Large and In Charge

When we were kids, amidst fun and games, occasional conflict arose.  Inevitably, the  passionate objection rang out, “Who Made You Boss?”  —Great Question! 

That’s one I want to ask God.

Then again, I guess the very question implies that somebody already has to be in charge in order to determine who gets to be Boss!  (Named Kalam Cosmological Argument, for scholars in the crowd.)

God willingly takes the title and the task.  “Let there be no strange god among you.  Nor shall you worship any foreign god.  I am the Lord your God.”  (Ps 80:9-10).  I admit, to my finite mind, that sounds a bit narrow and presumptuous.  Dare I say “Ego-centric”?  At the very least, exclusive.  The God of the Bible leaves no wiggle room when it comes to devotion.  What gives Him the right?  How can He demand, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”?

Before you pronounce me a brazen heretic, hear me out.  The questions I have just posed, come from a sincere place.  In fact, any adherent would be prudent to wrestle with such quandaries.  Honest inquiry is the difference between faith and fantasy.

Now, to offer some unrefined answers from this same frail mind.  First, if Sovereignty means anything, it denotes sole occupancy.  You cannot have two Sovereigns.  Besides, who wants to worship a god who is merely one of many?  You may find yourself inexorably exploring options for one better. 

Secondly, truth by definition implies non-truth (a.k.a. error).  2+2=4; only 4.  Conversely, you can draw a crooked line only if a straight line exists.  You can worship a false god only in deviation from the True God.

Thirdly, other belief systems on display in the ancient world of Biblical times were renowned for lurid promiscuity, cheapening human life (child sacrifice), capricious deities, and incarcerating adherents in endless fear.   

Consider this: when you own something (not to mention create it), you have the inherent right to determine its destiny and loyalty.  The God of Scripture is repeatedly stated to be our creator and redeemer.  “I have ransomed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is 43:1)  New Testament passages, too many to cite, refer to God purchasing our salvation at the price of His own Son.  Name another Divinity to do that.  ...Supremacy is costly.

Finally, God has a practical reason for insisting on sole allegiance.  Simply: it works.  Follow my logic …slowly.
Your Devotion affects your Values.
Your values affect your Character.
Your character affects your Impulses.
Your impulses affect your Behavior.
Your behavior affects Everyone, including You.

When the glory of God is defaced, the objective measure of truth is compromised.  Right and wrong, good and evil become impossible to distinguish.  Creation falters: chaos and cruelty ensue.

The God of the Scriptures is Holy.  He calls us to be like Him.  When we are, everybody wins. 

God not only has the inherent right to be Boss, I’m glad He is!  

…You got a better alternative?…

Turning a Blind Eye

I spend an inordinate amount of time in developing nations.  Relationships there with marvelous people are exquisite.  So likewise, is cuisine!  Sometimes, scenery.  However,  I can’t help but observe the general order of disorder.  Nothing functions.  Still, they make it work: remarkable tribute to human ingenuity.  Yet, when in that impoverished world, one quickly encounters perilous roads, insufficient sewage, broken machines, burnt out lights, tainted drinking water, choking pollution, and ubiquitous fluctuating electricity.  Sound systems for visiting speakers squeal with ear-piercing predictability.  Buildings sit either half-finished or half-fallen; hard to tell.  Please, pick up just some rubbish!  Privately (I really mean that), I ponder, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?!”

One day in my spartan quarters, while unceremoniously grousing and coping, a personal thought flashed.  “They can’t fix it, because they don’t really see it.”  Failure and chaos are so pervasive, it is normal.  They learn to live with it.  It’s all they know.  Hear me now; “It would be for me, if this were home”. 

God created the world in pristine condition.  Sin is perversion from His original design.  When it entered the human experience, a serious wrench was thrown in the gears.  It trashes everything.  Sin is dysfunctional.  Reference rebellion, racism, adultery, substance and spousal abuse, criminality, corruption, and cruelty; to name a few.  Live in that realm, and limp through life.  In the small town where I formerly pastored, I regularly drove past the Court-House, which sat across the street from my church.  Over the years, entangled with the Law, the same faces regularly assembled outside enjoying a smoke on the lanai between legal sessions.  Inwardly feeling frisky, I wanted to lower my window and ask, “How’s this working out for ya?”  …Better judgement prevailed.

Scripture succinctly sums: “There is a way that seems right unto a man: the end therein, is death.”  The New Testament is more terse: “Sin brings forth death.”

Beware when we grow accustomed to living outside God’s design and surrender Eternal truth.  After while, you adjust to darkness, it becomes the new normal.

Later, a complimentary insight dawned.  Those of us fortunate enough (I really mean that) to dwell in advanced nations, frankly get used to efficiency, precision, and comfort.  Example: in Japan trains run on time; every time.  Europeans have mastered the fine art of leisure inactivity.  Western Democracy is a luxury.  In my idyllic island home, we feel aggrieved when a stop light takes too long!  Heaven help us if our microwave goes on the blink!  Could you even imagine taking a shower in cold water?  Moral: appreciate  when you have it good.

Perhaps that is why when a sinner first turns to Christ, (I recall when grace found me) they are completely amazed and on fire with enthusiasm for Jesus.  They have lived amidst brokenness, bondage, and darkness so long; that this new life, liberation, and light, is absolutely awesome.  They can tell the difference!  

…I presume you can discern the distinction, too?…

Worth It.

Living and Dying on Purpose.

Christ in the Caribbean

  Haiti Pastor Training Conference

They Reap What You Sow

If I may; young parents, this article is for you.  I appreciate the  daunting task you have to rear little ones.  Been there; done that.  No doubt, you love your children and from observed trends of Millennial parenting, expend great effort and expense to provide for your children’s development through educational, recreational, and social activities.  Strategically, I urge you to consider the essential life skills and tools you give them to survive in an increasingly aggressive and complex world.  The Good Old Days are gone.  (See sobering examples below.)  Hence…

Where do you derive the moral framework you imbue in your children?  Ponder how you are equipping them to make decisions about lifestyle, values, and simply, the kind of person they are going to be.  Determined to be decent or delinquent?  They alone will make the choice whether to cheat on a test, shoplift a candy bar, or bully a classmate.  Alcohol and illicit drugs will be offered before they reach adulthood.  Sex indeed beckons: what framework have you given them to manage flaming hormones fueled by peer pressure?  They will decide whether to speak truth or lies…to their employer, spouse, and to you.  

You are the primary source of their moral encoding.  (Assuming you expend the effort.)  Where do you get it?  Likely, you access three sources.  Most common is simply yourself.  Just go with your heart.  Thus the appropriate question: where did you get your morals?  Is your subjective perspective reliable?

Second source is the society around us, primarily expounded through the media.  You wager a high risk gamble trusting Hollywood, the Internet, and Facebook as a credible source for moral guidance and instruction.  Snoop Dog and Snookie, Madonna and Miley, seem slightly spurious.

Third is God’s Word.  It stands the test of time.  The Bible shows raw humanity.  Some got it right, others blew it big time.  Divine standards and lifestyle espoused in Scripture work in the real world.  If you do not expose your kids to faith, then by default, you have consigned them to the daunting task of making it through life, on their own.  Good luck with that; ‘cause luck is all they’ll have.

Thus, it would seem the choice belongs to you.  You can consult what’s inside you, around you, or above you.  Sincere, social, or Sovereign.  The choice is yours.  The  consequences —are theirs.

  1. Every day in our nation, an average of 5240 young people grades 7-12 attempt suicide.  (www.Jasonfoundation.org)
  2. Over 90% of those with an addiction began smoking, drinking, and using illicit drugs before age 18.  (www.addictioncenter.com)
  3. Every nine seconds, another woman in the United States is abused.  (Partnership Against Domestic Violence)
  4. Before the internet, the average age children were first exposed to pornography was age 11, now some researchers lower that to age 8.  (Focus on the Family)
  5. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  (Proverbs 22:6)

Chain Reaction

Working at my desk, my iPhone twinkled a WhatsApp instant message from overseas.  A young-ish and gifted pastor from Guatemala, with whom I have worked closely in years past, is busily training indigenous pastors in the Amazon jungle of Perú! 

This text message requested I send him notes from one of my past Missions Sermons.  Serving as my translator previously, he recalled the basic concept and wanted to preach it in Perú for local pastors preparing to embark upon mission of their own!

Normally, said practice of sharing notes and preaching someone else’s sermon is questionable.  But, I know this guy and trust him.  Here’s the clincher.  If my simple sermon thoughts can be transmitted by him to empower those Latin pastors to reach unreached tribal peoples of the Amazon, then in the words of the Apostle Peter, “Who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” !

Consider the chain of contributions: starting with the Holy Spirit - in me -through him - to them - ultimately touching persons and points beyond where we could never go!  

This folks, is Kingdom Contribution.  Whenever we share what we have, including prayerfully empowering this ministry, it bears manifold fruit.  Just like Jesus said it would.

Devil Goes Down!

Teaching future pastors in a foreign land, I challenged my class to define Satan in one sentence.  

One student, a former entertainer, smirked, “He used to be my best friend.”

Finding the Forgotten

Lighthouse in Action ministers to those snared on Thailand's darker side.  Through Biblical teaching and Staff Training, we empower their effort.  (Video used with permission.)

The Right to Believe What is Wrong

The more bizarre the better!  Someone I know and love, by their own profession, is an avowed unbeliever.  No time for God and Scripture, let alone the lifestyle of the straight and narrow.  Instead, preferring the fashionable broad and winding path, to use Jesus’ terms, this person has stubbed their toe and run smack into more than one wall.  You have to admire their tenacity.  They stick with their self-willed course no matter the consequences.

A recent conversation proved enlightening for me.  My esteemed person (Notice the  lengths I go to respectfully preserve their anonymity.) passionately shared their latest insight on life.  Seems this particular theory revolved around a foreign government’s program to silence dissent regarding use of nuclear energy.  I was told that even though people’s health are presently suffering and lives are endangered, no one is allowed to blow the whistle.  Ominous, indeed!

Politely inquiring as to the source of this scandalous information, I was informed it was the late night Radio Show “Coast to Coast AM with George Noory”.  This is the same popular program that regularly features guests propounding the paranormal, as well as callers in the wee hours describing out of body experiences with space aliens, and various government conspiracies du jour.  

I find it fascinating the things people choose to believe.  (At the end of the day, belief or unbelief is a matter of choice.)  In my friend’s case, it seems the exotic captures their interest…for a while.  Intriguing that one finds credibility in the offbeat while dismissing out of hand faith claims that have endured thousands of years.  

Another life-long friend, likewise is an overt skeptic of faith.  Some years ago he boldly announced over lunch that having read The Divinci Code his suspicion of religion had been confirmed.  When I responded that ample scholarly rejoinder exists; he replied firmly, “I don’t want to read a bunch of stuff!”  I laughed, highlighting my old buddy’s intellectual inconsistency: raising objections yet refusing to consider corresponding answers!  How convenient.  A classic case of, “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

Christianity has been dissected more ways than your biology classroom frog.  Skeptics relentlessly seek to disprove, discredit, and dismiss religion.  Still, it endures.  Archeology consistently corroborates biblical accounts.  Literary criticism substantiates the reliability of Scriptural transmission yielding 5,366 manuscripts of evidence.    Contemporary foes had every reason and means to squelch resurrection claims, yet could not.  Philosophical and logical arguments verify the reasonable sensibility of faith claims.  Millions of adherents offer first-hand testimony (sometimes at the cost of their own lives) to personal salvation.  Jesus Christ has been the subject of more scrutiny than any figure in human history.  Yet, He abides.  

In conclusion, we all have a right to believe or not.  I just hope what we believe is right.

Living on a Leash

Try being named after a dog.

Hank, a rather sizable Labrador Retriever, is still a rambunctious pup.  Since my last name is Hankins, I have been casually called “Hank” ever since I was a pup.  Hearing his owners chastise Hank to get down, Hank stop chewing, and most of all, not to ...uh, do-what-dogs-do... becomes awkward.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland in the Blue Ridge mountains amidst falling snow, Hank is living large.  This calamitous canine is convinced he is part Saint Bernard or Siberian Husky frolicking in the Alps.  One problem ensues, Hank repeatedly bites the leash from his owner Jordan. 

Homeward bound on snow-slick road, we halt.  Jordan stands holding one end of the leash, Hank no longer on the other.  He had bitten it off.  His Master proceeds to grab the short length attached to Hank’s neck, a mere snout-length away.  We proceed home, said chewer in tow on a very short leash.

We sometimes feel God is a party-pooper by establishing rules, regulations, and restrictions.  Commandments cramp our style.  I Kings 2:3 echoes a bevy of Scripture admonitions and advice,  “... observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in obedience to Him, and keep His decrees and commands, His laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.  Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you may go”.  Jesus succinctly summed, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”  Any part of that we don’t understand?

It is true, God has prescribed limits to our liberty.  We are free to roam within His boundaries.  He does so, not for His benefit, but for ours.  Abiding obediently, we are safe, secure, and free to experience life.  When we resist and insist on severing the leash; God’s love refuses to relinquish.  He will, when necessary, shorten our leash.  Freedom severely limited, fun curtailed, we continue securely on the path home.  

At least, if I learned a significant life lesson that day, it’s not so bad being named after a dog.

Conversion or Coercion...

Darker impulses lurk at the door.  Sorry to be bearer of bad news, but facts are facts.  Every one of us has to be held in check.  Otherwise, left to our own impulses, we run amuck.  Sure as water flows to the sea, so character descends downhill.  Ever seen a child reared without guidance and boundaries?  What starts out cute, quickly annoys as they move beyond being a brat to becoming delinquent.  Potential destination: criminal.  They were allowed to be a law unto themselves.  

How can I write such things?  Because I know me.  I am a descendent of Adam and his race.  Biblically, due to inherited depravity, the diagnosis is gruesome and the prognosis grim.  Left to my own devices, I am wired for chaos and self-destruction.  Nature inescapably follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Which, in a nutshell observes that things left to themselves relentlessly slide toward entropy.  In a word: decay.  Need proof?  How’s your health… as you age?  Like I said,     I know myself.

Now to the salient point of this treatise.  Given our innate bent toward mayhem, people like you and me must be either inwardly constrained or outwardly restrained.  Checked by intrinsic virtue or extrinsic fences.  Illustration: repeated scenes in our nation when order breaks down.  Hoards roam and riot.  When opportunity arises to shatter windows and snatch a wide-screen TV; a motivating factor becomes operative.  Either some form of personal conscience tells you to stop, or you join the chorus of the throngs.   Smash and grab!

Hence, remove God from the home, schools, and public life, and something else must fill the vacuum.  Somehow, order must be maintained.  (Therefore, our society has created an estimated 5,000 Federal Criminal Laws, with between 10,000-300,000 Federal Regulations enforced with criminal penalty.*  Not to mention sundry State and local prohibitions.) People are governed either by internal principles or external parameters.**  More Preachers or Police.  Faith or force.  Take your pick: God or guns.  {Yes, I admit my bias.  I am directly inferring morality from spirituality.}

If you are still reading, and resisting the urge to revolt, let me end on a hopeful note.  Scripture proclaims a superior lifestyle in II Corinthians 5:14-21.  It unabashedly offers transformed identity in Christ.  We affirm the endearing declaration in verse 17, and it’s Divine agency in verse 21.  (Sly attempt to get you to read, believe, and embody them.)  For purposes of this article, I highlight the opening verse 14, For the love of Christ constrains us”.  

Hmmm:  fueled by faith, checked by choice, locked in love.   Meaningful motivation.                
Wall Street Journal
** Repeated citations of Founding Fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, & Benjamin Franklin buttress this thesis.

Soul Safari

Africa ministry: proclamation & much more!

Face to Face

“I’ve just seen Jesus.”  The epic composition, impeccably performed by Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patty, brought unanticipated emotion.  I freely admit.  Tears welled in my eyes, then trickled down my cheeks.  Seated nearby, Brendalyn P. said not a word. 

Deep truth grasped me.  Pondering the undeniable impact of the resurrection of Jesus; believers who were understandably bewildered, disillusioned, and despairing were transformed when they met Jesus face to face.  He was alive!  Scripture relates, that even the Apostle Thomas, a no nonsense guy, resisted and insisted.  Then, with his own eyes, he saw the scars.  He fell on his face and worshipped.

In that pregnant encounter, Jesus responded with poignant application, “Blessed are those who did not see me, and yet believed.”  That— means me.

Here goes.  I have known the Lord for over half a century.  At an old wooden alter, as a little boy I gave my heart to Him.  I have never taken it back.  Oh, occasionally stumbling; His grace prevails.  I have devoted my adult life to serving Him.  His, has been my prime agenda for living.  It has cost me money, energy, and opportunity.  While in no way a martyr; I have endured ridicule, bias, and censure for His name.  I spend and am spent for His cause.  I have placed all, repeat all, my hope squarely on Him.   He is my Savior, He is my Lord.  I love Him, I am not ashamed to say.

— I have never seen Him.  

Does that make me a fool, or faithful? — 

I will see Him.  I have His Word on it.  “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  (Jn 14:3)  “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is.”  (I Jn 3:2)  “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face....” (I Cor 13:12)

When for the first time, I gaze upon His face; the One who loved me and gave Himself for me, I too, shall be overwhelmed with gratitude and glory.  The song says it powerfully. 

“All that I’ve done before,
  won’t matter any more.

I’ve just seen Jesus.” 

Praise in Different Ways

Scripture encourages worship in diverse manner.  Utmost, the words of Jesus', "in spirit and truth".

Making an Impact for Christ

Reach of this ministry preaching, teaching, and training in the past year.  Next year, starting in Atlanta, and extending to Africa.

Presents of Presence

What to give to the person who has everything?  Christmas conundrum.  Equally challenging, is what to give to the person who has nothing!  Think about it.

This Holiday Season, males of our species frantically descend upon crowded Shopping Malls, glazed eyes, credit card in hand, desperately seeking an acceptable gift.  They haven’t got a clue as to perfume, jewelry, or designer bags.  Their sole concern: just make her happy.  (And, if truth be told, sadly in some cases, just keep peace.)

The key dynamic in gift-giving is the intent behind the offering.  We all know, and often say such…especially if it is that obnoxious tie wrapped for Dad.  “Well, it’s the thought that counts.”

Frankly, what you give someone does reveal your attitude toward them, and perhaps more so, about yourself!  If you are creative, it is evidenced in your effort.  If you are generous, quality, name brand, or price-tag strategically left on, touts it.  If you are cheap; plain to see.  It says something about them; and clearly, about you.

All this gift-giving madness started with the three Wise Men.  Actually, it commenced with God before them.  John 3:16, Romans 5:8, and I John 4:10 inform that our Creator’s prime motive  was affection.  He loved us enough to send His Son to secure our eternity.  What does His gift say about us?  Undeniably, we are in desperate need of a Savior.  (Recall our original premise: what to give to the person who has nothing.  Answer: a Redeemer.)

What does His gift say about Him?  He thinks enough of us to give at infinite cost, the very best: Himself.  In terms of God’s self-awareness, offering Himself is either extreme hubris, or eternal holiness.  I’m banking on the latter.

The greatest gift at Christmas has been given by our God.  No way to top Presents of Presence.

Myanmar Mission

Training leaders to impact their homeland!

Doing the Right Thing

“All behavior is motivated.”  One of the few statements I recall from countless university professor lectures.

Doing something because it’s the right thing to do, happens more in my life nowadays.  I hope it is a sign of maturing, not just getting older.  Character is revealed when decision-making is based upon principle over preference.  For me, the grace of Jesus Christ overrides my personal biases and tendencies, which find their root in self.  Self has its root in sin.  Christ deals with the problem at its core. 

Because something is the right thing to do, it is rarely convenient; yet truly significant.  Example in years past: visiting my alzheimer’s Father, who forgets I have called the moment I walk out of his room, and soon will not recognize me when I walk in.  —It’s the right thing to do. 

You do the right thing:

1. Not because it’s...

  • The Easy thing to do
  • The Fun thing to do
  • The Popular thing to do
2. But because it is…
  • The Difficult thing to do
  • The Demanding thing to do
  • The Decent thing to do

When you: donate a kidney, pick up rubbish, return extra change at the counter, obey the speed limit, report family abuse, dismiss gossip, change the channel, cheer for Purdue, file accurate tax deductions, own up to a mistake, give up your seat for an elder; you live at the next level.  Simply, “It’s the right thing to do”.

APPLICATION:  You have only so many days left on the planet.  It is your choice to spend them in pursuit of the meaningful or trivial.  The Bible urges:  “Making the most of your days”, “Be not weary in doing good”.  Particularly clear for Christians is Corinthians, “whatever you do, do all for the glory of God”.

“All behavior is motivated”.  No motive better than simply because, “It’s the right thing to do”.

** Supplemental considerations:

  • Who’s definition of “Right” are we going to use?  Personal, Society’s, or God’s?  (i.e.  Internal, External, or Eternal?)
  • People are either inwardly constrained or must be outwardly restrained.  (i.e. Either God or Guns keep us in line.) 
  • Society demonstrably functions better when we behave congruent to our higher nature. (e.g. Crime, Oppression, War if we don’t.)
  • Personal fulfillment increases when we have acted properly, benevolently, even sacrificially. 
  • Mark Twain famously said, “It is never wrong to do the right thing”.

Swimming Securely

Freshly minted from Seminary as a young pastor in Hawaii, in personal conversation I foolishly remarked, “I want to be a big fish in a small sea”.  As life and ministry unfolded, never happened.  Now, decades later, I am in fact, a small fish in a big sea.

Surrounded by azure blue, in Hawaiian waters we relish the Yellow Fin Tuna (Ahi); excellent for sashimi.  The striking Swordfish offers a proud trophy photographed by successful anglers.  The menacing Shark, well, he swims where ever he wishes.   Then, there is the ubiquitous Manini.  This diminutive guy, the size of your hand, featuring tiger stripes and protruding snout, nibbles innocently round the reef of every island.  He pays no mind to larger legendary fish in ocean depths.  He simply does what a Manini is created to do.  Ask any Hawaiian, a trip to the shore is not complete unless shared with Manini.  Truly, a tiny fish in a very big sea.  And, content to be.

Swimming here and there, mostly there, is the nature of itinerant speaking ministry.  I have no illusions: there are bigger fish in the sea, I am not one of them.  That’s God’s business.  Being faithful is my business.  In Romans 12, Paul promotes sober self assessment amidst sovereign spiritual assignment.  In verse 3 he pointedly advises,      “…think with sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  

There is a lesson to be learned.  I am still grasping it.  More precisely, it is grasping me.  

Be Manini

Old Age; Soft Heart

Pastor Feliciano is second of three generations serving a sizable indigenous church in the remote mountain village of Pachalí, Guatemala.  Son Jorge handles most duties, but at about 80 years of age, the elder still has his weathered hand on the wheel here and there.  For sure, he sets the spiritual tone.

In a midweek preaching meeting, nearly everyone in attendance came to the front as an act of commitment to Christ at the close of the sermon.  Time passed.  The Spirit moved.  Hearts melted.  I noticed Pastor Feliciano repeatedly wiping tears from his eyes.

Grasp the significance.  At his stage in life and ministry, he’s seen and done it all.  He could certainly offer sage counsel and practical pointers to pastors (and international evangelists).  Yet distinctly, his heart is still supple in the hands of the Master.  

I hope as you are reading this right now, that you are a Christian Leader.  We all need a reminder that having a soft heart for the things of God is the pre-eminent personal trait, professional qualification, and ministry strategy.  I’m not sure that is something readily taught in Seminary classrooms or mentioned in Church Board meetings.  I know it is rarely a topic of discussion when clergy gather over lunch.

I leave you with the third stanza of the classic hymn, I Love to Tell the Story.  
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting, 
to hear it like the rest.
And when in scenes of glory, 
we sing a new, new song.
’Twill be the old, old story,
that I have loved so long.

You know any seasoned saints like that?  I’m glad to say, I do.