I WAS THERE!

8 06 2020

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Growing up in the 1960’s, there was a television show on that was hosted by Walter Cronkite. The series featured taking viewers back to various key moments in American and world history, portrayed in dramatic recreations. Each episode began with Walter Cronkite, from his anchor desk in New York City, setting the scene. An announcer would then give us the official date and remind us all of the event we were observing, followed by a loud and boldly spoken “You are there!” We all know that the most reliable commentaries of history come from the very eye witnesses who get to see it actually happen.

This has been some week in Cape May County. We watched the news. We saw the video of the blatant mistreatment of an African American man named George Floyd by four Officers in Minneapolis that led to this individual’s murder. With every rerun of the footage, I couldn’t understand why someone didn’t tackle Derek Chauvin who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Are some Americans still so barbaric that they could kill a man in broad daylight over a $20 bill? Haven’t we learned anything along the way? Isn’t human life more sacred than our own prejudice and conceptions?

What followed was trying to discern the difference between the rightful assembling of peaceful protesters and the organized gatherings of those who had no other agenda but that of raw defiance and destruction. It’s hard to see people in desperate tears watching their homes and businesses destroyed with no rhyme or reason. It quickly brought to mind the old adage taught to us in Catholic school, “Do two wrongs ever make a right?” Hatred is only lighter fluid on the charcoals of discontent! Evil never breeds life and only causes more heartache and pain. God has made all humanity in His image and nobody has the right to decide who has more of the divine image than others! I have always reacted against injustice even as a little boy growing up in Morristown, NJ. I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong and I don’t confuse it!

In 1968, my Dad worked at Morristown High School when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Morristown was always a town of strong ethnic backgrounds and everyone thought that the place was a timebomb waiting to explode. I went with my Dad to work because I wasn’t going to be staying home if he wasn’t going to be in a safe place. What I witnessed changed my life. There was a rally led by the very special guest Mahalia Jackson. Nothing was set ablaze that night other than the hopes and dreams in kids like me that maybe we could make the future different. I didn’t have to own the bigotry of my ancestors. I also want to make a point that music played a huge role in bringing people together. There is something about music that was instrumental in busting up the terrible division between white and black in the fifties and sixties and I still believe it is the best medicine for a battered and beaten soul.

This is why I knew I could not stay hidden at home last Monday Night when there was a gathering of protesters in Rio Grande. I texted Mayor Tim Donahue and asked if it would be OK with him if I came down. If the Spirit of God lives within us Believers, then I believed that the Holy Spirit would want me to be part of the solution and not the problem. The problems were the rumors that were flying everywhere in our area. They were online, on social media, telling us that busses were coming from the city with vanloads of bricks and so on and so forth. I was being told that this was going to end ugly. I ignored the voices of fear and kicked in an act of faith. I had to be there. Love is still stronger than hate. Light can still dispel the darkness. Singing is still better than shouting slurs at one another! As I drove down, I was blasting the classic song, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye on my car stereo. I was asking the Lord to go before me and to reign down mercy and peace in the middle of Route 9 and Route 47. I was praying for Jesus to change the course of what could be to what should be. I am so glad I was there.

I was humbled from the moment I entered the circle of protesters. I witnessed our Middle Township Law Enforcement, led by Chief Chris Leusner, standing by to protect the American right to peacefully assemble and doing so respectfully, quietly, and carefully. They had all been there from 7 in the morning and this was now almost 12 hours later. I don’t know about you, but when I get tired, it’s hard to be at your sharpest, but God was there to make sure that this story wasn’t going to end in defeat. I went around one by one, looking my beloved company in the eyes, with no other agenda than to hear their stories. I wanted to know why they were there and what they hoped this would accomplish. There was one moment when things got a little tense and I fell to my knees and couldn’t control what was coming out of my mouth. I prayed over and over again, “In the Name of Jesus, please stop this crazy thing called hate.” I didn’t care who was looking or who heard. I knew I was there to pray and care. I had cared and now I needed to pray! The beautiful thing was that after I was done on my knees, I needed help to get back up and a young black man named Jalen was quick to assist me. It meant the world to me.

What a sight to witness how this potential powder keg ended up as a firework of peace and potential understanding for the days to come. Pastor Thomas Dawson spoke words of life into the crowd, I saw Mayor Tim Donahue always listening, other clergy like Pastor Leo Dodd of the Assembly of God was praying and future meetings were set up with the Attorney General. Just around 10PM, Pastor Alfonzo Toney prayed us into tomorrow as we gathered in a huge circle, locked arm and arm and heart to heart. I drove home grateful to God and so thankful that I have called Cape May County my home for the last 23 years. The corrected Cape May County Herald Headline should have been the first and only headline, “Peace And Unity Defeat Fear and Anger in Rio Grande.”

Pride will only make things worse. If the first response is to defend ourselves then we won’t make any progress in the process! When I say, “Black Lives Matter,” I am not supporting any organized group with a less than a positive agenda. I am saying that the lives of my black and brown brothers and sisters matter to me and should matter to us all. I have learned so much this week just by listening. When I say “Black Lives Matter,” you don’t have to keep correcting me by saying, “All Lives Matter!” God has created us all in His image and every single life at every single age is special and unique and beyond valuable. But the facts show that my white brothers and sisters don’t have to fight as hard as my black brothers and sisters must to prove that to be true! When my Boss, Kelvin Walker, an African American Man who is also the District Superintendent of the Christian and Missionary Alliance must videotape many of his encounters just to protect himself and his family, something is still broken. There is no man who exudes more of the Spirit of God than Kelvin and yet, if others only see him as a black man with their tinted eyes of racism, he is still not safe! Unfortunately, our society way too often does judge the book by its cover and color, and reacts before they have all the facts. Too many assume someone is guilty simply by the color of their skin or where they live or what they wear and so on and so forth. We need our white family to stop defending themselves and humbly begin to stand up for and stand by those who are still being mistreated and misrepresented after all these years! There are times that I need my brothers and sisters of color to look out for me! For such a time as this, it is we who are white who must have the back of those who are still being murdered simply for being black and brown. So hence, Black Lives Matter and all Lives Won’t Matter until All Colors and All People of All Ages matter too.

Let me close with the very words that ended every “You Are There” broadcast. “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… and you were there.”

 





I CAN’T WATCH!

4 06 2020

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“I can’t breathe!” If any human being has a heart and soul, those words will be etched upon our consciences forever. How one white man who was supposed to be enforcing the law, could behave so barbarically by literally killing another black man with unnecessary brute force is beyond reason. Why didn’t one of the other policemen intervene and right the apparent wrong? Why could bystanders take the time to use their cell phones to record this horrible behavior, but no one stand up and come to the rescue of someone who was clearly being physically abused right before their very eyes? Have we become a pathetic culture of apathetic spectators so used to just observing that we forgot our responsibility to love one another more than we simply admire ourselves?

Is it time to rediscover the parable of Jesus that told the tale of the Good Samaritan? Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. According to the overly righteous Pharisees, there was no such thing as a “Good” Samaritan. The prejudice was taught early by the local Rabbis and when Jesus challenged their hidden hatred, He abandoned earthly political correctness so that the way things are done in the Kingdom of God could be revealed. Jesus preached that this planet would never be the place we would find our true purpose. If we are going to be a devoted Disciple of our Savior, then we must behave like we are citizens of Heaven who model the mission of the Master.

I think it might be the right time to rediscover the real Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a white man. Jesus was of Middle Eastern descent. If Jesus just happened to drop into your worship service next week, how many would not even receive Him as Friend, never mind as Lord, solely because of the color of His skin? How many times are we all guilty of not investing the time into reading the book because we don’t like the cover? We make conclusions based upon what we see and not because of solid evidence that we genuinely know. Even Christians wrongly judge people by their color, their education, by what kind of car they drive and clothes they wear and house they live in. All the things that are not championed in Heaven’s court. How many times do we need to be reminded that God did extraordinary works through very ordinary people? If men and women were filled with too much self-pride, it took up the room in their soul that should have been kept for childlike faith! Unbelief freezes the exercise of God’s power. Miracles don’t produce faith. Faith produces miracles! And faith also transforms our selfish flesh into selfless feats!

The salvation Jesus offers us is color blind. It is the gift of God and not the result of our tainted works, so that no one may boast. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus related to people who were different from him and people who to many so-called religious leaders totally ignored. Jesus spent quality time with tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and other hopeless and helpless sinners. Jesus did what He did because of His love for all mankind. We don’t have to condone sin but nothing in Scripture validates hating sinners. There is nobody who is beyond the amazing grace of God! If we don’t respect others, then we are literally telling the Creator that He messed up when it came to making certain groups of people. All of us were created in the image of God. Respect isn’t a synonym for agreement, but it does impact the way a person disagrees. One cannot respect another and harbor a desire to overpower that person through insults, dismissal, or derogatory actions. A black man died in Minnesota because too many white people did nothing! Our lack of movement to do what we know to be true will keep the world believing the lies. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He invited whosoever to the banqueting table. Nobody has the right to kick anyone out of God’s dining room!

If ever there was a day that those who claim to know Jesus do the right thing, it is now. It’s not all Christians that give Christ a bad name! It’s not all Law Enforcement that give hatred so much fame! It’s not all people that excel in things that shame! Crowds so often have no idea why they came! It’s up to you and me to do the right thing!

Speaking of crowds, the definitive difference between peaceful protests and those who stir up mob mentalities of destruction and defiance must be addressed. Crowds are so often created by criticism and hatred. It didn’t take much in the old west to hang an innocent man, just get the instigators to rile up those in attendance. Crowds make lousy decisions in the Bible. It was a crowd that called Noah a fool and encouraged everyone to stay off the boat! It was a crowd that wanted to murder Moses and take everybody back to Egypt. It was a crowd that chose Barabbas over Jesus when it came to deciding the right one to rescue. There is too much divisive behavior going on in our midst today. We must wake up and realize there is an enemy trying to get us to mistrust everything and live in a manner that will only lead to all hell breaking lose. Jesus has authority over evil. We who say we love the Lord must become advocates for stopping the insanity and not spraying more lighter fluid onto the charcoals!

When I was a Youth Pastor in Omaha, Nebraska, we held an event called the Slam Dunk Contest. Over a thousand young people gathered into our church gym that night. The attendance was made up with kids of all kinds of colors and nowhere else in the area was that happening in a positive setting. On this particular night, it didn’t take much to realize that there was trouble brewing when most of the crowd were rushing to the exits and heading for the parking lot. Outside there was a faceoff between a white kid and a black kid and everyone else was ready to rumble. A sponsor wanted me to call the police but my spirit rejected that quickly because I sensed the enemy was trying to rear his ugly head into something good. I motioned for my assistant to go to the white guy and I immediately wrapped my arms around the black teen saying words like this, “You don’t want to do this. You are better than this. You are so gifted. You came to play some basketball. You don’t want to end up in jail. I believe in you. I know you can muster the courage to walk away and keep your dignity.” Those of you who know me, understand that I talk even louder and faster when I am nervous and at this moment I was petrified, but I knew that if I didn’t do something, the whole place was going to end up in a riot so I did what I believe Jesus would do. No punches were thrown, no blood was shed and everybody ended up going back inside to finish what we actually came for. Everybody later thought I had lost my mind for doing what I did but I knew I had to give God room to bring a miraculous peace to a pivotal moment.

Little kids were asked the questions, “What is hatred?” “What is bigotry?” What is prejudice?” Constant answers of “I don’t know” came back time and time again. A bright little one thought that being prejudiced meant you were sick and maybe she was more right than wrong. But I know that children learn by what they hear and see at home! It is time to break the cycle of evil in our spheres of influence. The church should be the most welcoming place on this planet and if it’s not, then it’s time to stop calling it a church and relabel it as just another social club. I can’t watch because when I see the chaos, it takes my breath away. What will our legacy be? The answer to that question depends upon which set of rules we live by. Are we citizens of heaven or just plain earth dwellers?





IT IS TIME FOR THE CHURCH TO REMEMBER!

26 05 2020

RememberWho you are depends upon your ability to re member. Unfortunately, as human beings, we have a tendency to forget what we should remember and remember what we should forget. God knew that our flesh would be prone to fail so the Word of God is filled with reminders for us to remember! As a memory aid, the Lord even encouraged us to use symbols to point us to the truth given us by the Savior. One of the simplest practices for the Lord’s people to keep looking up before they began giving up was building altars in the key places that God had kept His promises. But before you start looking for huge expensive cathedrals as memorials, all the believers did was pile up rocks in the spots where God showed up. Holy ground was not necessarily higher ground, but any piece of property that the divine work of the Almighty deemed the dirt worthy to show up and do His stuff!

God has always called upon those who never expected to hear from Heaven’s hotline. It’s the humble who are invited to participate in the holy. It’s the available that get invited to the banquet. It’s those willing to listen who hear words beyond their wildest dreams! Yet how often do we still do our darndest to try to impress God with our religious language and lofty deeds? Why do we go looking for living water in our own manmade wells? Why do we waste so much effort telling God our ingenious plans when all we really need to do is report for duty? Scripture proves that the Lord honors childlike faith over humanity’s puffed up pride. When earth boasts of us cherishing our common sense, God calls us to commit everything we are and have to Him.

When the storms of life come at us like a raging tsunami, we need to remember what the symbol of a rainbow stands for. When we are being chased by our enemy and come to a fork in the road that looks like the Red Sea, we need to remember that God can open up a roadway where there has never been a highway before. When we face situations that long to overwhelm us, we need to remember that David’s trust in the Lord leveled Goliath not with a sword but a slingshot. When the religious big shots took pot shots at Jesus, we need to remember that God came to seek and to save those who had the courage to admit that they were lost. When they put Paul in prison thinking that locking him up would do away with him sharing the gospel, God’s word went forth with even more power. When the government of men start bragging about how powerful and invincible they are, we need to be reminded that in the Book of Revelation we are told that Jesus will be the One still standing when all the other earthly powers become nothing more than a distant memory.

When we remember to operate by the truth that God has graciously given us, we are promised the paradise of freedom no matter where our bodies might find us on planet earth. Truth is what keeps us from becoming detoured by the lies. When we refuse to obey the Lord, then we become fair game to the cries of the crowd and people are absolutely terrible when it comes to defining one another. God’s love for us is unconditional and man’s attention has many strings attached. Yet how many times do we bend over backwards to make everyone else happy at the expense of ignoring the One who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves? We can’t afford to turn heaven’s volume down because the one thing for certain is that the noise of society is only going to get louder with each passing day. We can’t be casual during a season in which we must stay committed to hanging on the Lord’s every precious word; then we won’t get tripped up by the comments that really should go in one ear and quickly out the other.

Remembering brings us back to the place where we first began when we opened up our hearts to Jesus to become our Savior in the first place. Did God only promise to forgive half of your sins? Did the Lord only assure you that He wouldn’t leave you or forsake you on good days and the fairest of seasons? Didn’t God actually tell us in Psalm 103 that as far as the east is from the west that He would remember our sins no more? When the Lord looks at us, He doesn’t see what we see, He sees us as His finished masterpieces, His greatest works of art? What humanity would throw into the bargain bin, God has rescued to redeem, restore and renew. The Lord laid down His very life to prove His everlasting love for us and we still doubt His integrity. When will we people ever learn? Do you see why we need daily powerful post-it notes from Glory?

I am praying daily for the spiritual condition of our Country. There is way too much ego where there should be humility. Politicians are using their constituents for their own personal power rather than doing what is best for them. Our Country which was founded upon the principle to provide freedom for the expression of faith now has deemed it to be non-essential. The enemy is also attempting to divide the Body of Christ at a crucial time when it needs to come together. What is the miraculous glue that brings Jew and Gentile, black and white, rich and poor, those who have and those who have no material goods to their name together? What unites us as a loving and caring family in a way that no biological blood lines can pull off? Nothing but the blood of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit! Remember Church, we are at our best when we make it our priority to keep the main thing the main thing! Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and love one another. Stop the name calling and keep raising the praising of our Jesus! As we are reunited in the days to come within our buildings, we need to continue to put God first, take care of one another, stop making man made rules more important that God breathed words and do whatever it takes to bring God glory. The legacy we will leave for a waiting and watching world is tied into our need to remember what we must not forget and just forget what is not worth remembering! Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, I have the right to condemn you, but I forgive you, go and live in the freedom of my love. Why would we choose to be tied up in our own man-made ropes when God Himself has made it possible for us to be free from the confines of this culture.

Even people who love Jesus have gotten and will get the covoid-19 virus. And while this sickness can raise havoc within our bodies, it has no hold on our souls. What profit is it if a person gains the whole world and still loses their soul? What really good does it do if you stay physically healthy but spiritually and emotionally sick? Let’s never forget the mission of the Church. It is not to be a country club to the righteous, but a hospital for the broken. I close with the words from the very prayer that Jesus taught us when His disciples asked Him to please teach them to pray. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Remember, if we don’t remember to live by those words of life, who else will?





REFLECTIONS

19 05 2020

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We all become mirrors of what influences us most. Like it or not, we can learn more about what a person believes by how a person behaves. Jesus empowered us to become the light of the world! Like a city on a hill, we need to be seen even before we are heard. If our walk doesn’t back up our talk, we end up with nothing to say anyway! As Christians we are not expected to generate our own light, but to become reflections of the Lord who saved us by His amazing grace. Unfortunately for way too many a church goer, our major influence is not coming from the God who made us, but the surrounding world trying to squeeze us into its mold.

During this coronavirus pandemic, many a watching eye has been looking to see how the Body of Christ would respond. Has a watching world seen Jesus through it all? Have the observers in the crowd seen anything of Jesus at all? Or, are they seeing in us what they can see in anybody else who doesn’t believe? I fear that there is way too much CNN or Fox News being spouted off through the reaction of Jesus Followers and not enough Bible! If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then wouldn’t He be more reliable to trust over the latest talking head at the networks?

What bothers me most about what is going on in NJ government is the blatant inconsistency! The rules are so all over the place that nobody knows what to believe. Why would I look to Trenton for peace and purpose when there is so much pride, ego and division driving the daily decisions? God is good all the time and all the time God is good! I’m not sure about anything else, but when it comes to Scripture, I know that this is truth I can build my life upon. It is only my relationship with the Lord that has helped me keep my sanity when the boundaries of the playing field have actually changed during the game depending on who you are talking to. But if we are citizens of Heaven, then we know man can make all the plans he desires, but ultimately it is God who directs the steps. I’d rather follow in the footsteps of the Master than wander around in circles trying to please the crowd.

When Jesus was on this planet, the Nation of Israel was hoping that He would step up to be the Messiah that would set them free from Roman oppression. Jesus came preaching about a Kingdom that was not of this world. I believe that too often, Americans make the same mistake with their brand of Christianity. Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat. He is not white, yellow, red, black or brown. He can’t be bribed, bought or bullied. Jesus didn’t fit into the box that the religious rulers of the day constructed for Him. What makes us think that He might do so today? I want people to see the real Jesus in those of us whom He has redeemed by His mercy and grace. Jesus was not known for his picket signs as much as He was known for pointing people in the direction of light and life. And isn’t it ironic that those who thought they knew religion the best were the same ones that blatantly blew off the Son of God in their presence. And those who were defined as the outcasts and dredges of society were the very ones that also admitted how much they needed Jesus as their Savior.

Growing up, my Dad was rather thrifty and he made it very clear that if nobody was in the room, it was our responsibility to turn the lights off. If Dad said it once, he mentioned it a thousand times. To this day, I can hear his voice in my head as I walk through the church building flicking light switches. Contrary to my earthly Father’s advice, my Heavenly Father is quoting quite the opposite. He is challenging us to turn the light on and shine it as bright as possible. And when we are radiating the reflection of our Savior, we aren’t directing others to try to find the answers to the yearnings of their heart via religion, because that has never worked for anyone, but we are directing them to a personal relationship with the God who made us! What a watching world needs to know from us is the powerful truth that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us and He will guide us whether we get the virus or not. The most important move is not what mask to wear or whether life will ever get back to “normal;” the ultimate question that everyone needs to answer is, “Do I have security that no matter what happens here, I am forever in the best of care?” If the Bible teaches that nothing can separate us from the love of God, then are we willing to live the truth of what we claim to believe no matter what happens?





MY PRAYER FOR ALL OF US!

12 05 2020

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Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer. Since we were not allowed to gather at the Court House to pray together, I wanted to share with you my prayer on behalf of all of us. If ever there was a time we needed to get on our knees, it is now. I believe that prayer still changes things because God is still on the throne. We are not alone in this all. And when we give God room to move in our lives, that is when miraculous things begin to happen! So, Lord, hear our prayer!!!

Lord, I am crying out to You on behalf of our County, our State and our Country. My petition goes way deeper than just asking You to make the coronavirus go away. We need lots more healing than just that which touches our physical bodies. There is so much division among our people. There is mistrust and hatred looming all over the place and these traits never lead to life giving conclusions. We know what You have said about pride, God, and ego is such a trap that our flesh so easily falls into. Forgive the ways some of our leadership speaks as if You don’t exist. Forgive us for depending upon the latest news to meet our needs more than we should be hungering for our daily bread. Nothing is bigger than what You can handle Lord and no human power intimidates Your sovereignty. Draw us to lean into Your presence and find solace in Your grip. I hope and yearn that rather than trying to change the course of events with our own ingenuity, we would humbly and willingly surrender our agenda to Your hands and follow Your directions.

There is so much disappointment in our midst, Dear Father. There are no sports, no graduations, no birthday parties, no field trips, no church services with true community, no hugs, no touch and lots of anxiety and worries. The old saying boasts that children are resilient, but I hurt for them and ask that we as adults will take the time to allow them to express their hearts. Let’s assume nothing. Not that we have all the answers they seek, but venting and sharing helps anyone feel better because at least it gets what is boiling on the inside to simmer down on the outside. I also pray that in our efforts to keep everyone safe from a virus, we don’t do it at the expense of losing our souls. What good is it if we are physically healthy but spiritually bankrupt. I know there are times and seasons for everything Lord, but I am asking that those who make the decisions will take into account the fact that people need each other not merely to survive but to thrive. Open the locked doors Lord. Let us be wise and careful, but also allow us to get out of the bubble because we aren’t as protected as we think we are by dwelling there.

Bring a holy peace to those who have had to say goodbye to loved ones from a distance. I ask that our senior adults who are in these special care facilities will sense Your touch and when their loneliness gets overwhelming, please show up to comfort them at just the right time. And for those who serve faithfully in the medical field, God, they must be weary and just wearing those masks all day, putting themselves regularly on the front line, smack dab in the line of fire, God they need to experience fresh energy and renewed strength. Those who serve in retail and restaurants and do so out of necessity also need encouragement. Customers who can’t find what they need are not the easiest of crowds to work with. We need patience and compassion in bigger doses than we are normally used to so that we can treat one another with love and respect.

And there are those who are rightfully concerned about their finances and livelihood; and every day this pandemic continues, the questions of what will happen to their future grow louder and more intense. Lord, You promise to provide our every need and we take You at Your word that You will not abandon us when we need You the most. I pray that doors will open and miracles will take place. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world and we refuse to use logic when, Lord, there are so many instances when common sense must be tossed aside and obedience to You must take precedence. Speak Lord, for we listen and when you lead, give us the courage to follow no matter whatever.

We confess our sins of pride and greed. We all have way more than we need. When we should have given more, we tried to hoard what should have been shared. It’s not too late for us to return to You and to put You first. Teach us to be grateful for what we have and not spoiled brats, always seeking for more. Let us not be ashamed to share our faith. Let us be filled with Your love so that we can spill it on to those who don’t yet believe in You. Let us walk the belief we talk. Let us not be so holier than thou that we don’t take the time to embrace all those you bring across our paths! Even those who don’t look like us or talk like us or believe like us. I want to lift You up Jesus, change the world through me, beginning right here in Cape May County.

We don’t know where this is going, Lord, but we do know You hold the future and our story will not end in defeat. Don’t let us abandon ship unless You want us to walk on the water. Open our eyes to see You everywhere. Open our hearts to receive You anywhere. Open our mouths to speak a truth that will set others free. I know whom I have believed in and I am persuaded that He is able to keep all that we have committed to Him for the day when only what matters most will remain! I pray this in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!





IS THE LIGHT ON?

7 05 2020

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There is a story told of an American who went over to Paris, and wishing to buy his wife a little gift, he purchased a phosphorescent, mother-of-pearl match-box container; and the beauty of it was that in the dark it was said to radiate a wonderful light. He packed it in his trunk, took it home to the U.S.A., and after the family welcome dinner asked for the lights to be put out. In the dark he took the match-box container from his pocket to present it to his wife, but, when he looked at it, it was as black as the darkness around. Then he said, “That is just what they palm off on us clueless foreigners. I’ve been swindled.” Next day his wife, a bit curious, discovered that on the box there were a few words written in French. She took it down to some friends who had a French maid and had it translated. That night, in the darkness, it was all aglow, for she had followed the instructions written on the box, which said: “If you keep me all day long in the sunlight, I will shine for you all night long in the darkness.”

I fear that too many Believers have packed themselves away during this pandemic, so much so that they have lost their godly glow. This world and the life we live this side of heaven is not capable of keeping our lights ignited bright. Like batteries that we put into our transistor radios, what energy this planet provides us doesn’t get stronger as we play the music, but weaker with each hour it is left on. To conserve its precious power, we hesitantly go without when what we really needed was for it to be on full blast! Our fuel as Christians must be the Holy Spirit of God, or sooner or later, the bulbs of the body of Christ will flicker and eventually burn out just when we were needed to be the illuminating rays of our Savior for the surrounding shadows.

Much like the moon does not generate its own glory but reflects what radiance it receives from the sun, so we too need to stop trying so hard to be dazzling disciples and simply surrender our hearts humbly and fully to the access of the glory of the Son of God! Isn’t it ironic that we could do nothing to save ourselves from our sin and we willingly received the finished work of Jesus on the cross by grace through faith to purchase our salvation but now, somehow, we behave like it is up to us to live holy and righteous lives? This is why so much Christianity is defined by what we don’t do rather than highlighted by how God is at work within our daily behavior. Just because someone knows the Bible inside and out intellectually doesn’t equate to an individual who is madly in love with the Lord. There are many who have been properly informed but they are are still missing the supernatural work of the Spirit in their souls to be transformed. God promises that He will make us more like His Son when we choose to follow Him. It doesn’t occur by freestyling. We must constantly long to dwell in the shadow of our Shepherd.

Growing up, I was my Dad’s right-hand man. I was Little Rudy and he was Big Rudy. The moments I was right by his side were my happiest and most courageous memories. It didn’t matter what was happening around me, I was always secure and satisfied when I was next to my Dad. I found my identity in the presence of being around him. We need to do the same thing with Jesus. We can’t go off on our own and try to figure out how we are going to live a life of faith if we are not in the proximity of the One that we claim to be the servant of. The reason we run out of gas is because we try to attempt to make God-sized works happen without the Miracle Maker even in our midst. If Jesus is not in the neighborhood, don’t expect to feed a crowd of 5000 with a young boy’s lunch! Those feats only occur when we know that our feet are marching in the steps of our Savior.

Do we believe that God can still do awesome lifechanging happenings through His church even while we are locked out of our sanctuaries? Do we believe that God can use us to impact those around us if we will only truly trust Him and accentuate what we are able to accomplish rather than get all frustrated about what we aren’t able to participate in right now? How about the precedents set in Scripture when the God of the universe still showed up with Joseph in the pit, Daniel in the lion’s den, Paul in prison and John on Patmos? Has our ability to live the word of God been taken away from us? Can we still love our neighbors and pray for those who might think differently than we do? Don’t we serve the Lord who created all we see with just a word? Maybe we need a little less whining and complaining from us and a little more constructive input from the One who can really affect the output! Is God on the disabled list? Can any human government really hamstring the holy omnipotent power of our indescribable Lord?

And they’ll know we belong to Jesus by our buildings, our choice of Bible, our hot worship band, our beloved theologian? Nope! We can even have the kind of faith that moves mountains, we can give away money, food, possessions, and speak in a tongue that makes angels jealous, but it is all bankrupt if there is not the unconditional, life altering, no strings attached love of God enabling the acts of His devoted followers. I pray every day for Cape May County. I am not just praying for those who believe like me. I pray for those who don’t believe anything at all. Like the very trees all around us that provide life giving oxygen without prejudice or bigotry, so the grace and mercy of God should be flowing to us to go right through us to touch all that might be in our paths. As long as the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the light will never go completely out. Let’s live like we don’t need any other power source to provide our daily needs.

 





WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER!

29 04 2020

IMG-7741This pandemic has definitely caught us all off guard. Nobody said last year that they were hoping 2020 would be known as the year we would all miss one thing or another. Children would miss their friends. Athletes would miss their sports. Seniors would miss their graduations. Adults would miss their jobs. There would be no concerts, no weddings, no funerals, no picnics, no movies, no restaurants, no haircuts, no dentists, no chiropractors, no school and no church services. Life is hard enough battling this coronavirus to begin with but to have to do so without one another physically there to lean on has made this ordeal even more challenging.

Nobody misses being together more than me, but this ordeal is something that we are all in together. We are not being persecuted because of our color, our social background, our creed or our level of intelligence. The virus is not picky. It will infect anyone within its greedy germs. So as a Family, as a Church, as a Neighborhood and as a County, we must be willing to work together. It is going to take the prayer of all the denominations to beat this disease. Lord knows that it has already accomplished stealing so much life from everyone up to this point. No one group, one church, one people are being persecuted! It is messing with all of us!

I have really felt for the children. It is so easy to just assume they are doing well because they go along with the program, but they have feelings and just because they don’t express them as freely as adults do, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. I have been asking children what they miss most as they have had to venture through this chaos and their number one answer is their friends. Isolation is not in the makeup of any of us no matter what our age may be. I have been encouraging adults to make time and take time to give the kids a chance to talk. This challenges most of us to practice another trait that we are not always that good at and it’s listening. Listen with our ears and our eyes and our hearts.

We must stay away from the blame game. This isn’t the Democrats fault or the Republicans fault. This isn’t because of New Jersey’s negligence. Just ask those in Ohio or Omaha. They too are facing the same stipulations and barriers that we are. And it is much too easy to blame God. But remember that the Lord has made us with free will, and because of that, sin has reared its ugly head in all of our gardens. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Depression isn’t choosy. Storms ruin the plans of both those who believe and those who label themselves as atheists. What I love about my faith is that it doesn’t abandon me when the skies get dark and things don’t go my way. The Lord is our Shepherd and stays with us no matter what might come upon His sheep. He doesn’t watch us from a distance. He is right there in the room of the senior adult who appears to be dying alone. He is right there promising to redeem the brokenness and restore what this planet tried to paralyze. If ever there was a time to run in the right direction to the Lord, it is now!

As the Pastor of the Lighthouse Church, our church will continue to be creative in the ways we worship and interact together! Thank God that the One we worship never changes and is still in charge! Not even Covoid19 could separate us from His Love! We must refuse to live in fear and can’t allow the “what if’s” to rob us from the reality of “what is!” April has seemed to last forever. Most of us don’t even know what day it is, but this too will pass. May is coming and so is June, July and August! I know we will all be committed to getting Cape May County open again, even if it must be done via baby steps rather than giant steps. We may not always agree with those in charge, but who does? As a Leader, I am used to those in the grandstands second guessing me and thinking they could do my job better than I could. I have invited many who want my role to come and get it. Still when you are placed within a position that has to make the best decisions for others, you hope and pray that ego and pride don’t get in the way of doing your absolute best! I know in our family we don’t always see eye to eye but we still treat one another with love and respect. This world would be a whole lot brighter quicker if we would treat one another not as the enemy, but as a brother or sister.

So we look for the things to celebrate even amidst a rainy parade. We applaud and give a special shout out of gratitude and appreciation to all the Pastors taking care of their flocks in ways that we were never taught in Bible College. We come alongside our local Policemen and Government Leaders and Medical Personnel and Retail Workers and Postal Employees and Everyone who is fighting this chaos together! I don’t have to wear a mask at my job mostly because you wouldn’t understand a word I was saying at the church or on the radio. I have seen the pictures of those who have facial marks because of the imprints those tight masks have made. I ache for each and every one of our neighbors who put themselves in harms way every single day. I also pray for all of you. If you have any personal requests or needs, please don’t hesitate to let me know. It’s hard to complain about inconveniences when you know that we are all in this together!

So Lord, we collectively and corporately trust You and cry out to You on behalf of the lonely and the sick and the hurting and the tired and the depressed and especially the children! Please Lord, we humbly ask that Your will be done and Your Kingdom come here in Cape May County as it is in Heaven! Hugs to you all! We need to keep looking up no matter what we see when we look out! I truly believe the best is yet to come and we will see treasure in all of us because we have sojourned through these unique trails together. God has blessed us and He is not finished with us yet!





GARDEN PARTY 2020

21 04 2020

Garden Party 2020

Nostalgia has always been in style. No matter what day and age we might live on, there is always a contingent that looks fondly on the good old days and has a tendency to make that stroll down memory lane lots better than it actually was. In the early 1970’s, there was a sudden fascination with the 1950’s evidenced by Movies such as American Graffiti and Television Hits like Happy Days. Even Radio Stations began adopting the Oldies Format playing only the records from the roots of rock and roll. And while knowing where you have come from has always been good wisdom to help navigate where you might be going, sometimes the old adage is also true, “You can never go back there again!”

One such individual who discovered that reality was Ricky Nelson. Ricky grew up in the public eye both on radio and later of television as a member of his iconic family that included his parents Ozzie and Harriet and his Brother David. It was sort of Reality Media long before that genre took on a life of its own. One truth is known and that is Rick Nelson never felt comfortable having his life observed in that kind of intrusive fishbowl.

Yet hesitantly, on October 15, 1971, when Richard Nader hosted a Rock ‘n Roll Revival concert at the legendary Madison Square Garden, Rick Nelson and his Stone Canyon Band were part of the all-star lineup meant to celebrate good times and great memories of yesteryear. Chuck Berry was there and so was Bill Haley and his Comets. Bo Diddley showed up as well as Frankie, Fabian and Bobby Rydell. Even Pat Boone and his iconic white shoes made its way onto the stage. Almost every performer gave the audience what they came for. Everyone looked like they were frozen in time singing all the hits that had made them famous in the first place. Unfortunately, Ricky Nelson didn’t get the memo that nothing new was welcome for this gathering.

Rick Nelson came out onto the stage with long hair down to his shoulders wearing bell bottom jeans and a purple velvet shirt. Obviously, Harriet didn’t dress her youngest Son for this outing. And while he did include his top ten songs like Hello Mary Lou and Traveling Man in his set, they didn’t sound exactly like everyone remembered them. He gave them a seventies sound when this was strictly a leave things as they were celebration. Things turned ugly when Rick and his Band began playing the Rolling Stones hit, Honky Tonk Woman. The audience got ugly and began to boo profusely, so much so that Rick not only exited the stage, but along with Elvis, he vacated the building.

A disaster like this might have ended another’s career. At the very least, it would have sent them looking for therapy. But I have always admired how Rick Nelson responded to his less than positive surrounding circumstances. Nelson wrote a song about the whole crazy experience. He was able to express his frustration on paper and using his guitar, mix in a little sarcasm and a huge dose of refreshing honesty. What might have knocked him out only caught him off guard but he came bouncing back up fighting. Rick Nelson’s effort tuned out to be a huge Number One Hit in 1972 entitled of all things, Garden Party. When life gave him a thumbs down, he rewrote it with the response being overwhelmingly positive. If you are like me, you still remember the words to the chorus: “But it’s all right now, I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” And then there is my favorite line of the lyric, “If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.” This was a nod to Elvis Presley who was told in his earliest days to stick to truck driving because he was never going to make it as a singer. Another brilliant call, Not!

The reason I write about this today is because we have all been dealt a hand of cards that none of us could have ever wished for. Nobody said last year, “I’m hoping that we all get quarantined from normal life for months and months in 2020.” There might even be the temptation to become obsessed so much with yesterday or so focused on what will be tomorrow that we actually miss the life that is right in front of us today. This may not have been the way we planned it but I do know that God will help us make sweet music even using some of the sour notes on our scale if we refuse to lose perspective that every day is a gift. Could there be a hit song in our making even if the melody isn’t even close to how we hoped it would be when we first set our pen to paper?

When it comes to a mess, you can choose to clean it up or slowly become part of the scenery. I’m not much for quitting easily. As a matter of fact, the fire in my belly gets even more overheated when someone tells me that it can’t turn out positive or even worse, it won’t! God is all about redeeming the grounds the locusts have attempted to destroy. We can either start rolling around in the mud or plant a garden where we have discovered ourselves in such a time as this. I love that God gives us room to whine and complain. One needs only to read the Psalms to understand this trait of humanity. But once we get our eyes off what isn’t and start to value what is, then we are ready to write that song, remodel that heart, regain that relationship and seize the opportunities we do have rather than waste our moments worrying about the doors that might be closed to us right now.

If I have a word for us this week, it’s to create our own Garden Party. What can you turn around for good that might otherwise end ugly if you don’t intervene? Where can you add some vibrant color to the ugly black and white of this poisonous pandemic? Who needs words of life rather than just being booed off the stage? Who needs to hear beautiful music rather than the endless noise of the news channels? Who needs to be instructed of what they are allowed to do rather than hear never ending lists of all the things we are forbidden to participate in? Decide today to not be afraid to get your hands dirty so that you may plant your seeds and set your stage for your own Garden Party!





WE ALL NEED THE POWER OF TOUCH

13 04 2020

touch

The isolation of this social distancing world we now live in is starting to get to me. During this coronavirus battle, I have only ventured out to two places besides the house that I live in. I go to the Lighthouse Church building and I go to Coastal Broadcasting’s radio studio. While I am in both places, I do get to interact with many people through social media streaming and the FM dial. The only problem is, while others get to see and hear me; I don’t get to see and hear them and this spells a recipe for loneliness and a skid into potential depression for an extroverted soul like mine.

I can’t help it but God wired me to be very response oriented. Preaching to an empty room is not the same as sharing my messages with the flock staring back at me. I like to see the faces as I passionately share the Word of God. The weekends before this tragedy of life basically shut us all down, I would present the same sermon three different times on Saturday at 6PM and on Sundays at 9 and 1045AM. But it never got boring to me because each and every occasion provided a unique twist and spiritually driven turn that always kept things fresh and new. The content of my talks might have been the same but who God had placed strategically in the congregation always meant that it came out of me with renewed vigor every time. When I can’t interact personally with those within earshot of me, it definitely affects my psyche.

Do you think that maybe this is why Jesus came from Heaven to earth to show the way? I mean, He could have gotten on a supernatural powerful sound system and blasted his parables and stories down to us while our Savior stayed within the safe surroundings of Glory. Yet, Jesus didn’t do that. He came down to our level when we couldn’t get up to His. He lived among us. He made eye contact with His creation. He ate meals with us and walked where we walked with His disciples right by His side. The Shepherd didn’t direct His sheep via remote control. Our Lord was smack dab in the pasture that the sheep could literally rub up against Him and feel the security of His presence with them. This wasn’t God sending text messages from a distance. This was God so close to us that we could hear Him whispering truth in our ears.

Maybe this is why the pandemic is beginning to pound upon my gut. Being visible to others without the closeness of true communion is not actual fellowship. Somebody said to me this past week, “Are you going to continue with the online classes and studies after life gets back to normal?” As for me and my ministry, I responded with a very quick, “No!” This is why I am not a fan of going to church to just watch a speaker on the screen like you would watch a television at home. The apostles would sit at the feet of Jesus. They would experience all of Him as He also related life in an up front and unusually close to them posture. There are things that we all have to do out of necessity but that doesn’t mean that they are the best way. I long for all of us to be in the same room again as soon as possible. Nothing substitutes for being physically together while understanding spiritual principles. If it was just about intellectual learning, all we would need was books. But even the Bible itself can’t be fully appreciated unless you invite the Author Himself to interact with you while you read. The Holy Spirit revealing to us eternal truth is definitely not a one-way conversation. It involves the participation of God and man involved in the same place in a united process at the very same time.

I miss the hugs and the high fives. I miss the fist bumps and the laughter and tears we all share along the journey. I read where a high-ranking official said that human beings should abandon the practice of shaking hands altogether. I profusely disagree with that suggestion. We were not made by God to operate as robots. The Bible encourages us to greet one another with a holy kiss and that goes way beyond a polite head nod. Jesus wasn’t afraid to catch our cooties. It wasn’t a virus that took His life. It was hatred. I’ll risk the consequences that come with the power of touch. I for one can’t go the rest of my life without it. Like Olaf, the snowman character in the Disney Movie Frozen, I too need warm hugs just to get me through the monotony of days spent here on this planet. The fact that so many loved ones had to take their last breaths all alone without any contact from family and friends during this ordeal is enough to make my heart ache forever. This is not the way God designed us to live and move and have our existence here. All we need is love. Love is even more important than Clorox wipes and toilet paper.

The other day, it felt like spring and so I drove down the street because I missed my granddaughter Lucia and I still had not seen my newest twin granddaughters Adelina and Claire in person. I went by Leah and Jeff’s house and found Luci playing with bubbles in the backyard. She was giggling in such a contagious fashion that I couldn’t help but join in the festivities. I think she got a kick out of the fact that I was calling it “bubble juice.” Pop-Pop kept saying, “We need more bubble juice.” At that moment, in the arms of their parents, those new lives appeared at the door. It took all the restraint within me to not hold those precious treasures in my arms. I complied with the new world order, but my heart was protesting big time. They were right there in my reach and I couldn’t touch them. I share this because there was nothing normal about it. And in the long run, I don’t believe that it would be very healthy for them to be so protected that no other loved one could cuddle them and love on them in their arms. What I am trying to say is that ships in the harbor might be safer there, but that is not what ships were made for. And we people were created by God to be loved-up close and personal.

I am praying like many of you that this too will pass. We will not survive if this lifestyle goes on forever. But it won’t be a virus that kills us, it will be a broken-heart that does us in. No man is an island and we are not put on this earth as solo entities. We all need the power of a holy touch. We need to be held in the hands of those who cherish us. When I get to heaven, I will not be content to just be in the same room as Jesus. I want to fall right in the arms of my Lord. I hope we never get to the extreme where we outlaw contact. I for one won’t survive without it. Go away coronavirus. Return soon communion and community. I will never take you for granted again.





EASTER AS IT OUGHT TO BE!

7 04 2020

Easter (2)
It’s Easter like it has never been before for any of us. It may well be the first Easter that many individuals will not actually be able to come together in community to worship the risen Jesus. But while the building may be closed, the church will be wide open. The last I checked, if death couldn’t prevent our Lord from rising from the dead, then the coronavirus shouldn’t keep those of us who wear His Name from raising the roof to proclaim our appreciation. Aren’t you glad that God is still in the business of rolling the boulders of gloom and doom away? Because Jesus lives, not only can we face tomorrow, we can find a life worth living right here and now, today! We don’t have to wait until this nightmare is over to dance to the music of heaven. No matter how hard fear and anxiety over the unknown might try to rule the day, the fact that Jesus did what He did to conquer sin and death is the key truth which opens the door to real freedom.

Easter still gives us a real reason to crank up the volume of pure joy and sincere celebration. Easter is not an escape from the pain of this pandemic, it hits this disease right between the eyes and exposes it for what it really is. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of what can destroy the body, but make it a priority to deal with what can isolate your soul.” The coronavirus can’t separate us from the love of God. The coronavirus can’t change the fact that the moment I take my last breath on earth, I will begin to breathe the fresh air of paradise. The coronavirus doesn’t negate Jesus being the Resurrection and the Life, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Way, Truth and the Life, the Good Shepherd, the Door, the One who would never leave us or forsake us, nor does it cancel out any of the other eternal words our Lord gave us about who He is!

The big question is, “Will Christians find their ability to authentically praise the risen Savior from the current mess they are in?” “Will we choose to worship in the middle of the wilderness or are we so fickle and spoiled by not having our pleasures and conveniences that we will look up to the sky and claim spiritual laryngitis?” I find it ironic that we have been mandated by government to stay within our homes, buried away for an unknown period of time that is definitely testing our patience and spoiling us from participating in the beloved things of spring that we all know and love. If ever we were needing a timely resurrection back to life, it is now. Contrary to those who spout out that they don’t need anybody else to worship God, isolation doesn’t suit us spiritually! God didn’t create us to be loners. We are all at our best when we dwell within a caring community of loved ones. We need one another and those whom we become close enough to come to know us even better than we know ourselves.

Social distancing is definitely not a biblical principle. I believe we are fighting it because it is not in our DNA! God so loved the world that He refused to accept the separation from us that sin caused. It was Jesus who went to the extreme measure of leaving the safe confines of Heaven with no other purpose but to rescue us. He did so by literally becoming one of us. Jesus got as up close and personal with us as anyone could ever be. It was via these means that God mended the broken bridge between mankind and Himself, not by buying or constructing a massive stairway to Heaven, but by His only Son willingly laying down His life down to become the very walk we would gain access to the Father through. Jesus who knew no sin became the deadly virus itself, so that by grace through faith, whosoever will could find their eternal cure and healing in Him. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t eradicated one fact of all God has done in love for His people. If ever there was a moment when we need something of substance to lift us up out of the pit, it is now!

There was no March Madness. There has been no Baseball. There will be no Masters, no Olympic Games, no Wimbledon Tennis, no family gatherings, no zoo to walk through, no Morey’s Piers to enjoy, no restaurants open to gather in, no where to run and nowhere to hide. There have been people talking like we are not going to have Easter this year. Are you kidding me? You can’t wipe out Easter with a virus. Jesus is not a computer! For years and centuries, the world has tried to squash Christianity, maim the church, silence its Disciples, steal the song of the Resurrection. They couldn’t edit Jesus from our vocabulary then and they can’t keep a good Man down now! Easter is not canceled! There has always been a Resurrection. There will be a resurrection again when this too shall pass. We were not made to live in tombs! We will all get out of our caves and come together again. It may not be this Sunday, but we have the hope that it will happen. That is why I encourage you to get all decked out this Sunday as a family. Don’t watch church online in your pajamas. Ladies, wear that Easter bonnet again. Men, put a shirt and tie on. Let the kids pick out their favorite outfit and tell them they are wearing it to a party! Easter is a jump, shout, knock yourself out, occasion. I will wear the white shoes like I always do, the ones I bought for my first Easter as a Believer in 1976! If Jesus rose from the dead, don’t you think we can rise from our beds? Make it memorable! Take lots of pictures. Open the windows and let the Son shine in! Easter is not good advice; it is Good News! Hallelujah, Jesus is alive! Let your behavior back up your belief! Who is with me?

For way too long, church has become an event to attend. For such a time as this, Jesus is calling us to not go to church but to be the church! I am so proud of all the Cape May County Churches that have been holding their Mass and Services online. Who would have ever imagined that the very smart phone that we thought was such a distraction would actually become a true lifeline? The Lighthouse Church will be remembering Holy Week. We will have live Online Services on Good Friday at Noon and another at 6PM. We will hold a live Online Service on Saturday at 6PM. We will host the Easter Sunday Praise Jam on Sunday at 11AM. Our Sunday Service will also be broadcast and streamed live on 106.3FM The Shore. The website for the radio is: theshore1063.com and the website for the Lighthouse Church: tlccma.org, this page will give you all the instructions you need to party with us.

On Palm Sunday morning, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a colt. He entered the holy city as a humble King. By Thursday night, after celebrating Passover with His disciples, He was arrested and held as a common criminal. On Friday, it appeared that all was lost when the Lamb of God was crucified upon a cross. Can you imagine how dark and depressed the world was that Holy Saturday. I believe this coronavirus has us stuck in Holy Saturday mode, but wait, there’s more! On Sunday, death was kicked in the teeth, Jesus rose from the grave! And all who would believe, our stories will never end in defeat!

The earth awaits a healing from this coronavirus. Christian have not been exempted from its ugly presence. But as Christians, we received Jesus as Lord to follow Him utterly and completely. We esteem Him above everything else, no matter what our present circumstances may be. Church is so much more than just a bless-me club. We are family and our Lord has said to us, “For better or for worse, I will never leave you nor forsake you and not even death will part us.” We claim Jesus as absolute Lord here. Let all hell rage against it. We are here by Him, through Him, and for Him, come hell or high water. Is Jesus not worthy of a true Easter celebration? You bet He is!