The Lord is Close…

We recently lost a student at the school I work at. A loving, kind young man who was in the Special Education class that I assist in. Stephan “Jap” Thomas is known throughout Benjamin Russell High School and the town of Alexander City as a die-hard BRHS Wildcat fan. He cheered at every sporting event that he could get to. Jap graduated before this year but due to the policies for students in Special Education he was allowed to return for continued education with us, this would have been his final year under the policy.

Every student and teacher in the Alex City School System either knows or has heard of Jap. He was an honorary Wildcat football player the year he graduated and ran on the field with the football team. He is never happier than when he is at a pep rally and he has a great sense of humor that he shared with his classmates everyday. His teachers and the administration at BRHS thought of him as family and he was a beloved son or brother to all.

I have personally been struggling with the best way to support my fellow educators through this loss. I did not know Jap very well; this is my first year in the classroom and I am not a native of Alex City. I have been doing my best to offer my condolences, lead when the teachers need to mourn in their own way, and offer counseling to the students who want it.

I hope this small offering of words from Psalms will touch those who are hurting and remind them that God is always here and offers His comfort to all who ask:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”(Pslam 34:18).

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

And perhaps the most important of all, in Revelation 21:4 Jesus reminds us that soon God will take away all of our pain, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’”.

Rest easy Jap…we will see you soon. I can’t wait to see you shoot 10 free throws, run 10 miles, and tell me how you weigh 10 pounds. We love you buddy.

…and again I say rejoice

I don’t know if it’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but, to me, it is one of the most important,  “Rejoice always.” (1 Thess ‭5:16). 

Paul is ending his letter to the church in Thessalonica and giving them final instructions that include praying, thankfulness to God, and abstaining from all evil. The verse that sticks out to me though is 5:16. In all things rejoice, at all times rejoice, “rejoice always”! When it’s rough, when you have a bad day, when nothing goes your way, “Rejoice”! 

Because no matter how bad the day is, no matter what mistake you make, no matter your plans, God loves you. God loves you so much he sent his one and only Son to Earth. He sent his perfect, sinless Son to show us how to live. God sent Jesus to be the Light and guide for our lives. Jesus came to Earth and offered himself as a sacrifice in order to end all other sacrifices. He carried His Father’s love to us in order to show us how to share it with the world.

So, rejoice always! We are set free from the legalistic rules and regulations that we could never satisfy. We are set free with God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice. Rejoice forever and always!!

Foregiveness

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12-13

“Foregiveness”, it’s easily received and rarely given. Have you forgiven someone if you never tell them? Is your heart full of forgiveness if you hold onto resentment and anger toward another? How can we be clothed in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” and not forgive? 

I have personally dealt with unforgiveness for a long time. Those that know me well know that I have had a failed marriage and two sons who live with their mother. Anger and hatred filled my heart for several years. Partially, because my children were withheld from me, but mostly the anger was directed at myself for allowing it to happen. For about 2 years I was falling deeper and deeper into a pit of depression, unchecked rage, and alcohol. I ran away from what I saw as the cause of these feelings only to find them come back again. It wasn’t until I realized that there was nothing I could do to change the external influences on my mind and soul until I changed the internal influences. I had to find freedom from myself. 

I found this freedom through forgiveness. First, I forgave myself for making mistakes and bad choices. I made a promise to my family to move forward, get better, and be the best person that God wanted me to be. Second, I forgave those who wronged me. It wasn’t important if they accepted it, I wasn’t looking for an apology or even to restore a relationship. I simply wanted them to know that there was no ill will from me. Lastly, I made a promise to myself and to God that I would do my best to keep those feelings of wrath and contempt away from my heart for the rest of my life. 

It hasn’t been easy. There have been many moments when I wanted to hang on to a “justified anger”. But then I remember, with a bit of urging from the Holy Spirit, that if Jesus could forgive the entire human race then I should be able to forgive a few people. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…keep these in your heart and forgiveness must live there too. 

The Alpha and the Omega

““I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.””‭‭Revelation‬ ‭1:8‬ MEV

“The Beginning and the End”, big words from a big man. Jesus said these words in a vision to John while he was under house arrest on the island of Patmos. Jesus is the alpha and the omega in His eternal nature, His role in creation, His sustaining of the universe, and in His fulfillment as the Messiah. Those who read the words of Jesus referring to Himself as the alpha and the omega in Revelation find One who refers to Himself as Lord who will one day make all things new as described in Revelation 22. 

There many times in our lives where something seems to last “forever”. Board meetings, classes, and commuting, all of these events can seem to stretch on for much longer than they really are. If we let the constant drudgery of our earthly existence drag us down, and therefore away from God, then we are losing sight of the true eternity. The eternity in which Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, as he has since before time began, and speaking on our behalf. During times of saddness, depression, or feeling downtrodden we must turn our eyes to God. Open your Bible, voice your concerns to God, and focus on the blessings that you have received. 

Touchdowns And Walking The Line

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).

I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend about people who are “walking the line” in Christianity. We all know, or have been, one. We hear them tell others about a book or bible study they should read about Christianity. Or they invite others to church. They go on mission trips and give to the poor, they pray before sporting events and almost always know the Lord’s Prayer by heart. But behind closed doors, among aquaintences and certain friends, or when emotions run high, another side is visible. Lewd talk, cursing, and violent actions come out. Sometimes its in the heat of the moment but many times in everyday conversation, when their guard is down, a person’s true character is revealed. Just as David says in Psalms 23 and Paul refers to in Phillipians 4, our cup overflows with what is poured in. This is true of both good and evil. If we pour into our life the elements of this world (sin, evil, anger, hate) then that is what will flow out of us.
Johnny Cash sang a song about walking the line and the lyrics paint a rather accurate picture of what happens when we do not choose a side. I have found that the illustration of a “touchdown” in football is even better. In football you either cross the line and make a touchdown, or you don’t. You have to CROSS the line. You can’t just reach it or touch it. If you are on the line then you haven’t made a touchdown. You are still on the field of play of the world until you cross the line. You can not both score a touchdown and still be on the field of play. You can not both serve God and serve the World.

Your cup will fill others…be mindful of what you are pouring. While the world offers temporary justification or a small amount of pleasure for our service, God offers eternal joy and ever-lasting peace. Fill your cup with what Jesus offers and you will never grow thirsty. 

Deny Yourself

Websters defines the word “deny” as “state that one refuses to admit the truth or existence of; refuse to give or grant (something requested or desired) to someone”. “Deny” or “denies” is mentioned over 20 times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (KJV). One particular text, though worded slightly different in each, is included in all of the Gospels but John. To paraphrase, “Anyone who wishes to follow me [Jesus] must deny himself, take up his cross, and then follow me” (Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).

Now I don’t know about the rest of you but I feel that denying myself is a pretty big request. If we take the literal meaning in the correct context then Jesus is telling us that we must refuse to give or grant something to ourselves. Taken in the context of this verse, Jesus is telling his disciples that they must deny themselves as he has denied himself. SO, we must look at what Jesus denied himself in order to apply it to our lives. To do this we must look all the way back at Jesus’ first experience after being baptized by John at the very beginning of his ministry on Earth. In Luke 4:1 Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness and tempted by Satan. For forty days he did not eat or drink and at the end of those days he was tempted by Satan to use his infinite power to feed himself, take power over the Earth, and save himself from death. Jesus had the opportunity to turn stone into bread. He was given the chance to hold dominion over the entire world. He was told to challenge God by calling the angels of Heaven to his aid. In all these things Jesus had the ability and the right to do them, yet, he denied himself. Jesus followed a path that placed others ahead of himself, ahead of his desires.

So what does this mean for us? We don’t have those abilities. We can’t create food out of nothing or call out for angels to catch us at will. How do we relate to this supernatural occurrence when Jesus tells us to follow in his steps? We do have temptations though, don’t we? We are tempted to cheat on a test. We are tempted to take things that don’t belong to us. At work we may be tempted to log more hours than we work or bring home supplies from the office. At home we may be tempted to watch inappropriate shows or movies. Or listen to inappropriate music. In all these things we have the power to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Remember, the infinite reward of Heaven far outweighs the temporary reward of the world.  via Daily Prompt: Deny

Same Team

I coach our Junior Varsity Wildcats football and soccer teams. In order for my teams to be successful they must first be moving in the same direction. If the quarterback gets the ball and turns around to throw it behind the line then we can’t move toward the goal line. If the striker drives the ball toward the wrong goal then the other team scores and we lose. They don’t do these things because they listen to their coach and follow his instructions.The Church has been given a goal by Jesus when he ascended to Heaven after his resurrection. 

“‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20).

By proclaiming the name of Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are proclaiming your allegiance to the team of God and to Jesus as your head coach. This team requires us to do our best, this team deserves our best, and it demands our best. Anyone who has ever played a sport knows that poor effort produces losses instead of victories. Playing on God’s team is no different. Poor spiritual effort will only lead to spiritual losses.

 Paul understood this better than most. He tells the church in Corinth about the effort that must be given in order to receive our spiritual victory. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (2 Cor. 9:25-26). Our training is provided in the Word of God. Our head coach is Jesus Christ, and he is assisted by the Holy Spirit and the spiritual mentors in our life. We must learn, train, and grow stronger so that “win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). 

 In the end we may all be able to share in Paul’s exclamation in 2 Timothy 4:7. Let us be able to proclaim that we fought the good fight. Let us share the win with all those who have finished race and kept the faith.