Sunday, August 05, 2018

When We Mess Up

(This column originally appeared in the Town Talk on Sunday, August 8, 2018.)

Have you ever messed up? Have you ever made such a mistake you thought you could never get over it? Have you thought about just quitting? Then this message is for you!

One of the common occurrences of the human condition is that we mess up. No matter how hard we try, from time to time we just blow it! We miscalculate, we procrastinate, we overestimate – and the result is we let someone down in a big way.

The Bible doesn’t hide the stories of failure of even its biggest heroes. Rather than sugarcoat their lives with pretend perfection, the Bible paints vivid pictures of passionate, alive men and women who live life loudly, and sometimes mess up loudly as well!

Peter is one of those passionate protagonists whose story makes us all feel a little better about ourselves. If any of the apostles were going to put his foot in his mouth, it would be Peter! He was quick to judge, quick to offer an opinion, even quick to rebuke Jesus Himself when he thought Jesus was wrong.

But on the biggest night of history, the night Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, and condemned to die, Peter made his biggest screw-up of all! When given the opportunity to stand with Jesus, which he had so boldly declared he would do, he denied ever knowing Him. Not just once, but three times! (And the third time he included some choice words to get people off his back!)

That was when he knew he blew it! Luke 22:61 tells us that after Peter’s 3rd denial that Jesus turned and looked at Peter. And that’s when Peter knew he’d blown it. The next verse tells us “he went out and wept bitterly.”

But thank God that Jesus doesn’t leave us in our failure! After Jesus rose from the dead Mark reports that He specifically sent word to Peter to meet Him in Galilee (Mark 16:7). And when Jesus met them on the seashore He made sure to get across to Peter a very important message – that not even his failures could separate him from God’s love!

The scene was carefully set. Just like the night that Peter had denied Jesus there was a charcoal fire. And just as there had been three opportunities to acknowledge Jesus, Peter is now asked three times, “Do you love Me?” (See John 21:1-19 for the full treatment.)

Serious students of the Scriptures recognize that Jesus used a Greek word for love (“agape”) and that Peter responded with a different Greek word (“phileo”). It’s as if Peter couldn’t accept the restoration Jesus was pouring out on him. So the third time Jesus asked the question, He used Peter’s word, “phileo” – fully coming down to Peter’s level in order to lift Peter back up again.

But there’s more to the story. Each of the three times that Jesus restored Peter back to love He reminded Peter that he was still useful to Jesus! Each time He reminded Peter of God’s call on his life to shepherd, feed and tend God’s sheep. Each time He reminded Peter that no matter how much he had messed up, God still loved Him and had a purpose for his life!

So let me ask the questions again. Have you ever messed up? Have you ever made such a mistake you thought you could never get over it? Have you thought about just quitting? Don’t do it! Jesus still loves you and has a purpose for your life, and even for your scars.

Paul understood this when he wrote about the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-4 NASB)

Could it be that God will use your failure, and your recovery, to encourage someone else? Could it be that your scars will give someone else hope? Could it be that you’re still useful to God? Yes, it could be! In fact, it is! Just don’t quit!

How do you take back that lost ground? Do what Peter did. Run to Jesus. Talk to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. And tell Him you love Him! He’ll take care of the rest.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Alcohol Sales in Pineville???

I recently returned from vacation to the news that two local "big-box stores" (Walmart and Super 1) had combined forces in a common venture (as reported by KALB and The Town Talk). These normal competitors were working together to seek to put a petition before the registered voters of Pineville in order to allow them to sell alcohol in their stores. Their primary claim seems to be that Pineville is missing out on the sales taxes paid by customers who drive to Alexandria to purchase alcohol, and make other purchases while in Alexandria stores. While there probably is some truth to that, there is always more to the story. Allow me to share some perspective from my understanding.

(If you want to skip all the history and perspective, jump down to the "Getting to the Point" section at the bottom.)

For many years Pineville has been a "dry" community, meaning no alcohol sales of any kind within the corporate limits. From what I"m told this dates back to the post-WW2 era as a reaction to the many bars that were located along Main Street to serve the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were trained in Central Louisiana, many of them right here at Camps Beauregard and Livingston. Following the war the residents of Pineville chose to make Pineville a "dry" community, a decision that many communities across Louisiana also made in the interest of improving the quality of life.

In the early 1980's there was a "local option" petition for all Wards 9, 10 and 11, all north of the river. That local option election differentiated between "low" and "high" alcohol content, low being less than 6% (basically beer and wine) and high being greater than 6% (hard liquor). Initially it appeared that all options were defeated. However, some eagle-eyed observers noted that the small portion of Ward 9 OUTSIDE the corporate limits of Pineville had actually approved the sale of LOW alcohol content. And that's the reason that several convenience stores along Hwy 28E, Hwy 107 and in Wardville do sell beer and wine, because they are in the portion of Ward 9 that is outside the city limits. And because of the way Pineville's city limits have expanded the last 35 years, many Pineville residents now live and drive home every day past establishments that currently sell beer and wine.

Folks seemed fairly content with this setup, although the alcohol question raised its head at pretty much every election, and most candidates pledged to keep Pineville dry. When I first ran for election as City Councilman in 2003 the question of alcohol was the most frequently raised question I got. My consistent response was that I was opposed to the sale of alcohol in Pineville, specifically in bars and liquor stores, but that ultimately it was the decision of the voters. That still remains my position today.

The most consistent concern expressed during that first campaign, and through the years, seemed to be that people wanted nicer restaurants in Pineville and felt they were staying away due to Pineville being dry. Many people who didn't drink said they wished Pineville allowed alcohol in restaurants only, as several other communities had done (i.e., Ruston, Minden, Mansfield, etc), thinking that would entice the nicer restaurants to locate in Pineville. That continued to be a constant point of discussion among citizens and developers alike. However, no action was taken and it just remained speculation.

Fast forward a dozen years or so when I was contacted by a local businessman who wanted to open a drive-through daiquiri shop on Hwy 28E in Pineville. He told me that he was aware of the ground-swell of opinion regarding the desire for nicer restaurants in Pineville, and that he planned to capitalize on that to circulate a petition for another "local option" election. He had already purchased the list of registered voters and had run polls indicating that people would overwhelmingly sign the petition to call for the local option election because they wanted restaurants.

This raised all sorts of red flags for me. My concern with the local option election was that it didn't just let people vote on alcohol in restaurants, but opened up the possibility of bars and liquor stores in our community, something that had been rejected for over 60 years. Bars and nightclubs would bring their own set of zoning issues into our "bedroom community." And I hated the idea of liquor stores in vulnerable areas of our community providing easier access, because multiple studies show that there is a direct relationship between alcohol and any number of negative outcomes, including violence, crime, road incidents, negative health impacts, and for some, alcohol dependence (See here, here, here, and here among others).

According to Louisiana Revised Statute 26:588, a successful petition for the local option election requires that five options (paraphrased below) MUST be placed on the ballot:

  1. Allow LOW content alcohol sales by package only (Sale of beer/wine in grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, etc).
  2. Allow LOW content alcohol sales for consumption on premises (Sale of beer/wine in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc).
  3. Allow ALL alcohol sales of any content for consumption on premises (Sale of ALL alcohol in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc).
  4. Allow ALL alcohol sales of any content by package only (Sale of ALL alcohol in grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, etc).
  5. Allow ALL alcohol sales of any content in restaurants only (This is currently the standard in Pineville).
I've paraphrased the options, but there they are. If that businessman had been successful in getting 25% of the registered voters to sign his petition, then the City Council would have been required by law to call for an election with all five options on the ballot. And this would open up a whole Pandora's Box of issues. And all because people wanting nicer restaurants were in favor of option 5.

There was another alternative to the local option. Several communities around the state had successfully petitioned the legislature to allow for their city council to call for an election with ONLY option 5 on the ballot. After much discussion, deliberation and debate, in 2013 the City Council and Mayor chose to pursue that option and asked the legislature for permission to call for such an election for restaurants only. I voted for that measure because I felt it would essentially prevent Pandora's Box from being opened. I knew many people, even those who didn't drink, were in favor of allowing restaurants to sell alcohol if that would bring nicer restaurants to Pineville.

Source: LA Secretary of State
In October of 2013 the citizens overwhelmingly approved that option by a 78% to 22% margin, and since that time a number of alcohol licenses have been issued, some to existing restaurants, some to restaurants who annexed into the city, and some who built after the "restaurant only" option became a reality. In fact, there are about a dozen license holders right now, including Red River Steak and Seafood, El Parián Mexican Restaurant, Genghis Mongolian Grill...and most recently, new constructions in Buckets Seafood and RibFins Smokehouse & Seafood, among others. And while we haven't seen a "national chain" open in Pineville yet, I'm aware of at least 3 different national brands looking closely at Pineville because of the opportunity to offer their full menu. This seemed to be an acceptable compromise, giving people what they wanted (the option for nicer restaurants) without opening the can of worms of a local option election, which could conceivably open the door to bars and liquor stores in Pineville.

Getting to the Point


But now we find that two large, out-of-state retailers are pushing for the petition to allow them to sweeten their bottom line by selling alcohol. And while they tout the benefits of the sales tax collections on alcohol, they don't tell the whole story. They make it seem like the petition is only to allow the sale of alcohol in grocery stores, but the reality is the election will allow for the possibility of bars, nightclubs, liquor stores and other elements that Pineville's citizens have traditionally rejected.

To me this is significantly different from the "restaurant-only" initiative that the citizens asked for. This is not a grass-roots effort by citizens, nor is it the result of years of collectively expressed desire for the perceived quality of life improvements that nicer restaurants bring. This is largely an economic question, driven by the bottom line of multi-billion dollar corporations who don't really care about our community standards. They care about profits. They won't have to deal with the negative fallout that eased access to alcohol will have on the more vulnerable parts of our society. They'll simply laugh their way to the bank. At our collective expense.

Some would say that the citizens deserve a right to vote on the matter. And perhaps they do. If the high-dollar firm hired by these two conglomerates gets their way there will indeed be a vote. But it will be a somewhat confusing vote because of the 5 options. And the outcome might not be as neat and pretty as the signature gatherers make it out to be. If it passes, alcohol won't only be sold in the grocery stores - it might just be in a "convenience" store next door to you, with bars on the windows and traffic all night long. Or it might be in a nightclub/bar not far from you with music blaring until 2AM and all the other issues that come with the package.

Personally I will NOT be signing the petition and I urge my friends to NOT sign it either. I think the minor inconvenience of not having easier access to alcohol is worth maintaining our healthy community standards and quality of life. And I'm willing to sacrifice the "sales tax revenue" to not have to have the negative impact on our community that relaxed access to alcohol is sure to bring. I don't want to see an increase in juvenile drinking, spousal abuse, and alcohol addiction/dependency because we're hungry for a few more sales tax dollars.

But that's just my opinion.


UPDATE:


One 7/24/18 I posted the following on Facebook:

I received a lot of great feedback on my blog about the Walmart/Super1 alcohol petition at https://www.facebook.com/NathanCCI/posts/10156605856647704 and I appreciate everyone's feedback, whether you agreed with me or not.
Several folks have asked about what they could do to express their disagreement with the petition. Some have asked about setting up tables next to the petition folks, but those stores are private property and I don't think the managers would give permission for that. And I think protests and placards outside would give them more exposure and would ultimately be counter-productive.
However, there is something that those who are opposed to the petition can do. This afternoon I spoke to Shane McDaniel, manager of the Pineville Mac's Fresh Market, and son of Reggie McDaniel, the owner of the 18 Mac's Fresh Markets across Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Shane told me that his father has a firm stance against selling alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets in any of his stores, even where it is perfectly legal. Just look at the Mac's Fresh Market on Jackson Street in Alexandria - legally they could sell those products, but they choose not to. He said it is a company principle that will not change, event after his father is gone.
So, for those who are upset that out-of-state companies have initiated this attempt to change our community standards, here's a suggestion. Perhaps drop a line to their corporate offices to let them know your feelings. You can contact Walmart at https://corporate.walmart.com/contact-us and Brookshires (parent company of Super 1) at https://www.brookshires.com/contact-us/ - be respectful, but let them know your feelings. Then, consider supporting a locally owned and operated business that agrees with your values - and make sure the folks at Mac's know why you're there. Thank them for choosing community well-being over profits.
Just my opinion...

Sunday, July 01, 2018

We Hold These Truths...

(This column originally appeared in The Town Talk on Sunday, July 1, 2018.)

One of the best-known sentences in the English language is the second sentence of the Declaration. It opens by stating there are times when one people must separate themselves politically from other people and that when this happens, there should be an explanation. The second sentence then establishes the core value behind the Declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are held forth as being basic rights of all men, and the Declaration goes on to explain all the ways that Great Britain had violated these basic rights. It contained a whole list of charges against King George III, basically attempting to show how he violated the colonists’ rights and was therefore unfit to be their ruler.

All of the stated reasons for declaring independence from England were based in a core value held by our founding father. The underlying belief of those brave signers of the Declaration of Independence was that rights were given, not by men, nor by governments, but by the Creator!

For the founding fathers, the most important core value of all was a belief in a Creator God. That was a truth that was “self-evident” – that is to say, universally accepted as true, just as we accept that the sun is hot and rain is wet. No one has to prove these things – they just are.

While it is fashionable among some to point to a few of the founding fathers as “deists,” it is undeniable that the Judeo-Christian faith and ethic had a tremendous impact on the founding of our country, which we celebrate this week. Allow me to share just a couple of examples.

John Adams, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and the second president of these United States, wrote the following to Thomas Jefferson: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, in reflecting back on an anniversary of the Declaration of Independence said, “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”

James Madison, another signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and the fourth president of the United States, wrote these words 2 years after signing that famous document: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

This is the same James Madison who conceived the three branches of government while reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who said, “For the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king; He will save us.” (Is 33:22 NASB)

There are countless more quotes from our founding fathers that demonstrate a foundation of faith that underscored their actions. While not all were professing Christians, there was a common understanding that God’s hands were involved in directing the affairs of men.

The point is simply this – we would not have this great nation if it had not been for the core values of faith in God held by our founding fathers. So as we celebrate the 4th of July this week, let’s think back to the purposes God may have had for our nation and thank Him the faith of the founding fathers. And may we hold dearly to the self-evident truths that they enshrined in that amazing Declaration of Independence some 242 years ago this week. Happy 4th of July, y’all!

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Why Jesus Prayed for Unity

(This column originally appeared in The Town Talk on Sunday, June 3, 2018.)

Last month’s National Day of Prayer events that were held nationwide carried a one-word theme: “Unity.” Several million people gathered in thousands of events, large and small, across this land to pray for our nation. Their prayer was sparked by Jesus’ last prayer on the earth. The night before He was crucified He prayed these words:

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23 NASB)

Jesus prayed that the believers through the ages would “be perfected in unity.” And the purpose of this unity was so that the world would know that Jesus was indeed sent from God because He loved the world that much!

Unfortunately it seems that we Christians have demonstrated everything except unity. The witness we have given the world has not been one of unity but rather of infighting, political posturing and selfish ambition. Church splits have been the norm and Christians can’t seem to agree on anything.

Or can we? While there are many things that we may not agree on completely, there is much more unity in the Body of Christ than you might imagine. Sure, we all have different styles of worship and various preferences when it comes to the songs we sing, the instruments we use (or don’t use), and many other external things.

But when it comes to the essentials, there is tremendous agreement among all believers. When Paul described the Gospel message that he preached, he described what ALL Christian believers believe:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3-4 NASB)

When you break that down, we all agree wholeheartedly that Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried and then rose on the third day and then appeared with many convincing proofs to hundreds of eye-witnesses. That is the essence of Christian unity! Everything else is a side-issue from this core message of the Gospel.

There are still many areas of disagreement in church-life today. But when we focus on what Paul said was “of first importance” we all agree. We experience unity.

I’ve been blessed to be part of a weekly breakfast gathering of pastors from many different denominations that has met for 30 years. We are Assembly of God, Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God, Methodist, Nazarene, Non-denominational, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and just about every stripe in between. And while we have many different worship styles, practices and beliefs, we agree that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose from the dead on the 3rd day and appeared to many witnesses! And because of that, we have unity!

There’s another wonderful expression of unity that God is raising up across denominational and racial lines. Pastors are recognizing the need to demonstrate that there is no room for racial prejudice in the Body of Christ. So we are joining forces to create conversation and dialog through a series of bi-monthly Men’s Unity Breakfasts.

The first one will be on Saturday, June 16 at 7:30AM at Family of Grace Church, 4200 S. MacArthur Dr in Alexandria. Pastor Bryant Sanders of Miracle Temple Ministries and Pastor Brad Webb of Family of Grace Church are combining forces for this first one, and every other month two more churches will cooperate to host these events. The goal is to break bread together and build friendships – not in an attempt to create unity, but to demonstrate the unity we already have in Jesus!

I invite all Christian men from Central Louisiana to join us! However, you must RSVP to 318-542-2903 as seating is limited. Please join me. And together we can see Jesus’ prayer for our unity answered!

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More information about the Cenla Men's Unity Breakfast is available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/413049612503798/.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

After the Resurrection, Now What?

(This column originally appeared in The Town Talk on Sunday, May 6, 2018.)

Last month Christians around the globe celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the central tenet of Christianity. No matter what branch or what denomination, all Christians agree on this common belief, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again to never die again, securing our salvation eternally!

The apostle Paul points to the centrality of the resurrection when he reminded the Corinthians of the Gospel he had preached to them. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3-5 NASB)

Without a doubt, the resurrection of Jesus distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world.

But what happens after the resurrection?

That was the dilemma faced by the apostles themselves. They had seen the risen Christ on several occasions. And He had taught them over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3), opening the Old Testament scriptures to them to show them how He fulfilled the prophecies (Luke 24:45). And He told them that they were to go into all the world to teach all the nations the very things He had taught them (Matt 28:18-20).

And then, He told them to wait!

That almost seems counter-intuitive! He gave them a Great Commission to change the world, to tell the greatest story ever told, but then He said to wait! What were they waiting for?

Jesus knew that they could not fulfill His command in their own strength. No matter how much enthusiasm, exuberance or excitement they had, that would all wane over time if they tried to accomplish the task in their own strength. So He promised to infuse them with an internal power source that would fuel their lives through the difficult days ahead.

That power source was His own Holy Spirit who would now live in them! It was prophesied throughout the Old Testament that God’s presence would one day not just rest on special individuals (prophets, priests, kings, etc) but would be poured out on all flesh (Is 40:5; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 36:27, etc)!

And so it was that on the 50th day after the Resurrection that God fulfilled the prophecies and poured out His Spirit on all who believed! The Church was birthed in a moment, and all who believed received this precious promise to be baptized by God’s Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13)!

What an amazing thing! In the Exodus from Egypt, God provided His people with an external guide, the Law! But in the Exodus from sin, God has now provided His people with an internal guide, the Holy Spirit, who writes His law on our hearts (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:25-27; Heb 8:10; 10:16)! And gives us the power to live lives pleasing to Him!

So what’s after the resurrection? We have the command of Jesus to tell His story in the power of the Holy Spirit! And the good news is that God’s Holy Spirit can fill us every day! That’s why Peter wrote to the Galatians that they were to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit! (See the original Greek of Eph 5:18.)

Every Christian can live filled with God’s Holy Spirit on an ongoing continual basis! As we worship Jesus in community (Eph 5:19), develop an attitude of gratitude (Eph 5:20) and seek to live in right relationship with others (Eph 5:20), we will find ourselves filled with less of us and more of Him!

That’s my goal, to live filled with the Spirit every day that I might be empowered by Him to tell His story. How about you?

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Who's the April Fool?

(This column originally appeared in The Town Talk on Sunday, April 1, 2018.)

My daughter Hope absolutely loves April Fools' Day! It’s like a national holiday to her because she loves to pull pranks. Over the years we’ve learned to be on our guard around her this time of the year as you never know what she’s got up her sleeve!

A couple of years back she called me, telling me between sobs that she had gotten into an accident on her way back to a college class. After asking if she was ok and then checking the status of the people in the other car I told her to wait right there, that I was on my way and that everything was going to be OK.

That’s when she exuberantly declared, “April Fools!” Boy did she get me good! My heart was pounding and it took me a few minutes to get my blood pressure down before I was able to laugh at her most recent success in pranking me.

Today, April 1st, Christians around the globe are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Due to the way that Easter is calculated (the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox – thanks Council of Nicea!) the date changes each year, and for the first time since 1956 this year Easter falls on the first of April. But that’s not the April Fools’ prank! More on that in a minute!

The Resurrection of Jesus is a big deal! This is the core belief of Christianity – whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or any other flavor of Christianity, we all believe in the resurrection! That’s what makes us Christians! This historical event had over 500 eye-witnesses (1 Cor 15:6), not one of whom ever recanted their testimony, even under penalty of death. And it stands at the center of our faith.

The core belief of Christianity is that God took on human flesh (John 1:14), was tempted in every way that we are (Heb 4:15) yet lived a sinless life (1 John 3:5). He then died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin (2 Cor 5:21) and His resurrection is evidence that we have been justified before God (Rom 4:25).

But in addition to those marvelous doctrinal truths, the Resurrection is one of the best April Fools’ jokes ever played, because it was played on the devil!

For quite some time Satan had been plotting to kill Jesus. He had failed to distract Jesus from His mission in his earlier temptation in the wilderness so he waited “for a more opportune time” (Luke 4:1-13). All the while he was influencing the hearts of his hypocritical children who were in positions of religious leadership and they plotted to bring an end to this young upstart Rabbi.

Then Satan played his most strategic card by entering the heart of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ trusted companions. Somehow he convinced him to betray Jesus. I’m sure Satan must have chuckled with evil glee as he saw Jesus arrested, convicted, beaten, and ultimately crucified.

Satan’s plan through the ages had been to destroy the promised Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). He tried to do it in Egypt by having Pharaoh kill the male Hebrew children. He tried again around the time of the birth of Jesus by having Herod kill all the male children under the age of 2. But now he had finally succeeded! How he must have celebrated as Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. The serpent had bruised His heel as the earthly walk of Jesus came to an end.

Or did it?

When Adam disobeyed God, Satan had been granted certain authority on the earth. And for thousands of years he had wielded the power of death over fallen mankind. But little did he realize that it was through death itself that Jesus would render him powerless! (Heb 2:14)

Early on Sunday morning, to Satan’s surprise and chagrin, a “severe earthquake” ripped through that region and “an angel of the Lord descended and rolled away the stone” (Matt 28:2 NASB). In grand fashion all of heaven witnessed the empty tomb declare that Satan had been played for a fool!

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he declared that if the rulers of this age had understood God’s eternal wisdom “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8 NASB). It’s almost as if they were tricked into accomplishing God’s purpose!

When Jesus was raised from the dead His body still bore the marks of Satan’s bruising. But ultimately the Resurrection was the final crushing of the head of the serpent of old (Gen 3:15). And today Satan remains the April Fool!

The only question that remains is who else is the fool? In Psalm 14:1 David wrote that “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.’” But the Resurrection provides a remedy even for the foolish heart! The New Testament declares “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and BELIEVE IN YOUR HEART THAT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 NASB)

To not be the April Fool it all comes down to the heart. What does yours believe?

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Keep Calm and Plod On


(Originally appeared in the Town Talk on Sunday, March 4, 2018.)

Aesop was a Greek storyteller who lived about 600 years before Christ. You’ve probably heard of “Aesop’s Fables,” stories that use animals to communicate great truths. Some of the more well-known examples include “Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,” “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” among others.

Aesop was also known for coming up with some pretty tweetable quotes, like “After all is said and done, more is usually said than done;” and “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.” One of my favorites comes from his story of the Tortoise and the Hare: “Plodding wins the race.”

You might remember this story of the boastful hare who challenged the tortoise to a race, confident that he was the fastest animal in the jungle. But the tortoise ended up winning because although the hare started well, in his arrogance he decided to take a nap thinking he could easily win. The tortoise simply plodded towards the finish line, crossing just ahead of the desperate hare whose flashy, yet intermittent speed couldn’t overcome the slow and steady pace of the tortoise.

“Plodding wins the race” was the moral of Aesop’s fable and is a lesson to Christians today as well. Some folks may start out well on a journey of faith, but how you start is not what wins the gold medal – it’s how you finish! Jesus told His own parable of seed that was sown. Although most of it sprang up quickly, not all of it became fruitful. Persecution, or temptation, or cares of the world stunted the growth and prevented the harvest. (See Matthew 18, Mark 4 and Luke 8 for the full treatment.)

Jesus called us to be faithful to the end. I call that “plodding” – the sustained faithfulness of someone who just won’t quit! And there are some secrets that the plodder knows about walking with God.

First, the plodder knows that every step counts. Every faithfulness counts. Every obedience counts. The plodder knows that every step matters. He doesn’t quit just because he doesn’t see immediate results. He doesn’t stop just because the seed he sowed 5 minutes ago hasn’t already born fruit. He recognizes there is a cost involved and the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step – and then has many, many more steps after that first one!!!

The plodder also knows that “this, too, shall pass!” No pain, no matter how intense, lasts forever! As David proclaimed, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning!” (Ps 30:5 KJV).

There’s a very common phrase in the Bible that appears almost 500 times: “It came to pass…” While this phrase is a narrative tool to introduce the next part of the story, there’s also a hint of encouragement hidden in those words! Joyce McCollough (of the singing group The Martins) mined that gem for us when she penned these words: “It didn't come to stay; it came to pass. The Lord will move that mountain if you'll ask. The trials that we see today won't last. It didn't come to stay; it came to pass.” Plodders know this secret!

Finally, plodders also know that the prize is worth the plod! This is the plodder’s ultimate weapon! He recognizes that the “momentary, light affliction,” no matter how heavy and seemingly long lasting, pales when viewed in the light of the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor 4:17-18 NASB) The plodder knows that what’s across the finish line is worth whatever the cost to get there!

This is why it’s so important that we keep our eyes on the prize. Or as the Bible writer said, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2 NASB). That passage says that Jesus “endured the cross” because of the “joy set before Him.” Jesus Himself was our example in setting His eyes on the prize. And so must we!

It’s imperative to keep God’s vision for your life, God’s calling, in view. When we lose sight of God’s vision we stop plodding and start trudging. But when we hold onto God’s plan, our steps have purpose and we can “Keep calm and plod on!”

Have you learned the plodder’s secrets? There are at least three: 1)Every step counts; 2)This, too, shall pass, and; 3)The prize is worth the plod! I hope you grasp these secrets and take them to heart. Just don’t quit! Plod on! And plod well!