Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Monday, December 31, 2012

"The Greatest Truth I've Ever Learned"

Looking back on your life can be either depressing or exciting. It depends on where you are as a result of the things you've learned and the choices you've made. We all make mistakes, sometimes early in life that become the hindering baggage we drag along the rest of our lives. But, we can make better choices and learn new lessons from those mistakes unless we live out the lie that someone else is to be blamed for how my life is turning out.
At this time of year most of us probably give some thought to the past year and try to focus on some important ways to improve in the new year that is now upon us. That's not a bad thing to do if we put the emphasis on the right things. Setting goals can be a crucial element for progress and improvement in areas of my life that are important to me. However, truly meaningful goals are those that drill down to the person I am and want to become and let those drive what I do, how I think and the relationships I cultivate.
My beautiful daughter, Michelle, asked me recently what is the greatest lesson I have learned from writing the journal for my youngest beautiful daughter, Felicia, this year. She knows I have been writing a journal for her sister all this year on the subject of the Holy Spirit. I could talk for hours about how writing that journal has impacted my faith and my life, but my answer to Michelle's question sums it all up -
"I have learned from the Holy Spirit to love God as my Father, to love him for WHO he is not just what he does for me."
That may sound like an over simplification of a very complicated proposition but for me it is truly the Greatest Truth I've Learned in all of my 71 years of living. Love is a very personal way of relating to someone in your life and understanding how to relate to the Creator, the Sustainer, the absolute Ruler over all that is, is for me, greater than any other thing I can know.
So, here is a suggestion for you for 2013 - FALL IN LOVE WITH GOD on a very personal level. Begin an unbroken conversation with him, the thread of which you can take up at any moment of any day, and just talk to him. He has been seeking that relationship with you all of your life and now you should seek it too. There are no rules, there is no systematic plan to get you there. Go to Jesus in the Gospels, sit down with David in the Psalms, spend a few months with the Apostle Paul in Romans or whatever you choose, just keep asking your Father to teach you and love on you.    HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Connecting The Dots"

The angel Gabriel made this announcement directly to a young woman long ago:
"He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord will give him the throne of David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God." Luke 1:32-35 NASB

I have an idea that Gabriel's announcement to Mary shook the unseen world with both loud singing and tumultuous shouts of pent up, unbridled joy. That world, like ours, had waited in seemingly endless anticipation for that announcement. However I also think there was a great cry of anguish from that part of the hadean (unseen) world where the Most High had banished his enemies. Satan now knew his everlasting fate was sealed.
God had kept his plan hidden since the creation, even from the angels, to prevent Satan from subverting it. That doesn't mean Satan is more powerful than God, but all Satan had to do was keep Jesus from going to the cross and God's eternal plan would not have come to fruition. Paul often refers to that plan as "the mystery" that God kept hidden. That plan, the gospel of Jesus Christ, wasn't fully revealed until after Jesus' death. This is why Jesus announced from the cross, "It is finished".
As I think about the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' Immaculate Conception, my simple human mind just cannot define it because I can't picture it, I can't imagine it, I can't even speculate about it. I can simply believe it! Or not! With all my heart, soul, mind and strength, I fully embrace all of it with deep gratitude. The Spirit of God brought Jesus into this world in a way that I cannot comprehend, much less explain. The Holy Spirit walked with Jesus every day right up to the very day of his death on the cross and then waited at the tomb to bring him back to life. At that time, the Spirit was still ministering to Jesus but on that first Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection, Jesus sent him back to us just as he and the Father had promised. All of this fulfilled God's ancient promise to Abraham at Genesis 12:3.
So, here we are - some twenty  centuries removed from those heaven and earth shaking events. John had a very moving vision of our day that was rooted in eternity past. You should take the time to read all of it at Revelation 12, but here are a few excerpts:

"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and the dragon and his angels fought back....but he was hurled to earth and his angels with him....Then I heard a voice in heaven say, "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down....They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Bur woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short....Then the dragon.....went off to make war against those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus."

And the war continues to rage on earth that began in heaven long before God created the universe as we know it. This is at least one reason why much of the New Testament uses the terminology associated with war in describing the Christian life. Satan hates every person who "holds to the testimony of Jesus" and since he can no longer prevent God from carrying out his eternal plan through Jesus's death and resurrection, Satan makes war against all of us who call Jesus our Lord.
After writing a long letter to "God's elect, strangers in the world" on the broad subject of "suffering", Peter concluded it with these words -
"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resit him, standing firm in your faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering." 1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV
We will defeat Satan again because we have "the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony" within our hearts and even the fear of death will not deter our mission.
So here is my word of admonition and encouragement to all of us -
Every day we draw breath, let us praise our Father for his truly amazing grace; let us sing to Jesus for his love and sacrifice; and let us wait and listen for God's Holy Spirit to direct, comfort and challenge us in ways that may not always feel comfortable. Go to your nearest bookstore, buy a new Bible, maybe even one that is a different translation than the one you are most familiar with, and read it, all of it, then go out and seek to do something out of the ordinary for the glory of God in service to Jesus our Lord. HALLELUJAH!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Hope Is Spelled J E S U S"

Most of my teen and adult life I believed that God was angry at me because of my spiritual and moral failures so I struggled with faith. That assumption probably was not something I was taught by my family but something I learned sitting on a church pew. That was a long time and many miles ago so my memory is likely a bit fuzzy. However, if I heard much teaching about grace, love, mercy etc. from God, I honestly cant recall. Mostly I remember how God hates sin so much he cannot look upon those of us who fail to keep every detail of his laws and expectations. Its that old mantra from James that if you offend God in just one point of his law you are judged guilty of ignoring all of it. (James 2:10)

MAN, AM I GRATEFUL FOR JESUS!!!

Hope is important to me today. Hope has given me the will to keep on trying to serve God better even though I fail now and then. Hope keeps my faith anchored to someone greater than me and my feeble attempts at loving God with ALL my heart, soul, mind and strength. Hope gives me the courage to reach out to others whose lives aren't working and they open one wrong door after another in a desperate search for answers. Hope allows me to forgive myself for my weaknesses and failures because hope also motivates me to get up and try again with the confidence that I can do it better.

Saul of Tarsus learned the same thing I have learned and Paul the Apostle said it better than I ever can:
"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. AND HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT US because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us." Romans 5:2-3 NIV

I cant actually point to the day or even the year that I finally got fed up with the disappointing brand of "once saved, never really saved" that I had embraced and taught for so many years. The realization just gradually dawned on me that I couldn't embrace it or teach it any longer.  So I quit!

I now realize that all those years I had overlooked, neglected and just dismissed these words:
"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have NOW BEEN JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" Romans 5:8-9 NIV

Jesus didn't die on the cross because of God's anger at me but because of God's great love for me EVEN while I was still and am still a sinner. I fear there are multitudes upon multitudes of good people who still live in the same fear I did most of my early adult life. Please don't mistake God's grace for unconditional forgiveness. His forgiveness has always been and always will be clearly conditional. However the hope he has given me in Jesus NEVER disappoints. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee. HALLELUJAH!


Friday, December 21, 2012

"A Tribute For Douglas E. Johnson"

In my half century of ministry experience I have officiated probably more than a thousand funeral services and have always considered doing so a great honor and privilege. In all those years I have been unable to perform the service only twice.
The first was when my maternal grandfather, Sid Darnall, was overcome by a stroke in 1970. My grandmother asked me to officiate his funeral service but I just could not control my emotions enough to speak about my lifelong hero. He had been too important in my life both as a boy growing up with him and as a man. Next to my dad, he was the greatest influence in my life and my faith.
The second was this past weekend when my great friend and brother Doug Johnson lost his long battle with cancer. His beautiful wife of 49 years asked me to officiate his funeral service and at first I agreed but soon realized that my emotions were to strong and backed out. Even now, almost a week later, my grief lingers just below the surface.
Doug was married to my cousin Carolyn whom I have loved all my life since we are the same age and grew up together in Marshall County Kentucky. Her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister, but she has always been a sister to me. Like the Rose and I, she and Doug lived all over the US as they pursued successful careers and ended up in Houston, Tx for 30 years. After spending 30 years in Dallas, Tx, the Rose and I moved back to Hardin, Ky in 2006 to care for my Mom and two years later Doug and Carolyn did the same. Since that time the four of us have struggled through the death of our mothers, mine in June 2011, and Carolyn's  in January 2012. Through it all we have laughed and cried and supported each other in every way imaginable. I guess one could say we made life bearable for each other.
Doug Johnson was more than my brother in Jesus Christ. He was my closest friend next to my wife and my children, and we shared something very special. Although he was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, I thought of him as my cousin too. He and the Rose shared a unique relationship also because although she was reared in the Bronx, NY and he in Brooklyn, they were always "homies" who loved each other in a special way. When they were together there was always a lot of "New York" in the room.
I have been encouraged today by these words of Paul as interpreted by Eugene Peterson -
"By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us - set us right with him, make us fit for him - we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And, that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves  standing where we always hoped we might stand  - out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary - we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit. Christ arrives right on time to make this happen." Romans 5:1-6 MSG
So, go on my brother Doug, shout your praise in the Father's wide open spaces and continue to stand tall. We don't grieve for you, but for our loss of your presence with us. We will hold fast to the many wonderful memories you have left us and somehow in God's grace keep going here until we rejoice with you there. You are now cancer free, pain free and most of all HOMEFREE. HALLELUJAH!