Moving From Admirer to Devoted Follower!

11 12 2019

Untitled Design (1)

Growing up, I admired many people. Lots of those individuals just happened to be athletes. As a kid, watching the New York Mets, I became very passionate about baseball. I ate, drank, lived and slept baseball. My heart would literally race with excitement whenever I saw Tom Seaver pitch. I purposed in my heart that whatever Tom Seaver had for breakfast, I wanted the very same thing. If Tom Seaver used a certain aftershave, I was going to splash the same lotion all over my face, and I was only 10 years old. I threw the ball the way he did. I copied his every movement. I read articles about him and would repeat his motion over and over again. I was so good at being like Tom Seaver that when I would listen to the ballgame on the Radio, I would be in perfect sync with what Tom Seaver was doing on the mound even though I couldn’t even see him. Basically, I wasn’t just an admirer of Tom Seaver. I was a full-blown disciple. I was definitely a learning-active follower of everything about him.

Most of you are not in that category. Those of you who are older like me, probably admired Tom Seaver, much like I used to admire Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Jim Bunning, but I can honestly say that none of those men impacted my life. Anyone who knew me then understood by my behavior that I was devoted to #41 who was known as The Franchise.

An admirer is impressed. A follower is impacted forever. An admirer claps. A follower is committed. A lot of people admired Martin Luther King. Some marched with him. Not many went to jail with him. Not many got their houses bombed like he did. A lot of people admired Mother Theresa. Not many people followed her to live among the destitute and dying.

When Jesus would do his teaching here on earth, there were always two groups of people listening to him. Many would stand amazed at his teaching, because Jesus taught them as one who had authority, not as their other ordinary teachers of the law. While Jesus was teaching, something miraculous began to happen in the hearts of a few of them. Suddenly admiration from a distance was no longer enough. As Jesus would share words of life, their hearts would pound and their minds would race and something deep inside them said, “This is it. This is what I have been longing for my whole life without really being able to properly communicate it, without knowing the spiritual name for it. I have hungered to be cleansed and yearned to be forgiven of all my sin and finally get rid of all that junk that for so many years has had me weighed down. I suddenly want to know God and not just be content with information about Him. I want to go on beyond being informed to allowing the Holy Spirit to totally transform me. I’m weary of worrying and falling into dedicating myself to deeds that I’m not proud of. I know I need more than just stuff. I admit that I need a Savior. I long to be rescued, redeemed and restored. I want to have confidence beyond the grave, to not be afraid of death anymore. I won’t settle for anything less. I would rather have Jesus and give up everything else in the world, than to have everything the world could offer me and then have to give up the Lord. I will pay any price. I don’t care. I will do whatever He wants me to do. I will go wherever He wants me to go. I will give whatever He says I ought to give. I will be whatever He says I should be. Today, I am leaving the fickle crowd of admirers. As of today, I’m a Jesus Fanatic. I am ready to love Jesus no matter what anybody else says or thinks. I will live as a fully devoted follower of Jesus.”

This Christmas, are you just an admirer that doesn’t yet fully follow Jesus? Are you holding back from God because you are afraid of losing what you can’t keep anyway? Are you flirting with the Lord rather than surrendering your whole heart? Are you just dating God when what you really need to do is make a commitment to Him?

Last week, Terri and I celebrated our 37th Wedding Anniversary. We reminisced a bit about a crucial weekend during Easter 1982. I was getting ready to graduate Bible College and begin ministry. Terri was just a sophomore at the time and so a big decision had to be made. Our relationship was at a crossroads. Either I was going to make the commitment and marry Terri or break up with her. It wasn’t a question of love. I loved Terri and admired everything about her. Nothing was going to change that. But if we were going to move forward together, it was going to take a step of movement on my part to make the lifetime commitment of getting married. Too many people try to build a commitment upon love but that doesn’t work. It must be the other way around. God didn’t commit to us because He loved us. He loved us because He was already committed to us.

I talked to all my trusted advisors at the time for their opinion. I prayed and asked God to reveal His will. I believe that He said, “It is up to you.” You see, this was not a question of right or wrong. It was a matter of going from dating to marriage. I came back and on that Easter Sunday night, I said to Terri, “I’m yours if you want me.” We have been together ever since.

Jesus didn’t come to just be buddies. He longs to be our Savior and Lord and so the next choice is up to you. He stands at the door of your heart and He knocks and says, let Me in but if I come in, it is to be your God and not just another trivial pursuit. If you are going to move forward in your faith, you can’t just cheer from the crowd. You must obey and follow the Lord. Jesus promises that He will lead us into eternal life but you won’t know that until you take Him at His word and you can’t do that from a distance.





CHRISTMAS SONGS AND YOU!

3 12 2019

Copy of Copy of Be Still...I want you to think about at least one song that when you hear it at Christmas time, it actually gives you the blues. What Yuletide carols actually expose the emptiness and loneliness that you feel inside? Rather than fill your heart with joy, when these tunes are played on the radio, they make you experience the pain of someone poking your heart with an icepick. Not everyone is up for a holly jolly December.

There is a lot of music that is associated with Christmas. Some of it is childlike, some of it brings hope, some of it not so much. I’m sure that most of you are familiar with these words, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Let your heart be light, From now on your troubles will be out of sight.” This song debuted in the movie musical, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland and the greatest crier ever to grace the big screen, Miss Margaret O’Brien. When Judy holds Margaret in her arms to sing what would become a classic, it is far from a happy, touching scene in the movie. As a matter of fact, the clip is downright dark and gloomy.

Judy and Margaret play sisters and they and the rest of the family are about to leave St. Louis at the turn of the century when the World’s Fair is coming to town and relocate to New York City. Nobody wants to go and everybody is putting on a brave face, but on the inside their world is collapsing. Judy sings to try to cheer Margaret up, it backfires because as soon as the song is over, Margaret O’Brien suffers a major breakdown and goes outside in her nightgown to knock over with a baseball bat all of her snow people.

It could have been worse. Here are some of the original lyrics to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Judy could have sung, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, It may be your last, Next year we may all be living in the past.” Now that certainly doesn’t put fresh winds of optimism beneath your sails. Aren’t you happy that the writers changed it to the more optimistic version that we are all familiar with? Basically, we are all moving away from the only home we have ever known to go to a place that none of us want to be, and even though we’re going to leave all of our loved ones behind, let’s somehow have a Merry Christmas in spite of nothing going right!

For so many people, the holiday season is the most dreaded time of the year. December can be a real pressure point because expectations are so high, it only sets us up for lots more disappointments. And because we all are looking to have the best Christmas ever, we tend to over magnify our problems, be even harder on our imperfections, and beat ourselves up for falling far short of the Currier and Ives perfect portrait!

If you are by nature a Type A super busy person, it is a sure bet that you will be even busier and more stressed to make up for any lost time in December. If your family relationships are strained, this time of the year can be really tough because there is always pressure to pretend that things are much better than they really are. Even the genuine Waltons weren’t really like the Waltons we watched on television.

Joni Mitchell penned these words, “It’s coming on Christmas, They’re cutting down trees, Putting up reindeer, Singing songs of joy and peace. Oh I wish I had a river, I could skate away on. But it don’t snow here, it stays pretty green. I’m gonna make a lot of money, Then I’m gonna quit this crazy scene, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on. Maybe where you are in the present is so depressing that a nostalgic but not necessarily an accurate look at Christmas past, makes today no better. Where are those songs of joy and peace that Joni sings about? What are they? Where is that life that was far simpler back then? Has living always been such a struggle? What is the solution to bring lasting peace and purpose to the chaos taking place all around us?

America may have more stuff under the tree than anybody else, but it has lost its soul in the pursuit causing us to become a deeply unhappy nation. And unless we get really specific about receiving the gift that God gave to us in that stable 2000 years ago, all we will do is proceed in going thru the motions of trying to find meaning in a hectic season when it only can be discovered in knowing personally the Savior. I don’t care how many decorations you put on a Christmas tree, if it is artificial and dead, there is nothing you can do to make it come alive. Only God can do that. Have you allowed Him to do that in you?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who can’t wait for the Christmas season to be over. If you can believe it, one survey found that 45 percent of Christians actually dread the holiday season. We are told that Christmas should be the most wonderful time of year, yet according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. There is not much there to sing and shout about.

When will we learn that we aren’t going to find happiness in Christmas traditions unless they flow out of the truth and fruit of a real relationship with Jesus? We won’t find happiness by buying bigger and better Christmas presents, if God’s presence is not at the center of it all. We won’t find happiness by watching more Hallmark Christmas movies complete with scripted happy endings, if we haven’t discovered that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus. Literally, Christmas means the celebration of the Christ. God so loved the world that He sent us His Son and He delivered Him in a place where even the lowliest shepherd would be welcomed to find Him.

The greatest need in our world today is the greatest need that mankind has always had and that is receiving the gift of real love. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.” We can’t speak for the planet, but we can decide for ourselves. Are you looking for love in all the right places? Are you seeing real grace and peace in just the right faces? Maybe to get it right, we need to ignore what the world is saying and listen to what the Word has already communicated to us.

I just read the horrible news that 67% of babies diagnosed with downs syndrome are aborted before they ever get the chance to be born. Now I know that society has gotten that one wrong. I have two brothers with Downs and I wish I was more like them than I wish that they were like me. Who is anyone but God who has the right to define what lives are valuable and what lives can be thrown away? This Saturday and Sunday Night at 6PM, Kathy Troccoli will be doing a Christmas Concert at The Lighthouse Church. Tickets are free and you can get as many as you want by calling the Lighthouse Church at 609-465-6690. But during that program, an offering will be taken and 100% of that will go to an organization called, “Up For Downs.” Kathy sings, “Go Light Your World,” and I can’t think of a better way to strike a match for those who need our voice to speak up for them.

For God so loved that He gave. God is a Giver. Maybe there would be more meaning if we received the King and then shared Him with everyone we can. Only knowing Jesus has kept me alive this long in spite of all the many darts and arrows that have tried to steal my joy! Do you know Him?





GIVE THANKS!

26 11 2019

unnamedThis Thanksgiving, your mission is not to try to just feel grateful; it’s to be grateful. Grumbling comes easy. Nobody needs to be reminded to whine more. Nobody needs to be taught to complain. Entitlement has become a truly bad habit for our culture and unfortunately, we are really good at it. The Bible’s word for ingratitude is discontent. Moaning is the result of us missing God right smack dab in the midst of everyday life.

Have you ever heard of a person groaning about all that is going wrong, they wouldn’t recognize a blessing if it bit them in the leg? Did you know that you can be lured away from optimism quicker than almost anything else? We live on an imperfect planet, with bodies that are falling apart, surrounded by people who are never happy, facing disappointment almost every day like clockwork? God takes our attitudes quite seriously. It is our approach that determines our outcome.

Did you know that the average human being takes approximately 23,000 breaths every day? When was the last time you thanked God for even one of them? The process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is a complicated respiratory task that requires physiological precision. We tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away. And that’s fine. But maybe we should thank him for every other breath too!

God was so good to the Israelites. He gave them freedom, took especially good care of them, provided them the guidance they would need by personally dictating to Moses the Ten Commandments, led them through the wilderness and knocked the walls down in Jericho so that they would have no resistance in entering the Promised Land. Still overall, there was more bellyaching than expressing to God love via a heart of worship.

Gratitude leads to a life of blessing but until we receive the benefits that come from the hand of the Lord as good gifts, we will be more grouchy than glorious. On Monday morning last week, I was grumpy. Do you ever wake up grumpy? There are two kinds of people in the world: people who love to wake up in the morning, and people who hate people who love to wake up in the morning. I didn’t feel like preparing my message and yet I knew I had to. I started out the week by not feeling thankful, but as I hung out with the God who made it all, my focus shifted, and so did the way I proceeded to behave the rest of that day.

When God presented His Son Jesus that first Christmas, the angel said that we would call His Name Emmanuel which means God with us. A spirit of Thanksgiving will not come from more acquisitions, possessions and property. The more aware we become of God’s abiding presence wherever we may be and God’s never-ending supply of goodness even surrounded by lots of badness, the better our chances that we will celebrate the positives without having to escape the negatives.

In 1955, when Disneyland was opened in California, what would you have done if Walt himself gave you a call with an invitation to spend a day at the park accompanied by him? How fascinating it would have been to go through that wonderland with the creator of the magic standing right by your side. Think of how many insights you would gain just by the company you kept. The God of the universe has given us the option of traveling through life with Him leading the way. The closer we stay to Him, the deeper our wisdom will become and the purer our perspective will be. Why would we ever want to wander aimlessly trying to fend for ourselves without the One who made it all to show us what we are missing when we don’t have to? Appreciation is a by product of what we see and who we see it with. The Bible has a lot to say about this. In the Psalms it says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things.” Every life is filled with benefits from God. His goodness and grace rains down upon believers and unbelievers alike. Humans are blind to them most of the time. We come to know the wonder of it all when we receive what God has given us with open and surrendered hands.

Jesus is calling us all to the Thanksgiving table of grace and mercy. Scriptures tell us that God sings over us with love. Many individuals will roll their eyes in indifference as they are preoccupied with the music of society. A precious few will humbly raise their hearts in unceasing praise. What group will God find you in? This is so much more than just speeding through grace before you eat. This is learning how to discover the timeless truth that God is the benefactor of limitless blessings and for those of us who forget not his benefits we become the beneficiaries of faithfulness we couldn’t earn and we don’t deserve but receive freely anyway.

A. J. Jacobs is the acclaimed author best known for completely immersing himself in his research. He read an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica for his book The Know-It-All and spent another year living like an Old Testament Hebrew. Among his unique quests, he once embraced the original version of Thanksgiving. He came to realize it was quite a celebration with games, riddles, races, contests, and foods like eel and lobster. Most profound to Jacobs was the realization that this time of gratitude in 1621 followed a year in which forty-eight of the original one hundred two Pilgrims died. Scurvy and exposure claimed half of them, yet they rejoiced with thanksgiving. His conclusion was, “If they could appreciate life amid such chaos, pain, and uncertainty, I could give thanks for all the good things in my relatively cushy life.”

This week, I challenge you to give up grumbling and be on the lookout to practice gratitude. Linger longer at the table with one another. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to what is passing away that you forfeit the treasure of investing in all that never ends. Love people and use things. Dance along to the tune that God croons just for the two of you. Stop declaring, “I want,” and start deciding, “I worship You Almighty God for there is none like You.” Make a list of all the blessings you are surrounded by and practice humility, hospitality and honesty. Happy Thanksgiving!





A SEASON AND SAVIOR FOR GIVING

13 11 2019

Untitled Design
When 67-year-old carpenter Russell Herman died, his will included quite a number of lavish bequests. Included in his last desires and wishes for immediate distribution were more than two billion dollars for the City of East St. Louis, another billion and a half for the State of Illinois, two and a half billion for the national forest system, and to top off the list, Herman left six trillion dollars to the government to help pay off the national debt. That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem. Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand gestures, but there was no real substance involved. His contract of promises was meaningless because there was nothing concrete to back them up.

True generosity is not determined by the amount of talk that we do, but it’s validated by the actions we make to actually give our best away. When Jesus saw the widow give her two cents in the Temple, He commended her sacrificial gift by complimenting publicly how much she loved God and His will in her life. The best way to determine what our true treasure genuinely is and where our valuables can actually be found is by following the trail of how we spend our time and our money.

I think when people pass on and stand before the Lord, nobody is going to be saying, “I sure wish I would have piled up more stuff that I just left behind back on earth.” Nobody is born lugging a suitcase down the birth canal. I think greed and financial worry cause nothing more than headaches, strain and endless anxiety. We have a God who promises to supply all our needs if we simply trust Him. Could it be that our appetite is bigger than our basic necessities?

When I was in grade school back in the 1960’s, I wrote a letter to then President Lyndon Johnson. He wrote me back. Recently I learned that on the wall of President Johnson’s White House office hung a framed letter written by General Sam Houston to Johnson’s great-grandfather, George W. Baines. Baines had led Houston to Christ and the general was a changed man, no longer vulgar and an egomaniac, but a content and compassionate man. When General Houston was baptized, he said that if my sins are being washed away in this body of water, God help the fish. It was an incredible event for those who knew him. He was suddenly looking for opportunities to help others. When he offered to pay half the local minister’s salary and someone asked him why, he said, “My wallet was baptized too.” Sam Houston literally and practically demonstrated the reality of God’s grace to him by reciprocating that grace through living and giving. Another way of saying this is that God fills us to spill us to bless us and bless others through us.

Nobody can out give God. If the Lord meets your needs, it is just Him keeping His promises to us. We don’t have to hoard His blessings to us. We should always be willing and ready to share them. My Parents had 7 children of their own and adopted 30 more. There was no way on paper to work out the details of how this family made it financially. It was the presence and power of God. It was also the simple faith of my Parents that believed the Lord would keep His word. One of the many ways He supplied was the Saturday night doughnut runs that I would make from Peapack, NJ to the Butterfly Bakery in Teaneck, NJ which was just before the George Washington Bridge. We packed the 15 passenger Sheptock van with bags and bags of amazing pastries, cakes, bread and other delicious delights. As soon as I got home, only minutes later, my Mom would send me out with repacked bags to share with friends and neighbors around us. If God could supply tonight, He could do so next time so there was no freezing what tasted so much better fresh and ready.

True followers of Jesus are generous people. It is just part of our new nature in Christ. Terri and I have always promised God the first cut of any income we receive. The Church pays us and we give back to the Lighthouse. How can I ask others to give if I don’t lead by example? But I challenge all of you reading this today, if you have never been a giver, what are you waiting for? Take God up on His word. God so loved the world that He gave us Himself. He didn’t make a contribution to humanity. He sacrificed His very life laying it down so that we could be in eternity with Him forever. What is too much to do for a Lord that was willing to do all that for us? How can we serve a Lord who has no limit when it comes to sharing from His bountiful supply with a greedy and selfish spirit?

I was thinking about this. Very often in our services before the offering we’ll say something like, “If you’re just visiting today, you don’t have to observe the Bible’s commands to be generous. Just let it go.” It’s kind of interesting. We don’t say that about other truths in the Bible. We don’t say, for example, “The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ but if you’re just visiting today, don’t worry about that one.” This is something for anybody, even if you don’t believe in God. Just test God’s generosity challenge. See if it is not true that when you become generous, God enhances your life in every regard.

Thanksgiving is in a few weeks. Why not practice this principle? Every time that God prompts your heart to give, just do it. Even if it defies common sense, be adventurous with your resources. I am not just talking about money. I am challenging you to be liberal with your time, your talents and your faith. If you ever are going to learn about the faithfulness of God, you must practice giving from a grateful heart. I’d love to hear what happens because of your trust in the Lord. The principle from Scripture is timeless and it goes something like this: “There is a powerful relationship between our true spiritual condition and our attitude and actions concerning money and possessions.” Don’t just pretend to share all that God has given you. Really do it. Let’s make it a November to remember by being the most generous believers Cape May County has ever seen!

 





NO MASK FOR THE FACE OF GRACE

7 11 2019

IMG-4478

Halloween may be over but not everyone has taken their masks off. Every single day, too many human beings don’t realize how much they really do put on a show with every minute that ticks by. Life ends up being more of a show than it is a reality. We play a role that is assigned to us by those who intimidate us and we oblige the crowd by only saying the sentences the audience scripts for us. We surrender to political correctness and our own voice is silenced. This is no time to be somebody else. If ever our world needed men and women of integrity, willing to stand up for what they truly believe in even if it isolates them from the popular majority, it is now! How about you?

When someone asks you what you believe in, do you hesitate when it comes to making it public? Are you willing to allow your light to shine bright even if it annoys those around you because the rays are getting in their eyes? Deeds that contradict the way that the Lord is calling us to live must be done in darkness. There is way too much rationalizing away the truth because let’s face it, to do what is right takes a surrendered heart. God created us with a void in our soul that works best when it plugs into Him. But if you choose to find another power source, it doesn’t make you free. It only labels you a slave to whatever mode has mastered you.

I was born with an overactive conscience. At the tender age of 5 years old, I remember lying in bed at night, with sweat pouring down my forehead, begging God not to send me to hell. I already knew I was a sinner. I desperately wanted to be perfect. I wanted God to love me. I just reasoned that I was unlovable.

When I was in Catholic School, growing up, I was regularly bullied because I was the good kid. I was the perennial Teacher’s Pet. I hated it. The Nuns didn’t always help my reputation. Right in front of the whole class, they would say things like, “Why can’t you all be like Rudolph?” I would shrink down in my seat because at that moment, I wanted to be any other person on this planet other than Rudolph. I never ran around with the rough kids. My heart wouldn’t let me. They were always in trouble and I didn’t want anything to do with detention. But even though I was held in high esteem as the model child and student, I knew there was a problem because I was miserable.

One Halloween Night, I lost my bearings. I was sick of being Howdy Doody. In North Jersey in the 1960’s, the evening before Halloween was knows as Mischief Night. You would actually get dressed up in your costumes and roam the neighborhood looking to raise a little ruckus. I would normally guard our house making sure that I exposed anybody looking to mess with the Sheptock home. But one year when I was 7 or 8, I went out looking to be bad.

Inside the costume, I originally felt empowered. I would have some fun going against the grid and nobody would even know who I was. At least that’s how I rationalized the plan on paper. I joined the other kids and soaped some windows, threw some eggs, destroyed some pumpkins and tossed lots of toilet paper. I hated it! Nobody could see the tears in my eyes as I pummeled the pumpkins on the street because all I could think of was how I was hurting the little ones who creatively carved them. When all of a sudden, the lights came on at one of the yards we were littering, all the other kids ran. I was too new at this. I froze in place like a deer in the middle of Route 9! I saw our neighbor lady and when she cried out, “Who is that?” I had so much guilt and remorse in my gut, I confessed instantly. I might have gotten away with it because I still had my costume on, but God knew it was me and I knew it was me and at that moment, I never wanted to do something as stupid as this again. I cleaned our neighbor’s home and car. I took the punishment from my disappointed Mother. And I went to confession because I knew I wouldn’t enjoy getting candy on Halloween unless I did so. I owned up to everything and from that moment on, I vowed to never allow the crowd to do my thinking for me again.

God created you to be you. Leave no room in your life for deception. Ask yourself the same question in every situation and with every decision: What’s the right thing to do? If you consistently ask yourself that question, you will never be a deceiver. It all starts with being a receiver of God’s grace and truth. I finally surrendered my rituals and religion and opened my heart to a relationship with the Savior, Jesus, in 1975. I have learned that the greatest fulfillment comes when I stop masquerading and just simply make sure that I am following Jesus.

The other principle that keeps it real is to guard my soul against all forms of rationalization. It’s much to easy to do something just because, “everyone’s doing it.” But the reality is that not everyone is doing it. Everyone has never been doing it. Ask yourself this question, “What’s my motive?” People may see your actions and you might con those closest to you but God always sees our hearts. Your motives matter. David prayed to the Lord, “Create in me a pure heart,” because he knew how easy it was to wander from the way. I don’t want to be sorry just because I got caught. I want to confess my mess because I know what my sin has done to the God who loves me.

Please make no apology for allowing Jesus to take the wheel. Even when those around you let God down, please keep lifting Jesus up. No costumes. No tricks and smoke and mirrors! It all comes around to grace and truth and Jesus in charge! If anything good happens in life, it is from Jesus.

If anyone could have rejected us because of our shortcomings, it was the Lord. But Truth tells us that He made the first move to love us while we were still out shopping for a new mask to hide behind. Thank you, Lord, that your love allows us to leave the costumes at home. Halloween is over. A season of Thanksgiving has begun. Let your light shine bright and allow it to show others the way to freedom and life.





P.S. I LOVE YOU!

29 10 2019

Untitled Design

The first two albums I ever bought with my own money both were Beatles records. It was 1964 and I too was swept up in the music that was being introduced to us Americans from across the pond. To this day, I can still sing all the words of all the songs because I surely played them enough through the years. One of the tunes was called, “P.S. I Love You.” The lyrics went something like this: “Treasure these few words till we’re together, here’s all my love forever, P.S. I love you, you, you, you!” Back in the days of Tin Pan Alley, there was another popular standard with the same title written by Johnny Mercer. That one went something like this: Dear, I thought I’d drop a line.
The weather’s cool, the folks are fine. I’m in bed each night at nine. P.S. I love you.”

Like many of you, I actually had to take Latin Class back in grade school. In a letter, as in any written communication, we learned that the abbreviation “P.S.” stands for the Latin phrase “post scriptum” which means “after writing.” It is meant to reflect the fact that the text marked with the initials was added after the other material had already been written, often as an afterthought; as such, it typically occurs at the very end of the letter, usually below the signature.

Many times, in a “love letter,” the juiciest parts are included in the P.S. part of the correspondence. For example, here is just such an example that I swiped from the real deal. It reads, “My Darling… P.S. I wish I knew your thoughts better. I worry about messing this relationship up, saying the wrong thing, saying too much, not saying enough. I know, I need to relax. Relaxing. See you soon. I Love You.” It’s a good lesson for us not to skip a P.S. especially in a note written from someone we claim to love.

This past weekend, I entitled my message at the Lighthouse Church, “P.S. I Love You.” It was based on the closing words that the Apostle Paul had for the Church in Thessalonica. Paul actually encouraged the Body of Christ there to be an affectionate bunch. He invited them to, “Greet all the Brothers and Sisters with a holy kiss.” No one is to be left out. Not even those that I refer to as the “ironing board” people. They are those that when you attempt to give them a hug, they get as stiff as two-by-fours! What the Lord is encouraging us to do is to provide many holy hugs, lots of spiritual smooches, and timely touches to show our love and devotion for one another. And this is for everyone who identifies themselves as a follower of Jesus.

We are family! The church is not an organization as much as it is a living and breathing organism. I grew up in a very close-knit Italian Family surrounded by my Mom who is a full Italian and those Aunts who all lived in close proximity to one another. Nobody needed a phone when they had an open window. The one thing you better get used to is that you can’t go anywhere without kissing somebody hello or goodbye. It wasn’t an option. It was as common as the plastic on the furniture in the Living Room. Now some of my Aunts were very large women, so getting kissed by them was like deep sea diving in uncharted waters. You held your breath and hoped for the best. Still it wasn’t ever questioned. We were related and that was just how it was done.

When you are a kisser and a hugger and you encounter those, who aren’t exactly open to such invasion of personal space, it can cause for some interesting body language. Still, Paul shared this hope with everybody that through a physical gesture called a holy kiss, a sign of affection, others would feel loved. God wants us to share our love demonstrably. He surely was very hands on in demonstrating His love for us. Touch is very important. It speaks volumes. It carries tenderness. It carries affection. There are many people who live all by themselves so the church is their best opportunity to be hugged and kissed by fellow loved ones.

Now, let’s make it very clear that it was supposed to be a holy kiss. This was strategically placed there by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to teach Christians to reach out and demonstrate their love with tenderness and with no hint of an immoral agenda. We all know that such practices were abused then and abused now. But that did not mean that just because it was done wrong that it should never be done again. We live in a culture of extremism. We can’t be family in a sterile setting where nobody embraces and lays their hands upon one another. Even our dogs expect to be petted. How can our children live without hugs and high fives? This was not some liturgy, and this wasn’t some religious ceremony. The followers of Jesus made up a loving community and Paul says to not hesitate to show it.

They were a loving group and he says now show it. Paul is saying that he wants us to share the love of Christ in a demonstrable way with each other. Hey even Sports Teams are not afraid to show visible admiration to one another. Why don’t we have holy handshakes after a someone in the family of God knocks it out of the park for Jesus? I am praying that God’s Church would become the place to be when you need a hand on your shoulder or a hug of remembrance. We can’t love one another and hold them at arm’s length. God wants us to break down those barriers that rise up among people and keep us apart. Greeting one another with a holy kiss is just as spiritual as praying for them. Oh, that God would touch many lonely hearts through the power of reaching out to one another in Jesus Name!

The Bible is not an instruction manual as much as it is God’s love letter to each and every one of us. And I have a feeling that if we were to read a personal note from Heaven to us today, there would be nothing holding the Lord back from fully expressing the true commitment that He has for each and every one of us. He would literally tell it like it is in a language you and I would fully understand. And even after He might sign His name, I can imagine there would be a P.S. attached with the sentence, “I Love You.” Jesus went the distance to make sure that someday we would finish our race in His arms. Why would we be any different in demonstrating our love for Him and for one another. A holy hug, a holy kiss, a holy touch may be just what the Savior ordered.





LOOKING THROUGH THE EYES OF LOVE

23 10 2019

unnamed

One of the most painful things a husband can ever do to his bride is to see her disrobed for the first time and then say something uncomplimentary about her body. This causes a deep hurt that is more likely than not to become a gash in the soul that is not quick to heal. If a clueless man starts to point out verbally every wrinkle and wart and imperfection, he is doing to nothing to make his wife feel safe and secure in his presence. If she asks him, “Does this make me look fat?” And he replies, “You look like the Goodyear Blimp in that outfit,” I can bet you that there will be no smooth sailing in the future of these married shipmates.

In the Song of Solomon in the Bible, on the honeymoon night between the king and his queen, he looks deeply into her eyes and says, “You are altogether beautiful my love and there is no flaw in you.” Is this to be taken literally? Did Solomon marry pure perfection? Of course not! Solomon was looking through the eyes of love. Love covers over a multitude of mistakes. It doesn’t pretend that they aren’t there. It just decides to focus on all that is right so it doesn’t get shipwrecked by all that is wrong! My wife doesn’t need to be conned by me; but she does need to know that I love her unconditionally. It is not, “I love you if,” or “I love you because,” but simply, “I love you.” A couple who truly feels safe and cherished by one another will not be looking to cover up or hide and pretend. It is in that environment that love can bloom and grow.

Remember that our Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus, sees us as being without “spot or blemish.” He is truly looking through the eyes of love! God didn’t love us because of what we did look like but what we would look like when we get dressed up in His acceptance. He redeemed what others would have tossed aside. It is the difference between paper plates and fine china. Life wants to convince us that we are disposable and replaceable. God wants to teach us that because of the touch of the Master’s hand, we are masterpieces ready to be displayed as living evidence of what a difference His definition can make. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Whose view is influencing you?

Let me share a story. After taking a call in the locker room, a man asked his racquetball partner, who happened to be a minister, for a favor: “Brother, I’ve got a pastoral situation that maybe you can help me solve. My wife is getting back from visiting her parents in Ireland for ten days, and she’s expecting me to pick her up at the airport. My boss just called and is requiring my presence at a command performance. Is there any way you could help me out and pick her up for me? If I can’t be there, I know she’d appreciate someone special.” The minister said: “I’ll be glad to pick up your wife, but how will I know what she looks like? I’ve never seen her before.” “That’s easy,” the man replied. “When the whole dismal terminal lights up, as if the sun suddenly came from behind the clouds, just find the source of that radiance. That’ll be my wife.” Something tells me that this couple is not experiencing romance on the rocks, but a love that is stable and strong.

Love covers sin by filling the void. When we see the sins of others, we have a choice to make. We can rush to blow the whistle loud and expose the sinfulness we see, making sure that we spread lots of guilt and condemnation along the way, or we can come to the aid of those who are the victims of sin. We can become God’s police force and lock sinners up, or we can become God’s emergency technician team and provide life or death care to the walking wounded. Let me be clear. All sin comes with a price. There are consequences that can’t be avoided. We must never condone sin. But we must not hate sinners. Someone, somewhere is paying the price. But I believe that as Believers, we are called and equipped by God to help recover the losses left behind by sin! The church is not a place where we should cover up and pretend. The church should come clean and leave the acting to those on the stage. We have a choice. We can proudly crusade as religious pharisees or we can be more like Jesus and love those in need. Jesus loved the lepers, the prostitutes and the tax collectors and if you get right down to it, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I am beyond grateful that because of His amazing grace, He loves me. Do we see God’s saving action as a hand-out to us or as an invitation to join him in rescuing others? The way of the world is to receive a gift and enjoy it for our own pleasure. That’s what consumers do. Christians should be different because Jesus loved mankind like no other ever could or would.

Salvation is our spiritual empowerment to love others as God has loved us! Being Christians mean we aren’t busybodies but bodybuilders! God’s love does its biggest renovation chiefly in the heart and in the soul, and in the spirit. It is not just learning to conduct ourselves properly as dictated by those who have the biggest influence. Being a disciple is not just simply changing our conduct to conform to some new code of ethics. It is a miraculous work of God done in the heart. It is an inward grace. It is not an outward show. It will ultimately show up on the outside, but in and of itself it is an inward grace. All to Jesus we surrender! And we become more like the one we actually give our hearts to!

If Jesus is talking to you right now, what do you hear Him saying? Is He making a list of all your faults and shortcomings? Are you shrinking in His presence? Is God’s holiness freaking you out to the point that the only way you will function is if you wear fig leaves rather than coming just as you are? Listen to the voice of the real Jesus? Read what He really says! God is in love with us. How would it be different if we lived like we are in love with Him too? Let’s not be content to just imagine this. Let’s make it happen. Love covers over a multitude of sins and this includes yours and mine. This is something to celebrate and today I celebrate the Lord’s love for us!