Hope for the Home - Devotional for the Family

                              MORNING DEVOTIONS 

"Fabulous Fathers"

As you know this Sunday is designated nationally as, "Father's Day".  I have been thinking about what makes a fabulous father.  So many fathers and fathers-to-be who have been in the headlines recently certainly would qualify as anything but fabulous.  Is it wealth?  Is it education?  Is it position?  Is it power? What truly puts the 21st century father in the category of "Fabulous"?   Job 1: 1 states about a father named Job, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job and that man was blameless, upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil."  Job had four characteristics which put him in the Fabulous List.

First, he was blameless.  Proverbs 13:6 tells us, "Righteousness keeps him whose way is blameless, but wickedness overthrows the sinner."  Job was a man of integrity.  He guarded his actions, his answers, and his accountability.  Second, he was upright.  Proverbs 20:7 reminds us, "The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him."  He was a father of impeccable character and godly conduct.  Third, he feared God.  Joshua told the adults of Israel, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel," Joshua 24:23. Job did this by seeking to experience God, by leaning toward His commandments, by standing in awe of His greatness, and by realizing what it meant to be part of the family of God.  Fourth, he shunned evil.  Six words remind us as 21st century fathers how to do this, "Abstain from every form of evil," I Thessalonians 5:22.  Just like Job, we must realize the challenge of evil.  We must recognize the character of evil.  We must regard the consequences of evil. 

Dads, your children and mine are living a generation which often substitutes lies for truth, compromise for conviction, and expediency for honor.  They have learned from national political leaders, sport figures, celebrities and sad to say religious leaders how to lie, prevaricate, rationalize, fabricate and equivocate while at the same time blaming someone else for their actions.  Lying leads to cover-up.  Cover-up leads to addiction.  Addiction leads to self-defense.  Self-defense leads to rationalization. Rationalization leads to a life style of ungodly behavior.  Today tolerance for sin is our national motto and political correctness is our mantra.  On this Sunday as fathers are recognized throughout our nation may it be said of each of us that by the grace of God and with Christian commitment we will seek to belong to that elite group known as Fabulous Fathers.  The next generation depends on it.

Looking for a Man.....Family 

Devotional thought - I was reading this morning from Ezekiel 22:23-31, "So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one," (verse 30).  This is a sobering statement.  The religious establishment is at fault.  The political system is corrupt.  The citizens of the land are lawless.  The truly poor and needy are neglected.  It is an indictment against Israel in this context, but sounds like it was written for the United States.    

In the past week three situations have been brought to my attention which every Christian parent should be deeply concerned about.  First, Home Depot has for several years, given its financial and corporate support to open displays of homosexual activism on main streets in America's towns. And, it says it will continue to do so! Stephen Holmes, company spokesman, said concerning Home Depot's involvement in the gay agenda, "At the end of the day here, we're not going to...forbid our associates to be involved in these pride festivals in any way."   Second, Sears is in the pornography business.  You won't believe what Sears is selling. If your child should for some reason go to the Sears web site and type in the word "posters", among the thousands offered will be hundreds which are graphic nudity including homosexual behavior.  Third, this past Wednesday, a federal judge overturned California's same-sex marriage ban. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made his ruling in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples who claimed the voter-approved ban (Prop. 8) violated their civil rights. Proposition 8, which declared that marriage should be between a man and a woman, was passed by the voters in California with a 52% majority. The judge said, "Prop. 8 failed to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license." Both sides of the issue had predetermined that however the judge ruled, the losing side would appeal his verdict to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - and, in time, most likely to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Our nation resembles the godless culture in Ezekiel's day.  It appears our nation's values have become valueless.  It appears our morality has evolved into blatant immorality.  It appears our sense of holiness has dissolved into an acceptance of the common and base.  It appears our search for significance has ended at the altar of self-worship.  It appears our once deep regard for human life has evaporated into the heathen practice of sacrificing babies to accommodate the choice of execution by the mother.  It appears we have embraced a style of worship in many of our churches where the proclaimers have become performers and the members have become groupies.  It appears we have lowered the standards in every area of human life that life itself has become so cheap it is put on the auction block to the highest bidder and lowest judge.  God had a word for Samaria and Jerusalem in Ezekiel 23: 35.  He said, "Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, therefore you shall bear the penalty of your lewdness and your harlotry."  In other words, "Get ready for the day of judgment."  Few want to hear it and even fewer believe it.  However, as it was said by Moses to the children of Israel it needs to be spoken again from the pulpits in our land, "Be sure your sin will find you out," Numbers 32:23. 

Parents, there has never been a time when the teachings of God's word is more important to your children than now.  Appearances can be deceiving. Contrary to what we see transpiring across our nation with our physical eyes we need to turn our spiritual eyes to the only One who can restore and rebuild the foundations.  Restoration begins with confession and ends with action.  Your children must see in you the very attributes of our Father in heaven.  No one can better instruct children in the ways of the Lord than a godly father and mother.  As in the days of Ezekiel so it is in our days. The way to invade our culture with values, morality, holiness, significance, and true worship is to realize that God is still looking for a man and a family.          




Special July 4 Edition 

Several years ago my friend, Rev. Ken Hall, and I sat in Beijing, in the home of one of the Christian leaders of China.  His name was Allen Yuan. He shared with us about his 21 years and seven months in a stark, barren, desolate prison in northern China.  He was sentenced to life in prison for refusing to obey the demands of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. The Chairman had commanded him and six other Christian pastors to "Preach the gospel of the Cultural Revolution."  Pastor Yuan replied, "The Bride of Christ can never be compromised."  Pastor Yuan was released because President Richard Nixon made it a condition that religious prisoners be freed in order for China to conduct business with the United States.  As we left his humble, modest home late that afternoon, Pastor Yuan shared his favorite verse of scripture, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses," Nehemiah 4:14. 

Tomorrow the citizens of the United States celebrate the anniversary of the publication of the declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776. On July 2, 1776, the Congress secretly voted for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4, 1776. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was on July 8, 1776.  The majority of Americans have never read the Declaration of Independence as the majority of Christians in America have never read the Bible.  Parents, it might be good for you tonight to share with your children the following concerning our nation and our faith. 

Statements of our Founding Fathers: 

   "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles. 'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government." George Washington, first President of the USA.

   "I've lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord builds the house they labor in vain that build it'. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of the Babel." Benjamin Franklin      

   "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."  John Jay, first Supreme Court Justice of the USA

   "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious.  It is wholly adequate to government of any other."  John Adams, first Vice President and second President of the USA  

   "No book in the world deserves go be so unceasingly studied and so profoundly meditated upon as the Bible."  John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the USA  

Stalwarts of Freedom in the Revolutionary War:  

Here are some interesting facts about the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence: Five were labeled as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War. Two had their sons captured. Nine died from wounds or hardships. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers and large plantation owners.    

Signs of the Times:  

234 years later we are a nation where some political leaders quote from the Scriptures in public and fail to practice them in their private marriages. We are a nation where the voice of the ACLU is more feared than the voice of God.  We are a nation which has become a vacuum that sucks in every form of filth and perversion and then gives it a stage on which to perform.  We are a nation which embraces pornography in the name of the freedom of the press and forbids prayer in the name of the separation of church and state.  We are a nation which has sewn the seeds of violence, immorality, rebellion, and hypocrisy and now the crops are being harvested.  The Bible clearly warns, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap," Galatians 6:7.  The same applies to a nation.   

Signals Our Children Have Learned: 

Celebrities with slick lawyers walk away from their murdered victims. College/Professional athletes can break the law during the week and play their game on the week end.  Integrity has nothing to do with occupying the highest office in our land.  Wedding vows are often promises not kept. Children know the meaning of fear and have forgotten the feeling of safety.  

Surely it is Time:  

(1) for a cleansing in our nation; (2) we meet those who oppose morality and Christian values head on in the court rooms of our land; (3) our public schools are placed back in the hands of Judeo-Christian educators; (4) the Ten Commandments be placed back on the walls from which they were ordered removed; (5) our children are allowed to lift their voices in prayers in their schools so they will not have to bow their heads at the funerals of their classmates; (6) we as Americans demand integrity and morality from the White House, to the School House, to the Church House; (7) we stop embracing violence in the media and start instilling moral principles in the lives of our children; (8) that we speak often of our Lord; (9) that we speak up for our beliefs; (10) that we speak out for our faith.   

I will always remember that special afternoon in Beijing when Pastor Allen Yuan read those words, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses."  In other words, in this time of overt, public, and blatant attacks on the Christian faith and family by many of our own citizens, we as followers of Christ must be found standing firm.

"Father's Day, Family, and Faith" 

Even though Father's Day was yesterday, I waited until today to offer some reflections on those of us who are called fathers.  I have often said, "Biologically almost any male can father a child, but fathering a child and being a father are two entirely different matters."  There are approximately 64,300,000 dads in the United States.  Of this multitude, there are approximately 26,500,000 with children under the age of 18.  In my latest book, From the Heart of a Father, I share with the reader from the first seven chapters of Proverbs.  Solomon gives wise counsel and advice to his children on how to remain pure, choose their friends, gain wisdom, be financially responsible, and avoid immorality.  Sad to say, Solomon's actions did not follow his advice.  If we as Dads want our children to mature into godly adults, then we must set the examples from day one.  Even then that does not insure they will follow our training.  Grown children make choices which often go against their upbringing.  

Job should have received the "Father of the Year" award.  The scriptures tell us, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, and upright, and one who feared God, and shunned evil. And he had seven sons and three daughters," Job 1:1-2.  Job was a square father in a round world.  He was equal on all four sides.  He was blameless; a man of integrity.  He was upright; a man of character.  He feared God; a man of principles.  He shunned evil; a man of purity.  Dads, your children and mine will watch us until we are no longer here.  After that we will live in their memories through the imprints we left on their hearts and minds while we were here.  What are you placing on the pages of the journal you will leave behind for your children and grandchildren?  The Bible tells us we are influencing generations we will never see.  That is a sobering statement.  May it be said about each of us that we were fathers who loved our families and exhibited an unshakeable faith in our God and His Son. 


MERRY CHRISTMAS or Happy Holidays

From "The Pastor's Weekly Briefing" at Focus on the Family, a new Rasmussen Reports(tm) national telephone survey found that 66 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday and another 20 percent celebrate the event as a secular holiday. Of those who celebrate Christmas, 81 percent believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent to earth to die for our sins and 72 percent say Jesus was born to a virgin. Among all Americans, whether they celebrate Christmas or not, 82 percent say the person known to history as Jesus Christ actually walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Only three percent say he did not and 15 percent aren't sure.  

Isn't it amazing that the 20 percent who celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday were able to mute so many retailers from speaking the words, "MERRY CHRISTMAS?"  Each time I was greeted with "Happy Holidays", I would respond in a sincere tone, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"  I wonder how many of the 81 percent who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent to earth to die for our sins have confessed his as Lord and Savior.  How tragic to believe with the head and not with the heart.  

You won't find either the observance of Christmas, or Easter commanded in the Scriptures.  However, both stand as reminders that man has never been the same since both took place.  Without the first the later would not be relevant and without the later the first would be insignificant.  Without both Christianity would be just another religion in the plethora of pagan practices.  From the wooden manger to the timbered Cross, Jesus alone provided redemption for fallen man.  

Parents, Christmas is a time when family and friends exchange gifts.  After  all, on the first Christmas God gave his Son to man in order that man could give himself back to God.  Deity became humanity so that humanity could worship and serve the Divine.  Christmas is an exchange of the self for the Savior; not just for a day, but for eternity.  How you respond to Christmas depends on the position of your heart.  The same wind which sends a sail boat to sea is the same wind which brings another into harbor.  It all depends on the position of the sails.  One can embrace the true meaning of Christmas or observe it as just another holiday.  You can teach your children that presents under the tree are the embodiment of Christmas or you can teach them about the Christ Child.  They called his name JESUS, God saves.  He alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. He alone is worthy of our worship.  He alone conquered death, hell and the grave.  So, in the morning as your family gathers around the tree you have a choice, you can greet each other with the secular phrase, "Happy Holidays", or you can shout for joy, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

"Reflections and Projections"

December 31, 2009  

 This has been a year of sunny mountain peaks and shadowed valleys for our nation.  The top ten stories according to The Associated Press were :1) The economy 2) Obama inauguration 3) Health care 4) Auto industry 5) Swine flu 6) Afghanistan 7) Michael Jackson dies 8) Fort Hood rampage 9) Edward Kennedy dies 10) Miracle on Hudson. As you can see it appears to have been mostly valley events which have shaped 2009.  I often heard my father talk about being a teenager during the Great Depression. The pay was $.50 a day and there were no such things as benefits.  The 50's and 60's brought such prosperity to the United States that should anyone mention the Great Depression they were told it could never happen again.  As the last rays of the sun fade from this year we have over ten per cent unemployment and much of this is among those who are classified as professionals.  The war in the Middle East has truly become our desert Vietnam.  The health care reform or deform, according to your take on this unfolding drama, will forever change the landscape of American medical services.  The deaths of well known celebrities, while leaving vacancies in their professions, are hardly the most dramatic news of '09.  The fact that terrorism is front and center is something we as freedom loving, democracy embracing, citizens of the United States will have to face for years to come.  Freedom is never free.   

   Parents, God spoke to Isaiah and said, "Behold I will do a new thing", (43:19).  Talk to your children and let them know that God is always, under all conditions in charge.  Nothing catches Him by surprise.  Nothing causes Him to wring His hands.  Nothing leaves Him speechless except perhaps the prayers of His children.  As we enter yet another time measurement called a year, may we reflect on the goodness and mercy of our God and project on His faithfulness and sovereignty.  I am sure He wants to do a new thing in my life and yours in 2010.  I can hear my father's voice as I write these words, "We do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future."  In these final moments before the ball drops and the sun rises we would do well to reflect on His steadfast love for us His children.

"Sitting in Church"

 As Becky and I were sitting in church this morning listening to our pastor preach on the various gifts given by the Holy Spirit I began to look around at my brothers and sisters.  Next to us was a dear saint who is battling brain cancer.  When the gift of healing was mentioned I immediately prayed, "Dear Jesus, I still believe in miracles, but I just haven't seen a healing miracle of this magnitude lately.  In this quite moment would you please touch her and make her well?"  Sitting closer to the front of the church was a friend who is in the midst of a divorce after several years of marriage.  I prayed, "Lord, would you give each of them a broken and understanding heart?"  Throughout the congregation I saw numerous widows and widowers.  I prayed, "Lord, fill their hearts with your presence and surround them with your love; especially this time of the year?"  There were those who are either unemployed or are about to be.  I prayed, "Lord give these, your children, an unusual amount of faith in your provisions.  Some are single parents and all are trying just to make ends meet."  I saw a dear brother who has been praying for the salvation of his child for several years.  I prayed, "Lord soften that young woman's heart and break down the barriers which she has erected so that salvation may come to that home this season."  So many brothers and sisters.  So many needs.  If we each would use the gift or gifts which the Holy Spirit has given us, we would witness a Christmas unlike any other.  His word tells us, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you," John 15:7.  Parents, teach your children that they can be blessed not only through the sermon and song, but through praying for their extended family while sitting in church.     

“After The Leaves Have Fallen”

 As the green chlorophyll of summer has slipped from the leaves their true colors are once again revealed to us.  This is how it is with life.  So often our lives are colored by external forces and it’s not until the chlorophyll runs out that our true colors are exposed.  Just as one leaf glistens in the autumn sun with yellow, orange, burgundy and green so one life can burst forth with such brilliance that it impacts us for as long as we live.  The way we live our lives in front of our children leaves behind the colors of our character.  They watch.  They listen.  They imitate.  The day will come when the hours of sunlight grow less and less and the chlorophyll of our external gives way to the colors of the internal and what remains will be a testimony of who we really were.  Proverbs 22:1 tells us what should survive after the green of wealth has faded, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.”

Everyone’s name has a special meaning.  This is why the names in the Bible are so important.  However, the greatest name we can bear was first introduced by the pagan people of Antioch when they observed the followers of Jesus Christ.  They called them Christians.  Do your children think of Christ when they call your name?  Do mine?  As you and your family celebrate Thanksgiving please remember that nothing is more important to leave your children than a good name.  The true colors of this gift will last long after the leaves have fallen.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.



 The thought of going to the emergency room knowing that unless you are seconds from death you just might die why waiting to be seen is not the most comforting way to start or end a day.  Early Thursday morning I went to the kitchen to take some Mylanta for what I thought was indigestion.  As the second spoon of that chalky liquid left my mouth I hit the floor.  The sound of my head recoiling off our tile floor woke Becky at the other end of the house.  When she got to me I was on my side moaning and telling her, "I think I hurt myself."  When I tried to stand I knew something was not right.  At 8:00 A.M. we entered the EMERGENCY ROOM at Jackson General.  Thanks to a friend, J.R. Ross, who is employed at the hospital they were waiting for me.  Within minutes I was hooked up, stuck up, and looked up by the physician on call.  After blood work, CAT Scan, EKG, X-Rays, and neurological tests they determined I had severely bruised my ribs around my sternum because of my fall.  However, what caused me to pass out remains unknown.  Only once before in my life have I fainted and that was due to a sudden pain caused by my rotator cuff injury.  These past two days I have been walking like the little old man Tim Conway played on the Carol Burnett show years ago.  This episode has been a reminder that nothing is guaranteed.  We make plans for tomorrow.  We schedule events weeks in advance.  We look forward to a mission next year.  The Scriptures remind us, "Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring forth," (Proverbs 27:1).  In James 4:14 we read, "For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away".   Parents, we need to remind our children as well as ourselves that tomorrow is never promised.  What we postpone we often never do.  Tell your spouse you love him/her today.  Tell your children you love them today. Tell your Father you love Him today.  Tell someone about the Father today. The last place you want to find yourself is stepping into the presence of Jesus with a list of "Wish I Hads" in your hand as you leave the emergency room. 


                           "Covering Up Jesus" 
Little by little many historic institutions of Christian origins are bowing down to the god of political correctness and expediency.  On Tuesday, April 14, Georgetown University hid an inscription representing the name of Jesus during President's Obama's speech there on the campus.  This was done at the request of the White House so that just the American flags would serve as the back drop for the television cameras. The monogram IHS is the first three letters for the spelling of Jesus in the Greek language and those letters stand above the stage in Gaston Hall where the president spoke.  The golden letters were covered up with what appears to be black wood.   However, the letters "IHS" are found 26 times around Gaston Hall on shields representing different parts of the United States and the world.  It is very apparent that our president and his staff did not want anyone to associate Christianity with the highest office in our land.  I wonder what our early presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams would have done in this situation?  
Georgetown is a private Catholic university founded by Jesuits in1789.  I appreciate the stance taken by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic
League.  He accused the Georgetown University of "Cowardice" for acceding to the White House.  Notre Dame came under extreme criticism in March for inviting the president to speak it its May 17 commencement since President Obama is a strong supporter of abortion rights.
Parents, what would you say if your favorite Christian college or university covered up any symbol of our faith in order to have the president appear and speak?   I know what I would say.  You have heard the expression, "A Hill Worth Dying On."  It appears there are fewer and fewer hills where Christians are willing to stand on much less die on.  When a nation grows so apathetic in its Christian roots that the followers of Christ had rather back down than stand up, capitulate than restrain, surrender than weather the storm, the dissolution of our most cherished values is certain to follow.  

The words of Jesus echo through the centuries and speak to us today, "Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).  God forgive us when we reach the point that in order to please Caesar we are willing to cover up Jesus.    
                          "In Times Like These" 
Winston Churchill said during the darkest hour when his country was facing defeat and enslavement, "Never give in--never, never,
never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never
yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."  The opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens referring to the time of the French Revolution says, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."  Here we have two great men; one calling for national fortitude, and the other discerning the signs of his times. 
Needless to say our nation is standing at a cross roads as critical as days of Churchill and Dickens.  We are witnessing the changing of the United
States as only those who wish to eradicate our Judeo-Christian principles could have envisioned years ago.  Immoral conducts which were once practiced in private are now paraded in public.  The irregular practice of back alley practitioners of abortions has now become the regular practice of main street doctors of death.  The belief that an individual's dreams were limited only by his/her willingness to work and achieve is being ridiculed by the powers in Washington.  We are being told by our new leaders that the government will meet all our needs and should our dreams give us a comfortable lifestyle we should stop dreaming.  The very ones who abhor capitalism are the same ones who adore socialism.  Unless there is a revival of character, honor, integrity, and uprightness in our nation your children and mine will only experience the lingering mist of a country which once rewarded the laborer and punished the lazy.  We are quickly becoming a nation without any absolutes.  We are as those described in Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  We have a King and His name is Jesus.  His words are true and His kingdom will never fall.  He is neither a capitalist, nor a socialist.  He is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican.  His kingdom does not rise and fall with the stock market, and His sovereignty does not depend on opinion polls. 
Parents, it is your responsibility to teach your children the eternal principles of Holy Scripture.  Do not tell them to read their Bible before
going to bed.  Read it with them.  Do not tell them to say their prayers before they go to sleep.  Pray with them.  Do not tell them to get up and go
to church on Sunday.  Take them to church.  Do not teach them one thing and live another.  Practice what you teach.  In so doing you will equip your children to stand firm in their faith in times like these. 
                            "Riding Past Memories" 
Driving into Henderson, Tennessee, this past Tuesday for a funeral took me back to 1955.  It was that year when Dad became the pastor of the First Baptist Church.  I started in the fourth grade that summer.  Henderson has always been my favorite town during my adolescent years.  It was here I began playing Little League baseball, became a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout, had my first crush, and broke my arm playing football.  As I slowly drove down Crook Avenue lined with timely old oaks I could recall almost every one who lived in the houses during those formative years of my life.  The houses have changed very little except for fresh paint and different colors.  In an almost dream like setting I saw Mike, Don, Bill, Edward, Tim, Tom, Terry, and myself riding our bikes down the street, and stopping at the vacant lot on the corner of 4th and Crook.  This hallowed field was transformed into either Sportsman's Park III Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, or Yankee Stadium home of the New York Yankees every Saturday.  I "saw" the Cherry family sitting on their front porch and the Enoch's on the corner across from where Dad, Mom, and I lived in the church parsonage.  That big white wood framed house has since been replaced with a brink house which has a "For Sale" sign in the front yard. The apple trees in the back yard I climbed to eat those tart green apples are waiting for the first buds of spring.  Mrs. McAdams' house still stands as a testimony to the time of front porches and Southern architecture.  The sidewalks haven't changed a bit.  We had every bump memorized where our bikes could take momentary flight.  We invented the "X" games.  Slowly I
pulled in and parked at Casey Funeral Home.  It is only five houses down and across the street from my old home.  I would ride my bike behind the funeral home on my way to school each morning.  Then it happened.  The past became the present.  As I walked into the front doors and into the chapel there lay the body of a man who had been my classmate over a half century ago.  I remembered the words of James 4:14, "For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."   
Parents, make each day with your children count.  The time will come too soon when you will find yourself on the street where your family once lived.   As you look in your rear view mirror you will seen them following you on their bikes only to realize you are riding past memories. 

“The Dissolution of Resolutions- A New Thing for 2009”

In Isaiah 43: 19 we read, “Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming.  Do you see it?  Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” (HCSB)  This is the last day of the last month in 2008.  Most Americans will say, “Good riddance!”  I want to say, “Thank you Lord for sparing our lives one more year and extending Your mercy to our nation once again.”  As the next few hours slide into history from the time pieces used to gauge such temporal measurements, millions will make resolutions or promises for 2009.  As one man said, “I resolve to resolve to not make any resolutions.”  Someone else has said, “Promises are made to be broken.”  This is not true; especially when it comes to the promises of God.  His promises may be dated, but yet they are more reliable than time itself.  It is a mighty source of comfort that in our deepest needs we can plead that we ask no more than God has promised.  His resolutions are always present whether we see them or not.  Just as one with a flashlight doesn’t notice its beam until they turn the corner from the opening of the cave and enter total darkness.  We often wait until times of marital darkness, financial despair, teenage rebellion, and broken health before we notice the light of His promises.  Many treat God’s promises as children who play with grains of sand at the seashore.  They fill their hands with countless grains and then let them slip through until each one is gone.   

Parents, in 2009 your and your children will be given innumerable opportunities to claim God’s promises in fresh new ways.  There are three things in life which will not return once we have allowed them to slip away; the spoken word; the past life; and neglected opportunities. Each opportunity is an offer from God to serve others, enlarge your spiritual vision, mature in the faith, and launch out into the deep.  If neglected, the occasions for service and growth will result in weakness rather than strength.  What is resolved to be done tomorrow usually dissolves as does the dew with the morning sun.  Each day calls for commitment.  Each opportunity demands action.  What God stated in the above verse is true now just as it was around 742 B.C.  As the setting sun fills my study with the golden hues of His majestic brush, I urge you to allow God to do a new thing in your life and your family in the year ahead.  Then, 365 days from now you will not be regretful about the dissolution of your resolutions. Instead, you will be grateful for all the new things you accomplished by His power in 2009.

                                    Special Christmas Edition 
                             Three Gifts - Three Reasons 
The word Christmas originated as a compound word meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038.  You won't find either the observance of Christmas, or Easter commanded in the Scriptures.  However, these are the two holy days for Christians world wide.  Without the first the later would not be relevant.  Without the later the first would be insignificant.  Without both Christianity would be just another religion in the plethora of pagan practices. 
Christmas is a time when family and friends exchange gifts.  After all, on the first Christmas God gave his Son to man in order that man could give
himself back to God.  Deity became humanity so that humanity could worship and serve the Divine.  Christmas is an exchange of the self for the Savior; not just for a day, but for eternity.  How you respond to Christmas depends on the position of your heart.  The same wind which sends a sail boat to sea is the same wind which brings another into harbor.  It all depends on the position of the sails.  One can embrace the true meaning of this special day or one can ignore it altogether.  You can teach your children that presents under the tree are the embodiment of Christmas or you can teach them about the incarnation.  All that God could want in man and all that man could want in God was found, not under a tree, but in a manger.  They called his name JESUS, God saves.   
Matthew 2: 11 says concerning the wise men, "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.  And when they had opened their treasure, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh."  There were three gifts for three reasons.  The first was a gift for royalty.  The second was a gift of worship for the Divine.  The third was a gift of honoring His humanity through his sacrificial death.  He alone is King of kings and Lord of lords.  He alone is worthy of our worship.  He alone conquered death, hell and the grave.  May the gold of your life be a treasure to the King.  May the frankincense of your life be worthy of His worship.  May the myrrh of your life remind you that only as you exchange your life for His will death be swallowed up in victory.  As you read the Christmas story with your family please include the above verse.  Not only did the wise men worship only Him, they gave Him three gifts for three reasons.  What will you give to Christ on this holy day of remembrance?  

"The Election of a New President"

 Closing thoughts: In light of the events during the past two weeks in our
nation it is safe to say we have witnessed unprecedented happenings. From
the election of the first bi-racial President elect in American history, to
the 700 billion dollar bailout due to greed and corruption, to the free fall
of the stock market, to the Big Three auto makers bordering on bankruptcy
this has been a clarion call that it will no longer be business as usual in
the United States. Is the stage being set for the fulfillment of those
metaphorical passages in Revelation? The answer must be "Yes", since each
day which passes brings our Lord's return that much closer. Parents, this
is a tremendous opportunity to teach your children that nothing catches God
by surprise. Since He knows when the sparrow falls, He certainly knows when nations fall. We are witnessing the harvest of sewing the seeds of a
greedy, gluttonous, avaricious, rapacious and covetous society. There is
indeed a pay day someday for the individual and nation which does not repent of "their idol worship, their murders, their drug abuse, their sexual
immorality, and their thefts
" according to Revelation 9:20-21.
Our problem in America is not economic. It is sin. It can be expected from
those who have never professed Christ as Lord and Savior. However, much of which goes on in the name of God must be a foul, nauseating odor in His
presence. From pulpits to pews, from denominational headquarters to
dormitories on Christian campuses, from committee meetings to conventions,
from peddlers of the gospel on television to deceitful singers of Christian
music, a great deal of what is exhibited as godly is anything but. As
Christians we have equated in our churches bigger buildings with deeper
faith, larger budgets with effective ministries, greater attendance with
spiritual success, and expression of praise with experience of worship. We
want so much to be relevant and relational many churches have become
shopping malls at best and outlet centers at worst for those who are looking
for a fully guaranteed, completely refundable, feel good religion. We have
turned our sanctuaries into multimedia centers so we can create an
atmosphere of worship. I always thought that was the role of the Holy
Spirit. We research the latest fads, figures, and fashions so non-Christians will feel right at home when they visit. To paraphrase the late revivalist Vance Havner, "The church is a soloist, not an accompanist and was never intended to play second fiddle to politics, sports, entertainment, or Hollywood. The early church did something because it believed something. We are trying to do what they did without believing what they believed or practicing what they practiced. The church can stand anything else better than prosperity and popularity." Our nation will return to stability when we as Christians return to our Savior.

"Courage in Crisis"

In this time of our national roller coaster economy the uncertainty of what
to purchase and what to save is in the forefront of everyone's thoughts.
However, it is not the financial market which is the cause of sluggish sales
and personal pessimism. It is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the
uncertainty of job security. Fear of the actions of the new President.
Fear of making the wrong decisions. Take heart. The opposite of fear is
courage. At this particular time in our country we need to stand firm
against all the talking heads of gloom and doom. This is the season when
Pilgrims and Indians celebrated a Thanksgiving meal together not out of
fear, but courage. This is the time of the year we celebrate the occasion
where an angel announced to a group of terrified shepherds, "Do not be
afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the
Luke 2:8-13. The One who stepped off his celestial throne in
heaven to be laid in a meager earthly manger did not come with a message of
fear, but of courage and hope. His word tells us, "Hope is the anchor of
the soul
," Hebrews 6:19. Hope and courage walk hand-in-hand.

Courage over rides the heart and takes residence in the head. Its seat is not in the temperament, but the will. The heart is the seat of our emotions. Decisions based solely on emotions often end in disaster. It is better to meet the future with courage than fear. Should set backs be encountered you will at least have faced them out of strength rather than weakness. It is not the one who quits, runs, or gives up, but the one who stands firm in the face of adversity, however challenging, who exhibits courage and hope in the battles of life. Physical courage despises danger and moral courage despises popular opinion. Both are required in this time of history. What separates heroes from cowards is how they respond to a crisis. Our nation is now in the midst of a crisis. How you respond will determine how you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The shepherds responded, not out of fear, but courage. Their hope was based not on the folly of man, but the wisdom of the ages. They came to the
stable and found the baby just as the angel had said. There indeed was the
source of courage and hope wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a
manger. This is the message for this time in history. History is actually
His story. This is what gives us courage in the midst of crisis.

By the way, if you wish to give gifts for Christmas which do not require
credit cards, checks or cash may I suggest you and your children give the
following: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a
friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To your
children, a good example. To your parents, obedience. To yourself, respect.
These gifts will not break, wear out, or need to be returned.

                        "This Too Shall Pass"

There is a legend that King Solomon once searched for a cure against depression. He assembled his wise men together. They meditated
for a long time and gave him the following advice: Make yourself a ring and
engrave on it the words "This too shall pass". The King carried out the
advice. He had the ring made and wore it constantly. Every time he felt sad
and depressed, he looked at the ring, and his mood would change to that of
joy and cheerfulness.

Our nation is now in a mood of depression and anxiety; from the White House to most houses, from Wall Street to most streets, from the housing market to car dealerships, from "Joe the Plumber" to "Brenda the Secretary", from the World War II generation to Generation Y. Trickle down economics has become trickle up panic. This type of thinking has negative results regardless of the environment in which it flourishes. The Chicken Little phobia has spread over our land like some plague from another era. Remember how Chicken Little was convinced the sky was falling  because an acorn fell on her head and went - KERPLUNK- while she was walking through the woods? She spread her fear to her friends Henny Penny and Cocky
Locky. Just then old Foxy Woxy appeared and took them on a short cut to
tell the king. His short cut led them to his den where he had dinner plans
for them. They were going to be the dinner. The king's hunting dogs showed
up in the nick of time and chased away the fox. The king gave Chicken
Little an umbrella to always carry with her when she walked in the woods and if she ever heard - KERPLUNK - again she wouldn't notice it at all.

We each have an umbrella. It is called the Bible. Parents, tell your
children and yourselves that nothing catches God by surprise. Isaiah 40:12
tells us that He, "who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
calculated the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in
scales and the hills in a balance
," is still in control. So, remember the
reassuring words of King Solomon rather than the panic-stricken words of
Chicken Little the next time you hear - KERPLUNK-, "This too shall pass!"

                          "Sweet Tea and Puppy Dogs"

There are just some things which bring other things into a proper perspective. Yesterday, Becky hosted a birthday party for one of her friends who turned the big "50" this month. She said as all the girls were talking about various people in their lives one of them related the following story. Last week this lady's mother was talking to her grandson. He was telling his grandmother what a difficult year he had experienced at his college in California. The competition for grades, the pressure of meeting the right people, the challenge of coming up with the best film project and on and on he went. When he stopped to catch his breath, she leaned over to him and gently patted him on the hand and said, "Honey, you need a glass of sweet tea. Drink that and everything will be just fine." Only a grandmother could say that and mean it. Something about sipping sweet tea in a glass full of ice brings everything into focus.

There is a great deal of wisdom in Grandma's advice. When the complexities
of life seem to pour over our children or grandchildren like a giant wave we
need to take them to God's word where it tells us, "Trust in the LORD with
all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways
acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths
," Proverbs 3: 5-6.

Also, when the stresses of life are building up like steam in a pressure cooker a puppy can be the release valve. Not every child needs a puppy, but every puppy needs a child. God has given the lower animals the ability to teach us higher beings some of life's greatest lessons. As one little six year said to his father and mother when the family's ten year old Irish Wolfhound had to be put to sleep due to its cancer, "People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long." There is much wisdom in the words and actions of a child. Proverbs 20:11 tells us,
"Even a child is known by his deeds, [and words] (my addition) by whether
what he dies is pure and right

As Becky and I were having breakfast on the patio this morning, Lady, our
Labrador was laying at my feet. If we pay attention, puppies can teach us
some valuable lessons. They always run to greet us when we get home. They
never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. They revel in the experience of fresh air and the wind in their face. They take naps. They stretch before rising. They run, romp, and play daily. They thrive on attention and let people touch them in an appropriate manner. They avoid biting when a simple growl will do. They dance around when they are happy and wag their entire body. They delight in the simple joy of a long walk.  They are loyal and never pretend to be a cat. They dig until they find what they want. They sense when their owners are having a bad day and sit close by while speaking volumes with their eyes. They even know how to cover up their messes without blaming other dogs. Yep, life wouldn't seem so overwhelming at times if we would just sit back and have a glass of sweet tea and pet our puppies on the head.

                                  "The Absentee Father"

 In 1970 there were 500,000 couples cohabitating (living together outside of marriage) in the United States. Today there are more than 5 million. The marriage rate has declined almost 20% since 1995 in our nation. Cohabitating couples are twice as likely to experience aggression and three times more likely to experience depression than married couples.  If cohabitating couples marry they are more likely to divorce than couples who did not live together before marriage. The effects on children of cohabitating couples show they are more likely to experience emotional problems, alcoholism and drug abuse. They are 20 times more likely to be abused and the poverty rate is five times greater than in a home with a married father and mother. All these statements point up to one glaring fact. The result of cohabitation is more often than not an abundance of absentee fathers in our nation.

Cohabitation and divorce are not the only reasons children suffer from the
absence of a father. Missing fathers are not limited to low-income or
minority households. Middle and upper-income houses are often the victims
of a father who stays there, but doesn't dwell there. Working 60 or more
hours a week, recreating 10 hours a week, sleeping 49 hours a week, and
watching television 30 hours a week leaves only 19 hours for the ones
fathers are supposed to love the most. The latest findings show that the
average father spends a little over 27 seconds a day in meaningful
conversation with each child he has, whether one or ten. While we as
fathers have to compete with iPods, cell phones, cable TV and video games we do not have to sacrifice our roles as fathers to be present in their lives.
Too many fathers prefer casual friendship over parenting responsibilities
with their children. Personal, face-to-face, time with your children will
leave greater impressions on their minds and hearts than all the video games
and toys you provide for them as a substitution for your absence. Very few
fathers when they reach retirement and sit alone will say, "I wish I had
spent more time at work or on the golf course." Proverbs 4:1 tells us,
"Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know
understanding for I give to you good doctrine; do not forsake my law
." In
order for a dad to give his children instruction he must be absorbed in
their lives; to do otherwise leaves your children with a legacy of the
absentee father.

                                      "Lest We Forget"

                           Special Independence Day Edition
By now you have celebrated our country's birthday and are probably trying to recuperate. Before you have your devotions with the family tonight let me
suggest you share with them some of the following facts concerning the 56
men who signed our Declaration of Independence. They were for the most part soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering they pledged: "For
the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before
they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their
sons during the Revolutionary War. Two had sons captured and imprisoned.
Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships from the
Revolutionary War. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were
merchants. Nine were farmers and large plantation owners. They each signed
the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be
death if they were captured.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in Congress without pay and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken away and poverty was his reward. Charles Braxton was a wealthy planter and trader. He saw his ships destroyed by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags. Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General
Cornwallis had taken over his home for his headquarters. He urged General
George Washington to open fire. His home was destroyed and he died
bankrupt. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying.
Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields were laid to waste. For
more than a year he lived in forests and caves. When he returned he found
that his wife had died and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died
from exhaustion and a broken heart.

These are just a few of the men and the hardships they endured and the
sacrifices they made in order that we might have a free and independent
America. They were not fighting a foreign power. They were British subjects. They stood against their own government and gave birth to a new nation beginning with the following words:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to
which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect
to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Take a few moments to reflect on these words and then share them with your
children. Freedom is never free. Our greatest freedom, however, doesn't
come from a group of courageous men who signed the Declaration of Independence, but from the One who signed his blood on an old rugged Cross.

May we never take either our spiritual or physical freedom for granted. May
God bless you and your family on this special day in the life of the United
States of America.

                           The Sounds of Heaven

Her azure blue eyes locked onto mine when I walked into her hospital room.
Her golden curls framed an angelic face. As her father and mother stood by
her bed she smiled with the innocence and purity of a six year old and
asked, "Will there be music in heaven?" I gently placed my hand on her
forehead and said, "There will be music like you have never heard." I told
her of the new songs and sounds mentioned in the book of Revelation in
chapters 5, 14, and 15. It says, "And they sang a new song......I heard the
sound of harpists playing their harps and they sang as it were a new song
before the throne....And they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God,
and the new song of the Lamb...
" She smiled and closed her eyes. A few days later she was in the presence of the Lord and the heavenly angels hearing for herself the new songs and sounds of heaven.

While it is humanly impossible to achieve the biblical Heaven on earth we
can certainly catch a glimpse of it by experiencing God's enduring and
steadfast love. Such was the case in that hospital room where the faith of
a little child transcended the adult world of reasoning. Entering the
valley of the shadow of death she brought to life the words of Jesus,
"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a
little child will by no means enter it
," Luke 18:17.

This precious child had for a few short years encountered God's enduring and steadfast love through enduring and steadfast parents. Just as there is
music in heaven, there are many other sounds. Perhaps the sounds of a
loving, caring family come closer to the reality of heaven on earth than
anything man can create. First is the sound of the place of the family.
I have been in mansions which didn't ring with the sounds of heaven and in
meager dwellings which did. The location of the house is not as important
as the love in the home. Being born with a silver spoon in your mouth may
open doors, but it will never open hearts.

Second is the sound of the presence of the entire family. The sounds of
heaven are seldom heard among the 19 million children who live with a single
parent today in the United States. Over 3,000 children a day watch as their
parents walk out on each other. The harmonies of heaven are not what they
hear as the door slams and the other parent disappears from their lives.
The fear of abandonment has replaced the feeling of security in the lives of
too many children.

Third is the sound of the phenomenon of the loving family. Its sounds are
truly a wonder to those on the outside looking in. Crying. Laughing.
Praying. Sharing. Talking. Worshipping. These are just a few of the notes
which make up the family opus. A loving family may often play out of tune,
but they are at least on the same page.

Fourth is the sound of praise which graces every room. The expressions of
praise coming from a home are more inspiring than a thousand symphonies.
Approval. Compliments. Forgiveness. Kindness. Love. Thanksgiving. Each
demonstration strengthens the character of the inhabitants. They in turn
transform the culture.

Fifth is the sound of the promise of commitment. Spouse to spouse. Parent
to child. Child to parent. Sibling to sibling. Commitment builds trust.
Trust is the mortar between the bricks of everyday living. The sounds of
trust are as comforting as the breath of a sleeping infant and as
encouraging as the prayers of a father and mother on their knees. In our
day of paper plate and styrofoam marriages, it is reassuring to see a
husband and wife who treat each other like crystal and fine china.

Sixth is the sound of the person who speaks the language of heaven. Each
member is a unique creation fashioned in the image of God. God knows our
strengths and our weaknesses. He knows our triumphs and our failures. He
knows our truths and our lies. And still He loves us. Experiencing God's
unconditional love enables each family member to discover the purpose of
life - to love and be loved. The three greatest words in any language in
the world are, "I love you." When families speak such words on a daily
basis to each other, they will hear both the music and sounds of heaven.

                             "Together Again"

What does Bubble Gum, Baseball, God, Golf, Worship, and
the Wii have in common? Well this week end we experienced each one in a unique way. Our daughter, Becca, our son-in-law, Josh, and our son, Drew, were here for a few days. Drew's girlfriend, Veronica joined us Saturday night and Sunday. Bubble gum is a staple at the Drace house; especially when sports are involved. Baseball is just an excuse for Becca and me
getting outside and playing catch while getting in some meaningful conversation. Golf is what Drew, Josh and I did, or attempted to do. The way I play golf is very similar to the way I pitch baseball. In fact, sometimes I just pitch my golf ball. It goes farther. Saturday night and Sunday afternoon we played various games on the Wii console. If you are not familiar with the Wii by Nintendo you need to be. It is great fun for the entire family. You spend half your time laughing and the other half
wondering how to use the remote. The best part of having the family home again was the worship times we shared. Morning devotions. Dinner conversations. Sitting by the pool. Walking the property on Oak Hill. Listening to Drew sing at church on Sunday. In our family we have always tried to make the everyday experiences an occasion for worship. Solomon knew the wisdom of weaving the great lessons of life into the daily routine of raising children. He said, "My son, let them not depart from your eyes.  Keep sound wisdom and discretion; so they will be life to your soul and grace to your neck. Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble, Proverbs 3:21-23.

Parents, one thing our children have taught us is, they remember the small things more than the big things. It is not the annual vacations or the Christmas gifts that are imprinted deeply into their minds and hearts. It is those moments when we connected as family. Those moments which we have forgotten they have remembered. The seemingly uneventful walk in the woods they remember. The attendance at their karate and basketball tournaments they remember. The day Sweetie, our Labrador retriever died, they remember. The time I got to close to the brush fire they remember. The pastor in Beijing who was imprisoned for his faith they remember. The day the tree fell across the driveway they remember. The Sunday it snowed  and we had to drive the Jeep through the woods to get to church they remember. Never take those teachable moments for granted. They are pressed in the pages of our children's minds and hidden in the crevices of their hearts. Once again last week the lights were on in all the rooms, the yard was turned into a
playground, the pool was stirred, the grill was hot and the sound of laughter filtered through the trees on Oak Hill. It was soooo good to be together again.

                               "Drinking Violence"

The 26 chapter of Proverbs is what I call the chapter for fools. Numerous times Solomon warns his children against the consequences of associating with foolish people and the dangers of adopting their lifestyles. He says in verse 6, "He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence." I am afraid we have become a nation of violence drinkers. We gulp down violence while sitting on our couches with as must gusto as do many of the college spring breakers who inhale their booze while sunning on the beach. At least their alcohol passes from their inebriated bodies while images of violence tend to hang around in our minds.

The artesian well of violence for our families is the television. 99
percent of households in the United States have televisions. Many families
have televisions in almost every room in the house. You can even purchase
refrigerators with a TV built into the door. The television is on over
seven hours a day in a typical American home. This adds up to over 250
billion hours of TV watched annually. And if the violence which comes in
through our cable and dish networks is not enough, over six million videos
are rented daily in the U.S. The average child will watch 1,680 minutes of
television a week. The average American youth spends 1,500 hours watching
TV each year, 900 hours in the class room, and only 104 hours in church. By
the time your child reaches age 18 he/she will have seen over 200,000
violent acts on television. Some of the results of drinking violence from
our televisions is now being seen in what researchers are calling, "Date

Parents, for you who have teenage daughters pay close attention to the
following facts. According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual
Violence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abuse in teenage relationships is becoming increasingly common. One in three girls is likely to become involved in an abusive relationship before graduation from high school. This may take the form of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse and is often used to control the one being abused. 20 percent of teens have been
threatened by their partners if the relationship ended. 33 percent of teens
and 50 percent of teen girls say they have felt pressured to have sex in a
serious dating relationship. 30 percent worry about their safety in a
serious dating relationship. 20 percent have been hit, slapped, or pushed.
64 percent have been with a jealous or controlling partner. 55 percent have
compromised their standards in order to keep their dating partner. 25
percent have been called names or put down by their dating partner.
Extensive studies show those who are abused as teenagers are likely to be in
abusive relationships as adults.

Dads and Moms, how much do you know about the individuals your children are dating; especially the boy who is dating your daughter? Do you have a
curfew for your children? Do you talk to your children after they get in
from a date? Are you having those daily devotional times with your family
as you said you would? The perfect antidote for poison of the mind is to
put the Word of God in the heart. No loving parent would allow their child
to drink the water from the car battery. But that same parent will stand
calmly by while their child is watching television, and playing video games
which can corrode the conscience and poison the perception of relationships.
Loss of value and sound judgment are the result of drinking violence.

                          "Total Surrender - Total Sacrifice"

I was recently watching a special television program on the men who have scaled Mt. Everest. The list is impressive. However, someone had to be the first. At 11:30 a.m. May 29, 1953, two men stood where no men had ever stood before. Sir Edmund Hiliary and his partner stood 29,002 feet above sea level on the peak of Mt. Everest. This amazing accomplishment took months of preparation. Long hours of conditioning were required. Mental toughness was essential in getting acclimated to the altitude of Nepal and the bitter cold. Discipline was a necessity. Intense concentration was mandatory as they made their way over the crevasses. With time and strength running out they finally reached the summit. No one will ever climb higher than this.

However, there are two mountains in the scriptures which are more
significant than Mt. Everest. One represents total surrender, the other
total sacrifice. They are Mt. Moriah and Mt. Calvary. The significance of
Mt. Everest is its height. The significance of Mt. Moriah and Mt. Calvary
is not their height but their symbol of obedient sons and loving fathers.
Genesis 22 is a chapter every father should read. For Abraham, this mountain was his defining moment. This chapter shows us what Calvary meant to God the Father as well. As He had commanded Abraham to, "go to the land of Moriah and offer your son as a burnt offering," He had demanded Himself to take His Son to Calvary and offer Him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And there on Calvary Jesus could lift his eyes and see Mt. Moriah.  There is a place in the life of every parent where decisions are made which affect not only us, but our children for the rest of their lives. In verses
3-9 we read - "So Abraham rose early in the morning....and went to the
place" "Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place."
Verse 9, "Then they came to the place..." This was an echo of what was to
take place on Mt. Calvary. Luke 23:33 says, "And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him." Every place
where we meet God is a turning point in our lives.  For both Abraham and God this was their Gethsemane. Each had a son who was facing death. Each had a son who was the apple of their eye. One son was temporal; the other was eternal. Nevertheless, both fathers' hearts were breaking over the painful ordeal their sons were about to experience. As a parent if you have not experienced a traumatic moment in the life of your child or children you will. Verse 13 tells us that Abraham was provided a lamb. God provided the Lamb. John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29. The Apostle John said, "Then I looked and behold the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion (Moriah),...... Rev. 14:1. One lamb was sacrificed as a burnt offering; the other Lamb was sacrificed as a sin offering. One lamb was conquered by death and fire; the other Lamb conquered death, hell and the grave. One lamb was slain in a moment in time; the other Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. One lamb's blood was tainted and soaked into the soil; the other Lamb's blood was perfect and will soak into the soul of anyone who is willing to surrender totally to the Lamb of God, even Jesus.

There are two mountains which in reality loom over Mt. Everest. One, Mt.
Moriah, is the site of supreme testing; the other, Mt. Calvary is the site
of supreme love. We each will climb our own Moriahs, but only Jesus can
ascend Calvary. Just as His Father brought Him down from the Cross and up
from the grave, He will do the same for those who have confessed His Son as the Lamb of God. Have you and your children made this confession? This is the only thing that will enable you to ascend your Mt. Moriahs in total
surrender and total sacrifice.

                               "Serving in the Shadows"

This past Tuesday Jack Munday, Director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Al New, Chaplain Coordinator of the RRT, and I were meeting with David Dockery, President of Union University. As you are
aware, this is the alma mater of our entire family and the campus which was
devastated by the February 5, 2008, tornado. As our time together was coming to a close Jack led us in prayer and in his prayer he said, "Thank you Lord for allowing us to work in the shadows here on the campus of Union." I have been thinking about the words, "work in the shadows", for the past few days.  In reality all Christian work should be done in the shadows; the shadows of the manager, the Cross and the empty tomb. There are plenty who are willing to serve Jesus in the spotlights, but not enough in the shadows. Christians will preach, sing, teach, administer, and even volunteer in the light of recognition, but few who will do the same in the shadows of anonymity. Many are willing to sit at the candle lit table and eat, but few there are who are willing to stand in the shadows and serve.

Parents, teach your children that true greatness is not found in being
served, but in serving others. Jesus said, "And whoever desires to be first
among you, let him be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many." Jesus was
born in the shadow of his Father's throne. He lived in the shadow of his
Father's image. He died in the shadow of his Father's love. He rose in the
shadow of his Father's authority. It can truly be said that the life of
Jesus was one of serving in the shadows. So may it be with yours and mine.

                  "Footprints In The Frost"

One of the gifts I received for Christmas was a beautiful hourglass. As I placed it on the corner of my desk I was reminded of the opening statement from the soap opera, Days of our Lives, "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." I do not watch the soaps, but I have heard that phrase many times since November 8, 1965, when the show first aired. Today as the sands of time run from the hourglasses of our lives we each mark another milestone. It is the beginning of the New Year, 2008. It is also my birthday which means I turn 61 today. There is more sand in the bottom of my hourglass than in the top.

As I was walking our Labrador puppy, Lady, or maybe it was the other way
around, at the bottom of Oak Hill the field was covered with the diamond
luster of frost. With each step I could hear the crunching of the delicate
ice crystals beneath our feet. When I looked back our tracks could be seen
as clearly as when you walk on the beach next to the waves of the ocean.
But, just as quickly, the rays of the winter sun evaporated our icy imprints
just as the waves cover our sandy footprints and they are no more. The
Bible has something to say about this which we as parents know all to well,
"The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they
are eighty years...... So, teach us to number our days, that we may gain a
heart of wisdom," Psalm 90: 10-12. Whether we live 60, 70, 80, or more
years the purpose of life is to gain a heart of wisdom. And this precious
gift comes only from years of walking with the Lord. If there is one thing
I desire for myself in 2008, it is to gain a heart of wisdom as I relate to
my family. Being a husband is not a burden, but a blessing. The same is
true when it comes to being a Daddy. As I told a father this week who is
concerned about one of his married children, "Once a parent always a
parent". That is apparent to each of us who truly love our children.
However, it also means there must come a time when they are expected to
stand on their own. The sand in their hourglass is running out as well.
So, as we begin a New Year may each of us as parents understand the
importance of time. The greatest legacy you can leave your children is that
of a life filled with wisdom. Someday our last grain of sand will find its
way to the bottom of the glass. Someday the impression of our steps will
evaporate like footprints in the frost.

                           "Two Little Brothers"

First came Joshua then came Jesse. Joshua is eleven and Jesse is nine. I met these two brothers when I preached at China Grove Baptist Church outside Rutherford, Tennessee last Sunday. This is the smallest church congregation in the United States I have ever had the privilege of sharing the Good News with in my 32 years of itinerant evangelism. The total attendance was 18. In this beautiful little country church, which was organized before the Civil War, there sat two brothers. They come each Sunday with their grandmother. After teaching on revival during the Sunday School hour I asked Joshua's grandmother if I could talk with her grandson. He and I went into a separate room where I shared the plan of salvation with him. He bowed his head and prayed to receive Christ as his personal Savior. When I asked him about his brother he said, "He needs Jesus too." At the end of the morning worship Joshua stepped out and came forward to tell the pastor what he had done. Lunch was served at the church. When I had finished eating I went to Jesse and asked him if I could talk with him. Within minutes he too had asked Jesus to come into his heart and forgive him of his sins. He then looked at me with his big blue eyes and said, "Guess I had better go home and tell my mother." Immediately the Holy Spirit had put a concern for his mother in his new heart. Jesse made his profession of faith public when I gave the invitation following my afternoon message. The Bible tells us in John 1:41, "He [Andrew] first
found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah
(which is translated, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus..." Joshua
found Christ and wanted his brother Jesse to find Him also. They are now
brothers on a deeper level. Someday they will be separated physically, but
never spiritually. Their earthly relationship is temporal. Their spiritual
relationship is eternal.

Parents, if your children have never invited Jesus into their lives and
confessed Him as Savior do not wait for an evangelist to come to your
church. It is your responsibility to introduce your children to Jesus and
instruct them in His ways. This is done through daily Bible reading, daily
prayers, daily listening, daily sharing, and daily reliance on the Holy
Spirit to convict them of their sins and their need of Jesus. Thank God for
grandparents who sit with their grandchildren in church while their own
children sit at home.

I have preached in larger more prestigious churches, but never in one more
important. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am
there in the midst of them," Matthew 18:20. He certainly brought that to
life last Sunday. He not only touched my heart, but He touched the hearts
of two little brothers. To God be the glory.

                                      "Eating Old Manna"               
While we were in Scotland I preached a sermon entitled,
"Dying in Sight of the Promise Land".  After the service a dear elderly lady
came up to me and said, "I am afraid we have been eating old manna here at
our church."  I have given her remarks a great deal of thought.  Thousands
of churches are only shadows of their former substance.  They cling to the
memories of past blessing rather than live in the expectancy of today's
provisions.  However, her remark pertains not only to the church, but to the
Christian life in particular.  When God delivered this honey tasting bread
from the bakery in heaven he instructed Moses to tell the children of
Israel, "Let no one leave any of it till morning," Exodus 16:19.  In other
words, use all of God's every day blessings every day.  You can not feast
today on what you did or did not eat yesterday.  There are no leftovers when
it comes to His daily bread.  Yet, how many of us have never learned this
eternal principle?  Instead, we tend to try and put some manna away for a
rainy day just in case.  Jesus himself said that each day brings its own
challenges and that our heavenly Father knows our needs before they arise.
He has manna in abundance for tomorrow as well as today, but yesterday's
supply has already melted in the sun of past tense.  Parents, your children
can not maintain a healthy body on that which has already been cooked,
served and digested; neither can they reach spiritual maturity based on
lessons taught in days gone by.  If you are going to raise your children
with a Christian cultural transforming mindset, then make sure everyone in
your family eats from the living Word and drinks from the living water on a
daily basis.  Nothing will stunt spiritual growth any faster than eating old


                                  "God is in Good Friday"
Parents, have your children asked you yet, "Why do we call today Good Friday?"  It's a great question.  What had started on Sunday
with the songs of children was ending with the shouts of soldiers on Friday. What had been a triumphal entry on Sunday was ending with a muted exit on Friday.  What had seen a donkey carrying the King on Sunday was ending with a cross supporting the Savior on Friday.  What saw Jesus cleansing the temple on Monday was ending with the Temple being crucified on Friday.  What had been a demonstration of anointing on Tuesday became a memorial on
Friday.  What was plotted on Wednesday was fulfilled on Friday.  What was prayed in Gethsemane on Thursday was answered on Friday. According to the scriptures in Matthew 26: 57-27:61 it appears that this particular Friday was anything but good.  Jesus was brought before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin where he was mocked, spit upon, and slapped.  He was disowned by Peter.  He was interrogated by Pilate.  He was retained and Barabbas was released.  He was ridiculed, treated with contempt, and beaten
by the soldiers.  He was crucified on Golgotha.  He was buried in Joseph's tomb.  How can this be a Good Friday? 
Take a careful look at the word "good".  It only has four letters and two of them are alike.  Take out one of the o's and you are left with God.  Can you think of anyone you had rather be left with in times of distress?  In the deepest, darkest hours of Jesus' life he was never without his Father and neither are you.  What saw an occupied tomb on Friday became a tomb for rent on Sunday!  Parents, be sure to tell your children that this day is good because God is in Good Friday.


                       "The Perplexity of Pain"

Due to a series of events in the lives of several who receive this weekly newsletter I want to ask you some very important
questions which deserve your consideration. Why is there pain in the world? Why doesn't God intervene in times of senseless tragedy? What good can come from walking the long, dark, lonely valleys of suffering and broken heartedness? Must anguish and sorrow pierce the soul as some frigid, wintry relentless wind? When grief and distress numb the senses and the weight of agony is so heavy on your heart you can't get your breath where is God?

These soul-searching questions do not come entirely from my reflections, but from everyone who has wrestled with the crucial issues of life. For instance, how do you respond to a devout Christian friend who has battled consistent pain for forty of her sixty years? What do you say to a young married couple whose baby was born with severe birth defects? What words of assurance do you use when a wife and mother is told that her husband was found dead while on a business trip? When you look into the eyes of a divorced mother whose teenage son was killed in an accident and see the horror and disbelief, how do you respond? How do you offer hope to a friend who has had major surgeries, whose wife has left him to walk in the dark side, whose oldest son has turn to drugs and whose source of livelihood has almost vanished? After three years of chemotherapy for a little five year old, what do you say to the father and mother? Why does a dear friend wait for an incurable disease to claim his earthly life?

These situations are not hypothetical, but real. These life changing encounters can not be comforted with pious platitudes or academic jargon. They deserve and demand answers which bring peace out of pain and assurance out of affliction. Else you think I have lost my faith the opposite is true. However, I reject the shallow answers and condescending rhetoric which never addresses the person behind the pain. As C.S. Lewis expressed in The Problem of Pain, "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." When Jesus hung on the Cross for the sins of humanity his shout reached the ears of his Father when he cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?", Mark 15:34. The wonderful news from Heaven is that our Father never forsakes us! When we can't see Him, He see us. When we can't feel His presence, He feels our deepest misery. When we can't hold on any longer, He never lets go. Our security and sufficiency is not founded on our abilities, but in His omnipotence. God can redeem even the most dreadful and fearful circumstances for His glory.

So, there are basically two answers to the questions in the first paragraph. First, these unwelcome and unwanted experiences are a result of wrong choices due to our sin nature. Second, these uninvited and undesired events are a mystery which defy reason. However, as with Job who endured pain as few others without being given an explanation, stated with utmost conviction, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him," Job 13:15. We turn to God in our times of trials because he is who he is and not because he does what he does. Parents, husbands, wives, and children in the midst of our most excruciating moments trust in an ever trustful God and faith in His ever faithful Son is the enduring answer to the perplexity of pain.

                        "Losing Your Angels"

Have your children ever asked you about angels?  Where do they come from?  How big are they?  Do they have wings and if so how long are they?  Does everyone have a guardian angel?  Take your children to Psalm 91: 1, 11-12, "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.....For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  They shall bear you up in their hands lest you dash your foot against a stone."  Only those who have a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus have access to the
angels of heaven.  One of the best books on the subject of angels was written several years ago by Billy Graham.  It is entitled, Angels, God's Secret Agents.  The above verse tells us that not just one but a multitude of angels are at the beckon call of their Creator for the protection of His children. However, did you ever think you might lose the protection of those heavenly messengers?  When you are "out of the way" they will oppose you. When you are "in the way" they will preserve you.
Parents, show your children that angels were created by God in Psalm 8:5. In Psalm 103:20 it tells us that angels are supernaturally strong.  They are exceedingly wise as stated in II Samuel 14:20.  Angels are as fast as lightning according to Ezekiel 1:14.  Perhaps the greatest lesson you can teach your children about angels is they are servants, Revelation 19:10. Just at these celestial messengers live to serve the Most High God in the otherworld we live to serve Him in this world.  After all, it was the Creator of the angels who became the supreme servant even Jesus.  How angels protect us I do not know.  Perhaps they repel the attacks of unseen demonic
forces.  They may rescue us from otherwise certain tragedies.  They may intervene against the threat of disease.  This I do know, that as we keep our way in Jesus, we need never fear losing our angels.


“The Sounds of Oak Hill”

 Last night the sounds of laughter, chatter, squeals, and shrills once again filtered through the trees on Oak Hill.  Our daughter, Becca, came home and was joined by three of her sorority friends from college years.  In addition, our  very cool pool, temperatures were in the 50’s, was filled with nine pre-teen girls celebrating the birthday of our neighbor’s eleven year old daughter.  They were bluer than the water.  Hundreds of little lights lined the deck and the iridescent orange fire of the tiki torches glowed in the black velvet night.  Sitting on the porch having dinner, Becky and I were listening to Becca and her friends reminisce about their days as sorority sisters and all that young women have to share.  Added to this were the girlish giggles of the nine shivering swimmers who were in their own world creating their own memories to be shared in years to come.  As I observed yet another special occasion in our home I thought of the times that Becca and her little friends had filled the pool.  Within a few feet of each other were two generations of young ladies, one child-like and some what naive, the other mature and worldly-wise, one just beginning to think about boys, the other thinking about their husbands, one concerned about soccer and school, the other centered on their marriages and their jobs.  In a world filled with the cries of war, terrorism, and injustice it is so refreshing to hear the sounds of joy, friendship, and innocence once again.  The Bible tells us, “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!  They walk O LORD in the light of Your countenance,” Psalm 89:15.  Parents, the greatest sound you can every experience with your children is the sound of Jesus walking through your family.  That sound will echo in your hearts long after the rooms are silent, the pools are drained, and the night air whispers their names on the evening breeze.  Praise God for the sound of His voice in the lives of your children.  And the good news is that tonight we get to repeat it all over as our son Drew and his girl friend join us for dinner on the deck minus the mermaids in the pool.  I treasure the sounds of Oak Hill.     

                 "A Special Gift from the Grandparents" 
This past week Becky and I attended a funeral of a 20
year old young man who was the step grandson of some of our dear friends.  He was one of six young people in a single car accident and the only one who lost his life.  The church was filled with family and friends.  As I observed the loved ones standing around the casket my attention was more on the fractured family than the lost life.  There by the casket stood the young man's father and stepmother with his brother and stepbrother in between his mother and stepfather.  As Becky and I watched pictures of this
young man's life being flashed on the screen we saw his baby pictures with his mother and father laughing and holding him.  Then somewhere in his life the pictures changed.  The pictures went from the original family to the extended family; from dad and mom to two dads and two moms.  I could not help but wonder what his natural father and mother must have been experiencing during this time of standing so close to each other in proximity and yet so far apart in position.  Each one who had held, cuddled, and played with him as a baby and little boy was now wrapped in their own grief without the comfort of the other.  This young life which had once known unity in his family had once again, if only for a few hours, reunited them in his death.  Fractured families, like cracked fine crystal, can still
be beautiful when held to the light and useful when held in the hand, but the distinct tone of wholeness is missing. 
Into the life of this young man stepped his step grandparents.  Six months ago they had given him a Bible.  He began to read it and ask questions.  His pastor visited him and using that special Bible led him to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus.  The following Sunday his father and brother joined him in the baptismal waters.  All three were baptized together.  It all began with the gift from the step grandparents.  Proverbs 17:6 tells us, "Children's children are the crown of old men (grandparents), and the glory of children is their father (italics mine)."  Praise God for grandparents, or other wise, who intercede in positive ways in the lives of their grandchildren. 
When a loved one dies in Christ they are lifted to plain where we do not dwell.  They speak a higher language we do not know.  They sing songs we have never heard.  They run where we have not walked.  They bask in His glory we have only read about.  They live in reality where we live in hope.  The distance between life and death is measured in seconds, but the distance between heaven and hell is measured in infinity.  This young man whose life was cut short on this earth has forever to live in the presence of his
heavenly Father.  As the sun appears larger when it is setting than when it is rising, a child of God, young or old, is larger in experience, stronger in grace, and brighter in boldness when life fades and eternal dawn is about to break.  His brief life should teach us to be prepared for death at all time, which may come at any time, and will certainly come at one time or another.  If you could have gotten close to this young saint before he died you would have seen above him his heavenly escort.  If you could have listened to his last whisper you would have heard the songs of heaven.  If
you could have held his pale blue hand in those final moments you would have felt it waving from the portals of glory.  If you could have wiped the sweat from his brow you would have seen the crown of righteousness placed upon it.  If you could have touched his dying lips with earthy water you would have found that he was already drinking from the fountain of living waters.  Praise God that death does not have the final word.  Death is but the shadow of life.  As one experiences victory over natural death by passing through
the grave one experiences victory over spiritual death by passing under the blood of Jesus.  Thanks be to God that his step grandparents placed the living Word in his hand and his pastor told him how to get it into his heart.  There were many tears that day, but tears are God's telescope whereby we look into heaven if only for a few moments.  We weep at death with one eye and with the other we look to the Deliverer of death where all tears are wiped away and sorrow is turned into joy.  As God opens the flowers in the morning and closes them at night He blesses in life and He
does so in death.  
Parents, we have no assurance of another day.  If you have never told your children how to know and experience God's forgiveness and salvation do it now.  If you personally have never professed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior lead them to follow your example as you confess your sins and ask Him into your heart.  Methuselah lived to be 969 years old.  This young man lived to be 20.  Both died that they may die no more.  May the same be said
about you and your family. 


                      "Salvation Beneath the Feathers"
Here at Oak Hill this spring we have been blessed with an abundance of birds which have chosen our bird houses, the barn, and the numerous trees to raise their young.  We watched as the bright yellow male blue-winged warbler flew in and out of the nest bringing various entrees to the mother as she sat on the eggs.  Then we watched a father and mother wren encouraging their brood to leave the nest and stretch their wings.  The brilliant colored hummingbirds have raised their petite babies which glisten in the sun as they dart from feeder to feeder.  One thing Becky and I have observed is that every time these newborns feel threatened they fly back to the feathered safety of their parents.   
In Psalm 91:4 the writer of this beautiful passage uses a tender metaphor to describe God's protection for his children.  He states, "He shall cover you with His feathers and under His wings you shall take refuge...."  John Phillips relates a story of a forest fire which swept through the bush near a mission station in the heart of Africa.  Death and destruction was left in its path.  After the fire storm a missionary took a walk down one of the trails looking at the devastation caused by the blaze.  He noticed a nest by the side of the path.  Sitting on top of the nest were the charred remains of a mother hen.  As he moved the blackened carcass with his foot, out from under it ran her baby chicks.  Mother love had taught that hen to give her life for her brood.  These newborns had found refuge and salvation from the flames beneath her feathers. 

Parents, teach your children that as a mother hen or mother bird protects her young so our Father in heaven protects His children.  One day the Lord Jesus spread out His arms and hung on a cross and deliberately gave Himself up to the fierce heat and blazing wrath of God so that those who believe could find salvation from the eternal flames of death and destruction.  How reassuring to know that no enemy, no adversary, and no foe can reach us as long as we are under His wings and beneath His feathers.    
                             "Who Is Guarding Your Children" 
Do you know who tracks the location of your children when you are not present?  You might be surprised.  If you do not know where they are, someone else probably does.  When AOL created its AOL Instant Messenger- or AIM ten years ago little did they know that it would explode into over 80 million users.  AOL is developing AIM into a system which will basically track a person the same way our military tracks the movement of its troops and its enemies.  IMs will tell others not only if you or your children are online, but your exact location.    This opens Pandora's Box for sexual predators and other vermin who are looking for another vulnerable victim.  Those who wish to do your children harm use the latest technology to find and locate them when they are unguarded be it sitting at their computer or hanging with their friends in the Mall.  In addition to the IM phenomenon the latest craze to sweep through the bedrooms of children and college students is MySpace and Facebook.  Parents, if your children are using either one of these Web pages they could be in for a very rude awakening.  I have listened to stories from parents in our Hope for the Home conferences regarding their experiences with MySpace and Facebook which would make you want to put your children's computers in your next garage sale.  Personal information that should not be published for anyone is
common knowledge on many pre-teens' and teenagers' web sites.  As you have heard me say in our times together, I think you are making a mistake in allowing your children to have their own personal computer regardless of the reasons.  All it takes is for one tragic episode to happen to your child and you will realize the wisdom of this counsel.  The designers of these programs understand their vast potential.  MySpace personal Web page is about to merge with instant messaging.  This will start with AOL's AIM Pages.  This will connect the pages to AIM's instant messaging which will, "Revolutionize the idea of subscribing to a person," said James Bankoff, Executive Vice President of AOL.  A spin off to IMs is what is being called - presence.  Presence and IMs combine with the new technology of location-aware wireless devices can be programmed on a cell phone.  What this means is that people you don't know will know where your children are every time they use their cell phones.     

Ezekiel 38:7 says, "Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companions that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them."  In this context this is a command for Israel to prepare herself for battle against Gog and her allies.  This is also a great command for parents.  We must be a guard for our children.  Single parents especially, need and appreciate the prayers and physical support of intact families.  A single mother often needs a godly father in the church to include her son or sons in activities with his boys.  The opposite is true for a single father who has the responsibility of raising daughters.  It doesn't take a village to raise children just Christian parents who are willing to guard their children and the children of others in the church family.  And parents, we prepare ourselves by living in front of our children what we hope they will live in front of our grand children.  Most often behind what the father and mother will do depends on what they we thinking when they were children.  If you want your children to think holy thoughts and live godly lives, then it must begin with holy and godly parents.  Nothing will guard our children more securely than the Word of God in their hearts and the love of parents in their lives. 

“The Acorn Principle”

This spring there has been an abundance of new oak trees sprouting in our yard and flower gardens.  I have pulled up scores by hand and cut down countless others with the mower.  There is a reason we call our place “Oak Hill”.  We have some of the most majestic oak trees you could possibly imagine.  And at the top of our drive way on the crest of the hill stand two oaks which are probably 100 years old.  They stand as wooden history books to what has transpired on Oak Hill since the early 1900’s.  If these silent sentinels could only speak, the stories they could tell.  In just the past 15 short years since we have built our home here these stately timbers have witnessed climbing, swinging, training Sweetie, chasing, dating, and a wedding reception.  Each year, as faithful as the changing of the seasons, they drop their acorns on the fertile earth below.  As I was working in the yard last week I began to think about some of the sayings concerning oak trees and their acorns.  “The lofty oak from a small acorn grows”, (Lewis Duncombe  - De Minimus Maxima) “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn”, (Ralph Waldo Emerson).  “Evil enters like a needle and spreads like an oak tree”, (Proverb from Ethiopia).   “The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree”, (USA Proverb).  “If you want a place in the sun, you must leave the shade of the family tree”, (American Proverb).  Our children have left the shade of these mighty oaks to plant their own lives and yet many precious memories in, around and under these magnificent trees will continue to be recorded in their annual rings. 
Never underestimate the importance of the shade a grand oak can cast.  In Judges 6:11, the scriptures tell us, “Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak tree which was in Ophrah…..”  If the LORD’s angel, perhaps Jesus himself in preincarnate angelic form, came to rest under an ancient oak maybe we need to gather our children around us once in a while and do the same.  It is true that an acorn does not fall far from the tree.  Children raised in a godly environment will most likely raise their children under the same biblical branches.  Parents, our roots must sink deep into God’s word and spread wide into the culture in which our children will inherit.  We are planting trees which we will never sit under.  Take the time to learn the acorn principle. 

                                     The "Inasmuches" of Life

Parents, tomorrow is the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday throughout our nation. This provides a great opportunity for you to sit down with your children and talk to them about the importance of life in all its stages.  Jesus taught us a lesson about what I call the "inasmuches" of life in Matthew 25:31-46. For those who enter the kingdom of heaven He will say, "I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." After the righteous ask when did these things take place King Jesus will respond by saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch (italics mine) as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it unto Me." If you take all the "inasmuch" opportunities of life and minister to humanity in the name of Jesus you will end up with a gift of "inasmuches" to lay at the feet of the King.

The first "inasmuch" opportunity you can teach your children about is the not yet born stage. You will find this is Psalm 139:13-16. This passage leaves no doubt as to when the Creator begins life. Yet, in our country approximately 1,370,000 abortions occur annually. 88 % take place during the first 6 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. 52% of those who have abortion are younger than 25 years old and 19% are teenagers. Unmarried women are six times more likely than married women to have an abortion. And 63% of abortion patients are white, however, black women are more than three times as likely to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are two and a half times as likely. Parents, teach your children that life is a precious gift and abortion should not be an option.

The second "inasmuch" opportunity is the new born stage. In Luke 18:15 we find Jesus taking the infants in his arms and blessing them. What a lesson for parents to learn. Nothing substitutes for holding those little ones in your arms before their arms hold someone else. There were 4,100,000 births in our nation in 2004 and every life is valuable to our Father in heaven.

The third "inasmuch" opportunity is the novice born stage. This is the time our children go from sitting on a bicycle to sitting behind the wheel of a car. It is the time when fathers either start loosing their hair or it turns snow white. It is the time when parents are not sure why they had children to begin with and children are not sure why God gave them the parents He did. It is also the time, hopefully, when you assure your children your love is unconditional and that God has a very special plan for their lives. There is nothing you would not do for the good of your children as told so beautifully in Luke 8:40-42, 49-56.

The fourth "inasmuch" opportunity is what I call the neglected born stage.  Each week, child protective services (CPS) agencies throughout the United States receive more than 50,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. This is average of more than 2,450 children per day. More than half (60 percent) of victims experienced neglect, meaning a caretaker failed to provide for the child's basic needs. Fewer victims experienced physical abuse (nearly 20 percent) or sexual abuse (10 percent), though these cases are typically more likely to be publicized. The smallest number (7 percent) was found to be victims of emotional abuse, which includes criticizing, rejecting, or refusing to nurture a child. An average of nearly four children die every day as a result of child abuse or neglect. Jesus had some very strong words of warning for those who abuse children in Luke 17:1-2.

The fifth "inasmuch" opportunity is for better terms the not normal born stage. Not every child has the ability to run. Not every child has the ability to talk. Not every child has cognitive skills. Parents, please teach your children that just because another child is different does not make him or her any less of a human being. God never laughs or makes fun of those he created a little lower than the angels. Perhaps not all angels have perfect wings. The father in Mark 9:22 loved his little boy as much as the father in Luke 15:20.

The final "inasmuch" opportunity for parents on this Sanctity of  Human Life Sunday is to teach your children about the November born stage. This is of course found in Psalm 71:8. Until the last breath is drawn life is priceless. The average life expectancy for a white male in the United States is 75.4 years and for black males it is 69.2. White females live an average of 80.5 years and black females 76.1. Senior adults are our national treasure. When they die much wisdom departs with them.

So, from the womb to the tomb life is indeed a gift from God. It is our responsibility as parents to impart this concept into the very fabric of our children's lives. In all that Jesus did and said he celebrated the sanctity of human life. Let us do the same.

                             The Land of Somewhere In Between
This special New Year's edition actually started in my thoughts around midnight on December 30, but due to a very early departure for Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the next day I am just now sharing it with you. Have you ever experienced those few moments just before sunrise or sunset when you are not sure if the light is coming or going? It seems you are suspended in time. You can see, but not with great clarity. You can walk, but not with much confidence. You can hear, but not with total certainty. Everything around you seems to be waiting for either the breaking of the dawn or the covering of the night. It is not a time of fear, but rather anticipation. The sunrise is an opportunity for action. The sunset is an occasion for reflection. As this New Year dawns upon planet earth what are your expectations? What actions will you take as a husband, wife, parent, employer, employee, citizen of this great nation, and a member of the family of God? And when the last day of 2006 slips into the pages of history what will be your reflections on your past decisions?

There has never been a more urgent need for husbands and wives  to commit themselves to each other and for fathers and mothers to commit their families to the instruction and discipline of God's  word. In our nation where marriage vows are lightly esteemed, where homosexuals are given free right to practice their perversions, where pornography has been elevated to the status of recreation, where the unborn has been denied their right to
take their first breath, where the dregs of humanity have become
celebrities, where the media promotes idol worship, and where church worship is often equated more with emotion than encounter we are somewhere in between God's judgment and mercy; somewhere between light and darkness. We have come to dwell in the Land of Somewhere In Between.

The children of Israel found themselves in the same location once. Joshua called for a gathering of all the tribes at Shechem. He recounted all the blessings which God had poured out on them and then made this statement, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD," Joshua 24:15. Dad, let me call on you again to be the spiritual leader of your home. In addition your wife needs to know that you love her and your children need the same affirmation. Mom, if you work outside the home be reminded that nothing substitutes for working in the home during those formative years. No one can take the place of a loving mother. Single parent, do not feel guilty if you have no choice. Just make sure that when you are at home, you are at home. The television, computer, or CD player can not listen and bring comfort to a child who is caught somewhere in between.

When the children of Israel were in the Land of Somewhere In Between with Pharaoh's army on one side and the Red Sea on the other they had to make a choice. They were either going forward at the command of the LORD or they would return to Egypt as slaves. We as Christian husbands and wives, fathers and mothers must make choices in 2006. We can no longer make decisions based on the flakes in Hollywood, the fashions in New York, the fanatics in the Middle East, the fools who deny God and the failures who
call themselves leaders. We must stand with conviction and echo the words of Joshua. We must decide to live in the land where even the night will be light; the land of uprightness. To do other wise will  cause our children and grand children to grow up in those times just before sunrise or sunset when shadows and silhouettes suspend you in time in the Land of Somewhere In Between.

                          A Katrina Kind of Christmas

Bewildered. Broken. Battered. But, not beaten. This best describes those who have endured the worst disaster this country has ever faced. I have just returned from my fourth deployment in New Orleans as Chaplain Coordinator for the Rapid Response Team of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. This past week I was privileged to sit in on the installation of the new police officers for the city of New Orleans. A Department of Integrity has been established to hold every officer accountable for his or her actions. This would be a great department to have in our churches and denominational agencies. I met with a pastor and his family who lost everything during hurricane Katrina. A clerk at SAM'S shared with me how her home was spared, but completely destroyed by the looters who followed the storm. We prayed together as the tears flowed down her cheeks. A well known musician in New Orleans who sang before I preached last Sunday told me that all he had left after Katrina were the clothes on his back. A young waitress told me that her family could find nothing of their home after the surge of water washed everything out to sea. A policeman broke down and shared with a fellow chaplain about all the events which have transpired in his life since August 29. Everyone has a story. For all the evil, wicked, sinister, blackhearted, things which took place immediately following Katrina there were many more expressions of honesty, morality, honor, bravery, and goodness among the citizens of New Orleans. The unknown heroes who risked their lives to save their fellow citizens seldom made the front page, but they will certainly be remembered by those who lived to tell of that awful event. I have been privileged to view unpublished pictures which show the good, the bad and the ugly side of thosecaught up in this mother of all storms. This Christmas has taken on an entirely different meaning for me personally. Watching people stand in line for water, blankets, towels, food, and other essentials makes all the glitz and glamour associated with giving and receiving presents somewhat insignificant.

Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36, "For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." Christmas is more about touching than receiving. A bottle of water given to a thirsty individual, a place to sleep shared with a weary soul, a medical need met for one in distress, a visit made to a lonely inmate, a toy placed in the hand of a fearful child, a prayer of hope offered to one who is discouraged, these are the gifts which keep on giving.
You can not purchase these kinds of presents. They come from the heart and go to the heart. You do not have to travel to New Orleans to practice the above statement of Jesus. Parents, share with your children that where ever you are tonight there is someone in your community who is experiencing a Katrina kind of Christmas.

                     Picking Up The Pieces After Katrina 
Take a city the size of Jackson, TN, and fill every house, church, school and business with four to eight feet of water and let it stand for several days  then return and try to reclaim the contents.  This is the situation in Chalmette, LA, a suburb of New Orleans.  Thousands of homes completely devastated sit in a deserted city.  A white deadly dust has settled on everything.  A thick toxic mud from the storm surge lies baking in the sun on every brown lawn and in many streets.  The few citizens of Chalmette who have returned stand silent with tears streaming down their cheeks as they stare at this unbelievable scene of destruction.  The same desolation exists in many parts of New Orleans.  One 500 block section was under water for two weeks.  Not a single dwelling can be restored.  Over 200,000 cars and trucks resembling tomb stones due to the salt residue from the gulf are waiting to be crushed for scrap metal.  Mounds of debris lay piled on every street.  A moldy, musty odor filters through the air.
Into this setting I entered a week ago at the invitation of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team to serve as a chaplain.  Myself along with several others were invited to come and minister to "all that we can for as long as we can".  My first assignment was to the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Chuck Kelley is the president of this great institution.  He and I walked the campus together where we each ministered to those with whom we came in contact.  This was the home to over 500 families.  I stood by young married couples as they opened their apartment doors for the first time since the flood to find black mold growing on their walls, books cases, pianos, and baby beds.  The stench of decay and spoiled food left behind in the refrigerators filled your lungs and left you breathless.  One young wife buried her face in my arms as her husband stood stunned and silent at the sight of their possessions in utter ruin.   The professors who teach at the seminary live on the campus and many of them lost their libraries along with all their furnishings as well.  In a situation like this you listen, pray and encourage.  This is not a time for sermons.  It is a time to show the love of Jesus through actions as well as words. 
From the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary a fellow chaplain, Lamar Wick , and I drove to the Ninth Ward.  This is one of the hardest hit areas in the city.  Fifty square miles of this section were under water for two weeks.  Thousands of homes stood empty and covered with the gray, lifeless dust left behind by Katrina.  It was a surreal ghostly environment.  Not a single human in sight until we spotted a gentleman sweeping his sidewalk.  We stopped the car and approached him.  He starred at us in disbelief.  When I told him we were chaplains with the Billy Graham Ministry he smiled and in a very soft voice said, "Thank you for coming".  He told us how he had been living here for several years and his home was paid for and that he just wanted to clean it up and move back in.  This is how he was dealing with his stress.  The realization that this would probably never happen was to be saved for another day.  When I asked him what we could do to help he said, "I wish I could just see some green again.  Everything here is brown and dead."  I looked up at what had been a neatly trimmed shrub and on the top above the flood water line were a few leaves which had been spared.  They were green and shining in the afternoon sun.  When I pointed to them this gentle black man began to weep.  His tears which mingled with the sweat on his face glistened like diamonds.  We asked if we could pray for him and he said, "I am a born again believer and I believe in the power of prayer.  I would be honored."  As the three of us locked arms around each other we thanked God for life in a place where days before death had flowed in the flood waters in front of his home.
Standing in the parking lot of the Super WalMart Center in Chalmette this past Sunday I noticed a young man and his wife holding their baby with a look of despair on their faces.  I told him I was a chaplain and asked if I could be of help.  He said his house had been totally submerged and that he had waded through waist deep mud to check on his home after the waters from the storm surge had drained out of the city.  He had to cut a hole in his roof to let himself into their house.  He had just taken out a $80,000 loan to buy contracting tools for his new business and all of that was now under four feet of mud in his garage.  It will be a total loss.  After I got his name and address we prayed together and I told him I would try to find someone who would help him and his family.  I then turned to see two National Guard soldiers watching the crowds which had gathered to meet with FEMA, Red Cross, and insurance personnel.  Their unit came from Iowa and will be deployed a few more weeks.  As I talked with the sergeant he shared how he had never seen such devastation in all his years of working disasters.  When I asked about his family back in Iowa tears surfaced in his eyes and he said that watching all these families day after day trying to put their lives back together made him realize just how blessed he was.  I asked if I could pray for him, his family, and his unit and he immediately responded, "Yes Sir!"  Thank God for our military men and women who serve their country both home and abroad.
One other encounter left a great impression on me.  We had stopped to fill up a truck with diesel fuel to take to the Samaritan Purse headquarters.  The young man who was assisting us told an incredible story of the night the flood surge hit Chalmette.  He had stayed behind and sent his family to another city so he could help his fellow citizens.  He said that within 20-25 minutes his home had filled with over six feet of water.  He climbed out onto the roof and grabbed his boat which was tied to the side of the house.  He began going up and down the streets of Chalmette pulling people out of the surging flood.  Before the night was over he had rescued over 160 of his fellow citizens and taken them to safety.  As he related his story he wept because he could not save more.  He told of a mother who was found with two of her children in one arm and another clinging to her neck as the waters began to flow out of the city.  They perished together.  We circled him in prayer and he thanked us for caring enough to come to Chalmette to comfort and pray for those that Katrina left behind.  This is the call of those who serve as chaplains in the midst of a crisis.  We seek to bring a listening heart through acts of kindness and words of God's love, care and comfort.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team requested that I stay with them through the remainder of the year, but due to my schedule I am unable.  However, I will be returning for at least two more weeks along with my wife, Becky.  As the reports of the victims of Katrina are removed from the front pages of our papers and are no longer the lead stories on the evening news please do not forget the fractured families and broken lives.  Hundreds of people when asked what they needed most replied in just one word, "Prayer". 

                     A Blameless Father( a four part series)

The Bible tells us in Job 1:1-2, "There was a man in the land
of Uz, whose name was Job and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him
." He was equal in his character on all four sides. Job was a square. He had four distinct, but equal characteristics.

Job was blameless. Proverbs 13:6 says, "Righteousness keeps him whose way is blameless, but wickedness overthrows the sinner." This means to be a person of integrity and right conduct. It takes daily discipline and devotion to develop a blameless life and only a few moments to destroy it.
Several years ago a husband and father who was a very successful business man traveled to New York City for a meeting. While he was there he hired a high price call girl. When he awoke the next morning she was gone. As he entered the bathroom to get ready for his appointment he turned on the
lights and to his horror he read a message the prostitute had left him on the mirror. There in large letters written in her lipstick were the words, "WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF AIDS". Returning home he went to his doctor for a HIV test. It came back positive. From being blameless to being wicked took
only a matter of moments. The consequences lasted much longer.  Daddies, we must keep our guard up at all times. We must live Monday through Saturday what we profess to be on Sunday. Proverbs 25:26 warns us, "A righteous [blameless] man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well." You can not drink from a murky spring and
water from a polluted well will kill you. We as fathers are to be sources of pure, uncontaminated springs of instruction and encouragement for our children. Our children watch us 24/7. They hear what we say and watch what we do. Speaking of watching, the fastest growing addiction among men in America is Internet Pornography. There are over 260 million pages of
pornography on line on the Internet. Pornography accounts for 7 per cent of the 3.3 billion Web pages indexed by Google. Promise Keepers reported that 62 per cent of men who attend their events admit to struggling with Internet pornography. And if that doesn't get your attention, Christianity Today, the most widely ready magazine by pastors in the United States found that 42 per cent of the pastors surveyed admitted to struggling with Internet pornography. Daddies, if you are into pornography, get out! It will destroy your life, your marriage and your family. Fathers, we must keep ourselves blameless at all cost.

                                    An Upright Father

Remember the first characteristic of Job?  He was blameless.  Then God said he was upright.  Job 1:1, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, feared God and shunned evil.”  What does it mean to be an upright husband and father?   First, it means that you are a man of impeccable character.  The abundance of it or lack of it has a lasting influence on your children.  Character is what comes to the surface when only God is watching.  The Bible tells us the way we live our lives affects children even unto the fourth generation.  In recent years we have seen a divorce between character and integrity in our country.  Men in high profile positions of leadership have plunged to the depths of immoral behavior.  The message being sent to the youth of our nation is one of tolerance for lack of integrity and character.  Second, to be an upright father means you are a man of consistent Christian conduct.  Psalm 1:1 tells us, “Blessed in the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, not sits in the seat of the scornful.”  We as godly fathers are instructed not to walk, stand, or sit with those whose conduct is ungodly.  Third, an upright father seeks to raise upright children.  Little is said in the Bible about Amram except he was of the tribe of Levi.  He married Jochebed.  They had three children.  The name Amram means, “a high people” and Jochebed means, “God my glory”.  God used this father to carry his children’s character and conduct on high.  He used this mother to bring God’s glory down to earth and into their hearts.  The names of their children: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.  Moses taught the children of Israel how to be saved.  Aaron taught them how to be sure.  Miriam taught them how to be satisfied.  Fathers, what are you teaching your children?  If you want your children to find a father in God, then they need to find something of God in their father.   

                                 A Father Who Feared God 

Remember the first characteristic of Job? He was blameless. Then God said he was upright. Thirdly, the Bible says Job was a man who feared God. Job 1:1, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, feared God and shunned evil."  In a world of fear what does it mean to fear God? First, it is a desire to seek after God rather than run from God. As a father and husband, wife and mother, are you a seeker or runner? Are you experiencing God in every area of your life?

Second, to fear God is to lean toward his commandments. Joshua told the children of Israel, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel," Joshua 24:23. Are there any false gods in your life? Could it be your religion, your vocation, your recreation, your politics, or your family? Do you have any addictions? Anything you lean toward more than God is your god. Just as plants are inclined to lean toward the sun, children are inclined to lean toward their parents. God bless the children who do not have a father or mother to lean toward. God bless all the single parents who are raising their children.  There are 72 million children in our nation under the age of 18 and one third of them (24.3 million) live in a home without a biological father. We
do not need more laws to protect our families. We need fathers in our homes to protect our families. And we need Jesus in the hearts of those fathers.  We do not need more attorneys to handle the divorce cases. We need more husbands and wives who are committed to each other, their marriage and their children. We do not need a village to raise our children. We need God fearing fathers and mothers who will accept that responsibility. 

Third, to fear God is to stand in awe of his greatness. What have you ever experienced that took your breath away? Whatever it was can not begin to compare to the awesome fear of God. This fear causes you to remove your shoes, kneel in silence and lift holy hands. This fear causes the angels in heaven to stop in mid flight, fold their wings, cover their faces and cry out, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"

Fourth, to fear God is to realize you are part of the family of God. God is your Father. You are his child. This is only true if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You can be in the church of God without being in the family of God. All people on earth are God's creation, but not all are his children. The Apostle Paul puts it quite well in Romans 8:15, "....but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father'". Abba means "Daddy". Just as your children call you "Daddy", you can call God, "Daddy", only if you have been adopted into his family. Have you? The greatest gift you will ever give your children is to give them a father who fears God.

                          A Father Who Shunned Evil

Remember the first three characteristics of Job?  Blameless. Upright. Feared God. Job 1:1, "There was a man in the land of
Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, feared God and shunned evil
." This father did what few fathers do. He abstained from every form of evil.  

We face a challenge from evil. How is this possible when we live in such an evil world? That which once made us blush in now on prime time television.  That which was once denounced from our pulpits is seldom topics for sermons anymore. That which once would land you in jail will now land you book contracts and movie deals. That which once protected your children now makes them prey to every pedophile on the Internet. We live in the same age as did Isaiah when he warned his people to beware of those, "Who call evil
good and good evil; who put darkness for light and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter
" (Isaiah 5:20). If this was true in 742 B.C. it is certainly true for 2005 A.D.

Our evil age is characterized by some pastors who do not practice what they preach, by priests who abuse the very children they bless, by some CEO's who steal from their own employees and stockholders, by some college and professional athletes who break the law on Saturday and play ball on Sunday, and by some political leaders who can not define the word, "Is". Tolerance is our national motto and Political Correctness our mantra. What has happened to
intolerance for evil? It is not political correctness, but spiritual
boldness we need in this day and hour. Christian fathers must stand up.

We face the character of evil. If we as godly fathers are going to shun evil we need to know the characteristics of those who practice evil. Proverbs 2:12-15 gives us five distinctions of those possessed with evil.  (1) Their speech is perverse. (2) They walk on the dark side. (3) They rejoice in committing evil acts. (4) They delight in the wicked actions of others. (5) Their entire lifestyle is full of evil. Proverbs 4:14-19 describes the four habits of those who live for evil. (1) They have a well worn path. (2) They have a well defined walk. (3) They have a well planned scheme. (4) They have a well rounded diet of wickedness and violence. Romans 1:21-25 lists the three religious practices of the evil. (1) They worship themselves. (2) They worship idols. (3) They worship sexual perversion.

We face the result of evil. Those who practice evil become evil; evil in their character, evil in their conduct, evil in their conversation, and evil in their countenance. It so distorts your life that you begin to resemble Smeagol in the "Lord of the Rings". There is a high price to be paid for low living.

These four characteristics of Job made him a square father in a round world.  Let the same hold true for each of us who are blessed to be called "father".  When the eulogies are read at our departures may it be said that we were blameless, upright, feared God and shunned evil.

                                  A Tribute to Mothers  

Devotional thought:  Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her,” Proverbs 31:28.  What greater rewards can a woman who has been blessed with the title of Mother and Wife have than to have those in her house celebrate her presence in their lives?  A godly mother is both the rising sun and the evening star to her family.  The light from her eyes and the smile from her face is often the first and last impression of a weary day.  When even the judge can not reach a wayward child a mother’s word has soften many a harden heart.  Though children may wander miles beyond the front door of their homes a mother’s memory returns them immediately to her side.  Those who have embraced the evils of the world are frequently delivered from the pits of destruction because of the purity of a mother’s love and her unfailing prayers.  A young man who had run away from home and joined the Hell’s Angels once told me, “It was hearing in my heart my mother’s prayer, ‘Lord, save my boy’, that brought me back home and to my knees.”  As a stone thrown into the sea sends its effects around the world so does the influence of a mother when cast upon the lives of her children.   

The first love of most children is their mother.  It is in her smile they find acceptance.  It is in her voice they hear the sound of heaven.  It is in her embrace they learn security.  It is in her songs they rest in peace.  God bless the children who never knew their mothers.  As light is to day so is the existence of a mother in the lives of her children.

Can a mother’s love ever be replaced?  Never!  It would be easier for a lifeless statue to substitute for a breathing man than for such a thing to happen.  A mother’s love transcends all other emotions of the heart.  It is affectionate when the child is alone, bold when the child is bashful, caring when the child is crushed, devoted when the child is distraught, encouraging when the child is embarrassed, fearless when the child is fearful, and graceful when the child is guilty.   

For those of us whose mothers have joined that great cloud of witnesses around the throne of God, Mother’s Day takes on a dimension which only death can render.  Her gentle voice can no longer be heard.  Her prayers are only warm memories.  Her touch is greatly missed.  Few places on earth are worthy of the removal of our shoes as are the graves of our mothers.  Here time stand stills and our memories travel through unmeasured space to visit her once again.  This mother who was the nurse of our infancy, the guardian of our childhood, the advisor of our youth, and the prayer warrior of all our days now sleeps in this scared spot waiting the glorious resurrection.  There is no influence more lasting, no praise more joyful, no smile more endearing, no power so intense, and no love so deep as that of a godly mother.  Praise God, death does not have the final word.   

No one can know the summit of joy and the valley of despair like a mother.  She delights in the accomplishments of her children and walks with them in their darkest hours.  Her love never grows cold, never burns out, never sleeps, never evaporates, and never gives up.  A godly mother will sacrifice her comforts for those of her children.  She will surrender every need to meet the needs of her family.  Her heart knows the depth of sorrow when she stands by an empty cradle of a baby who will never be held again, or receives word that her son or daughter who went off to war will return in a flag draped coffin.  Such sadness and brokenness only the heart of a mother can feel.  Even after she is gone her voice can still be heard in the whisperings from heaven.  Thank God for a godly mother whose life lives on in generations yet unborn.  Her children rise up and call her blessed………”

                        God's Court versus Man's Court

Recently the highest court of Massachusetts declared that their state constitution guarantees gay couples the right to marry.  Chief Justice Margaret Marshall stated, “We declare that barring an individual from the protection, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.”  Well to that humanist statement let me say, “That marrying a person of the same sex violates God’s Constitution.”  Jeremiah 8:12, tell us about the people in Israel during Jeremiah’s day.  It sounds like the events of this week.  Listen, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush….”  We live in a society that has forgotten how to blush.  We embrace that which is perverted and shun that which is holy.  The Apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), proving what is acceptable to the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them,” chapter 5: 8-11.       

Parents, you must take the time and teach your children that what the world often calls good God calls evil; what the world often calls right God calls wrong.  It is God’s Constitution, namely the Bible, which must be the guiding principle and standard of our lives.  While most of society is concerned with political correctness we must train our children to be spiritually correct.  Be it homosexuality, adultery or any other sin, we need to teach our children that it is not only alright to blush when confronted with sin it is expected.  Paul went on to say in verse 12, “For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.”  The liberal judges of our land may make a mockery of the teachings of Holy Scripture, but the Chief Justice of the Universe will bring down the final gavel.            

                              "Descent Into Decadence"

 Genesis 6: 5, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”    

The descent of our nation into decadence seemingly shows no sign of abating.  After the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding homosexual conduct two weeks ago I wondered what would happen next to exhibit to the rest of the world just how far the United States has fallen into the abyss of evil.   Well, we have four events this week that once again bear out what the above verse declares.  First, is the Kobe Bryant charge of sexually assaulting a young woman.  If nothing else it must be abundantly clear that money, endorsements and championship rings do not insure championship character.  Charles Barkley stated that this doesn’t make Kobe a bad person.  YES IT DOES!  Any man or woman who commits adultery and breaks their marriage vows is a bad person.   It doesn’t matter what your title or position in life sin is bad.  Good husbands and wives do not go around sleeping around.  America lived through an eight year soap opera with the Clintons and now all the young people in our nation who have idolized Kobe will be sucked into every detail of his sin.  The shocking truth is that it won’t matter much to most of them.

Second, the debasing of females has taken a giant step into the pit of slime.  The adult paint ball game outside Las Vegas, “Hunting for Bambi,” combines live sex with live violence.  Immoral men are willing to pay $10,000 to “hunt” down and shoot naked, immoral women with a paint ball gun.  Michael Burdick who came up with this perverse activity said that it is just innocent fun.  Sin may be fun, but it is never innocent.  How many of these men do you think might be husbands and fathers? 

Third, the homosexuals have not only torn the doors off their closets they now have their own television show.  The network, Bravo, introduced one of their new shows, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”.  At least the producers called it queer as opposed to gay.  Gay means “joyous and lively”.  The homosexual life style is anything but joyous and lively.  However, homosexuality now hits prime time and if you receive the Bravo channel your children will be subjected to the debauchery and depravity described in Romans 1: 20-32. 

 We have descended so far into darkness in our country that we shield our eyes from the Light.   That which is perverted is now openly practiced and that which is unnatural is now willingly embraced. 

If we do not fight for our families and all that is decent and holy we will not only answer to God, but we will answer to our children.  Remember, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,” Psalm 127:1.   

                     "Seven Special Gifts of Christmas"

Becky and I are sitting in front of our stone fire place watching the bright orange and red flames of the roaring fire.  It is the first of November and already we are inundated with magazines advertising everything imaginable.  Whatever happened to gifts that didn't require a bank loan?  I fear that Christmas has become another financial speed bump for many Americans in our secular society.  The success of Christmas is measured by the ringing of cash registers rather than the changing of hearts. It is look forward to for what is received rather than what is given.  May I suggest you consider giving something this Christmas which has become a tradition in the Drace family?  When our children were very young, Becky would wrap seven gifts and place them under a special tree.  Each gift represented something simple from the life of Jesus.  It might be an angel for the annunciation, Luke 1:28-38; a piece of hay for the manger, Luke 2:7; or a piece of paper with the names of the disciples, Luke 6:14-16.  You can come up with your own gifts.  Our children would open one each night beginning a week before Christmas and then we would share the scripture and the meaning of the gift.  Even now with Drew being 22 and Becca 20, they still look forward to the seven gifts which help keep in focus why we celebrate the one day which is unique only to those who know the true meaning of CHRISTmas.  What better time of the year to remember these words, "Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it," Psalm 127:1.  God bless you and your family during this special season.

                                           "Defining Bad"

 While Becky and I were shopping a couple of weeks ago the cashier was engaged in a conversation with another worker in the store.  She said to her friend, "I've got four children by four different men, but that doesn't make me a bad person."   I had a can of bug spray in one hand and some potted flowers in the other.  I didn't know whether to spray this person and hope her species would disappear or hand her the flowers and proclaim her winner of the "Most Stupid Statement" of the decade.  Then I remembered what a previous President of our great nation said concerning the word "Is".  And I thought about the current situation of the Catholic
Church, the recent story I heard concerning a Baptist pastor leaving his wife and children for another woman, and the fact that 19 million
children in America live with just their mothers and I thought, "No one thinks they are bad."  We live in a world where sin is however you choose to define it.  Bad is subjective.  Immoral is personal.  And accountability is nonexistent. 

The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing on the citizens of the United States.   We kill the unborn.  Worship youth.  Ignore the senior citizen.  Rip off the stock holders.  Betray friendships.  Dissolve marriages.  Marry the same sex.  All because we have lost the concept of what it means to be "bad".   

Our religious practices are not anything to brag about.  We disobey the Great Commission.  Attend powerless churches.  Tip God.  Disregard family devotions.  Serve false gods.  Leave our mates.   All because we as Christians have been covered with the ashes not of 9-11, but sin itself.  The fall out of living in a godless society can so distort our perception of right and wrong, good and bad that we take on the appearance of the firemen coming out of the Twin Towers.  We look like ghosts walking out of a nightmare from hell rather than angels of light walking out of the gates of heaven.  We as fathers and mothers are to teach our children that bad is bad and good is good and the two shall never join hands.  Then we are to live out those teachings in front of them.   May we heed the words of Isaiah 5:20, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter
for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
"  May we also remember that Jesus can take the "badest" and turn it into the "goodest".    That same Isaiah said, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool," (1:18).  Again I say, "Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it," Psalm 127:1. 

                                             "1+1 = 1"

                                        John 17: 20- 23

 As I recently preached at my home church, Englewood Baptist, in Jackson, Tennessee, I shared in the three morning worship services a portion of our LORD'S prayer.  In the verses mentioned above Jesus prays a prayer that gives new meaning to an old equation.  He asks His Father that all who would believe in Him might be, "one as You, Father, are in me, and I in You."   In other words Jesus was giving us a new formula to follow: 1+1=1.  He requested that we be one with Him in power (vs.21a); one with Him in unity (vs.21b); one with Him in glory (vs.22) and one with Him in perfection (vs.23).  As we realize His power a deeper dimension of living comes into our lives.  As we demonstrate His unity a stronger bond of love begins to blossom in our family.  As we experience His glory we seek His will and not our own.  As we strive toward His perfection our family sees Jesus in action.  What a tremendous prayer our LORD prayed for us.  May we earnestly seek to be an answer to His prayer so that 1+1=1.

                           "TRIBUTE TO MY DAD:"

   Home-Going Message of Rev. J.T. Drace, November 12, 2001

Thirty -seven years ago I stood behind this pulpit and preached my first sermon. Today I stand here to preach my father's last sermon. What can you say about a man who has so completely influenced your life that much of who you are today is a result of his preaching, teaching and living in front of you? Being a "Preacher's Kid" can have its drawbacks, but the good far outweighs the bad. Daddy never apologized for either being a preacher or a Christian father. Thank God for that. His example of reading the Bible and praying with the family every day has had a profound affect on my life. It is a discipline which we have passed on to our children. If more fathers read God's word and prayed with their families every day we would have stronger marriages and a greater nation. Saturday morning as I laid beside my earthy father's bed my heavenly Father called him home. Dad's sick room in the hospital was traded in for a mansion in heaven. His tired natural body was exchanged for an eternal spiritual body. His body which was conceived in corruption was raised in incorruption. His body which was sown in dishonor has been raised in power. He now knows first hand the meaning of. "Death is swallowed up in victory. O, Death where is your sting? O, Death where is your victory? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

    The very moment Dad exhaled his last breath on this earth his spirit inhaled the fragrances of heaven; the roses of Sharon, the lilies of the valley, the perfumes of frankincense and myrrh. The moment his spirit left its moorings here it was already being anchored in the harbor of God's eternal peace where, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." It wasn't the other shore which Dad was longing to see, but JESUS on the other shore. As the Psalmist said, "I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness." And my dear friends, Daddy is more awake now than he has ever been! As the evangelist Dwight L. Moody said about himself, "Some day you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now." This is true for all who die with their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Dad was witnessing for his Savior up to the very end. Just four days before the Lord called him home, Dr. Phillip Holmes was in Dad's room when the orderly came in to turn Dad on his side. Dr. Holmes said that Daddy looked at the young man and with a clear strong voice asked him, "How is your relationship to the Lord?" Even in dying we witness!

     Most all of you here today knew J.T. Drace.  He had a quick wit, a ready smile and a twinkle in those beautiful blue eyes. Just hours before he crossed over to the other side I said, "Dad it's Jerry. I want you to know that I love you." For a brief moment he focused those blue eyes on me and winked. We both knew that God was about to give the order for his journey home. I always told Dad that I hoped God would put him in charge of washing the chariots in heaven or mowing the grass in heaven. Daddy always wanted a clean car and a well kept yard. These last few years his dear friend Blake Ratliff has kept the yard mowed and Louise has been such a help to Wilma. I want you two to know how much we appreciate it.  Good and faithful friends are a rare treasure. Dad loved to sing. When I was a little boy I heard him hundreds of times sing, "Life is like a mountain railroad with an engineer that's brave. We must make the run successful from the cradle to the grave." By God's standards, Dad has had a successful run. Dads say things that make no sense to their children. (1) He used to say, "I'll spank you till your breeches won't hold shucks." I had no idea what shucks were, but I knew I didn't want them in my birches. (2) Or, he would say, "I'll spank you so hard you will have to eat off the mantel for a week." We didn't have a mantel so I didn't worry so much about that. (3) One of his favorite sayings was, "Life is earnest, life is real and the grave is not its goal; dust thou art and to dust returneth was not spoken of the soul." (4) On Sunday mornings I remember him saying so many times from the pulpit, "This is the day the Lord hath made we will rejoice and be glad in it." The day I called home from Union University and told Dad and Mom that God had called me to preach instead of going to medical school Dad said, "Are you sure? If He has called you, you will never be happy doing anything else, but make sure God has called you." God did call me 33 years ago and I am proud to be a preacher of the Good News and the son of a preacher man.

     Dad has taken his last walk on this earth. Now he is walking with the Creator of the universe on the streets of gold. Here we walk by faith not by sight. In heaven we see what we have been "faithing" down here.  Here we ask questions. In heaven we will have all the answers. Here we have tears. With Jesus we have rejoicing forever more. Here we have separation. In heaven, "neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God..."

     Dad's sick bed, surrounded by I-V's and oxygen tubes, was transformed into a heavenly chariot surrounded by a host of angels and saints, standing and applauding as another child of the KING of Kings and LORD of Lords entered his eternal home. "Well done thy good and faithful servant," was his greeting from his Savior and "WELCOME HOME" was what he heard Mother say who preceded Dad 11 years ago. Hallelujah! Dad is now experiencing first hand what you and I can only imagine. To God be the glory and honor for the life of J.T. Drace, a devoted husband, a loving father and a proclaimer of the unsearchable riches of Christ." Amen.  



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