Try Listening

The greatest threat to human relationships in the 21st century is our inability to listen to one another. Today we possess a thousand different ways to talk to one another (phone, email, text, video chat, social media, blogging), but those methods of communication are useless when we lack the ability to listen. When we respond before making the effort and taking the time to listen, we end up talking at each other rather than to one another only leading to further division and miscommunication.
The Bible teaches us that it is important to listen, especially when involved in an emotional conflict. James writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (1:19). Proverbs 17:27 says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
Today, if you are embroiled in a conflict, having trouble with your spouse, at odds with a coworker, disputing with a neighbor, having a difference with a family member, or fighting with your children, then can I give you one small piece of advice? Try listening. You just might discover a path to reconciliation. If you can reconcile, then your relationship will be stronger on the other side of the conflict because you will have learned how to better communicate with one another.
The next time you have an opportunity to have a conversation with the person with whom you are fighting, try a different approach. Open the conversation with something like, “Listen, I know we are not seeing eye to eye, and I am unhappy with the way we have handled this so far. Since I know you are unhappy as well, I’d like us to try a different approach. I want to listen to you. Tell me how you are feeling about this issue, and I will not speak until I understand your side to your satisfaction.” Most people will not turn down a chance to be heard.
After your partner in conflict shares how she feels, then try to reflect what they have told you back to them. Say, “so what I hear you saying is that you feel (insert emotion) because (insert tangible cause of that emotion).” Here is what it would look like in a marriage conflict, “So what I hear you saying is that you feel angry when I repeatedly hit the snooze button because my alarm wakes you up and keeps you from getting rest.” Here is what it looks like in a workplace conflict, “What I hear you saying is that you are stressed, because I wait until the last minute to get my report done.”
Often, you will find that you have misinterpreted your partner’s words. For example, the spouse might reply, “No. That is not what I meant. I get angry when you hit the snooze and sleep late because it means I have to get the kids ready for school without your help.” The coworker might reply, “No. Your procrastination doesn’t merely ‘stress me out’ it infuriates me because it keeps me from meeting my own work deadlines.”
Keep restating what you hear them saying until they say, “Yes. You nailed it. That is how I feel and why I feel that way.” It is only then that you are ready to state your side. Use the same succinct formula. “I feel ______ (insert emotion) because ________ (insert tangible cause of that emotion).” Then, ask your conflict partner to reflect what they hear you saying back to you. Repeat these steps over and over until an amicable resolution surfaces.
Apply James 1:19-20 by refusing to speak until you have first heard. Apply Proverbs 17:27 by using the necessary minimum number of words. Avoid blame, keep a cool spirit, and refrain from raising your voice. If your partner cannot keep cool, then make an appointment to circle back and try the conflict resolution process again later.
Embrace the discomfort of vulnerability. Do not be too quick to apologize or to prematurely accept an apology. Saying or accepting an apology does not resolve a conflict if an apology is offered or accepted before all the emotions and causes for the conflict are on the table. You will end up having the same fight over and over.

Everyone should read Robert Bolton’s book, People Skills, for more tools on how to have tough conversations and resolve many different kinds of conflicts.


Harmony in the Church

I will never forget the first time I heard and recognized what I now know as harmony. Our church hosted an up and coming gospel group named Point of Grace in the mid-’90s. I remember being mesmerized as four individual voices combined to become one single voice of praise to our Lord. The symmetry of the beats and the seemingly effortless blending of each individual note seemed to me a production from the realm of the supernatural directed by the Master of all creation. 

I’ve come to the realization that all beauty stems from harmony. The beauty of God’s creation is rooted in how He created and then brought harmony to 118 primary elements to form all that we see in nature. Likewise, He created 12 notes and blended them in an infinite number of chords to make all the sounds that we hear and the languages we speak. From three primary colors, He formed all the colors of the rainbow. 
God brings the highest level of harmony and creates the most beautiful masterpieces when He establishes harmony among His human beings. He establishes the nations by bringing harmony to a diversity of peoples in a certain geographical area. He creates every family on earth by bringing harmony to brides and grooms so that they become husbands and wives and then, mothers and fathers. In every human institution, God shows people how to get along and work together and live together.
God made the Church the most beautiful harmonic masterpiece of all time. How did he create the church? It started when He reconciled the Church to Himself by giving His son to die on the cross in payment for her sins. In this way, God harmonized sinful man to His holiness by taking away the sins of the believers. He sanctified them with and through His Holy Spirit. He worked in their hearts to enable them to do the two great commandments, to love God and to love others. Finally, He brought them together all from different backgrounds, races, and socioeconomic statuses and joined them to one another as one body so that they could praise to Him with one voice. 
The Psalmist observed the beauty of God’s people living in harmony in Psalm 133:1, “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Our Savior prayed that we would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). The Holy Spirit prayed through Apostle Paul, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6-7).
Along with these observations and prayers, the Bible gives us some directives concerning how we should make it our aim to preserve the harmony that God established. His people are directed to preserve with eagerness and urgency the unity wrought by Jesus’ death on the cross “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Furthermore, the Bible directs believers to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed them (Romans 15:7). This is the example we have in Christ who sought the good of His brothers and sisters before Himself (Romans 15:2-3, Philippians 2:4).
The opposite of harmony is discord. Harmony is pleasing to the senses, but discord is off-putting. Too much discord gives way to repulsiveness. Harmony invites a “yes,” but discord produces a “no.” A mixture of harmony and discord is present in all man-made things, and the beauty or displeasure of all that we sense is relative to the amount of harmony versus discord that we perceive in a thing. 
We reveal God to the world by living in harmony with one another. John wrote, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). Let us make it our purpose to reveal God to the world by living out the love of God that is in us. Let us abide by the direction of the Holy Spirit who said through Paul, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 13:18) and in another place “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).


How to be a Heavenly Citizen

Roman citizenship was a very cherished item in the ancient world. Most everyone wanted to have access to and protection from the most powerful nation in the world. Many citizens of conquered nations enlisted in the Roman military for this specific purpose. If they survived their 20-year tour of duty, then they could retire as full Roman citizens. Many of these military veterans ended up settling in places on the frontier around cities like Philippi. 
Don’t underestimate the historical context when Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” For Christians, the victory was won by Christ on the cross. We survived. We finished our tour of duty and our citizenship is firmly in hand. We now await our savior, our commanding general, and our king to come and finish the only task left, the transformation of our lowly bodies to be like His.
Is this all though? Should we really be just sitting around waiting for Him to return, just biding time? I think there is more to being a heavenly citizen than this. Just as Roman citizenship carried with it certain duties, so also there are duties that go along with heavenly citizenship.
First, Heavenly citizens have a duty to not entangle themselves in the things of the world. Hebrews 11 tells the stories of some heavenly citizens that were known to be strangers and aliens in the world. They were weird people who did strange things. Abel offered a peculiar sacrifice that was acceptable to God. Noah, who was probably judged as off his rocker for expecting the flood, built an ark, survived the flood and saved the human race. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah wandered the earth like nomads never really finding a home here as they looked for a homeland that was out of this world. 
We should be a strange people as well, strange because we are strangers. Remember what Paul said to the Philippians? We are citizens of a kingdom that is out of this world, so that means that the citizens of this world should see us doing more than just making a living, raising a family, and living the American dream. Not that those things are bad, but we should be about more than that. They should see us doing strange things like going to church, telling others about our King Jesus, and living in a way that is peculiar to them.
Second, heavenly citizens should be active in the work of their kingdom. Many Christian philosophers would have us believe that we should live totally separated from the world in communes, convents, and monasteries. However, Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 that we are the salt and the light of the earth. Salt is made to give flavor. Light is made to shine. Both salt and light make an impact on the things that they touch.
As salt and light of the earth, we should preserve; we should shine. Just because we are strangers and exiles here does not mean that we should be unconcerned with the world. We should seek to make the world a better place. This is our duty as heavenly citizens and what good are we if our citizenship benefits only us?
Finally, as heavenly citizens we should share the good news. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. Think about this. God did not choose to write the gospel in the skies. He chose to write it on our hearts. He didn’t choose to send angels. He chose to send us. 
What honor and glory has been bestowed upon us? Corinth, a city in Greece, regularly received ambassadors from Italy who brought the good news of victory from the farthest reaches of the Roman empire. These ambassadors were the most honorable and grittiest of Roman officials. We too, as ambassadors of Christ, are most honored, and we should seek to be the grittiest as we go about sharing the good news of our heavenly kingdom. Good citizens of heaven have a duty to ride out, set sail, run, and proclaim the news of Jesus victory over sin and death to all who inhabit this land.


Paul in Athens

Last week, my daily Bible reading took me through Acts 17 and the story of Paul in Athens. I’ve always loved and been really interested in his sermon at the Areopagus where Paul used their altar ‘To the Unknown God’ to reason with them about Christ. What I had never looked deeply into, though, was what went into Paul receiving the opportunity to speak at the Areopagus. 
Did you realize that Paul was alone in Athens? He had no helpers, there were no churches and no fellow believers. He must have been tired having traveled halfway around the Roman world on his second missionary journey. This would have been a good time for him to rest while he waited on Timothy and Silas to join him.
Consider also that he was not only tired and alone, but he was also literally surrounded by idols. One historian satirically wrote that in Athens it was easier to find a god than to find a man. Athens was filled with temples to the Greek deities. There was the Great Temple of Athena that housed a grand ivory and gold statue of the Goddess. She stood almost 38 feet tall and sat atop a pedestal that was 12 by 24 feet. The statue was built out of 2400lbs of gold. But that was not the only temple. There was also the Erechtheion which was dedicated to the worship of numerous gods. It also featured a large central statue and a porch on the south side that with goddess statues for columns.
I would have wanted to hide. “What difference could one believer make in a city full of pagans?” That’s a question I would have asked as would, I think, most modern day western believers. Not Paul, though, for verse 16 says that when Paul saw all the idols, “his spirit was provoked within him.” I imagine Paul getting that look in his eyes, that look that said: “something has to be done.”
Luke reported that the provocation of his spirit moved him to enter the synagogues and begin reasoning with the Jews. Athens did have a strong Jewish presence, and there was also a lot of what Luke calls “devout persons,” that is Greeks who had converted to Judaism. Paul went to them one by one and began to reason with them about how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.
Paul, not content to just speak with the Jews, also went into the Stoa. The Stoa were large colonnade walkways where the Philosophers met and exchanged ideas. He reasoned with the Epicureans and the Stoics, the two competing humanist Philosophies of the Roman empire. Both the Epicureans and the Stoics were seeking to become sages in their own right, the Epicurean by ridding themselves of desire and the Stoic by overcoming with dogged determination any challenge that came their way.
You can just imagine what these philosophers thought about Paul. Here they were trying to overcome the world by their own human faculties and become like the gods when Paul comes and tells them that living a good life is not about fulfilling a purpose that one defines on their own. It is about living out the purpose that the one true God has already defined for them. Then, imagine what they thought when he got around to speaking to them about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. It’s no wonder that in verse 18 he was labeled by the Epicureans and Stoics as a “babbler” and “preacher of foreign deities.”
It was in his debates with the Epicureans and Stoics that Paul got noticed by another group of interesting people. The Areopagites were a cult, a sort of secular monastery, who lived in Athens. They followed neither the Epicurean nor the Stoic school of Philosophy. Rather they were devoted to hearing and discovering new things and new ways of thinking. The place where they met was called the Areopagus, a rocky outcrop atop Mars Hill. It is from this place and to this group that Paul preached his first public sermon in Athens. 
What do we learn? When you are alone, tired, and in an evil place, the thing to do is to go and reason with people. Just go share what God has done in your life and the truth that you live by. God can do amazing things through one person if that one person is wholly submitted to Jesus. 


Unpacking the King’s Secret to Success and Failure

Last week, my daily Bible reading plan took me through the middle chapters of 2 Chronicles that gave the account of the first few Kings of Judah. A striking pattern emerged for the kings’ successes and failures, one that is threaded throughout Scripture. 
The secret is this—whenever the kings humbled themselves and sought the Lord they were victorious no matter how dire the circumstances. Conversely, whenever they relied on their own devices or other earthly means they were miserably defeated. In Chapter 12, for example, the army of Egypt with its 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen came against Rehoboam. The prophet Shemaiah told him that the Lord had brought this siege against him because he had “abandoned the Lord.” The Chronicler reported in the very next verse that upon hearing this, the king and the princes humbled themselves. The result? “The word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: ‘They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem…’”
The next chapter Chronicles the reign of Abijah, son of Jeroboam. Abijah was the first of the great reformer kings. He was particularly concerned with reforming Judah’s priesthood. When a conflict broke out with the northern kingdom of Israel, he stood on Mt. Zimariam with his army of 400,000 outnumbered two to one against Israel’s 800,000 mighty men and spoke the following words in a scene that could be right out of the movie Braveheart: “’ “And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods… Behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with their battle trumpets to sound the call to battle against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed.’” The result? The priests sounded the trumpets, and when the dust cleared, Abijah had wiped out 500,000 of Israel’s mighty men. 
Perhaps the greatest illustration of the King’s secret to success and failure comes in the life of the next King of Judah, King Asa. King Asa experienced both victory and defeat based on whether or not he was relying upon the Lord. His defeat of the Ethiopians made his father Abijah’s victory look like an exhibition match. With a 580,000 man army, he defeated a force as large as the entire U.S. active military. His success against the Ethiopians was attributed to this prayer that the Lord answered: “’O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.’”
Asa did something incredibly dumb, though, late in his reign. Instead of seeking the Lord when Israel came against him, he made an alliance with the king of Syria. This alliance granted him victory in the short run and much bloodshed was avoided. In the long run, though, this would lead to his condemnation. The prophet Hanani delivered the verdict in hopes Asa would turn and seek the Lord saying, “’Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you… For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” Asa refused to repent and as a result, would spend his last years in misery and die a horrible death. 
So what do we learn from these stories? In short, reliance on the Lord pleases Him and leads to glorious victory. Reliance on anything or anyone other than the Lord leads to defeat and misery. It is not the circumstances that matter. What matters is who or what you are trusting in as you face those circumstances. When the glory of the Lord is the victory you seek and the means by which you seek it, then you are guaranteed success. You can do all things through Christ, and only through Christ, who strengthens you. 


The Origins of Valentine’s Day Craziness

Okay, so my title sounds a bit more cynical than I actually am about Valentine’s Day. The word “craziness” is the only word I could think of to describe what this week was like as I was growing up in the ’90s. In elementary school, we would take a piece of construction paper, fold it in half, staple the sides to make a folder, and tape it to our desks. Our parents would be instructed to go out and buy little Valentine’s cards, enough for each kind in the class to be distributed into our makeshift mailboxes at the Valentine’s party. Sometimes the cards would have built-in slots allowing for a sucker stick to be threaded into the gift. On the day of the party, all the little boys and girls would study each card hoping to find that they had a secret admirer among them in class.


In junior high and high school is when the Valentine’s craziness reached a fever pitch. It was a sweet time for those who had boyfriends and girlfriends and a miserable time for those who had not matched up with a suiter. During those years, Valentine’s Day was a bonanza for the local flower and gift shops, because the teenagers were in a contest to see who would get the biggest, gaudiest balloon bouquet, stuffed animal, or gift basket. One by one, each lucky boy or girl would be called to the office during the last period of the day to receive their gift. Some “single” kid’s moms would feel sorry for them and have a gift delivered to school which only added to their embarrassment when they had to tell their friends and peers that their oversized gift was from mom. By the late ’90s most school administrations had wisely outlawed this craziness.


I would be remiss to say that Valentine’s craziness does not continue to plague adults as well. It is still a bonanza for gift shops and restaurants, but it is at least a little more fun when you are happily engaged or married. It’s an excuse to show extra love and appreciation for your mate. Some years I like to take my teenage daughter on a date to treat her on Valentine’s Day.


So where did this craziness begin? There was a 3rd- century Roman priest named Valentine. Valentine was a common name during the period, so it is unclear which Valentine is the one the holiday is based on. The legend is that the St. Valentine, whom the Catholic feast is named after, was martyred in Rome under Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage because he found that single men made for better warriors. Valentine, a Catholic priest, defied this law and performed marriage ceremonies for young lovers. He also provided aid to the persecuted church in Rome.


So how did the practice of giving Valentine’s cards originate? It is reported that St. Valentine restored the sight of the young daughter of one of his Roman jailers. Just before his execution, by beheading, he sent her a note that was signed “your Valentine.”


Another, probably true, legend is that after the rise of Christianity in the Roman empire, the Feast of Valentine was instituted to overpower the annual Pagan holiday known as Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a February 14th holiday that included the sacrifice of a goat and a dog by a Roman priest. The skin of the goat was cut into strips and dipped in the sacrificial blood. Mostly naked men would walk the streets gently slapping the young women on the thigh with the bloody skins to supposedly increase fertility and ease the pain of childbirth. They would also slap the skins on their fields to supposedly increase their harvest. At the end of the evening, the women would write their names on tablets, place them in a big cauldron to be drawn by the men of the town. The resulting couples would be matched up until next year’s ceremony. Talk about craziness!


Now that you know the origins of the craziness, I encourage you to not be cynical about Valentine’s Day. Romantic love, when expressed within the boudaries that God laid out, unites lovers and is a gift from God. This love should be enthusiastically celebrated. If the Lord has blessed you with a mate whom you love and enjoy spending time with, be sure to let you know how thankful you are for them and do so in a special way.


A Snapshot of Wiggins, MS aka Our Jerusalem

Our cooperation with other churches in the Gulf Coast Baptist Association carries many benefits. Among these are access to minds of some of the greatest mission strategists in the Mississippi Baptist Convention, Dionne Williams, Dr. Steve Mooneyham and their assistants Grayson Orman and Robin Knapp. These individuals are employed through the cooperation of local churches and work to ensure that FBC and our sister churches are supported in their efforts to reach the world for Christ. 
One of the assets available to us through this partnership is a powerful demographic study tool known as Nsite. Nsite is a web-based program that uses GIS data, along with data from the US Census Bureau, as well as data from the credit monitoring entity Experian to generate reports on the demographics and economics of a defined area.
Two weeks ago, your ministerial staff asked Grason Orman of the Gulf Coast Baptist Association to generate a full Nsite report for the city of Wiggins.    He used an official city map to define the area of the study. The ministerial staff of FBC Wiggins spent a couple of weeks analyzing the wealth of raw data generated in the Nsite report. I want to share with you a summarized and boiled down version of what we took away. I hope this will give you some direction as you pray over our 2019 Reaching to Disciple focus.    I’ve summarized the data in three categories. First, I’ll give you a snapshot of what the population looks like currently along with projections for the future. Then I’ll do the same with households. And finally, I will give you a look at the mosaics (or you could say “people groups”) who occupy our Jerusalem. Download Full Nsite Report
Current Population: The current population of Wiggins is 4,486 people. We are classified as a moderately diverse, somewhat blue collar, and somewhat above poverty line community. About 45% of the population is 35 yrs-old and below. The majority of the population is either White non-Hispanic (67%) or African American non-Hispanic (30%) with Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and Asians making up the remainder of the diversity along with a handful each of Cubans and Filipinos. 
Trends: The population of Wiggins has not grown much since 2010, but the Nsite data predicts that growth over the next 10 years will will be at twice the state average. The greatest growth is projected to occur in the African American demographic as well as among 25-34 year-olds. The second highest rate of growth is projected to occur in 55-64 year-olds. The data seem to suggest that we will have more of our current middle and high schoolers sticking around along with their currently middle-aged parents. We also expect more young and middle-aged people moving into our community to work in Wiggins, Hattiesburg, and the Gulf Coast. (It’s worth noting that the generation that includes our middle and high school students [GENZ or iGEN] is the largest generation in the nation.) Finally, the number of children in the city limits will stay about the same for the next five years with the youngest and the oldest school age children slightly increasing and the middle grades slightly decreasing. 


Current Households: There are 1,498 households in the city limits of Wiggins. Nsite defines a household as, “all people who occupy a housing unit. It includes two sub-categories: family households and non-family households.” Your family households are what they sound like, and the non-family households are either single people or single people who share living quarters. Of the 1,498 households in Wiggins, 1,087 of them are family households. About half of the households make around $50k per year and above the other half make less. The majority of households are made up of 3 or less people. Here’s one statistic that was a surprise for the staff, 52% of the homes where children are present are managed by a single parent. (Allow that one to sink in before reading on)
Trends: The number of households in the city limits of Wiggins is projected to grow to 1,654 by 2028. That works out to a rate more than twice the state average. The median household income is projected to grow by just over $4k over the next ten years. And sadly, the number of single parent homes is projected to grow to 55%.


Nsite has a really neat feature that utilizes Experian’s “Mosaic Segments” in its reports. Mosaic segments are a way of grouping the population into categories to develop a profile of the types of people who live in the community. There is WAY more information than I can even digest, much less include in its entirety in this post. I will take a shot at giving you a more detailed summary of the mosaic segments in the city limits in a later post, but for this one… let me just give you a snapshot. Keep in mind that the mosaics are generated through Experian so most of it is based on spending habits of the population. 


The majority of Wigginites are classified in the category of Pastoral Pride. This mosaic is defined as an “eclectic mix of lower middle-class consumers who have settled in country and small town areas.” They are described as proud, and frugal minded with a working class sensibility. Their heads of households range from age 19 to 50. They are technological wizards, and the recommended marketing campaigns to reach them are through internet and social media. 

The next category of Wiggins resident is dubbed Golden Year Guardians. Who are they? Experian says, they are “Retirees living in old homes, settled residences and communities.” That tells you a great deal. Our Golden Year Guardians are reached most effectively though direct mail and door to door visits. 

The final mosaic I’ll share with you for the purpose of this summary is the next most prominent, the one labeled Economic Challenges. If the name doesn’t tell you all you need to know, then Experian’s definition will: “Economically challenged mix of singles, divorced and widowed adults in smaller cities looking to make ends meet.” Those in this group, it says, are most effectively reached through direct mail and door to door campaigns, as well as through internet and social media. 

  Other mosaic groups that are present in our city include- Families in Motion, Autumn Years, Blue Sky Boomers, Thriving Boomers, and Singles and Starters to name a few.   I’m still learning to read about these mosaic groups so I want to hold off before providing you with too many more details.    As we continue to pray and study, I’ll share more with you.  Download Full Nsite Report



Victorious Warriors Win First

The 6th century B.C. Chinese general named Sun Tzu famously wrote, “Victorious warriors win first, while defeated warriors go to war and then try to win.” What Tzu meant was that the decisive moments of the battle are fought before it even begins. Victory requires preparation. It requires winning the battle within yourself, defeating your fears, finding your courage, and making a battle plan.
As Christians, we are called to be “good soldiers of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Many believe that we are to be soldiers of defense only. This is an erroneous assumption for Jesus said of the church, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That is, we are to armor up, storm the gates of hell, overwhelm Satan’s defenses, march in, and deliver the perishing from an eternity of torment.
Such conquests, as Tzu pointed out, albeit in a different context, requires preparation. An offense against the powerful forces of the darkness will not be won on the spiritual battlefield. It will be won in our hearts long before we ever build the siege works against the gates of hell. To enter the battlefield unprepared is the sure path to defeat no matter how determined we are to win. The enemy is much too smart and powerful and will surely turn back an under-prepared force.
Step 1 in preparing to go to battle is to decide in your heart what kind of soldier you want to be. A good soldier believes in his or her cause. A good soldier goes to war ready to suffer having already died to themselves and accepted the possibility that they could become a casualty. A good soldier has determined that suffering is a worthy price to pay. A victorious soldier is one who has already won before he ever steps on the battlefield.
Step 2 is to recognize which unit you are called to serve. A rogue soldier bent on being a lone ranger is one that is already defeated. All believers are members of one another. Our strength is in our unity. Whatever the cause you feel called to fight, you can be sure that you have brothers and sisters who are called as well. They are your battle buddies. You need to identify who they are, join them, and begin sharing what the Lord has placed on your heart.
Step 3 is to gather with your unit and pray. Think of this as a meeting with your commander. Anytime a group of believers gathers together and says to the Lord, “Here we are. Send us,” they receive marching orders. Keep praying until you can be confident that the calling of God is clear and that He will go before you.
Step 4 is to train. As Christians we are trained by the Holy Spirit speaking through the word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16&17 tells us that the “God-breathed” Scriptures are “profitable… for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Drink His word in deeply. Study. Like the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 and like the disciples of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, sometimes it helps to have a skilled and gifted teacher tell you what you are reading, so take advantage of good sermons, books, podcasts, blogs, and commentaries. Stick with the training until you are complete and equipped for the good work to which He has called you.
Step 5 is to march. Once you have found your courage by determining who you are and who your unit is, once you have received your marching orders and the training you need, it’s time to put feet to your faith. Whether He has called you to reach the lost in your city or called you to go to the ends of the earth to a people with no gospel witness, you are ready to go out with confidence. Take heart. The battle is already won in your heart. Jesus has already overcome your enemy. He goes before you. He fights your foes. Go and claim the victory in His name and for His glory.
I’m sure there are other steps in between these 5, and I do not mean to imply that these are 5 “easy” steps. The point is that we are called to go to war. If we desire to be victorious warriors, we must win first and then go to war.


The New York State Reproductive Health Act: What has changed and what has stayed the same.

This week, on the anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision, the New York legislature passed sweeping legislation amending the state’s policy on abortion as well as criminal law as it pertains to the unborn. The passage of this law titled The Reproductive Health Act has sparked outrage in all who, along with the God of the Scriptures, holds the sanctity of all human life from conception to the grave. The pro-choice community, on the other hand, tout this new law as a step in the direction of bringing the state law into alignment with the federal law concerning abortion.


As a local church pastor, who loves his people and who is called to be a shepherd, I felt it necessary to do more than just repost or comment on what other people in the pro-life Christian community have said. These days it is difficult to trust what you read online from both the right and the left side of the aisle. The local church should be able, though, to trust their pastor’s guidance on these polemic issues. It is for this reason that I took the time to read the law and do my best to understand what it changes and what it doesn’t.


A disclaimer: I am not a lawyer so I reserve the right to be wrong. I have, though, spent hours studying the text of the Reproductive Health Act. I have also studied the descriptions, reactions, and justifications of both the supporters and the detractors of the new law and done my level best to read between the lines, sort through what the arguments actually are, and discern the relevant fallacies and legitimacies of supporter and detractor alike.  


Before I get into what has changed in New York since yesterday, let me explain one thing that has not changed. The Reproductive Health Act does not permit an unrestricted elective abortion after 24 week’s conception. Many people are saying that The Reproductive Health Act allows for elective abortions right up to the point of birth, but that is not true as that would be a violation of the Roe V. Wade decision that says that abortion is not allowed after 24 week’s conception. If it were the case that the law allowed abortions up to the moment of birth, the law would never have been passed through the state legislature and even if it had, would have been ruled unconstitutional with the slightest legal challenge. 




Here are the criteria that must be met in order for a woman to have an abortion today in the State of New York:


1.  She must be less than 24 weeks along in her pregnancy.


2.  The baby will not be able to survive outside the womb.


3.  The abortion is necessary to protect the life of the woman.


4.  The abortion is necessary to protect the health of the woman.


Criteria 1-3 were New York law before yesterday. The change is contained in the 4thcriterion. Now a woman can have an abortion, not just if her life is in danger but also if her “health” is threatened. Here is where it gets sticky. If having a baby threatens the mental, emotional, or psychological health of a potential mother, does that count? Could this be an opening of Pandora’s box, so-to-speak?


The answer is yes. However, the Reproductive Health Act does not open the box. Rather, the box was opened with the Supreme Court decision in Roe V. Wade. The court’s decision explicitly states that  a late term abortion (after 24 week’s pregnancy) is permissible if “the health” of the mother is in danger. Please hear me out. I am not saying I agree in any way whatsoever with the policy. I am only pointing out that the New York legislators are not adding to anything that is not already on the books concerning clinical abortion. 


It is an outrage that the murder of an unborn human being made in the image of God is permissible at any point between conception and natural death. But this culture of death was not born yesterday by the passage of one law in the state of New York. It began in 1973 with a decision of the Supreme Court. It will end only with a decision of the current Supreme Court. The current makeup of the Supreme Court is a threat to those who desire to keep the status-quo, and that is precisely why the Democratically controlled New York legislature passed this law. It was in anticipation of a change in the Federal Law. 


Here’s something that the law did change concerning abortions. According to the Reproductive Health Act, who judges whether the criteria for abortion are met? The law now says the judgment is to be made by a licensed, certified, or authorized healthcare practitioner working within the scope of his or her practice. Under this language, any health care practitioner, even a licensed nurse or midwife, who receives training in performing abortions can make the judgment whether an abortion is “justifiable” and can then perform the abortion. This was not the case before the passage of this law as only specialized licensed physicians were permitted to sign off on or perform an abortion. 


The largest change that the Reproductive Health Act makes to state laws is concerning “personhood” and the penal code. This is the one line of text that sent shivers down my spine and brought tears to my eyes when I read it: 


“The following [definitions are] DEFINITION IS applicable to this article: [1.] ‘Person,’ when referring to the victim of a homicide, means a human being who has been born and is alive.”


Even though the law maintains (sort of) the protection of life for an unborn baby after 24 weeks, the baby is stripped of its personhood. According to the balance of the text in the Reproductive Health Act, the “fetus” has essentially no rights whatsoever under the law. It is not even considered a human being until born alive. 


Last week, before the passage of this law, if a 38-week woman pregnant was murdered so that she and her baby died, the perpetrator would have been charged with not one but two counts of homicide. Today, he’d only be charged with one, because the “fetus’” life wouldn’t count. Last week if a 39-week pregnant woman was punched in the stomach so that her unborn baby was harmed, the perpetrator would have been charged with two counts of assault, one against the woman and one against the baby. All those protections are gone today for unborn New Yorkers. 


This is a travesty. It will almost certainly be challenged in the courts, because it goes beyond (in my opinion and I hope also in the courts’) the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe V. Wade that protects the life of the unborn after 24 weeks. This is a new challenge and the church in America should join together in prayer that this language gets overturned. 


In case you find my tone cold or dispassionate up to this point. There are a few more things I want you to hear me say. First, thank you for reading this far. Second, as painful as it is to read (and write) a cold treatment of the hard facts, it is what is needed to guide people in how to pray for our country and to bring an end to the culture of death. 


Third, human life is the most precious thing on earth. It is the most precious thing to the heart of God. His glory is wrapped up in His love for all persons. There is not a drop of human blood spilled that goes unnoticed or unpunished by our Creator. Don’t make the mistake of believing that because we are the greatest and richest country on the planet, God will treat us any differently from all the other pagan nations before us whom he judged and brought down for much lesser offenses than we are committing on a daily basis.


Governments are given authority by God to be His arm and to uphold morality as defined in His law. All through the Bibl,e we see that when a government ceases to uphold His rule, fails to protect the innocent, and neglects widows and orphans, He first brings chaos as a warning, and then in the absence of repentanc,e He brings the destruction of that nation along with her culture.


Roe V. Wade is a threat, not just to the unborn; it is a threat to our great nation. Many men and women have laid down their lives to ensure the freedom of all people. Let’s pray for those hard won freedoms to be preserved for those who still have them, and granted to those are not afforded them under our current human government.




God Loves You

I thought the world could use some good news today. Here is the good news- God loves you. If you will come to Him in humility, then He will accept you. In fact, He has already accepted you. All you need to do today is trust in the love with which He has already loved you.
You may not realize that God loves you, but it is evident if you read your Bible. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so,” is not just a sweet little song for children to sing. It is a truth that the whole world needs to hear.
Long before you were ever born, you were created in the image of God. He formed your ancestors out of the dust of the earth. He breathed the breath of life into their nostrils. If you will think deeply about this, then you will understand that when He created Adam and Eve, with their individual DNA, He was creating all the human beings who would ever walk the earth.
In love, He blessed them and instructed them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. This set the human race apart from all other creatures on the planet. He planted a beautiful garden and placed them in it for their enjoyment. He gave them all they needed in the way of food and resources to thrive and be blessed.
He was merciful to them even when they sinned against Him and earned death for themselves. He forgave them. Rather than destroy them, He prolonged their days and promised to send a Savior who would make right the wrongs that they had done.
Throughout the metanarrative of the Bible, God reaffirms His love for you and the whole human race over and over. When He saved Noah in the flood, when He blessed Noah and his whole family upon debarking the ark, when He called Abraham and promised to make him a light to all nations, when He renewed His promise to Isaac and Jacob and Jacob sons, when He rescued His people from slavery, when He established them as a nation, and when He made the promise to David to send a son (a Son of God) who would establish an everlasting kingdom, He continually reaffirmed His love for all people of every nation.
Then, in the most magnificent demonstration of His love, He sent the only true son He ever had to come and live and die for the sins of all who would believe. He raised Jesus from the dead, and crowned Him King of kings forever so that all who would believe and trust in His love could experience the outworking of His love in their lives for all eternity.
From this survey of the Scriptures, I hope you are beginning to understand that you are already loved by God. His love is not something that you must earn or be deserving of. The God of all heaven and earth has already deemed you worthy of love. You are not worthy of love because of anything you have done for Him. You are worthy of His love because He has declared it so by His grace.
That He loves you already cannot be overstated. Eons before you were ever born, before you were ever self-aware before you could ever bow your head in prayer, be baptized, or give an offering, you were loved. You do not have to do anything or be anything to be accepted by Him, because He has already accepted you as someone that He loves.
While there is no way to earn His love, there is one way that you can be precluded from experiencing the benefits of His love in your life. You cannot experience His love if you reject that He loves you. If you believe that anything you have done or could ever do will move His heart to love, that constitutes a rejection and a cheapening of His love.

His love is offered freely. It must be freely received or not at all. This is where your faith comes in. You must have faith to believe that you are saved by all He has done for you and not by any merit of your own. You must have the humility to reject any notion that you have it together and seek to allow His love to permeate and transform every aspect of your life.