Friday, December 15, 2017
Whether you are a Christian or atheist, whether you call it a Christmas tree or a holiday tree, whether you like real of artificial, the fact is that the Christmas tree points us back to Christ. It reminds us that Jesus was born for the purpose of dying. It was through His death on that old rugged cross (made from a tree) that eternal life would be purchased for all who believe.
A star is found at the top of many, if not most, Christmas trees. Stars are symbols of the Christmas season and seen on greeting cards, lampposts, ornaments, star shaped cookies, and so much more. The star reminds us of the star the wise men followed. It was the star that directed them to the King of Kings.
The practice of exchanging gifts reminds us of the gifts the wise men brought to the house (Matt 2:11). An undisclosed number of wise men arrived when Jesus was approximately two years old and came bearing three types of gifts. The gold was symbolic of Jesus as King, the frankincense symbolized Jesus as our High Priest, and the myrrh was symbolic of the spice that would be used to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
Tied to many gift boxes are ribbons and bows. Christmas bows are often found on window decorations, atop of wreaths, and tied to mailboxes. No doubt that bows have become a staple part of Christmas. The bows are beautiful; but they are also symbolic and remind us of the “tie that binds,” that unity that Christ-followers find through Jesus Christ.
Candles have been part of the Christmas season from the beginning. Candles were used to decorate Christmas trees prior to the invention of electric bulbs and can now be found as decorations, in windows, on city lampposts, and used in Christmas Eve candlelight services. Christmas candles remind us of Jesus’ statement in John 8:12, “…“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Christmas bells are a beautiful part of the seasonal decorations and have inspired songs such as, “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” “Carol of the Bells,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Come on Ring Those Bells,” and more. Traditionally, bells were used to ring in special days and to get attention prior to a major announcement. Christmas bells remind us of the announcement of Christ’s birth!
The colors of Christmas are red and green. Red symbolizes the blood that Jesus would shed to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind. Hebrews 9:22 reminds us, “…without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” Green is the color of the Christmas fir tree, an evergreen tree, which represents the fact that those who call on Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Red Poinsettias are often called the Christmas flower. The red color reminds us of the blood Jesus shed to purchase our salvation and the star shape of the flower reminds many of the star that led the wise men to Jesus. The annual bloom of a Poinsettia is beautiful and symbolizes the resurrection, as the flower blooms, withers, and blooms again the next year.
Boughs of green holly are often used to “deck the halls,” to decorate homes, and to make wreaths. Holly is prickly and reminds us of the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus’ head during the trials and crucifixion. The red berries remind us of the blood He shed for us.
Mistletoe is hung above doorways and light fixtures. It symbolizes love. Tommie Connor wrote the song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” …where…underneath the mistletoe! This symbol of love should remind us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16) and “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). God’s love for mankind is what Christmas is ALL about!
Stockings that are hung by the chimney with care are also a symbol that point us to the Savior. I know… some of you are already thinking… he’s really “stretching” this one! Think about it… when the stockings are empty, they hang limp, as though they are just waiting to be filled with gifts. Likewise, we are empty and waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of our salvation!
Finally, for now, the Candy Cane is also a symbol pointing us to the Savior. The “Legend of the Candy Cane” tells the story of the candy cane and its rich symbolism. Click the link for the whole story or think about the “J” shape that represents Jesus, the “crook” shape that represents the shepherd’s staff, the “red” color that represents the blood of Christ, and that whenever a piece is broken-off, it reminds us of Christ’s body that was broken for us.
With so many Christmas symbols pointing back to Christ, it makes me wonder how anyone could miss the message of the manger found in Matthew 1:21, “And she (Mary) will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Without question, Jesus is the Reason for the season and the symbols point us to the Savior! This year, look for those Christmas symbols that point to Christ and receive God’s gift of salvation, if you have not already done so.
Friday, December 08, 2017
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you have heard about the accusations of sexual misconduct flying all over the entertainment world and Capital Hill recently. Having a wife and three daughters, I certainly believe men should conduct themselves properly and be held accountable whenever they cross the line of sexual harassment. Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein and other prominent individuals were proven guilty and deserve whatever punishment they received. On the other hand, it should concern all of us that in today's climate, any person can simply "claim" an act of misconduct and they can immediately ruin another person's reputation forever. With simply an accusation, a dark cloud can be cast and a stellar reputation can be lost whether the accusation is true or not.
Regardless of whether you are a Republican or Democrat, and whether or not you like a particular candidate; you should be concerned with what we are witnessing. Roy Moore has long been attacked for his conservative Christian beliefs; but throughout the years of accusations, he has never been accused of sexual misconduct, until now. President George H.W. Bush has had a stellar reputation and now some attempt to tarnish his reputation at age 93. I was stunned the other day when I read that Ravi Zacharias was now facing accusations from a lady who emailed nude pictures to him and then "claimed" that he solicited them. That's bizarre! In light of these recent headlines, it appears that VP Mike Pence revealed great wisdom and integrity when he stated that he does not have private meetings or dinners with those of the opposite sex.
People have always had a tendency to stomp on others as they try to climb the corporate ladder. Whether a pyramid scheme, a no-fault lawsuit, frivolous claims of negligence, or Bernie's push for Socialism; people will do whatever it takes to get money out of someone else's pocket. There is no doubt that narcissism has overtaken our society. Think of the world's affinity with selfies, social media, etc.; and it should not surprise us that people would do whatever it takes to advance their cause, even at the expense of others. I've seen it in the secular world and even in the church. I've also seen how accusations travel slow and are often snuffed out, when made against those who live by character, integrity and faith.
So what can we do? We must teach men to practice the biblical principle of being a "one woman man." Older men can teach the younger men how to properly treat and respect ladies. We can stay away from off-color jokes and comments. We can practice the Billy Graham rule of not being alone with a woman who is not your wife (at any time). Men should ask permission, prior to hugging or touching a woman for any reason. We can also genuinely love people in both business and ministry. People who feel loved and appreciated will probably help squelch the rumors. Finally, we can help comfort those who are being falsely accused. If we as believers join in the accusations without evidence, then where will hurting people go for comfort? Remember, Jesus loved the outcasts and provided many examples of extending forgiveness and facilitating reconciliation. Let's do our best to follow His example.
Friday, November 17, 2017
In September 1620, the Mayflower left England, carrying 102 passengers seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and find opportunities for prosperity. The difficult journey eventually took the Pilgrims to Plymouth, where winter and disease were so brutal that only half of the original passengers and crew survived.
The Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, to extract sap, and to fish. In November 1621, the Pilgrims had organized a feast to celebrate their successful harvest and invited their Indian friends to enjoy a meal of celebration with them. This feast is remembered as the “first Thanksgiving.” On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated each November.
It is now not politically correct to say Indian and some will frown on the term Native American. I assume it won’t be long before Thanksgiving Day is removed from the History books. So, before that happens, teach your children about the first Thanksgiving and allow me to express a few things that I am thankful for.
Thanksgiving Day has deep meaning and should cause us to take time to reflect on our blessings and to thank God for His provisions. So, where do I start? I am thankful to live in a country where the Gospel is preached freely and that I was able to come to know Christ as a teenager. I am thankful for the privilege I had to grow up in a Christian home, to attend a Christian school, to raise my family to know Christ, to worship freely, to own multiple copies of the Bible, and to preach the Gospel for 33 years and counting. I am thankful that God is faithful, even when man is not. I am thankful for a godly, loving and faithful wife. I’m thankful that my wife, my children and I were all able to attend college. I am thankful for dear friends locally, across the USA and around the world. I am thankful for my health, food in my pantry, clean drinking water, clothes on my back and a good sanitation system. I am thankful for the privilege to own a car and a house. I am thankful for a free nation, those who serve in our military, for law enforcement, fire fighters, and other first responders. I am thankful for easily accessible healthcare and the modern technology that enhances and prolongs our lives.
I am thankful for the warm welcome we have received at Grace and for the privilege of leading this church to follow and accomplish God’s plan to impact this community for eternity! I am thankful for the privilege of serving with a great team of co-workers. I am thankful for our Christian school in which we can teach academics, instill wisdom and develop critical thinkers who can make decisions based on a Christian world-view. I am thankful for the opportunity to make disciples locally and globally. I am thankful that my children are saved, living for Christ, and pursuing godliness. I am thankful for two wonderful sons-in-law and for my new granddaughter.
When we pause for a moment to count our blessings, it is amazing to realize that we have so much to be thankful for. Life gets busy and we often get caught up in it like the hamster on the wheel; but let me encourage you to take this Thanksgiving Day to pause, reflect, and give thanks to God for His many blessings! Sure, eat the turkey, enjoy the family and watch some football; but also take time to give thanks to God and to those family members and friends He has blessed you with.
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
I know that some of you think I'm just crazy, but I couldn't be happier! Happiness isn't determined by the material possessions we have or don't have. I have the joy of the Lord and know that one day, I will have my mansion in Heaven! But, I really don't care if it is just a small hut or even the heavenly equivalent of a cardboard box. I'm not looking forward to the residence I'll have in Heaven... I'm looking forward to the Person I'll be seeing in Heaven! The greatest reward is to see the face of Jesus! To hear His voice, to look into His eyes, to see His scarred hands. The truth is, I don't care about pearly gates, golden streets or magnificent dwelling places. I can't imagine that I'll be taking many naps or spending too much time inside, when I can be worshiping the King of Kings and Lord or Lords! Just think... happy on earth and headed to heaven. It only takes a few minutes of reflection to realize just how rich we are with the things that really matter!
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
On October 22, 2017, Eyob Faniel, won the Venice Marathon after the 7 lead runners followed a motorcycle and veered off the course. Yes, they were running; but they ran the wrong direction! By the time they realized their mistake, it was too late. The runners corrected their course, but they were too far behind and could not catch the Italian runner. Eyob Faniel's win was the first time an Italian man had won the Venice Marathon since 1995. What an epic failure for the leaders, but what a reward for the persistent endurance of the man who stayed the course.
As I watched the news reports and read the stories on the Internet, the spiritual significance of this event was glaring! Believers are in a spiritual race, and we must stay the course! Real victory only comes when we run to win... and run in the right direction! The Bible charts our course and the Holy Spirit guides our steps, but it is the responsibility of each individual believer to follow in obedience. It's not enough to just finish the course; we must run to win the race! The starting line is BROAD and lined with many, many runners; but the finish line NARROWS the field and the runners usually cross single-file. Many start the race, fewer cross the finish line; but only one wins the race!
What a spiritual application! Broad is the way that leads to destruction and narrow is the way that leads to life; but few there will be that find it. So, as you run your spiritual journey, keep your eyes on the prize and stay on the right path. It should be every believer's goal to say with the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Keep your eyes on Christ and you'll be heading in the right direction!
Friday, October 13, 2017
Pastor's don't enter ministry for recognition. True pastors enter ministry in response to God's calling. Serving as a pastor is rewarding, but difficult. Pastors and their families live in fishbowls with their congregations critiquing their every move. They serve people who often feel they know how to better manage the affairs of the church. The expectations are often unrealistic, the hours are long, the pressures are immense, they are expected to be perfect, and they deal with people... which can be both rewarding and very draining. An interesting and shocking article about reasons pastors leave ministry can be found here at EXPASTORS.COM. The article is good and the comments thought provoking. It's worth the read and may give you a greater appreciation for your pastor.
I'm finishing my 33rd year of ministry. I've had some of my greatest life's joys in ministry, as well as, some of my greatest life's disappointments. Both were directly connected to people. Even when people are cruel and unfaithful, pastors realize that God is faithful and He is ultimately the One we serve. God allows pastors the privilege of loving His people here on earth, and there is no greater honor than to hear someone call you by the name, Pastor.
I am blessed to have many men in my life that have served as my Pastors and friends:
- Dr. Verle Ackerman - took several "preacher boys" under his wing and taught us how to love God and love people.
- Dell Lindsey - Was my dear friend and ministry mentor. Faithful in the face of suffering.
- Jack Baskin - The first pastor I worked for and he gave me a heart for missions.
- Dan Burrell - A very dear friend, who taught me to do everything with excellence and showed me faithfulness through trials.
- David Nelms - Taught me to think outside the box and how to transition a traditional church into a vibrant church.
- Milton Frazier - Taught me faithfulness all the way to the end of his life.
- Jeff Huey - A brother (truly like family), friend, encourager, soulwinner, picture of Jesus! I don't have enough words to describe my love & appreciation for this man.
- Bill Monroe - Showed me that people are the heart of the ministry. My wife's family was saved under his ministry and he walked with Flora & I through a ministry valley.
- Clayton Simmons - A pastor and a true pastors' friend! He will go the extra mile (or two) to help others. He is the example of a pastor's heart.
- Tom Waggoner - A trailblazer that always sees the potential in men and ministries.
- Greg Hales - Encouraged me through one of the darkest points in my entire life. I owe this man so much!
- Ron Long - The greatest encourager of pastors that I've ever known. He is a pastor's friend and a lifter of my soul. Someone recently said that he has done more to influence modern-day Christianity than anyone they know!
These 12 men have influenced my life in ways they will never fully understand. They helped to teach, train, shape, stretch, help, heal, make and mold me into the pastor that I am today. You'll notice that most of these men are older, experienced pastors. They learned ministry in a generation that understood it differently. They aren't CEO's, clock watchers, slaves to their computer screens, counting their hours or looking for extra time off. These are ministers who prepare sermons; but they also serve, visit, teach, and train others. "God, please help me to be a pastor like these men and to apply what they poured into my life!" If you have a pastor who has made a difference in your life, take time to at least send them a note of encouragement. That small gesture will go a long way to help them keep on, keeping on.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the pastoral team with which I have the privilege of serving at Grace. Duane, Luke, Steve A. & Steve L.: I've served on, with and led several pastoral teams; but you are some of the finest men I've ever known or had the privilege of working with. Your commitment to Christ, love for his Church, compassion for people, attention to detail, commitment to excellence, heart for evangelism, tireless effort, and support for your Pastor is noticed and VERY MUCH appreciated. May God give us many years to serve Him together!
Wednesday, October 04, 2017
I read a sad post the other day that said, "Don't depend too much on anyone in this world, because even your own shadow will leave you when you are in darkness." I wholeheartedly DISAGREE with that statement! Through the years, my wife and I have been SO very blessed, but we have walked through some dark valleys in life and ministry. In the good times and the bad, we have been blessed to have MANY, MANY friends beside us. In fact, we have found that it was the dark days that "revealed" who our true friends really were.
Pastors have many acquaintances, but usually very few deep friendships. My wife and I have intentionally tried to remove the proverbial wall that is built between pastors and people. We get our hands dirty in ministry, we get into the trenches with people, and we get close enough to see through the facades. In doing so, people can also get to know us, too. They see that we aren't perfect, that we are real, that we have the same struggles they do. It's in these times of transparency that friendships are built. True friendships are built when we take off our masks and people see us for who we really are... warts and all.
Our true friends keep in touch with us regularly. Our true friends bless us with cards, notes, and words of encouragement. Our true friends have met a need and even provided financial encouragement when we needed it most. Our true friends knew when we needed rest and took us away for a weekend. Our true friends sat, listened, wept, and walked through the valleys with us. Our true friends are the ones we pick up with, right where we left off. True friends enjoy the sunshine and the darkness together. The truth is that it was in the darkness, that some of our deepest friendships were forged.
Sure you will (and we have) encounter a few fakes, phonies, and wolves in sheep's clothing along the way; but don't let that stop you from trusting people and developing true friendships! Barbra Streisand was right in that "people who need people are the luckiest (most blessed) people in the world." My life is richer and better because of those I call friends.
I'll close by reminding you that I even have a Friend Who sticks closer than a brother! One of my favorite songs is "Friend of God" by Israel Houghton. Ponder these lyrics and let them encourage your heart today:
Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me, when I call
Is it true that you are thinking of me
How You love me
[Choir sings lead verse]
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend.
Thank you Jesus for the way you love me, the friends who love me, and the people I get to love in this lifetime. My life is richer, fuller and better; because of the people I call friends!
Sunday, October 01, 2017
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma made the S. FL. driving experience even that much more exciting. The lights were out at many major intersections. Imagine 12 lanes of traffic trying to work like a 4-way stop! When you approached these types of intersections, you prayed harder; because every man (and woman) did what was right in their own eyes. If a driver got tired of waiting, they simply broke the 4-way stop pattern and altered the process. If they felt someone else wasn't doing things right, they yelled obscenities and flipped them off. Every person believed they were doing right and it created chaos, when the proper system was not followed.
As I sat and watched this scenario playing out, I realized a spiritual truth, "This is what religion looks like." The Bible warns against every man doing what is right in his own eyes. (Deut. 12:8, Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25, Job 32:1, Prov 12:15, and Prov 21:2) Religion is the epitome of people interpreting, practicing and teaching the Bible according to their personal interpretations. Religion is people trying to make God fit into their box. I've known people to seek-out Bible verses to prove their points or justify their behavior. We live in a world that paints and portrays God to be whatever and Whoever they want Him to be in order to "fit" into their personal belief system. It boils down to people setting themselves up as gods and determining that they can redefine spiritual success and chart their own course to heaven.
When driving, we see instructional road signs. These signs are not suggestions, they are commands that carry the full authority of the law. Those who follow these instructions will usually arrive alive; but for those who choose to break these laws, there are often costly (even deadly) consequences. In the Bible, God has given us a road map (GPS) and instructions for our spiritual journey. To start any trip, you must know where you are going. On our spiritual journey, the destination is heaven and we can only get there through Jesus Christ -- He is "the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man comes to the Father except through Him." We are sinners in need of a Savior!
So, the choice is up to you. You can be religious, follow your own interpretations of the law and risk spiritual death; or you can have a relationship with Christ, live for Him and experience eternal life in heaven. Remember, God made it very clear: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" - Prov. 16:25. So, will you choose your way or God's way? Will you choose religion or a relationship with Christ? The choice is yours, but choose carefully!
Thursday, September 28, 2017
As many of you know, I graduated from Hollywood Christian High School. Hollywood Christian School and Highlands Christian Academy were strong rivals when it came to athletics. Not only did I play against HCA, but I also later coached against HCA when I was the varsity baseball coach at Berean Christian School in West Palm Beach. You can’t even imagine the amount of ribbing that I have taken from fellow classmates/teammates and also former players since I started serving here at Grace and Highlands. It is all in fun, but also funny how life really does come full circle!
Athletics have always played a very important role in my life. I’ve had the privilege of playing in Little League and at the college level. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and playing on championship teams. I’ve also been on the other side of the wins. I cannot say enough about the lessons I learned regarding the value of teamwork and the vital role it plays in the success of any organization.
Listen to these famous quotes about teams and teamwork:
• “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.” – Michael Jordan
• “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
• “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson
• “Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." --Mattie Stepanek
I wanted to share these thoughts about teamwork; because during Hurricane Irma, I got to see our GBC/HCA team in action. I watched as 70+ employees, church families and school families came out to prepare our campus before the storm. People removed doormats, carried trashcans, removed the shade canopies, removed the high jump mats, installed hurricane panels, cleared playgrounds, and so much more! After the storm, I watched our team gather together and work on restoring our campus, while some didn’t even have electricity in their own homes. Our team members were here joyfully serving and helping to cut and haul fallen trees, to reattach fencing, to remove the shutters, and to reset all of the classrooms and playgrounds for school. It was a daunting task and initially looked slightly overwhelming; but it only took our TEAM about 5 hours to complete the majority of the cleanup and we were able to reopen school on Thursday. Together, we did in a few hours what would have taken one or two individuals weeks to do!
I want everyone to know what a great team of people we have in our church and school ministries. Our team consists of pastors, administrators, staff, faculty, housekeepers, maintenance personnel, cafeteria staff, support personnel, church families, school families, and more. I’ve had the privilege of leading and working with several teams through the years; but truly, this is one of the finest teams I’ve ever worked with!
I close by extending a simple, but deeply heart-felt THANK YOU to each of you! Your commitment to Christ and your commitment to His work were obvious to all who watched and worked with you. Even in the midst of a storm, you were a beacon of hope and joy to others. Again, thank you!
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
I have always been part of local churches that are very evangelistic and have a heart for world missions. Several years ago, while pastoring in the Deep South, I was deeply bothered by a trend that I noticed... churches were giving money to support world missions; but those same congregations did not want to share Christ with their neighbors or build relationships with people of a different skin color. Since first noticing that issue, I've come to discover this practice occurs frequently. How hypocritical for white people to say they love black people in Africa, while refusing to love the dark-skinned people in their local communities (and vice versa).
Recently, I heard of a church that removed community outreach from its annual budget, but collected a special offering to assist the Hurricane Harvey flood victims in Texas. While that is definitely a noble cause, I suggest it is hypocritical to raise money to send to TX, when you refuse to reach those in your own back yard. In addition, how sad that churches are willing to raise money to meet social needs after a flood; but are not willing to spend money to share Christ with their communities.
I believe God places churches in strategic locations, with the purpose of reaching local communities. That said, the local church body should look like a cross representation of its local community! To preach that "God is love" and then refuse to love all people... to sing "Red, yellow, black & white they are precious in His sight" and then to build a church catering to people of only one ethnicity... to send money overseas to reach people, while ignoring those in our own backyard... to go on missions trips, but refuse to share Christ with our neighbor... THESE ARE ALL EXAMPLES OF HYPOCRISY!
So, I challenge pastors, parishioners, and anyone who says that evangelism is important to you; will you begin to share Christ with the people in your neighborhood? Will you include funds for community outreach in your church's annual budget? Will you strive to make your church look like a mirror of the races represented in your community? Will you strive to expand evangelism to a way of life, rather than a single, once per year event! When a congregation claims to be missions-minded, while letting those in their own community go to hell; it fans the flames for those who say the church is full of hypocrites. Let's make the changes necessary to refute that statement, rather than to represent it.