Not Too Far Gone

My wife and I used to be involved in jail ministry. Those incarcerated are often viewed as monsters or worthless. While such a ministry has its challenges, my wife and I did not minister to monsters or worthless ones. We ministered to men who made poor choices, yet had families they loved and cared about. 

Many of the men we talked to grew up in the tough parts of a notorious city. Numerous times persons would tell us, “My daddy is a gangbanger, and my uncles, and my brothers, and my cousins are all gangbangers.” Such criminal living is all they have ever known. I remember looking at my wife one night and saying, “If I grew up in this city and all my family was gangbangers and drug dealers, I doubt my choices would be any bit different.”

Something that broke our hearts is how many men would say something like, “Don’t pray for me, I’m too far gone. But pray for my kid(s), that they don’t make the choices I’ve made and wind up here.” Numerous times we would have to tell them, “We will certainly pray for your kid(s), but you are not too far gone! Jesus loves you so much He died for you!”

No one, no matter what they have done, is too far gone if they truly turn from sin and turn to Christ in faith. The apostle Paul writes,

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. ~ 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Understand, Jesus is not a “get out of jail free” card. His love does not minimize the seriousness of sin or its consequences. However, His love and compassion reveal at least two things. First, they reveal the great value of the souls of people; and second, they reveal that human depravity does not come from a vacuum. Besides the complexity of original sin, there is the intricacies of personal makeup and various life experiences.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15

Perhaps you feel that you are “too far gone.” If so, Jesus gives this promise:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

Do not let your fear or shame of feeling too far gone prevent you from responding to Jesus’s good and gracious promise.

Wonderful Love

The wonderful love of Jesus is quite welcoming of misfits, ragamuffins, and scalawags. He is not indifferent to our pasts, failures, hurts, or shame. While He will not condone sin, He is not harsh with one’s shortcomings. His love is all inclusive. His mission? To seek and find those who are lost (see Luke 19:10).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~ Matthew 11:28-29

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

While His love is transcending, it is not intrusive. Jesus welcomes any and all who will come to Him in genuine faith, but He will not force His love on those who do not want it. His love is able to cover the most vile and evil of sins, but He will not force a person to loosen their grip on their beloved sin in order to take His saving hand. His wonderful love grants each of us the choice to respond it or reject it.

Jesus is gentle with persons. For example: Peter (who had denied Him); the centurion who had sent one of his servants (a foreigner); the Samaritan woman (a multi-divorced “half-breed” who was an outcast even of her own people); Zacchaeus (a tax collector, considered a traitor to the Jewish people; and the woman found in the act of adultery. Each of these received warm and honest acceptance from Jesus.

Still, Jesus did not pander to people or cater to their expectations. He let persons reject Him and His love. For example: the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious leaders of the day); the rich young ruler (who wanted salvation on his terms); Herod (a leader addicted to his own lusts and who wanted Jesus only for entertainment); and Judas (who, apparently, was disappointed with the kingdom Jesus had in mind).

Nevertheless, Jesus extends His love to each of us. The question is, is His love worth surrendering ourselves and our sins? For many, this is too much, too demanding. Still, others feign to receive His love while holding firmly to their sin. However, in doing so, they have not really received anything at all. It is a shame that sin is so deceptive in that it can bring pleasure, all the while leaving so much destruction in its wake. Sometimes we are unaware of the destruction that it brings to others later.

But then there are those who do recognize the hideousness of their sins. How on earth can God love them? Oh, but He does, my friend! There is not a sin God is unwilling to forgive, if we will but look to His Son Jesus Christ in genuine faith.

I hope that you have come to know this wonderful love of Jesus!

Hope for Troubled Hearts in Troubled Times

The days in which we are living in are so uncertain. Some talk about a great economic collapse that will be felt around the world. In the midst of discussions and rallies crying out for peace there is so much anger, unrest, and violence. The news consistently reports acts of terrorism around the world. As the world grows smaller because of technology, ironically, people are feeling more isolated. And with Covid restrictions, there has been an alarming rise in depression and suicide.

Many questions are floating around. Will America experience another civil war? Is our economy going to collapse? What’s going to happen to churches and Christians? Will things ever return to normal? What is God doing? Is He even there?

When Jesus was speaking to His disciples, He is also speaking to us:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. ~ John 14:1

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

We live in a fallen world, and Jesus teaches that as His return draws closer there is going to be a rise in lawlessness, lovelessness, and chaos. Just hearing this and observing the world around us can cause an increase in one’s heart rate and anxiety. Nevertheless, in Christ we can experience genuine peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~ John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:6-8

While requiring self-discipline and effort, the key to acquiring His peace which He abundantly offers, we must fix our eyes on Jesus and not on the troubles around us. We must pray and bring our anxieties to Him, along with thanksgiving. We are granted so many blessings, but how often we take them for granted!  And finally, we are to shift our thoughts on what is true, lovely, pure, etc. How easily we can fill our minds with “stinking thinking.”

God’s people are not forsaken by Him—never! 

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Hebrews 13:5

Today, may your attention be set upon Christ, His sacrifice, and the living hope that only He can give. And may He grant you His peace that passes all understanding, and the richness of His presence.

Blessings upon you, my friends!

First They Came

In my previous post, “I’m A Patriot, but…,” it would seem as though I am saying the righteous are to be passive. However, just as in the days of Nehemiah, while there was certainly the need of prayer and repentance, there was also work to be done—and that work would be opposed by ungodly men.

Today, just as then, the godly are opposed by the ungodly and wicked. Still, there is much more happening behind the scenes that we do not see. The Bible reveals to us:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. ~ Ephesians 6:10-13

There is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9), and this is undoubtedly true concerning the schemes of evil. It is interesting how the wicked today accuse others as being “Nazis” (among other slanderous things), all the while it is they who use many of the very methods of Adolf Hitler to push their agendas (the use of controlling what was taught, use of the media, the stripping of rights, the use of the manipulated and brainwashed youth, etc.). Even though there were godly men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who saw what was happening, but those like him were viewed as the enemies. America is facing a similar situation, as wicked individuals who lust not only for power, but the advancement of a godless and evil one world government—a “New World Order.”

Many might be familiar with the poem I spun the following words from, but the truth remains. This is not about a political party, but a darkness rising to strip the rights, voices, and very personhood of a people. 

First they came after bakers and they did not speak out because they’re not bakers. 

Then they came after gun owners and they did not speak out because they don’t have or like guns. 

Then they came after pro-lifers and they did not speak out (although a percentage claim to be pro-lifers).

Then they came after conservatives and they did not speak out because they are not conservatives.

Then they came after Trump supporters (such deplorables!) and they did not speak out because they are not Trump supporters.

Then they came for Christians and Jews whom they have increasingly, brazenly mocked and they did not speak out because they are not Christians or Jews.

Eventually they will trample and rob them of their voice and freedoms and there will be no one left to speak out, and they will be greatly perplexed as they wonder, “What happened? We supported the very ones who trampled upon us!”

The nature of evil is not only that it is corrupt but it also corrupts, poisons, distorts, steals, and destroys (see John 8:44; 10:10). We are witnessing the rise of evil as it seeks to destroy the family structure, freedom, the Constitution, and personhood. It rages against Christ and all who would oppose, scoffs at whatever is holy and right, and tramples on whatever is sacred. This evil transcends political parties, and is not only being applauded but also assisted by many. Understand, evil hides beneath a cloak of deception until it gains the upper hand.

While the battle belongs to the Lord (see 1 Sam. 17:47), the godly and righteous are not to sit idly and do nothing. We must pray for God’s intervention, and we must repent of our own wicked ways (see Neh. 1). We must engage in this spiritual battle being waged and decry the deception, hypocrisy, greed, violence, and blasphemies taking place. My friends, if the plans of the wicked come to fruition, mark my words, misery will be afflicted on many. No, now is not the time to be slothful or passive. We must pray urgently, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and stand to fight. To do nothing is not only wicked in itself, but it is to passively join the ranks of the spreading evil. We are caught between a rock and a hard place, and whatever choice we make will have consequences. But know this, we stand not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. If we do not challenge the evil that is rising, then we will deserve the misery inflicted on us. Let me be clear, finally, that this is not a call for violence; rather, the battle we wage is fought on our knees in prayer.

I Am A Patriot, but . . .

I am a patriot, but above this I am a Christian, a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. No, I don’t like seeing what is happening in our country, but I also know this hasn’t “just happened.” For years, as a country, we have defied and denied God in politics, entertainment, media, education, science, and even in many churches. Personally, I believe we, as a nation, have been experiencing judgment for quite some time (read Romans 1). Not only has the world rolled more deeply in the mire, but how much have we, as Christians, prayed and pleaded for revival and awakening? You hardly hear the words anymore.

With this said, our God remains sovereign. We can become irate, join together, and lift our guns and voices, but our efforts will come to nothing if, in fact, we are simply striving against God’s judgments. Oh, that God will give us hearts of wisdom in these dangerous days. Fellow citizens, of both America and Christ’s kingdom, we must humble ourselves, pray, repent, etc. Furthermore, whatever happens (which it might get really bad), we are still to be light in the darkness, salt amidst all the rot, balm for the hurting, and evangelists to the lost, directing (and praying—even for our adversaries and persecutors) them to the Lord who died for us all.

We desperately need the wisdom and love of Christ. With all that is happening in our country and world, may the Holy Spirit help us to respond appropriately, to not lose our heads but to remember our higher priority must always be to Christ and His kingdom, regardless what happens in the here and now, come hell or high water.

Let us bow our knees and hearts, lift our gaze, pray, and seek His face. Apart from these no good can come from our anger (see James 1:20).

A Word of Encouragement for Someone Who Needs It

I do not know who this is for, but I feel the need to write this for you. Darkness feels like it is prevailing and the flame of hope seems close to flickering out. I do not know what you are going through—loneliness, bullying, guilt (false or real), financial ruin, a break-up, job loss, excommunication, or something else. Whatever you are going through, you might be toying with the idea of taking your life. While it might not seem like it now, please know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your life is worth the living and you have so much to offer a world that is also hurting.

I am not going to tell you I know how you feel. I can only say that you are not alone in feeling such hurting. A couple of years ago I was in a pit of darkness that I could not get out of. Although I am a Christian minister, God seemed to be a million miles away, leaving me to wither in the darkness alone. I felt friendless and forsaken. It seemed anything I touched was damaged. Guilt, shame, regret, and a sense of failure rumbled like thunder within my mind and soul. I longed to die. I found out later that I was beginning to have a plan in place (to take my life) without realizing it. I came very close to being hospitalized due to severe depression.

In time, light did begin piercing the darkness and God displayed His faithfulness. While all the pain did not go away, I have found there are so many who are hurting too. My friend, whoever you are, please know that you are not truly alone. I hope you will hold on. Light will shine again. All this shall pass. Your life is worth the living. Most importantly, there is hope in the Lord. Look to Him with trust. He will get you through. Also, what you are feeling is not a sign that you are weak; rather, it signifies you are human. Hang in there, friend, you are worth it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Why Study the Word? (Part 2)

Is it not strange that two persons can view the same thing, yet their perception can be polar opposite? Consider the Bible, some see it simply as a book of rules: “Do this! Don’t do that!” Such persons perceive the Bible as being restrictive and fun-demolishing.

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” ~ Psalm 2:2-3 (ESV)

Jesus, on the other hand, declares God’s Word to be the truth, what bears witness about Him, and what sets persons free (see John 17:17; 5:39; 8:31-32).

The prophet Isaiah asserts,

Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples…. And when [the people] say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. ~ Isaiah 8:16, 19-20

Interestingly, while so many do not view the Bible as being of much value (admittedly, even many who profess to be Christians do not devote much time to it), the writer of Psalm 119 devotes the whole writing (176 verses) to celebrating God’s Word, Law, ways, commands, and statutes. In these he finds delight (see vs. 14, 47, 92, 143). According to the psalmist, God’ Word is of immense value (see vs. 37, 72, 127).

Here are sevreal benefits he mentions in his own experience:

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. ~ vs. 50

I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. ~ vs. 75-76

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. ~ vs. 92-93

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. ~ vs. 98

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. ~ vs. 105

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. ~ vs. 130

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. ~ vs. 165

So much of the regrets and miseries people suffer is because of abandoning the truth and protection of God’s Word (I speak out of my own personal experience). People would be spared a lot of pain and shame if they would stop viewing the Scriptures as a killjoy, and rather perceive them to be the loving instructions of a caring Father and Creator.

Encourage Your Pastor

One of the sad (but true) jokes in churches is that many families will have roasted pastor for dinner after Sunday’s service. However, the pastor who is genuinely called by God and is trying to lead a congregation in the ways of God has a tremendous responsibility. Furthermore, he does so many things behind the scenes ministering to others most are unaware of. Contrary to popular belief, pastors do far more than “just prepare for sermons and preach.” They serve as counselors and comforters, and many are on-call 24/7.

Pastors are not perfect (although they are to be godly). They have feelings and passions. They experience fear, sadness, discouragement, and anger. Many are husbands and fathers trying to be good In these roles (these are difficult for them too), and often people expect their families to be picture perfect. Dysfunction brings their calling, character, and credibility into question.

Pastors must deal with conviction and accountability to God for how they behave and handle the Word of God. They must deal with their own consciences making them aware of their failures and inadequacies. And pastors have “a target on their backs,”  more so than the average Christian, because if Satan can influence them to fall into gross sin and scandalous activities, then congregations can be divided, confounded, and even faith being shipwrecked of some.

I have read of the following statistics:

  • 97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by their trusted friends.
  • 70% of pastors struggle with depression.
  • 1500 pastors quit each month.
  • 10% will retire as pastors.
  • 80% of pastors feel discouraged.
  • 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of ministry.
  • 78% of pastors have no close friends.
  • 90% of pastors report to working 55-75 hours per week.

The primary tasks of a pastor is studying/teaching God’s Word and devoting himself to earnest prayer. Christians can say they “love God’s Word,” but pastors make a lot of people mad when they do truly preach God’s Word!

If you have a godly (albeit imperfect) pastor who strives to be faithful to Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Great Commission; and if he seeks to minister to the congregation and is burdened for the souls of people, then you are truly blessed. The Bible says this of such individuals:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ~ 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)

And,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ~ Hebrews 13:17

Do you give honor—even double honor—to your pastor? Or do you nit pick his flaws, give him grief because he did not call you on your birthday, and roast him because he preached against your beloved pet sin(s)? If the latter, how is this of any benefit to you? What gain is there in wounding and making the work difficult of one who loves you? Sadly, often pastors pour themselves out (sometimes at the expense of their families) only to meet with continual resistance, roasting, and betrayal from congregants. 

Do you pray for your pastor’s well being? Have you encouraged your pastor (and his family) lately? A gift, a note of appreciation, and the like could be of great encouragement to him. It might even be that needed spark to help him keep from giving up. Encourage your pastor. He experiences the stresses of life and loss, just as you, all the while putting these aside ad he tried to minister to others. The weight and burdens he carries with him you will never understand. He needs your prayers and encouragement more than you can ever know.

Lessons In the Dark (Failure Does Not Have to Be Definitive)

There are times when a person must go through times of darkness. The reasons vary, but sometimes darkness comes as a result of immense failure. Such was the case for the man of God Samson.

Before he was even conceived Samson was ordained to be a deliverer for the people of Israel. By the Spirit of God he was granted incredible strength and valor. His life was to be holy and consecrated to the Lord. Yet, when we read the account of Samson in the book of Judges, we read of a man who squandered his privileges (even having sex with a prostitute [see Jud. 16:1]), and who took his abilities for granted. This squandering eventually cost him dearly.

Samson later falls in love with the woman Delilah. The lords of the Philistines convinced her to seduce Samson and find where his strength came from. After three failed attempts, Delilah pouted and reasoned, “How can you say you love me if you are not willing to tell me your secret?” Being beguiled by the woman, Samson shares his heart and what was not to be revealed. After he falls asleep, Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines rush in to subdue him. We then read the dreadful words,

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. ~ Judges 16:20 (ESV)

For so long Samson took his privileges, anointing, and victories for granted he was oblivious to the fact the Lord departed from him. He was to experience such profoundly humiliating defeat. After rushing on him, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes, put him in shackles, and imprisoned him at the grinding mill.

Samson was alone in the darkness of his blindness, yet it was here that he had time to reflect, grieve, confess, and listen. He was learning hard lessons of squandered privileges, of pride, of immorality, etc. Yet, among all these lessons he would also learn of God’s grace and faithfulness. God would yet hear Samson’s prayer and grant him a major victory. Centuries later he would be named among people of faith:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. ~ Hebrews 11:32-33

Perhaps you have tasted the bitterness of failure and experiencing its painful consequences. May you take courage in the Lord and find some peace in His promises. Due to your folly, may you listen to the instructions of the Holy Spirit and gain some wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. ~ Proverbs 1:7

Your failures do not have to define your identity or your future. Consequences might be devastating, but they do not need to demolish hope if you will be still in your darkness. Turn to Christ, and listen to His Spirit. Confess your sin(s), admit your guilt, and own up to your failures. There can still be mighty victories won through Him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

The Present—His Presence

We are living in uncertain times. What is going on in government? What is going to happen to the economy? What is going to happen in our lifetime, and what is the world going to be like for our children and grandchildren? One commodity that seems to be dwindling for many is hope.

One of the gems within the Christmas/Gospel message is God’s presence among people. It is important to understand Jesus’ highest position. We are told He is the Alpha and the Omega (First and the Last), and Lord of lords and King of kings (see Rev. 1:8; 17:14). In John’s Gospel we are told Jesus is the Word, who was with God and is God, who took on flesh and “dwelt among us” (see John 1:1-5, 14). Furthermore, Paul tells us that in doing so, Jesus “emptied himself” (see Phil. 2:7).

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (see Matt. 1:23). He did not come to dwell among the elite or to live in the lap of luxury. He was born in poverty, grew among the average Joe, and associated with the hurting and outcast.

Although Jesus has ascended, He promises His continual presence through His Holy Spirit (see John 14:15-17). Note, the passage says that He will abide with us forever.

Perhaps you are facing some challenging circumstances (e.g., loneliness, illness, financial issues, marital problems, etc.), and God feels a million miles away. Maybe you are thinking He has abandoned you. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you will remember the Word (Jesus) “dwelt among us” and continues to dwell within His people. 

There are some who feel they are “too far gone,” but Jesus, His grace, and His presence are given as gifts to all who are willing to receive them by faith. If you have not already, may you receive these gifts this Christmas season.