting our consciences, sending a message loud and clear that we are no longer interested in what these self-interested political parties are peddling?

“The best way to discredit and ultimately supplant the two-party system is not to abstain from voting or to vote for the lesser of two evils, but to have every voter vote his or her conscience. The first two alternatives only perpetuate the status quo.”  Independent Voter Project, Andrew Gripp, 12/21/15.

On Election Day, if you don’t want Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to be your next President, then don’t vote for them. Instead, vote for whichever candidate you prefer, regardless of whether that person was forced to drop out of the race as a result of the action of delegates supporting one of the two major political parties during the primaries. Write that person’s name in on the ballot, if necessary.

Your candidate is unlikely to win, but that is not the reason you vote. You vote because your vote is your voice. Your vote is valuable because it allows your opinions to be heard in a political election. Your responsibility in voting is not to pick a winner, but to have your voice heard.

If you vote for someone you don’t want to be the President, then you have indeed thrown away your vote because you have failed to communicate your opinion. No one will ever know whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was elected President because everyone despised the other candidate more or because they really believed the person elected would be a good President.

If we all voted our consciences, instead of voting for a person we don’t like and do not want to be our President, imagine what could happen. If the winning candidate – either Hillary or Donald – becomes our next President with the smallest percentage of the popular vote in history, they would have no mandate except this: Wake up, Mister or Madam President! You are in the minority and do not think like or speak for the majority of the citizens of the United States. You need to listen up and be responsive not just to your obsolete political party, but to the vast majority of Americans who did not vote for you.

We might be surprised to discover that there are more citizens in our nation who hold Christian values and ideals dear than we have been led to believe.

Our collective voices would shout to the two major political parties who have controlled us for far too long that their days are numbered. The winds of change are blowing. The reign of the bipartisan regime soon will be toppled. They no longer represent the values and beliefs that matter to most of us.

I urge you to use the power of your ballot this November and vote for the best candidate for President of the United States, regardless of whether he or she is a current major political party nominee. You do not have to vote for who these power hungry parties tell you to vote for. Join me in taking back from the controlling political parties our freedom to vote for the person we believe is best equipped to lead our nation.

“Of two evils, choose neither.” Charles Spurgeon.

 

Do the Next Right Thing

It was time to re-order my contact lenses online. Right eye, this number, left eye, that number. How hard could it be?

Apparently, harder than you think. Yet even more startling than the very bad customer service I got was the bad attitude I got with it. Bad to the bone bad. Big bad mean dog bad.

Not them, mind you. Me.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell….no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:6, 8. Lord, have mercy – ain’t that the truth.

I started off the first of multiple phone calls and e-mails all Woman of the Word, child of the One True King, angel-like goodness and light, gracious, patient, understanding and kind, and ended up during the last phone call foaming at the mouth rabid dog angry, insulting, demanding, scathing and self-righteously unrighteous.

Big time shameful, embarrassing, disgusting and disappointing bad girl bad. Who WAS that nasty woman? Oh, yeah, that’s me. The PASTOR’S wife, who claims to be a follower of JESUS. Mmm hmmm.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26.

Ouch.

Have you ever been there, friend? You are growing in the grace and knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You feel like God has made big changes in your heart and life. You know the good you ought to do and most of the time you do it, and then – BAM!

Out of nowhere Satan knocks you up side the head, takes up temporary residence inside you and pours venom out of your mouth, reminding you that he is still the Prince of this World and that as long as you live on this planet you will struggle with sin. His goal is to destroy you. He knows your areas of weakness and can and will exploit them to your detriment. He is constantly working to take away your peace and replace it with turmoil, discontent, and strife.

So, what can we do about it?

  1. Wake up! “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. Accept the fact that Satan is actively trying to take us out. We can then begin to recognize his schemes, take away his element of surprise, and better defend against his attacks.
  2. Submit to God. “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” James 4:7a. Whoever or whatever you submit to will eventually control you as you continue to submit to him or it. Just make sure you are submitting to God first, and not to yourself, another or any other thing. When we submit to God, we stop struggling and unleash the power of the Living God to fight evil for us. As Moses reminded the Israelites just before God delivered them from the Egyptians by parting the Red Sea: “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14.
  3. Resist the devil. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7b. Refuse to surrender to the enemy. The devil is an opportunistic coward and will turn and run if you resist. With each stand you take against the devil’s schemes you will grow stronger and better able to defeat him in the next battle.
  4. Come near to God. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:8. Spend quality and quantity time with the God who loves you. Get to know Him by regularly reading His word and purposefully applying it to your life. Talk to God and be willing to listen and wait for His answer. Pray every day, all day, throughout your day, about anything and all things. Draw near to God. Get closer to Him and as you do, He will come near to you. “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8.

Lucky for me, although I blew it this time, as long as I live I will have many opportunities to do the next right thing.

Lord, please help me to wake up, resist the devil, submit to and draw near you so that next time I will respond with more Christ-like character, leaving behind a fragrant aroma and not a bad smell. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2.