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Archive for January, 2011

He was innocent, he knew it, many of them knew it, but it didn’t matter, they had made up their minds in advance. They were set in their ways, they were used to the feasts, the prominence of being Pharisees, in short, they had a good gig going on. Folks looked up to them as wise men who had all the answers, and here came this turkey riding in on a donkey claiming to be the new king. Worse yet, He had a mean bag of magic going on. Those who saw him said he did these “miraculous wonders”, healed lepers, healed the sick, made the blind to see, cured lifelong and well documented cripples from their ills, some even said he raised the dead, “yeah right”!

He was pulling in a following now, those who had always been law abiding tax- paying Jews were now flocking to His camp and pledging loyalty. This had to stop, and it had to stop now. They devised a plan, and got one of his disciples to switch sides for a few bucks and some loose change. If he was surely all he claimed, the guy wouldn’t have switched sides so quick, right?

First they had to have the governor on their side, but he wouldn’t play ball, so they chose to let the Biblical version of Jeffrey Dahmer out of prison if they could crucify this guy. He is way more dangerous than a killer, He could affect their influence badly, He’s gotta go. So, they flogged him to a pulp, humiliated Him by making Him carry His own cross, spat on Him, and probably did worse. Then they hung Him on the cross for six hours until he expired. To their surprise, He asked God to forgive them before He went. A horrible mocking and death, folks are gonna think twice before they come around claiming to be a king again. His punishment will live on in history and serve as a deterrent till the end of time. No fuss, no muss, done deal. But then he arose.

Those who persecuted and murdered Christ were so violent in doing so that they wanted to send a message, this is what happens to anyone who tries to knock us off of our pedestal with claims of superiority, yet it didn’t quite go the way they had planned. Jesus was never defined by His death, but rather by how He lived His life, and how He kept His promise to rise from the dead on the third day. He was defined by the victory, not the suffering.

Many folks I know have had very bad things happen to them in their lives, and they will always leave a permanent scar as a reminder of the wound. I have known spiritual siblings who have had abortions, been addicted to drugs, been sexually abused, and physically abused. Without God in our lives, the bad times (if we are not careful) will define us. If this is what happens, then the evil one has succeeded. I believe the hard times we have in our lives are not so much meant to be roadblocks, but instead a means to channel us to where God wants us to be, which is a place of healing.

While Jesus dying on the cross is a very real part of the reality of Christianity, I do not believe it is what defines our image of Him. Instead the way He lived His life and His resurrection from the dead are what defines Him to me. What would you say defines yourself, is it the failures you have had in your life or the fact that God picked you up, dusted you off and set you on the right track. I know that is what has defined me, if I look at the train wreck that has been my life many times I know I don’t want that to be my legacy, but instead to have the legacy of being rebuilt again by the one who carries me when I am too weak to stand. What defines you?

God Bless

JFT

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My friend has a son, an only child to him and his wife. They named this child after a favorite prophet in the Old Testament. The child grew and matured, but then when he reached his late teenage years, he became ill. He became confused, his mind began to wander, and he began to make a lot of bad choices. At first, my friend and his wife believed he was like many other teenagers, and was sowing his wild oats. They thought he was just acting out.

As time went on, they began to realize that his problems were not merely those of a reckless teen, he wasn’t learning from his mistakes, he was ill. In an attempt to heal their son, they spared no expense in taking him to doctors, although no-one could agree specifically what the problem was, they all agreed that he was schizophrenic, he heard voices. As he approached twenty, he had to be placed in the mental ward of a local hospital, where they began administering different medications to him and monitoring their effects. Before too long, he began to show improvement.

My friend and his wife were extremely happy when their son was released from the hospital; he was the son they had remembered before the onset of his illness. He was controlled, lucid, and able to function in public once again, their boy was back. As his life of normalcy returned, he began to feel like he was no longer sick, as he began to plan a future again, a job, college, a girl, all the things he had wanted that everyone else had.

Since he no longer felt sick, he began to think he had whipped the illness, and he no longer needed the medications he had been prescribed. He stopped taking them, and soon after, the voices returned and his life began to spin out of control. The cycle again repeated itself, his parents had to place him in the mental ward again, and he had to be re-medicated and stabilized again before the voices once again left. The boy is now in his mid twenties, he has gone down this road multiple times now since this began. He is once again stable, thinking of his future, and taking his medication regularly, and his parents are hopeful.

I am sure many of you know someone in a similar situation. I couldn’t help but think of how many times our walk with the Lord can be similar. When we walk without the Lord, our lives are subject to the whisperings of the evil one who would lead us into continual downfall. We begin to lose our hope, and worry about the daily problems we encounter, forgetting that we have God there to stop the madness.

When we walk with the Lord, our lives make sense. We walk in faith and light and while everything doesn’t always go great, we put our trust and faith in Him. But sometimes we allow ourselves to begin taking credit for the blessings He bestows upon us, the career advancement, our good relationships, and we begin to think we are responsible for them. We stop reading the Word he has prescribed for us and the voices begin to return. We stop taking the time to pray before bed, opting to fall asleep in front of the television, and the voices begin to return.

I remember thinking when my friend told me this story many years ago “why would your son not want to take his medicine if it is the only thing that makes him sane”, yet are we not guilty of the same behavior? We know what makes us sane, yet we choose to go the other way sometimes. What gives me comfort is to know that some of the greatest Bible heroes have dealt with the same issues thousands of years ago. The Apostle Paul comes to mind in the following passage.

Romans 7:17-22 (The Message version)

 17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

 21-23It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.

God Bless

JFT

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The pastor made the announcement from the pulpit that there would be a Mexico homebuilding short term mission in February, and there would be a sign up sheet for those who would like to help out on a table at the back of the church as you make your way out. He then led the church in a closing prayer.

The mission’s pastor sat at the table eager to answer any questions people might have as to the cost, dates, or specific skills and gifts people have and how they may be utilized. As people left the church in pairs and family groups, he noticed that many were not making eye contact as they walked past him. At first he thought they were just distracted by conversations they were having, but as the church began to clear out, it became apparent that people were intentionally avoiding his eyes. At last, one of the elders came in and said that he needed to lock up for the day, the building was empty. The disappointed mission’s pastor had not one name on the list.

The following Sunday, the announcement was made again, and the missions pastor once again manned the table at the back of the church. Again eyes were averted to avoid confrontation concerning the mission’s project to aid the poor homeless of northern Mexico. He watched people pass him who had repeatedly worked on these projects in the past and they too looked away. A man who has a concrete background passed by and he decided to ask him for help. The man smiled and said he was busy that weekend and couldn’t make it, offered a quick apology and walked out the door. A middle aged man who has done several trips down there, and is known to be an awesome framer walked by and so the coordinator asked if he would be able to come this time, to which he simply shook his head and said “sorry, not this time” and walked out the door.

Perplexed, the missions pastor asks a retired couple who have gone several times before if they were going to be able to help out this time, to which the man responded “don’t think we’ll be making it this time, not getting any younger you know”. The woman smiled sincerely and said she was sorry, but they just didn’t think this was the best time for them to be away from home, with the cartel wars raging to the south and all, and they continued to move toward the door. The young pastor asked them to wait a minute, and they did although they looked pained, fearing they would have to further justify their decision. He then told them that they would be working in an area that had considerable American influence, and there was probably nothing to fear, and he could “really” use their help and considerable experience on this one. Others in the church really looked up to them and were more likely to sign up if they knew that the retired couple were going.  

The woman then asked him if he ever read the news. Was I aware that thirty thousand people had died in Mexico due to the drug wars in the last five years, more than Iraq and Afghanistan combined? Had I seen the reports of all of the beheaded bodies the authorities had found since the violence had begun? She then said that she just didn’t feel that comfortable putting themselves in harm’s way at their age, they had worked too hard all of their lives. When things settled down a bit, they would be happy to go back, but not until then. They apologized for not being able to help, then left quietly. The list remained blank.

The following week, the missions pastor gave the sermon, he asked what life would have been like if David had never put his trust in God to go up against Goliath. What if Gideon had scoffed at God’s Plan for defeating the Midianites and fled for safety instead. What if Daniel had just obeyed the king and was never placed in the lion’s den. What if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had just given in and gone with the flow. Then the miracle of living through the fiery furnace would have never been realized. The miracle of the lion’s mouths being closed by the angels would have never happened. Gideon’s army of three hundred would have never defeated the Midianites and Goliath would have continued to taunt God’s chosen people.

If we always rely on our own wits and never place ourselves in God’s hands fully, we should not be surprised when we don’t see the wonder of God’s miracles performed in our lives. This all leads back to faith and our willingness to trust in God supremely to take care of us. Every eye in the congregation was fixed on the pastor as he unfolded the lesson on faith before them, and he could see the conviction on their faces as he brought the lesson to a close, offering them once more the chance to sign up for the upcoming mission in Mexico.

As he sat at the table, everyone made eye contact as they silently apologized and placed their names on the list. They filled the first page and then half of the second before the church was once again empty. The pastor felt good inside again as he gathered his things and left so that the elder could lock things up.

God Bless

JFT

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The young man waited anxiously at the reception area. He really needed this job; he had been out of work for so long, his wife was getting anxious also. He had been laid off from his previous job about six months ago, and they had been living on their savings ever since. The young receptionist came out and said Mr. Thompson will see you now, so the young man followed her into the large office.

Mr. Thompson was an older man; probably late sixties and he kindly offered the young man a seat across from his desk. He asked the young man questions about himself and the experience he had. The young man answered question after question, feeling more confident as time went on. Mr. Thompson had a kind way about him, a way that made him feel relaxed and at ease. His last job was hectic and stressful, but it paid well, he had made enough for his wife to stay at home with the kids. He didn’t expect that from this job if he were lucky enough to get it, he would have to start at the bottom again.

Mr. Thompson finally asked his last question, and then wrote notes on the young mans answers down on an interview sheet. He then put his pencil down and placed the paper in a folder with several others like it. He then leaned back and looked thoughtfully at his desk for a moment, then said he was impressed with the interview and would like to offer the young man the position that was open. The young man leaped for joy in his mind, the long bad stretch was over, and he had finally gotten another job. Mr. Thompson then offered him a salary that was twenty thousand more than he had been compensated in his last job. The young man gulps and says yes, I accept.

Mr. Thompson then asks the young man if he has any questions, to which he responds, “May I ask what the hours are”? Mr. Thompson says “oh yes, it doesn’t matter, you can come in whenever you want, the only requirement is that you work ten percent of your time here”. The young man does not understand, and he asks if Mr. Thompson is referring to overtime, a requirement to work ten percent overtime, but Mr. Thompson shakes his head. He then says that there are one hundred sixty eight hours in a week; company policy requires that you work ten percent of those hours, no more, no less.

The young man is thinking in his head that this is too good to be true, sixteen point eight hours a week, a little over three hours a day, or two eight hour days a week, unbelievable. Mr. Thompson sends the young man to HR to finish completing his paperwork to become an employee. When he tells his wife about his new job, she says “unbelievable” too, how can they pay him so much to work so little?

Six months pass, they have caught up and restored their savings, and he has become used to his new dream job. He has so much more time with the family, life is good. As they sit in church on Sunday morning, the pastor talks about how hard the economy is on everyone and how it has affected the giving of the congregation. He gives a convicting sermon about tithing and how we need to give of our first fruits to God. The young man looks at his wife and rolls his eyes. Later at lunch, as they discuss the sermon, he says to his wife, “can you believe the nerve of that pastor, pandering to the congregation for more money”? And that tithing guilt trip, what was that all about, do you know how much money ten percent amounts too? His wife sits thoughtfully as the young man rants, and then she quietly asks him if ten percent of his time is so little to earn such a good salary, then why is ten percent of his salary back to the God that blessed him with the job in the first place such a sacrifice? The young man sits slack jawed staring at his wise young wife, trying to come up with an answer, but he has none and he finally says “yeah, I guess you have a point there” and they continue to discuss how they will go about setting aside the tithe from their income in the future.

Everything is relative, right. How can a tenth of something be nothing under some circumstances, and so much when it comes to us having to give of ourselves. Our God has truly given much more than a tenth for us. God Bless

JFT

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State of the Soul

I sat in church yesterday as our pastor did the annual “state of the church” message. It was very exciting, attendance rose by over ten percent, tithes rose by over ten percent, we had over six hundred go on missions this year. I sat there listening, and I felt as though God was smiling down at us and blessing us beyond our comprehension.

As I lay in bed last night, I began to think about all of the things we take a status check on with regularity. At work, we get and give performance reviews to chart our growth or decline in work performance. This can be handy, as it can keep us moving into the right direction throughout the year. I regularly maintain all of the computers in our home, defragging and debugging them so that they continue to perform at their highest potential. Needless to say, it is the same story with vehicles at our home. I have three to keep maintained between my wife’s, the kids and mine. If I see a tire that is wearing wrong, I would not ignore it, but rotate it or replace it so that no one finds themselves in a dangerous situation. We take care to maintain all things in our life that we feel have value, yet sometimes I find myself ignoring the most important thing I possess, my soul.

I find that I do not take stock of the state of my soul with the regularity that I do other more menial things, so I began to think about it and ponder how I will change this over the coming year. I do not believe in new years resolutions, never have, and never will. But the newness of the year does make us think about fresh beginnings concerning things we could stand to change, so I decided to walk around and kick the tires a bit.

This exercise will only work if you keep honesty in it and excuses out, so here goes. A true sign to me that I am getting off track is if in reflection, I find that materiel goods are meaning more to me these days than they used too, and I noticed that to a slight degree, I have begun to want a bit more lately, bold checkmark by that one.

Another sign that I may have slipped off the track a bit is if in review, I haven’t been sharing my faith with friends, co-workers, and neighbors lately. Have I been asking folks to church with me? Have I held tightly to my convictions in a way that honors God the way I should? Another bold checkmark!

How is my prayer life lately, have I been allowing the world to come between the Lord and myself in prayer time. Am I greeting the day and ending the day on my knees everyday? Am I having long talks with the Great Counselor about the concerns I face, thanking him for our blessings? Another bold checkmark

Is there dust on my Bible? Have I been reading His word regularly that I may be a better disciple, a soul winner, and a fisher of men? Again, the checkmark.

And last but not least, have I been taking care, serving and loving those downtrodden in our society. Have I cared enough to stop and help someone who needs it, or have I looked at my watch and justified driving on for a lack of time to help. Again, a bold checkmark.

We are not, nor will we ever be perfect in all things, but if we set the bar low in our relationship with the Lord, then we will not grow in leaps and bounds as we want too. Taking stock of my faith and how I am living it is essential if I want to be a better servant to Christ. If we are not bearing fruit as a Christian, then we are off track somewhere, and we must look for the bald tire in our faith and correct it for a straighter walk.

I hope all of you, my brothers and sisters had a wonderful and blessed Christmas, I have missed you. I pray that we will rock this world for Jesus in this New Year, and the ones that follow. As always, God Bless You!

JFT

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