Earlier this week my oldest daughter, Faith, and I went for a walk through our neighborhood as we do from time to time. There is a north and south side to our neighborhood that are separated by a beautiful lake in the middle. We live on the north side but for the sake of exercise we walk across the bridge over the lake to the other side and then several blocks down to the second bridge which brings us back to the side where we live. As we crossed the second bridge the other day I noticed two boys playing on a trail that led from the lake into some woods. Seeing those boys playing on that dirt trail made me think of two things.
First of all, it reminded me of my childhood and the woods that weren’t too far from my house. Those woods were so special, so I thought back then, because they were full of dirt trails leading every which way. I spent a lot of time with friends riding bikes up and down the trails in those woods. Playing on trails in woods really doesn’t appeal much to me anymore but when I was a boy it was an awesome adventure. Those were great times and are wonderful childhood memories of a boy being a boy and playing on trails in the woods.
Secondly, as I watched those boys from the bridge playing on that trail, I was reminded of the trail that I’m on today. I’m not referring to the walking trail that I walk for exercise. I’m thinking about the spiritual trail that I’m on and that I’m confident will lead me home eternally someday. Even though I don’t walk trails in the woods very often anymore and maybe you don’t either, we’re still walking a trail through this life. The trail we walk through this life has many distractions that will tempt us to leave the trail. There are many obstacles that will cause us to stumble and even fall at times. No matter how emotionally bruised and banged up we are from walking this trail, we simply must stay on the trail and follow the footprints of Jesus that were left for us.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”(Mt.7:13-14) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”(Prov.3:5-6) If we will follow Jesus on this trail through life we will be overcome with excitement when we reach our final destination of heaven.
“I Finally Got It”
“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”(Mt.19:13-14) I guess the disciples thought Jesus was too busy to deal with children. Maybe they rebuked those who brought children to Jesus because they believed Jesus’ work was far too important for children. Whatever the case, Jesus was quick to correct the thinking of his disciples and give his time to the children. Jesus cited “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” as the reason for his interest in the children, but is that it?
Twice a month I’m blessed with the opportunity to spend an hour and a half with several babies and toddlers. We have a great and growing M.O.P.S ministry at the Cabot church which depends on our members to provide childcare for the children. I so love those two Thursday mornings of the month that I get to spend playing with the children. On a recent Thursday morning with the children I had a lot to do and a lot on my mind so my stress level was a little higher than usual. On my way back to the office after my babysitting job was done, I realized that I hadn’t even thought about the things that were causing me stress at all in the last hour and a half. I was so involved in holding, hugging, rocking and playing with those children that I totally forgot about my list of things to do. For a little while I was lost in the care free world of those sweet little children.
Ever have an “aha” moment? You know, when the light bulb comes on and you think I finally got it. That was mine! That’s when I thought to myself, I finally got it! Got what, you might wonder. I think I finally got why the children were such a draw for Jesus. Certainly the “kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these” (Mt.19:14) and yes we are to “change and become like little children” to enter the kingdom of heaven.(Mt.18:3) But I still can’t help but wonder if time with the children provided Jesus with a much needed respite from day to day ministry. Jesus was nearly always surrounded by a crowd and was either teaching a parable, preaching a sermon or healing someone. But when he was with the children, although it was still ministry, it seemed to be different, as if it was down time to play and rest his mind. I finally got it!
“How Did Mary Feel?”
I love to preach on the cross. The cross is the central theme of Christianity and one of my favorite topics. I’ve studied the cross for years always looking at it from the standpoint of what Jesus endured and all that we received as a result. Jesus went through so much pain and agony on the cross for you and me. It’s hard to describe and even put into words all that Jesus endured during those six hours on the cross. The crown of thorns and the nails that pierced through his flesh had to bring unimaginable pain and anguish to our Lord. Jesus’ time on the cross was brutal and must have seemed unending.
How did Mary feel? Have you ever considered how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was holding up throughout this brutal episode? John records that Mary was watching this whole scene unfold. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother.”(Jno.19:25) It’s heartbreaking to watch a loved one die but I can’t imagine what Mary must have gone through. She not only watched her son die but watched him be tortured.
When we lose a loved one we normally have mementos such as pictures that serve as a reminder of our departed loved one. Mary didn’t even get to keep her son’s clothes. “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”(Psalm 22:18) What was taking place before Mary’s eyes was totally out of her control. All Mary could do was stand by and watch the death of her son. There is no doubt that Jesus endured much pain on the cross. I think the thing we tend to overlook about the cross is the pain that Mary felt as she stood by watching.
This past April just off the 18th green and after the final putt was holed at Augusta National in Augusta, Ga. there was a tear shed by the champion. You need to know that Augusta National doesn’t play host to just another professional golf tournament. The professional golf tournament played at Augusta National is the Masters and one of the most prestigious golf tournaments of the year. With that in mind you might be thinking that every champion crowned there would succumb to his emotions and shed a few tears. That may be true but this year was different.
It was Phil Mickelson who was crowned the 2010 Masters champion and shed that most memorable tear. The context of that shed tear is what tells the real story behind the story. You see, Phil is a family man with a wife and children who seem to be most important to him. His wife, Amy, had been battling cancer for a while and therefore unable to make the trip, as she usually does, to the Masters. Apparently at some point on that Sunday and final day of the 2010 Masters Amy made arrangements to fly to Georgia to surprise Phil. So, after sinking his final putt and walking off the 18th green the 2010 Masters champion a surprised Phil spotted his number one fan, his wife Amy. There was a long embrace and a tear that made its way down the cheek of the champion.
Some of you may be thinking, what’s the big deal? To me, it was huge! Phil’s wife, who remember is sick with cancer, flies from California to Augusta, Georgia to be there to surprise and celebrate with her husband his major victory. There may be some who disagree with me on this but I don’t believe that infamous tear had anything to do with his Masters victory. To me, that tear showed that his heart is really with his wife. After all, he knew she didn’t feel well and that it must’ve taken a lot out of her physically to make it there that afternoon. That tear screamed, I love my wife and I’m so glad I have her with me as my wife and oh yeah, the Masters win is nice too.
I will never forget that scene behind the 18th green at Augusta that Sunday in April. You know, most of the world recognizes Phil Mickelson as a champion professional golfer but not me, at least not anymore. Oh, I know he’s a golfer and a very good one at that but he’s also a lot more than that. That tear taught this preacher that Phil Mickelson loves his wife more than anything else in the world including golf and a Masters championship. He’s a true role model who genuinely loves his wife and kids and puts them where they belong as his top priority in life. Remember what Paul wrote: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”(Eph.5:25) Men, no matter what you do or accomplish, your most prized gift, greatest accomplishment and most important asset in this life is your wife and the children God blessed you both with. Remember, a true champion loves his wife and family.
Last Sunday night was pretty special. It was our annual teenager’s verses parent’s kickball game at the Bradley’s. I sure appreciate Mark and Elizabeth’s hospitality shown in their willingness to host this event each year and feed us all so well. Just so you know, the parents won, AGAIN. Win or lose, it’s more about a Christian family gathering for fun and fellowship. We always enjoy our time together and usually have a short devotional message and singing to wrap up the evening. This year was a little different as something special had been planned to close out our time together.
Bob and Janice Treadway lost their son, Terry, to drug addiction some years ago. Terry was a phenomenal baseball player but his career and ultimately his life was cut short by tragedy. I can’t imagine what Bob and Janice went through losing their son and what they continue to go through every day. My favorite part of our gathering last Sunday night was not beating the teenagers at kickball or even the great food we so enjoyed, but rather it was when Janice shared Terry’s story with all of us. With pain in her voice and tears in her eyes Janice did an outstanding job telling her son’s story and conveying the dangers of drug abuse to our teenagers. You could’ve heard a pin drop as Janice relived this painful yet life-changing story. I was personally blown away by her message and so thankful my kids were there to hear it.
Janice turned a personal tragedy into a teachable moment. She has turned a negative into a positive by trying to reach others with her message about the dangers of drugs. Terry dreamed of one day speaking to teenagers about his struggles with drug addiction in hopes of steering kids away from that dangerous road. I’m convinced that Terry would be very proud of his mom and her desire to tell his story to others. Thank you Janice for seeing the importance of teaching others to avoid drugs and thank you for using yours and Bob’s tragedy as a teachable moment. From teenagers to adults, we were all blessed by Terry’s story. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us: if it is teaching, let him teach.”(Rom.12:6a, 7)
“I Still Struggle”
As I sit in my office working away on Sunday night’s sermon some of my all time favorite tunes are coming through my ear buds and I notice a tear welling up in my eye. What is going on? What’s wrong with me? Then I’m forced to accept the reality of the moment, I still struggle. I listen to music, mostly country, as I plan my sermons. I know, I’m weird. I’m sure no other preacher plans his sermons like I do. Hey, Christians are supposed to be different, right?
As I type words about my heavenly Father my mind and thoughts are thinking about my dad who is in heaven. It will be two years July 28th since my dad went to heaven and I still struggle at times. I don’t know if you’re like this but certain songs remind me of him or things we did together and it gets me. Please understand that I don’t write this for sympathy and well wishes. I write this for all who have lost a loved one and still struggle. I also write these for those who haven’t lost a loved one and don’t understand why we still struggle with grief from time to time even after so long.
Folks, you CAN’T put a time frame on grief! I’ve taught that, preached it, always believed it and now I absolutely know it for sure. I don’t grieve for my dad every day but I miss him every day. I do have days, I guess like today, when I really miss him and the emotions are there again just like two years ago. Some might think, well stop listening to those songs while you’re working on sermons. No, I don’t want to! You see, I don’t want to avoid the memories of my dad. If those memories bring laughter or tears, so be it. I love thinking about my dad and listening to the songs that remind me of him.
Grief is a natural response to loss. Grief is even healthy for us as it helps us to not suppress things because of emotional pain. It’s us, humans, who try to keep the grieving process to a minimum. When we do that we show our lack of understanding. Please don’t tell anyone who has lost someone close to them that it’s time to get over it and move on. When you lose a close loved one I’m not sure you ever get over it. I really believe we have to learn to cope and deal with it every day from then on.
The following Scriptures give me comfort because I still struggle. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”(Isaiah 40:29-31)
“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”(Prov.18:8) Yes, you guessed it, that hurtful “G” word is gossip. Gossip is being a busybody and spreading rumors and talking about others behind their back. Nothing good ever comes from gossip. In fact, many relationships have been broken and lost to gossip. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”(Prov.16:28)
In the Bible gossip is referred to in the context of ungodliness. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.”(Rom.1:29) Gossip is not any different than any other sin and Christians should strive to avoid it. Even if the gossip is true, it doesn’t make it okay or less sinful. As Christians we simply must face the fact that gossip is hurtful and always sinful, therefore never okay.
I know you’ve heard the old saying, “if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything at all. I’m a big believer in that popular phrase because with our words we can do unrepairable damage. Words are more powerful than we realize so let’s avoid “that hurtful “G” Word” and use our words to glorify God by building others up with encouragement.
If you haven’t seen the game show “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader” then maybe you’ve at least heard of it. I’ve only watched the show a few times but it seems fun and, if I’m honest, a little challenging at times. I’m really not concerned if you and I are smarter than 5th graders. However, I am curious if we can memorize Scripture like a 5th grader.
I am so fortunate and blessed to teach the 5th graders on Sunday morning this quarter. They are a great group and have really impressed me already with their Bible knowledge. I issued a challenge to my class to try and memorize Matthew 5:3-10, the Beatitudes. You may think that’s a little too much for 5th graders but I can tell you with confidence that every one of the kids in my class have the ability to memorize the Beatitudes and much more. Just a few weeks after I issued that challenge Molly Madar informed me at the beginning of class that she was ready to quote the Beatitudes. I was excited and said let’s hear it. She quoted all of the Beatitudes word for word, Matthew 5:3-10, and I began to congratulate her after finishing verse 10 and she said I can keep going and she quoted all the way through verse 12. She went the extra mile and did more than was expected (you remember that sermon from Tony Tarole, don’t you).
I was so encouraged by the way Molly memorized that long text in Scripture that I challenged my own kids as well as myself to not only memorize the Beatitudes but the whole Sermon on the Mount. That’s right, memorizing all of Matthew chapters 5,6 and 7. I used to put a lot of time and emphasis on memorizing Scripture but I’m embarrassed to confess that I haven’t done that like I should in a while. Can you memorize Scripture like a 5th grader? Some of you will immediately say no, absolutely not. I want to encourage you to give it a try before you talk yourself out of it. You have to admit that it’s very encouraging that a 5th grader memorized Scripture like that. What do any of us have to lose in this little challenge? Truth is we all need to know God’s Word better so why not try to memorize it. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”(Psalm 119:11)
I’m becoming a huge track and field fan because my son runs for his high school. Track meets are long, lasting anywhere from 4 to 5 hours but I typically arrive early and stay until he runs in the final event of the night. Last night as the boys 400 relay, the final event, was about to start I noticed the stands were clearing out. There wasn’t near as many cars parked in the lot outside the gate. As for me, I was still sitting in the same place in the stands waiting for my favorite part of the track meet. After he runs that final event I always walk out onto the field to meet him and say, “Good Run.” That’s my favorite part of every track meet, not because it’s finally over, but because I get to meet him on the field and tell him, no matter how he did, “well done. ”
As I waited for my son outside the locker room under the stadium lights I couldn’t help but think of how much I enjoy watching him run his races and how much more I enjoy walking onto that field after the last event to meet him. As he appears from the locker room and we begin to walk across the now empty field toward the parking lot, just father and son, I thought this must be what heaven will be like. Can you see it? The similarities are definitely there. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”(Heb.12:1) The Christian life is that race.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of running or not. If you are a Christian then you are running the race of the Christian life. Unlike the track meet, it doesn’t matter where we finish in the Christian race, it’s only important that we finish faithful to God. Nearing the end of his life Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”(II Tim.4:7) I wonder when I finish my race in this life will God meet me on heavens field and say, “Good Run” as He welcomes me home. There we will be, Father and son, walking through heaven, not under stadium lights but under the light of God’s glory. That, no doubt, will be my favorite part of the Christian race.
Many times during a discussion on baptism the thief on the cross is brought up to show that baptism is not essential for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said to the thief hanging on a cross next to him “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. “(Lk.23:43) First of all, Jesus had “all authority in heaven and on earth. “(Mt.28:18) Jesus could say to anyon…e he wished, today you’ll be in paradise. He could do what he wanted. He had all authority! Secondly, we don’t know for sure that the thief on the cross was not baptized. We only know for sure that he was not baptized into/with Jesus’ baptism. We know that because Jesus baptism did not go into affect until after his death and resurrection. Jesus was obviously still alive as he spoke to the thief. The only baptism that was being preached and practiced prior to Jesus death was the baptism of John. “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”(Mk.1:4) The thief on the cross could’ve been baptized with John’s baptism which I hope you noticed was for the forgiveness of sins. Obviously we don’t know and apparently the thief got off track at some point and got himself into trouble.
Now the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.(I Cor.15:1-4) II Thess.1:8-9 tells us that we must “obey” the gospel to escape eternal punishment. The only way to obey the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is by being baptized into Christ. Romans 6:17-18 says we obeyed this teaching and were set free from sin. This teaching is obeying the gospel at baptism. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”(Romans 6:4) Notice that “new life” comes after one obeys the gospel at baptism. Baptism is not a work of merit. If it’s a work at all it’s a work of faith. Many years ago when I was baptized I did no work at all. I confessed that I believed Jesus is the Son of God and the man baptized (immersed) me completely under the water (baptism is only by immersion) for the forgiveness of my sins. God did all the work by forgiving my sins and saving me. There is a spiritual circumcision that takes place at baptism. It is discussed in Colossians 2:11-12. This is not physical but a spiritual circumcision done by God by cutting away the sin from our life at baptism. Hope this helps. I will end with this. “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”(Acts 22:16) It’s clear that our sins are washed away, forgiven, cleansed by the blood of Jesus at baptism. We call on the name of the Lord to be our Lord, for forgiveness of sins and for salvation at baptism.