Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I was driving back into town recently when the bad weather prompted a warning. Coming down a major street my wife thought she heard something so she rolled down the window. It was a tornado siren. We probably shouldn't have been out and about at the time, but we were returning from a long trip and we were trying to get back to our home. Now, our first clue that things were bad was the warning we received on our televisions prior to leaving on the trip. We had checked the weather that morning and there were indications that the weather might be bad. The second clue was the ominous sky and the lightening that was streaking through the air. That rain was beginning to fall was probably another indication that there might be some weather in the area. Now we had the third reminder--the sound of the siren.

When I was a little boy, the church bell at my grandparent's church was rung thirty minutes before classes started, when classes officially started, and when the worship services started. There was a ministry of bell-ringing. That bell was a reminder to the community that something special was about to happen. (It also meant we better get into gear and get our clothes on!) The other day I was driving down the street of my home town and heard a bell chiming. It took me back to those days long ago and reminded me of times past.

While sitting in my office yesterday, I heard the wailing of a siren growing louder and then quieter as it passed our building. I wondered what the emergency was. Was it a house on fire? Could someone have been hurt in an accident? Was there an elderly person who needed assistance getting to the hospital? By law the vehicles in the road must yield to the screaming emergency vehicle. There was something that took precedence over a casual drive down the street.

Earlier this morning, our pre-school director informed us that they were going to have a fire drill this morning. The horn used for this warning is obnoxious and noticeable. I guess that means it serves its purpose. Children will file outside and be prepared in case of the unthinkable.

There was a commercial several months ago about a new car on the market. It would remind the owner that there were some things that needed to be attended to. In the commercial, the owner of the car would be ready to do something inappropriate when the car horn would sound. Wouldn't it be nice to have something like that in our lives? We have sirens to warn us of tornadoes, bells that chime to let us know church is ready to start, other sirens that warn us to get our of the way of emergency vehicles, and buzzers to tell us to get out of the building because there is a fire. But wouldn't it be nice to have some kind of warning system to let us know we are treading on dangerous ground?

We do have something. He's called the Holy Spirit. He's there to nudge, urge, prompt, encourage, and remind. He's there placing verses in our minds when temptation comes up. He warns us that there is an emergency and we should be alert. He lets us know that something special is about to happen. Our problem? We just don't listen. You rarely notice the ambulance until he's right up on you. Church bells, especially if they are regular, just become part of the white noise we experience everyday and we tend to ignore it. Fire drills, well, we blow them off as just a drill.

But God is very serious about listening to the Spirit's call. Paul tells the Galatians to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. How will we know the difference? Listen to Paul's words. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:24, 25) Keep in step. Hear the warnings. Heed the alarm. Listen to the reminders. One of the most significant problem in our lives today is we have too much noise in our lives....so much so that it drowns out the Spirit's calling.

I don't know why I've heard all of these "bells and whistles and warnings" lately. Maybe it's to remind me of the Spirit's lead in our lives. Listening, hearing, really hearing and willing to let Him lead us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Big Sins, Little Sins

I grew up in a Christian home. Don't misunderstand me, I am truly grateful that I had a father and a mother who loved God and Jesus dearly. They devoted their lives to service in the kingdom. My father was a minister for many years until he received an advanced degree in English. After that, he spent another lifetime teaching in Christian schools. Then, preaching never left his blood. In the summers and on the weekends, he preached often for small, rural churches.

It was not part of my life to rebel, take drugs, drink until I was drunk or any other type of "terrible" sins. I just grew up knowing that Jesus was my Redeemer and that He died for me on a cross and rose from the grave so that I might have a new life.

But the question is, "What kind of new life?". I marveled as I grew up at speakers who told of their life before they came to know Jesus. They were horrible, cursing and swearing and doing all the "bad" things. It was almost like a badge of honor. They seemed to boast of their incursions into the world. It made me feel so....well, like I never did anything wrong. I'm not saying I've been perfect all my life. (Or even now, for that matter!) But when we sing, "Years I spent in vanity and pride; caring not my Lord was crucified....", I can't really join in.

When I, however, examine my life, I realize my sins have been great. Oh, I can't tell of finding myself in a drunken stupor only to find myself pulled up from the depths into a new light. No, I can only tell you of my doubts. Is God real or am I living this life in vain? Do I preach because I desire the accolades of those who hear me or because I want to hold up Jesus? Do people see the jealously in my life when things go their way and they have "things" that I don't have? I can only tell you of the arrogance I have felt when I felt I was better than others.

Now, define for me a big sin and a little sin. My only plea is "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." As the writer of the old gospel hymn said, "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling." There is nothing special about me. I'm fortunate to have had the advantages I've had. But I've had to come to my own faith and the journey has not always been easy. My prayer is that I continue to seek His face. Paul said, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory." All. That's pretty inclusive and the result is still the same. I need Jesus to forgive those sins.

So let's be honest with God. Let us invite Him into our hearts for a daily audit. Allow Him to enter as He pleases and let's not try to hide anything from Him. It's useless to do so anyway.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in my, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:24

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I have struggled with something lately and I need your help. It's a matter of focus. As long as I'm studying something, I'm truly focused in on that subject. For instance, not too long ago I did a study of demons and angels. During that time I could see God working and I felt I could sense or see the presence of both entities. But since that time I have moved on to other things and I don't feel that presence around me as much as I once did. I did another study on the Holy Spirit. It was wonderful to feel His presence and to know that He was with me, leading and guiding me in every step of my life. But that has dissipated. Now I'm teaching a class on reading and studying the Bible; seeking to find the proper context of what Scripture is saying and not using the Bible as a proof text. I'm honed in on this like a laser beam for the moment. If past history is any indication, I will be gone from this as soon as I begin a new study.

What's my deal? Do you feel this way? In essence, I'm all over the place spiritually. And to be quite honest, it's frustrating. My conclusion? It came to me during my morning prayer. I'm focusing on the wrong thing. While all these former topics are good and should be studied, I've lost my focus on what really matters. What really matters is Jesus. If I were to focus on Him and walk with Him and develop relationally with Him, everything else would fall into place. He begs for that attention, yet I am like the rabbit that runs down another trail. So I ask God to forgive me this day. Help me to keep my mind and my thoughts and my direction on THE Way and THE Truth and THE life. Once I do that, I should be able to have the peace that passes all understanding.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For

God has a knack of teaching me (i.e. hitting me in the face with a 2 X 4). I recently started a series on "Grace." It's important to spend the year looking at the grace of God and what it should mean in our lives. What has happened has been a spate of incidences that make me look to myself in regards to grace.

Without being too specific, there have been divorces, sad judicial rulings, angry people, other people doing things I don't appreciate, and the list goes on and on. There was more going on than I had remembered in my ministry in a long time. It was really getting to me when I realized, "I prayed that God teach me about grace." GOOD LESSON #1--Be careful what you pray for, it may come true. I am having to learn about grace. About giving people a break. About realizing that in spite of what happens, I must react as God would react. I must realize that grace is so vital in our world.

So I'm trying to crawl out of the pit. It's a difficult concept to learn. I understand a little bit of what Job felt when God finally responded to his questions. (Although God never really answered Job.) These have been hard lessons, but I think they are helping me understand in some small way what God wants of me in regards to grace.

NOTE TO SELF: Don't preach a series on patience

Monday, February 10, 2014

That Made Me Sad

I had to laugh when my daughter told me about a recent incident at the doctor with my three-year-old grandson. He had been coughing and running a high fever so the doctor suspected he had the flu. It's just a simple test to determine the cause of his ague. The doctor just needs to swipe the inside of one of his nostrils and look to see if there are any flu bugs. Did I say this was a simple test?

Hearing my daughter describe the scene made it even funnier to me. She was holding his head with her left hand, she had his legs between her legs, and with her right hand she was trying to hold his right hand. This all the while the doctor is trying to swab his nose. Now, two adults are bigger and stronger than one three-year-old....barely. But with him flailing and crying, I imagine it was next to impossible to carry out said deed. It was probably like trying to give a cat a bath. What came next is what impacted me. Through his tears, once the struggle was over, he said, "That made me sad."

Know what makes me sad? A family who loses a parent way too soon. A couple who haven't been married very long who decide their marriage is not worth saving. Those who don't care what others think about them, so they mess up their lives with alcohol, drugs, or pornography. A mom and a dad who lose their son or daughter to the world because their faith is not strong enough. The word "cancer." Car wrecks. Apathetic attitudes toward Jesus. Those who blame all of their problems on the church or the preacher. Money over family. World over God. As a minister, in my own way I have flailed and beaten myself over many I have seen go through all of these. And I wonder, "Father, what is happening?"

But I press on. "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness." That song continues to ring through my mind. I know that God is faithful and He is greater than anything Satan throws in our way. Martin Luther's favorite psalm was Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

In verse 7 it says, "...the God of Jacob is our fortress." That's our God. More important than the Olympics. Greater than any president, prime minister, or king. He reigns over all the earth. When I become overwhelmed and sad, I remember words from my earthly father who wrote to me many years ago with the wisdom he received from others. He said to me, "Jim, just remember. God is still on the throne." I've got to tell you...that makes me happy.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Satan's Weak Attempts

This morning the lady in front of me in the drive-thru at Starbucks was not paying attention. I couldn't get up to the speaker to order because she was digging around in her purse. She didn't understand how dire the situation was. I needed my venti no-water chai and I needed it NOW! All the way up to the window she stayed about a half a car's length behind the car in front of her. By the time I received my drink, I was fit to be tied. Then I got on the street driving south to work when I came up behind a car driving well below the speed limit. HURRY!! Then, the light turned red. But while I waited, my mind started to wander. In this wandering, I realized why these people were slowing me down. Heavenly blockages....keeping me from getting there too fast.

I started to think of what has been happening in the last month. At the first of January, a friend of mine and former colleague, Chris Dell was having some acid reflux. He died last week of esophageal cancer. It had spread to his lungs, liver, and bones. His wife had died of breast cancer fifteen to twenty years ago leaving Chris to raise three young children. I learned yesterday of the death of Lisa Carr, the wife of Tom Carr. I went to high school with Tom....he was a couple of classes behind me. Lisa had fought an eight year battle with cancer. Just several weeks ago I learned of the death of Dotty Wright, wife of Winfred Wright. Both of them had taught at Harding University for many years. She contracted pneumonia and died. During Christmas break, a young Harding student had gone home for the holidays. While at home she went out to exercise and never returned. She was murdered in a park in her hometown. Another Harding student returning from the Christmas holidays had a car accident and died. A young mother in my congregation recently found out she was pregnant. Excitement abounded as she and her husband were expecting their first child together. But when they went to the doctor to hear the baby's heartbeat, there was nothing.

Whom do I blame for such things? A fallen world? Satan? All of the above? After reading the first few chapters of the book of Job, I tend to see Satan's tentacles in a lot of these situations. And it seems that he just hasn't learned his lesson. Is he trying to discourage us? Is he trying to break our will? Is he trying to get us to denounce our faith in the Almighty God? Is he wanting us to forget about heaven? Well it hasn't worked. Instead of defeat I see victory after victory after victory after victory. His schemes are not working and our faith is still strong. A mighty fortress is our God! He has promised He will never leave us. He is still in control, even when we see death and destruction. God still holds us in His hands.

And what a place heaven must be. I rejoice with those who have died, in most cases way too young. They are with God rejoicing. You may know the joy I feel when I hear my grandson yell, "Papa!" when he sees me. I can't describe the feeling and wonder I get from just hearing him call my name. Chris and Lisa will never hear their grandchildren say such things. For they've gone one before knowing what that feels like. I can guarantee you, however, that they are experiencing joy far greater than mine as they bask in God's glory, as they sit with the Lamb of God, as they hear God call their name. That must be something. To those who have gone on before. We'll be there. Some sooner than others. But we'll be there. And every one of us will proclaim victory over Satan's weak attempts to destroy us.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014--Part Two

I know I've already written about 2014, but I just couldn't resist writing more concerning this topic. The scary thing is, it's already January 15th. The month is nearly half over and here I am still writing about the new year. I've never been much into resolutions, but I do use the time to contemplate what's coming up. Two Bible verses came to my attention.

Genesis 28--Remember the dream Jacob had where he saw a stairway reaching into heaven? Angels were ascending and descending on this celestial ladder. Choruses often sing the song, "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder." God stands at the top of the ladder and recommits to Jacob the same promise He made to Abraham. "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." After Jacob wakes up, he makes an interesting statement. He says, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it." Isn't that us? Something phenomenal happens and we credit luck or good fortune or being at the right place at the right time. In 2014, I want us to make sure that we are aware of His presence. Let's quit missing the fact that God is working in His people. Keep your eyes wide open and see what He is doing in this new year.

Joshua 3--I've written about this passage before. Joshua has taken over the mantle of Moses and is challenged to lead God's children into the land that had been promised. It's the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. He's pumped Joshua up. He's told him not to be afraid. To me, it's kind of like the athlete who listens to the music before the game. He's getting psyched and ready to go do his job. After all this, Joshua is finally ready to move and to lead. Now is the time to march. The officers are going through the camp telling the people to get ready. Here's what they say. "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before." I don't care how old you are, I don't care how much experience you have, you have never been this way before. This year brings new challenges and trials. You've never been this way before....but God knows the way. He will lead us. He will take us through. It is our time to follow and trust. For He can do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine. That's the kind of year it will be. Let's go! JW