A SEASON AND SAVIOR FOR GIVING

13 11 2019

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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

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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

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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

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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!





PASSION OR JUST PLAIN DRIVEN?

15 10 2019

Ready... Set... Go.PNGIs being a perfectionist a gift of nature or something passed along via nurture? I have no idea what the answer is, but I do know that I have battled my high level of expectations from as far back as I can remember. Life is not a movie and I am not the script writer nor the director. Somewhere in between apathy and workaholism there must be a healthy balance. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for but that doesn’t mean this world doesn’t exist. I can tell you that my addiction to my own adrenaline rush hasn’t brought me joy. It might have brought me lots of success and the adulation of my onlookers but I’m not sure that God is applauding my efforts.

Contentment is rooted in being ok with who you are no matter where the Lord has planted you. Joy is not an event as much as it is founded upon the right relationships. Many of us would give verbal affirmation to the principles of loving God and loving one another as being the most important values one can aspire to, but more often than not, our behavior tells a different story. We drop people for projects and we give away too much of our soul to please a crowd that would mutiny against us at the first sign of unsatisfaction. God deserves the first cut of our absolute best. The Lord has never tried to substitute stuff when what we truly needed was quality time with Him.

What is your primary motivation as a person? Is it to be the best at what you do? Do you hope to one up everyone else? Are you looking for cheers from strangers over the sincere hugs from your family and friends? People have made millions of dollars and died bankrupt in their soul. What if climbing the ladder is not doing any good in lifting your heart higher? Do you love well? Would those around you describe you as being fully present when you are together? What good is it to recite the correct words but have your gut millions of miles away from the greatest goal of all?

Love is paramount when it comes to everything we say and do and are. You can be driven and still be labeled as the king of the hill, but that doesn’t guarantee that there aren’t fire ants inhabiting the territory. One of Frank Sinatra’s signature songs was “My Way.” The only problem with that tune is that nobody is singing it in heaven. If we are ever going to even taste what an abundant life is genuinely all about, it might be time to make doubly sure that we are approaching it God’s way. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all that matters and lasts will be given to you with no strings attached. What’s so hard to understand about that?

I am naturally a driven person. I hate to lose and I want to succeed with every challenge I accept. But if I am not fueled by passion for God and a heart for others, I won’t be internally satisfied. Neither will you. Trophies in our day and age have become so devalued that everybody gets one. Major League home runs are aided by juiced baseballs and good grades in school come easier than ever now that the government demands that a certain quota of academic excellence be achieved. What if I began every day by not looking around for my instructions but faithfully and intently looking up? I know that at this stage in my life, I can’t do something just to keep myself busy. I have been busy since birth. I am not ready to retire. I am so ready to recalculate. Driving in the fast lane constantly has taken its toll on my tires. My spirit is exhausted. But I know God is still inviting me to discover His secrets on higher ground.

Are you willing to inspect the fine print of your daily agenda? Are you doing what you do because you love it or is there more loathing beneath the surface? I know we must all tackle the hard tasks. Bathrooms must be cleaned and beds still need to be made. What I am saying is that we must be careful to not be casting our pearls before swine. Christians should not be examples of what boredom looks like. We serve the God of all creation and checking in on a regular basis with Him just might keep us from wasting what we should be treasuring. If this was your last day on earth, would you be proud of the legacy that you are leaving?

The Apostle Paul gave us a clue when he said to leave what is behind in the past and press on to the prize that still lays ahead. The golden ticket is not a position, a place or a possession. The greatest goal is a person and His name is Jesus. Jesus can’t rust or be ruined in any storm this old Jersey shore might throw at us. I am going to run this race with purpose in every step. If it doesn’t lead to Jesus then I am not signing up for track shoes. Every day must be unwrapped as the true gift that it is. I want my story to be rooted in passion and not just how fast and hard I was driven. Let’s tune in to the counsel of the only Coach that deserves the position. His name is Jesus! Please Jesus, be our passion! Ready! Set! Go!





THE HEART CALLS AND HOPE IS HERE

8 10 2019

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I am writing today’s column from Vancouver, British Colombia. I have been here since Thursday as I finally successfully attended the annual “Hearties Family Reunion.” Last year’s pilgrimage was a pure disaster and it did go on to send me into a deep depression, but I had so many Believers praying for me this time that I knew something miraculous was in the making. I am humbly grateful tonight because I can say with tears in my eyes and praise in my soul, mission accomplished.

What is this gathering all about? Those of us in attendance share a common love, passion and appreciation for the Hallmark Channel’s beloved television series, “When Calls The Heart.” It is now about to enter into the 7th Season and I have been a huge fan of this faith-based saga from the very beginning. Inspired by the novels of Janette Oke, she writes about a young woman named Elizabeth Thatcher in the early 1900’s who decides to leave behind her life of luxury to head west so she can become a teacher on the Canadian Prairie. I was actually on the very set of Hope Valley earlier today and it was decorated to the hilt for the Christmas Movie that will be aired on December 25th. Those of you who know me well understand that I was totally in my element, even if the snow was more movie magic than manufactured by the right meteorological conditions.

I believe God made us to live within community. Pride has been our pitfall. Our “Every Man For Himself” mentality has caused us to compete against our brothers and sisters rather than simply complete them. While we can do so much good when we live to give rather than breathe to receive; the majority of our moments get muddied by our misguided selfish motives. Executive Producers Brian Bird and Michael Landon, Jr. believed that our culture was starving for entertainment that feeds the soul and not just bleeds it dry. Like his Father before him who gave us “Bonanza,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven,” the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Younger Michael teamed up with Brian Bird, who himself was mentored by Martha Williamson on “Touched By An Angel,” to give us another family friendly classic. There is nothing worse than sitting down with your kids to watch tv together, only to have to hit the remote seconds into the experience because of inappropriate language and less than proper behavior. Kudos to the Hallmark Channel for getting a conscience and sharing something valuable that rewards you for the time you invested with your viewing habits. Because of the success of the “Hearties,” there is now lots of buzz and excitement about becoming one of the “Hopefuls” who are those who support the newest Hallmark Channel masterpiece, “When Hope Calls.” This tale features the ups and downs of 2 Sisters who run an orphanage in the midst of the old Canadian west. It was a spin-off of last year’s “When Calls The Heart” Christmas Movie.

What have I witnessed the last few days? One of the biggest lessons is that faith isn’t dead on the earth. I have never been a fan of separating the secular from the spiritual. Life was never meant to be lived within compartments. You are who you are all the time and not just weekends and Wednesday nights. If you can worship God in a sanctuary, you can still express your devotion just about everywhere you go, in everything you do. If God isn’t lifted up in what you are working on, then why are you wasting such precious time. Praying for one another is not confined to only religious buildings. Let me illustrate by sharing the following happenings from Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

As I sat down to dinner with other “Hearties” on Friday night, because I don’t wear a clergy collar, my role as a Pastor is not always clearly recognized. The woman sitting to my right looked bewildered and overwhelmed. She had just learned that her husband back home had just been taken to the hospital with abdominal pain. Without hesitation, I knew I needed to pray for her and I did. I prayed for wisdom for this special lady  and healing for her husband. Before the evening was over, every individual in that Hilton banquet room was also praying for this entire family. This wasn’t a church gathering. This was a Hallmark event and yet God was invited to play a huge role. Think how Washington might get straightened out if the Lord wasn’t kicked out of government but actually looked up to in order to lead us to becoming a better people once again. I’m not talking about a State religion. I’m talking about Believers living their faith wherever and whenever God puts them.

On Saturday morning, as I was coming up the escalator, I saw one of my new friends collapsed on the couch. Surrounded by other Hearties, I was informed that she had experienced an anxiety attack and because I know that ugly feeling so well, I knelt down and prayed over her. When I opened my eyes, there was Michael Landon, Jr. praying along as he held this young lady’s hand. How cool is that? Prayer is not a felony. Prayer is a privilege for us to invite God into real life. If I can challenge us, it would be to never be ashamed or embarrassed to pray for someone when God gives you the nudge to do so.

Finally, today we toured the actual set used to film “When Calls The Heart.” I didn’t get to preach today but when my tour group entered into the Church building of Hope Valley, a dear young lady asked me if I would pray for all of us while we were in there together. I used my big booming voice to get everyone’s attention and shared that I would like to pray for everyone and I invited them to join me. I knew God was with us in that room. I knew God was knitting hearts together as we were on this field trip. Once again, I was so blessed because I didn’t shy away when I was encouraged to shine bright. If you can’t be a Christian 24/7, then something needs to change. God is an all the time good and faithful Father! Shouldn’t we be all the time obedient and trusting children?

Tomorrow, Monday, I come back to Cape May County. I am not an actor nor do I play one on tv. I am a learning, active, follower of the King of kings and Lord of lords. I am a disciple. I am hopelessly devoted to Jesus. I got to meet the entire casts of these awesome productions. I broke bread with the fellow fans of the shows. I laughed, I cried, I lived. God is not about building organizations. He is putting together a family made up of the hodgepodge of broken humanity. Redemption will always be the center of how God moves. Let’s use our hearts even more than our brains. Let’s become a community not just on paper but in practical ways. The heart is calling and hope is the answer so the next move is up to us. Don’t ignore what we need if we will ever be inspired.





CALLING IT LIKE IT IS!

5 10 2019

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Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian truly is one. Just being informed about God doesn’t result in being transformed by God. Information is not the same as inspiration. There are too many Believers who know all the right truth in their heads but it hasn’t yet made a connection in the heart. The watching world doesn’t need any more empty rhetoric. There are enough politicians who fit that bill. I believe it is time for Christians to allow Jesus to show up through them by the power of the Holy Spirit. If others could see something really attractive in the way that we live, church could become the place to be.

The Bible doesn’t say, “Taste and see that the Lord is boring.” Shame on us for making something so explosive become way too ordinary. The early Christians were world shakers. Unfortunately, today’s disciples are becoming way too intimidated by those who don’t really hold the power over them that they claim to have. Nobody can make you do something that you don’t want to do. Even if someone holds a gun to your head, it doesn’t mean that you have to do what another is threatening you to take part in. If ever there came a day when I would have to choose between staying true to my Lord or losing my life, I would hope that I would have the courage to stick to my conviction of following Jesus. There are more Christians being martyred for their faith today than at any other time in history. Just because it isn’t happening in America, doesn’t mean it is not occurring in many parts of this planet.

I do know that a time of crisis is not the time to begin to pray. I challenge the Body of Christ in these United States to become proactive in their times of intercession for our Nation’s revival. We have become way too proud and self-sufficient. We don’t take sin seriously. There are many so called churches where they don’t even acknowledge any bad behavior at all. Some have gone so far that they are now rewriting the Bible. They say, “Hell No!” to any concept of eternal separation from God. And what used to be obviously wrong is now being repackaged as not so bad. I don’t know about you, but we best not put words in Heaven’s mouth.

Holiness doesn’t happen by us not getting in the game. Christians need to go after the very promises that God has given us. But the Bible won’t come alive in anyone who chooses to sleepwalk through life. I wish it was as easy as just having a big bowl of Holy Spirit O’s for breakfast with your coffee but it takes more initiative than that. Jesus has set the table for us to come and meet with Him so we can be filled with the Bread of life and take a drink of His living Water but this isn’t fast food on the run. This means us setting a time and a place and devoting our full attention to the One who has so much to share with us. If we are what we eat, who is choosing your daily diet of what you are allowing to fill your body, mind, heart and soul?

I had a Doctor look me straight in the eye and tell me that if I didn’t change my diet, I was not going to be around much longer for my wife, children, grandkids and church. I love to eat and it is very easy for me to down a dozen donuts and devour a whole pizza in one sitting if I just let my appetite go unchecked. I literally must deny myself and look for healthier options if I plan on seeing positive changes in my health. I have to get out of my easy chair and exercise. I must push my lazy flesh if I am ever going to experience the energy and vitality that I was missing when I weighed almost 280 pounds. When you think about it, American Christians should be the most on fire Believers on this planet because of the amount of biblical teaching that we have been exposed to. We know this is not the case because until we practice what we preach, our story will never change.

Falling into bad habits doesn’t happen overnight. The enemy doesn’t walk up, pitchfork in hand, and ask with a shady and snarky grin, “How would you like to become an alcoholic or a drug addict? He serves us poison dipped in chocolate. The real facts are that if we head down a highway of self-indulgence, it is very likely that we will become a thief and a compulsive liar to support our urges and because of that, we won’t be able to hold down a job, and we will exploit and misuse any positive relationships with family and friends! Do you still want to sign up?” But even godly people can get lured into compromise with the darkness through sarcasm and subtlety.

Rather than it all being too much about self, maybe it is time that we forget ourselves and concentrate on Jesus and look to obey Him no matter whatever. We need to get a glimpse of sin through God’s lens. We need to own up and admit the times that we have come up short and actually grieved the heart of God by our behavior. It is only as we see His holiness, His absolute purity and moral hatred of sin, that we will finally get it through our heads, the awfulness of sin against a Holy God. Salvation is not just a past occurrence. We are actually under construction and while we may not be what God has intended us to become, we certainly should be making progress in the process. As the old hymn says, “Just as I am, I come.” But God has no intention of us staying what we were. He is making something wonderful and beautiful in us. He is also restoring us to the original condition that we were created in before sin threw a wrench in the program.

Father Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. For sixteen years he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built two thousand coffins by hand so that when they died, they could be buried with dignity.

Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope. Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this the people loved him. Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers…” Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward he wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First, he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.

One day God came to earth and began His message: “We lepers…” Jesus wasn’t just helping us. Jesus became one of us. Jesus was in our skin. Jesus loved us to the point that we were in it together. The story of incarnation is the story of love. Many people didn’t recognize him as God, of course. They were looking for someone a little flashier. They expected more in the way of special effects, not someone who would take on all our limitations. Many people saw him, but only a few recognized him. Those who missed him did not generally do so out of a lack of knowledge.
What blinded them was pride.

Don’t be so proud that you won’t allow yourself to be touched by the Savior. For because of Him, earth is no longer known as a place of dying, but as a place to be set apart to new life! Don’t settle for sloppy seconds when Jesus has set the table for you and I to dine with the Divine!