Consider Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline in 2018

It is a brand new year; a time when everybody is looking to begin new and healthy practices. People are starting diets and buying gym memberships. Others are committing to organizing their home or office. Still, others are seeking to begin new spiritual disciplines such as beginning Bible reading plans and committing to more regular quiet times with the Lord.
 
If it is not too late, and you have not already ambitiously overcrowded your list of New Year’s resolutions, I suggest that you consider journaling as a spiritual discipline in 2018. I began this discipline in 2017, and I can tell you that, besides regular Bible study, no other discipline to which I have ever committed has added so much to my walk with Christ. I have grown more in grace and faith over the last year through my commitment to honestly and regularly write down my confessions, thanksgivings, and prayers.
 
Here are the four rules I have established for my own journal writing that will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made in the beginning and ensure that you get the most out of journaling as a spiritual discipline.
 
1. Every entry must be honest. If you want to practice journaling as a spiritual discipline, then you should not write for posterity sake. You will not be honest if you are constantly thinking about what your children might think about what you wrote after you have passed on and they find your journal in your nightstand. It is important that you write out your confessions. You will find this the most difficult aspect of journaling, but it is necessary. Be honest with yourself and with God concerning your shortcomings and failures. Remember there is no forgiveness without confession, but with honest confession comes complete forgiveness. (Cf. 1 John 1:9)
 
2. Every entry must contain a thanksgiving. There is something to be thankful for no matter what is happening in your life. It is important to write those thanksgivings down and give God praise for them. Do not merely write to record the events of the day. My experience is that you will burn out and quit writing. However, you will grow a great deal by writing down the things that God has made you thankful for each and every day.
 
3. Every entry must contain a prayer. You should not write, “dear journal,” for your journal has no power in itself. Every entry should be written to God and to yourself, for God has the ultimate power and He has placed the Spirit of “power, love, and self-discipline” inside of you (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7). Every entry will contain some entreaties to yourself, and some petitions to God on your behalf or on the behalf of others. I have found simple, one sentence prayers to be extremely effective. Most of them begin with, “Help me, God.” Ex. “I was rude to ______ today. That is not who I am or who I want to be. Help me God to be more Christ-like in the way I handle _____.”
 
4. You must be consistent. I did not become regular in my journaling until I made this last rule for myself. I made the observation that if I was not writing down my confessions, thanksgivings, and prayers, then I was not communing with God, and I was not keeping watch over my heart. If I was not communing with God and keeping watch over my heart, then I was not growing… I was dying. For this discipline to be effective in your growth as a Christian, it has to be consistent. Do not be concerned with how little or how much you should write, just write something each day making sure that you include at least one confession, one thanksgiving, and one prayer.
 

Just like any other healthy discipline, it is important that you make this one your own. I only mean to teach you what has worked for me. Much trial and error have gone into my four rules of journaling. You will need to make your own rules for yourself, but I hope I have given you a place to begin. I recommend you take it up and give it a try. If you can find a way to be consistent, you will enjoy the growth that comes through journaling as a spiritual discipline.


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The Epic Gospel Story

The story of the gospel is a gloriously epic story. It is not a tale. It is the grand narrative of history. It is the saga in which we are living.
 
It began at creation when God existed alone in the three persons of the Trinity. All of His goodness, love, and mercy was singularly condensed in Him. But God was not content to remain alone. His love demanded to be revealed, so He said “let there be light… and there was light.” He separated the waters with dry land. He divided the firmament creating the heavens above and the earth below. He caused the plant kingdom to spring up from the ground. He created and positioned the sun and the moon in their places, and filled the sky with stars. He created all the animals that dwell on the land and in the sea.
 
God’s glorious act of creation was complete when He formed man in His own image and granted man authority over all created things. On top of the Lord bestowing upon man the ability to create, rule, and love, God gave the man a beautiful garden to call home. He made for him a helper and mate with whom the man could share his life. God planted a tree in the garden and told the blessed pair not to eat of it. In this way, God gave mankind the free will, just as He had free will, that man might choose to do good just as He had chosen to do good.
 
God’s glorious act of creation was completed in only six days. On the seventh day, He rested. He saw all He made and declared that it was good… very good. When God looked upon what He created, it was like looking in the mirror. All of His love and goodness, which was once hidden in Him, was fully revealed and expressed in this creative masterpiece.
 
What happened next was the first and greatest act of treachery in history. Mankind rebelled against his Almighty Creator. Unlike God who always chose what was good and right, mankind chose to do evil. He foolishly believed that he could, by his own free will, become equal with God and disobeyed the one rule that was set over him.
 
With one duplicitous act, Mankind fell out of the grace of God. All of creation fell with him. Darkness entered into God’s perfect creation. Man was set at odds with the rest of creation. Enmity divided him from his God. Mankind was even set at odds with one another.
 
The only flicker of hope in the midst of the darkness wrought by man’s sin was the promise that God made to send a Savior who would set all of creation back in order. That little flame of hope endured for thousands of years, while God worked out His perfect plan of salvation. Mankind continually rebelled, but God set His face toward redemption and would not cease until His love prevailed over the darkness.
 
At last, the Savior was born. The Second Person of the Trinity came into the world wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. That child grew up, and even though He was God in the flesh, He humbled Himself and permitted that He should suffer as a human being. He experienced every sorrow. He endured every temptation. In all of this, He did not sin or rebel against His father. He was obedient even to the point of dying on the cross at the hands of pagan executioners.
 
Of all the dark moments in creation’s history, the three days Jesus’ body lay lifeless in the grave were the darkest. Then, at last, God was gracious and faithful to raise Him up from the dead and the hope that flickered for millennia became a raging fire that spread throughout the known world as millions came to believe in Jesus as their Savior to the transformation of their entire beings.
 

Today, the redemption of all creation is underway. Very soon, after this gospel has spread to all nations, and after a remnant of every people is saved, Jesus will return. In an instant, the perfection of the seventh day of creation will be restored. Every enemy will be destroyed. Every creature will rejoice, especially us, for when God had every right to write us out of this grand and glorious saga, He made the choice to love us and show us mercy.


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The Adoration of Christmas

In Matthew Chapter two, we read of how a group of wise men came from the far east to visit Jesus after His birth bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. For most, this is the extent of their understanding of the story of the wise men’s visit. There is more to the story, though, if you read it in its larger context. The story contrasts how wise men when they come to the knowledge of the truth, go to great lengths to worship and adore the king. Fools, on the other hand, are troubled by the truth and seek to subvert the King by every possible means.
 
If you read carefully, you will see that the wise men had studied to know the truth. They pored over what must have been the most obscure manuscripts in Babylon. They searched for signs in the stars. As soon as the wise men saw the bright star in the west, they made the connection with Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near, a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab.” The wise men, armed with faith in the prophecy and a sign in the sky, struck out following the star. It would take them on a forty day, 800-mile journey, to Bethlehem.
 
Now, it gets really interesting whenever the positive reaction of the wise men to the truth is contrasted with Herod’s negative response. When Herod heard that the King of the Jews had been born, he was troubled (Matthew 2:3). He had good reason to be troubled. Herod held the official title of King of the Jews, but his legitimacy as king had been a major point of contention throughout his reign. He was troubled because it appeared that the rightful king was born. The wise men and even the stars in the sky bore testimony.
 
Herod summoned all the important people in Jerusalem—the chief priests, and scribes. The wise men were likely present as well. He questioned them about the prophecy and learned that the King of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod then secretly summoned the wise men and bid them to report back to him when they found the child, that he too might go and worship Him.
 
Herod had absolutely no interest in worshipping the Christ child. The child was his enemy. The wise men, however, wanted to see Jesus. They wanted to worship Him and give Him their gifts. Herod’s pride stands in stark contrast to the humility of the wise men.
 
What happened next was a testimony to what Peter wrote to his people: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The humble wise men were able to see Jesus. They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy, but Herod’s evil plan was thwarted. God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the king, but to travel back to their homeland in the East by a different way.
 
This is just one of many stories in Scripture where wise men are rewarded and proud men are put to shame. The stories of Saul, Absalom, Ahab, and Jezebel are found in the Old Testament along with many others in the gospels, Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament. Wise men always win, and fools always lose in the end.
 
In our day, wise men still seek Jesus. They still worship and adore Him, and fools still scheme in futility. We find the wise men of today faithfully serving and worshipping the Lord, humbling themselves and laying their gifts at Jesus’ feet. We find fools desperately seeking to hold on to their power, studying to learn just enough about Jesus that they might subvert His authority. The fools, like Herod, will be exposed and destroyed.
 

Here is the proper exhortation that flows out of the story of the wise men: Be wise; do not play the fool. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. God will not be mocked. No one comes to the Father except that they first bow down to the King of kings and receive his righteousness as their own. The ones who are wise enough to humble themselves will get to see the Savior face to face at the completion of life’s long journey.


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The Love of Advent

There is no word in the English language that is more misused and abused than the word “love.” People say that they love God, and in the next breath, they say that they love their car. People say that they love their spouse, and in the next breath, they say they love their favorite pair of blue jeans. The word “love” is never used so flippantly in the Bible.
 
Love is not common. Love is holy. Love is just. Love is pure and selfless. Moreover, love is a person… a person who came into the world on that first Christmas night.
 
1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” On that first Christmas all that is good, and holy, and just, and pure was manifested in that baby boy that was born in a feed trough in Bethlehem. He was God in the flesh, and since God is love, we can also say that He was love wrapped in human flesh.
 
Why did He come into the world? The text says He was sent to the world that “we might live through Him.” Love was manifested among us so that we might live in love. Before His coming and before our receiving Him, we could not love. We did not know what love was. More accurately, we did not know who love was. All we had to live in was our passions and desires, but on the other side of His coming, we came to know love. We were transformed by love. And we were made to live in love.
 
We celebrate Christmas because through His birth into our world, we learned what love was. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Propitiation is a big scary word, but it is also a big beautiful word. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word which means “cleansing.” This is love, that He sent His Son to be the cleansing for our sins. He came and sacrificed Himself to rid us of guilt and iniquity.
 
Sinful people attempt to define love by what sinful people do. In our culture, to love someone is to not be hateful to them… to not want to hurt them. To love God is to be a generally good person and not cuss too much, go to church when you can, and give what you can spare. But love cannot be defined by what we do. It must be defined by what God has done.
 
Love is self-sacrificing. Love is cleansing. Love is transforming. Love is humbling. Love is the acceptance of pain and suffering on behalf of the one who is loved.
 
This sacrificial and transforming love was commissioned by God at the Bethlehem manger. 1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Remember the who reason why love was made manifest to us in the person and work of Jesus was so that we might live through Him. He loved us so that we, by His love, might also love others.
 
If you have received the gift of God’s love and been transformed by its power, then it logically follows that you ought to love your neighbor. You ought to love them especially if they will not love you in return because God loved you when you could not love Him in return. You ought to love them especially if they have nothing to give because true love is sacrificial and expects nothing in return. You ought to love not just in words but in deeds because God’s love is always backed up by action. Love that God has shown us should be the motive of all our generosity, the aim of every gift we give and the theme of every song we sing.
 

Love is not an abstract rhetorical concept. It is not a subject confined to poets and philosophers. In the Christmas story, we see sanctified love manifested, defined, and commissioned. Love is a person… a person who on that first Christmas came to us, transformed us, and gave us life. It is for love that we ought to be most thankful this Christmas.


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The Joy of Christmas

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:9-11
 
Joy to the World is one of my favorite Christmas carols; one that I wish we would sincerely think about when we sing it. Joy… everlasting joy… all-surpassing joy… joy that gives us strength in every circumstance is what came into the world when the Lord was born. This joy is what the angel announced to the shepherds that first Christmas night. Let us take a deeper more detailed look at the angel’s announcement.
 
“Fear not,” were the first two words that the angel spoke. Before he could deliver his announcement, it was necessary to calm the shepherd’s fears. They feared for several reasons. First, angels are scary creatures. If you look at the accounts of angel visitations in scripture, you find that such visitations we always unexpected. It was a little like getting struck by a hurricane with no advanced warning.
 
The glory of the Lord that shone around them was even more frightening. Everyone in Scripture who ever caught a glimpse of the glory of God had one thought, “Oh no I am going to die! We are all going to die!” The glory of the Lord revealed His holiness and exposed the shepherd’s sinfulness. There could not have been anything more frightening.
 
After calming their fears, the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy.” A precise summary of what was the good news was recorded in verse 11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
 
The baby born in the manger was a Savior who was also Christ, the promised Messiah. One come to rescue them from hopelessness and sin, deliver them out of darkness, and transport them to His kingdom of light. He was the great high priest—The King of kings and the Lord of lords.
 
He was the Lord. The image of the invisible God: the firstborn over all creation… the One by whom, and through whom, and for whom all creation existed. He was the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature and He was born in Bethlehem.
 
He who existed even before time began stepped into our present reality. He drew near to His people. The news was not just great news. It was the greatest news ever reported!
 
Along with good news came great joy. Heaven came to earth that day. Just as light penetrated the darkness at His command on the first day of creation, so light shined into the world on Christmas day. The joy of the Lord shined into the hearts of men. Wild things happened. Lame men walked. Men, women, and children were healed. Water was transformed into wine. Demons came screaming out of the possessed. Dead men were raised from the dead. Joy unspeakable entered into the world through that baby boy.
 
The angel reported that the good news of great joy was, “for all people.” The report of His birth was good news and great joy for Jews and Gentiles, men and women, freemen and slaves, the Kings and rulers of the earth as well as the beggars. All who would receive Him were given the right to be called sons of God.
 
This was the point of the angels announcing His birth first to the shepherds… the lowest of men. This was the point of providing a star to guide the wise men… the highest of men. This was the point of His being born in a manger… the lowest of places. This was the point of His being born in Bethlehem, the city of David… a most notable place. The news was good and the joy was great for all people.
 

I hope you see, friend, that the report of His birth by the angels is good news and great joy for you as well. May the joy of this season radiate in your heart and on your face melting away all fear, doubt, negativity, and anger.


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The Hope of Christmas

The advent season is the time that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a time when all believers join together in the hope that was born on that first Christmas day as well as the peace and joy He has brought into our lives. I feel led to spend the next few weeks reflecting on the hope, the peace, and the joy that has come into our world through the birth of Christ.
 
Hope came first. Hope was born in Genesis 3 when God promised to send a Savior to crush the serpent’s head. Hope persisted through the flood and delivered Noah and his family onto dry land. Abraham found hope in the call of God to leave his home and follow the Lord to the promise land. In twenty years, hope was renewed at the birth of Isaac, and then Jacob, and then Jacob’s 12 sons.
 
Hope seemed to be lost after the benevolent Pharaoh died and a new Pharaoh rose to power in Egypt. He enslaved the people of God and put them under a heavy burden. But, hope was revived in a prince named Moses who led them out of captivity in obedience to the Lord.
 
Hope persisted in fits and starts as a stiff-necked people could not decide if they trusted God to meet their needs. Nevertheless, hope endured through their sin. It shined brightly through King David who received the promise of an enduring kingdom with no end. Before long, though, God’s people lost their way and found themselves in captivity yet again.
 
In the midst of their captivity, hope came through the mouths and pens of the prophets. Jeremiah wrote to them:
 
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart… and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)
 
Hope in God’s promise was realized in the days of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. God’s people returned to the promise land and God’s anger abated. Hope seemed to disappear again as the people again became disobedient. In their helplessness, they were conquered first by the Greeks and then by the Romans.
 
For 400 years, God was silent. There were no living prophets of God to give encouragement. What they had in the written word of God, they copied over and over again. They continued to hope even when all hope seemed to be lost. Then, without warning, a whole host of angels appeared in the sky over Bethlehem. That heavenly choir announced the Savior’s birth to the lowly shepherds keeping watch over their sheep.
 
Hope came to life that night in the person of a baby boy born in a manger. The world would come to learn that their living hope had a name, Jesus of Nazareth. His mother was a virgin maiden named Mary, and His father was the Great I Am.
 
Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise of Jeremiah, for He made His home with the hopeless. Many searched for Him and found Him. They called out to Him and He heard them. He died and was raised from the dead, and in this, He gathered men and women from every nation to Himself. He brought them out of their dark places of exile and transported them into His kingdom of light.
 

Hope lives even today. The tomb remains empty, and Jesus, the hope of the nations, remains on the throne. We continue to hope in Him in the same way that God’s people hoped in the promise of God in Jeremiah’s day. Even in these dark and difficult days when we are hard-pressed on every side with strivings within and fears without, we hope in Him. We hope even in the midst of our individual circumstances, knowing that He still has a plan. We hope, knowing that when we pray to Him, He hears us. We hope, knowing that if we seek Him with all our hearts, we shall find Him. We hope because hope is alive.


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Four things to remember in the wake of the Sutherland Springs church massacre

On Sunday afternoon, we began hearing reports of yet another mass shooting. This one was a little closer to home for me and many of the people I love. The evil attack took place at a First Baptist Church in a small town in South Texas. Note: I am the pastor of a First Baptist Church in a small town in South Mississippi. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was one of the victims. Note: I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter. 

 

Nearly everyone in the church that morning was either killed or injured. In a town with a population of only about 400, it is likely that nearly everyone knew one or some of the victims. It is not difficult for us to imagine what it must be like for Sutherland Springs. It is just as likely to happen to us here in Wiggins as it was to happen in Sutherland Springs. It is scary, but here are four things that I hope you will remember.

 

First, God is sovereign.

 There is no power greater than God. He created and sustains the entire universe. This terrible tragedy caught us by surprise, but it did not surprise God. He knew the shooter. He knew every victim. All were created in His image. 

 

Second, God is good.

 The obvious and fair question would be, “Well, Bro. Robby, why would a sovereign and all-powerful God allow something like this to happen.” I confess I do not understand. I do, however, know this one thing—God is good. All His ways are perfect. When I do not understand His ways, it is because I am not perfect. We are called to walk by faith in what we do not see.

 

Third, God is a refuge for those who seek Him.

 This world is evil and fallen. These events serve as a reminder of that fact. We cannot escape evil apart from seeking the Lord. There will always be devils who kill, steal, and destroy. These devils will possess people and lead them to kill, steal, and destroy. Even a cursory read through the Psalms yields the understanding that God is our only refuge and strength in these troubled times. 

 

Fourth, God is glorified through persecution.

 Make no mistake, that is what this attack was, a persecutory act. This evil man targeted these brothers and sisters because of the hope that was in them. Sunday’s attack in South Texas happens every single day all over the world, and it has been happening for 2,000 years. The reality is, though, that evil never wins. Persecution always serves to embolden the faithful and advance the Kingdom of God, thus persecution always works out for the glory of God. While we do not rejoice in persecution, we do rejoice in the outcome of persecution which is the glory of God.

 

I know over the next few days and weeks, we will learn more about the attacker and his victims. As more is learned, the media and the politicians will use the facts to advance their political and ideological agendas. Our prayer should be that God would use it to advance His own purpose and plan which is to bring reconciliation to the world.

 

Our prayer should be that the Christian community would show the world the hope we have in Christ. We should pray that when the family members of the victims are interviewed on the prime time video magazines, they would be strengthened to share the gospel by telling the stories of their loved ones who died believing the gospel. We should pray that God would, through this tragedy call out more followers and that they would respond with a resounding “Yes” to Jesus’ proposition to follow Him. 

 

It may just be that God would send a revival to our nation through this horrific attack. The people who died are my people. They are good people who love and worship the Lord. They were indwelt with the Spirit of the Living God who is greater than he who is in the world. I know that God must have used them to touch the hearts and lives of their survivors. As we hear their stories, I trust that we would hear the stories of how God saved them by His grace and that many more will be rescued as a result.


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What Does it Mean to Do the Will of God?

One of the most common questions that a pastor gets asked is some version of this, “What is God’s will for me?” In other forms, it is: Which job should I take? Should I quit my job? Where should I go to college? Are we ready to get married? Should we try to have a baby? Should we buy this house? Which medical option should we take?
 
I am grateful when these questions come through my office because it shows that the people who sit weekly under my preaching understand that every decision is a spiritual decision. When Jesus is your Lord, He is Lord of all of your life. To make a major life decision without Him is tantamount to making the same decision without your spouse.
 
Add to this that Jesus clearly tells us in the sermon on the mount that only “the one who does the will of my Father in heaven,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21). Mere lip service to Him will not do. Even doing mighty works in His name is not enough to demonstrate one’s fitness for heaven, only doing His will.
 
In some matters, the discerning of God’s will is relatively easy because they come right out of scripture. God’s will is that you would have a relationship with Him and be saved. His will is that you would grow in your relationship with Him and as you grow, that you would lead others to come to know Him as their Lord. His desire is that you would serve Him in the ministry of the church, for that is why He has given you gifts of the Spirit. He wills that you would love Him and love others unconditionally always being ready to forgive and be forgiven.
 
In other matters, it is more difficult to discern God’s will. There is no Bible verse to tell you which college God wants you to attend. There is no Old Testament prophecy that tells you if any given opportunity with which you are presented is going to be a blessing or a curse. So how will you know what decision to make?
 
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What this text teaches us is that discerning the will of God does not begin with us seeking to discern the will of God. It begins with us separating ourselves from the world, being transformed, and having a renewed mind. From there, we can test and know the will of God.
 
Here is the idea: resisting conformity to the world, accepting the transformation that comes from following Jesus, and daily seeking a fresh new mind will help to clear the fog of life. It will quiet the noise around you and then you will know the will of God. You will know what pleases Him, and you will be able to follow Him.
 
It is also important to understand that discerning and doing the will of God is not an exact science. Like a baby learning to walk, there is an element of trial and error. To prove this, you could study the life of any Bible character, and you would see that their walk with God was accomplished through a number of fits and starts. Expect that mistakes and poor decisions will be made. If you are in Christ, then those mistakes will only serve to further refine your mind and your faith.
 

The beauty of God’s providence is that you cannot go irreparably wrong. As long as you are seeking to know Him and make Him known in the world you will always find yourself where you need to be. This is the joy that you have in Christ. Nothing can separate you from His love. If God can use a liar to father a nation of priests, a murderer to lead His people, a traitorous disciple to lead thousands to faith at Pentecost, and a persecutor of the church to reach the nations for His glory, then He can use a feeble kneed Christian like you as well. Just trust Him. Follow Him. Seek Him and you will find Him.


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Keeping your eyes on Him

My son has a close friend whose father is severely visually impaired. I received his permission to tell this story, but I have this thing where I do not want all my friends to fear that I am just going to up and write about them and use their name. So I’ll just call him J. J is a great man. I love him dearly. He has a wonderful attitude about life, and one of the best senses of humor I have ever known. Technically speaking, he is partially sighted which means that he can tell if the lights are on in the room and can see some movement, but he still requires the use of a white stick to get around. Let me tell you though, his partial sightedness does not hinder him in the least from enjoying the life that he has been given by God.
 
Recently, we had a nerf war for my son’s birthday party at our Family Life Center. A whole gaggle of little boys and girls showed up, weapons in hand and pockets full of ammunition. The war was about to commence when in walks J.
 
I cannot say that I was surprised to see J, however, I was surprised to see what he was packing. In one hand he swiped the floor with his white stick to make his way through the door. In the other hand, he carried one of the fiercest looking nerf weapons I have ever seen. It was fully customized with an over and under double clip fully loaded with enough ammo to blast a nine-year-old into his next birthday.
 
I was wondering if I was actually seeing what I was seeing. Yep, sure enough, it was a partially sighted man with a gun. I decided that if nobody else was going to be “that guy,” I would. In the heat of the battle, I picked up a weapon of a fallen comrade and put about three foam rounds into J’s side. Without looking he swung his gun around and popped me three times in the belly. How was he able to shoot me!?!?! I quickly maneuvered to a different shooting position thinking it was a fluke. It wasn’t. He tracked me with every step and must have shot me close to a dozen more times. Finally, I called uncle.
 
I was genuinely impressed. Later after I recovered from my wounded pride, I asked him how he was able to shoot so accurately. He said something like “well I can’t see well, but I hear just fine.” Amazingly even in that crowd of squealing children, he was able to pinpoint my exact position just by listening for my feet on the gym floor.
 
This provoked me to think about Hebrews 11:1. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Read that last phrase again… “the conviction of things not seen.” A lot of people have a hard time with this verse, but it helps to consider my story of J.
 
As human beings we are limited. We are limited in knowledge. We are limited in strength. We are limited in sight. I think about what J said in this context. As Christians, while we might not always know for sure… while we might not always have the power to change our situation… while we might not be able to see the future… our faith works just fine.
 

Jesus said only those who do “the will of my Father in heaven,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21). As Christians, we desperately want to hit the target of God’s will, but many times His will proves to be a moving target. In the same way that J relies on his ears to hit the mark, we must rely on our faith. We can confidently sense His will if we will just trust in Him. If we walk in Him, seek Him, and have a growing relationship with Him then we can track His movements and move with Him. This is the example that Abraham and all the patriarchs left with us. Indeed, it is the example that Jesus set for us as well. The bottom line is this: when you cannot trust your own sight, finite as it is, you can trust the author and perfector of our faith. Keep your feeble eyes on Him.


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What happens to children and infants who pass away?

About 1 in 4 recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. In the U.S.A, another 2,500 infants pass away before their first birthday. Ten thousand or so more die from accidental causes each year.
 

In my 11 years of ministry, thankfully, I have never been called upon to do the funeral of a young person. However, given the statistics, it is important to address a question that must be on the minds of many of you who have experienced the loss of a child, particularly infants and toddlers, whether through miscarriage or by some other cause.

First, I want to say this to those of you who have experienced this sort of loss… I am so sorry. I cannot imagine the grief that you have endured and the sorrow with which you must still wrestle. I pray that the Lord will bring you comfort through what I have to share.

Does an infant or toddler who dies go to heaven? I believe the answer is clear in scripture. I am quite certain that the little ones who are taken from us, are taken home by their Heavenly Father. They are, by the grace of God alone, saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. They are, by the mercy of God, spared not only from the fires of hell but also from a lifetime of suffering in this fallen world.

Why do I say, “by the grace of God alone?” Scripture is very clear that all human beings are born in iniquity and sin. Sin is not just something that human beings do. It is a condition, an inherited disease that can only be cured by the blood of Christ working through the grace and mercy of God (cf. Romans 5:12-20; Psalm 51:5-7). No one is innocent. We are all born under sin (cf. Romans 3:9-10).

 
How am I able then to say that toddlers and infants are saved by grace? Answer: because children are special to the Lord. The ones that He elects to bring home before they have a chance to experience all the woes of this world are the most special ones of all. Jesus own words plainly affirm this, “but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:14).
 
Mark reports that when the disciples attempted to hinder the children from being brought to Him, He was “indignant.” He adamantly stated that the Kingdom belonged to the little children “such as these.” He took them in his arms and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
 

There is another account of Jesus’ heart for little children in Matthew 18, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me’” (Matthew 18:2-5).

 
It is important to remember that this child that Jesus put before them was not perfect or innocent. He was born under sin just like every other child. Like any toddler, he had lied, been disobedient to his parents, and broken the commandments of God. Even so, He was chosen by Christ as an example of the humility required to enter the presence of God.
 
I also call your attention to the last phrase in Matthew 18:5. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.’” Jesus’ heart for children is such that He links His identity with theirs. He is their defender. When a child is ministered to, so is Jesus.
 

The question remains if children are so special to the Lord, then why do so many die? Those kinds of why questions will never be answered on this side of eternity. We just know that God is good. He never does wrong. All His ways are perfect, and we must trust Him with childlike faith. I like to think, though, that when Jesus takes a toddler or infant home, He does so to teach us. Perhaps it is His way of setting them before us and saying… “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.’”


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