Angels and Dreams

One of the many interesting parts of the Christmas story is how God communicated with its various characters. He began His messaging about the coming of the Son of God to the earth centuries before He came by foretelling some of the specifics through the prophets. Isaiah wrote in the eighth century before Christ that God would come in the form of man and be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6). A few years later, through the prophet Micah, God revealed that the child would be born in the town of Bethlehem. But as the time of the Savior’s coming drew very near, the Lord chose to speak to His chosen people by either sending an angel, giving them a dream, or both (having the angel appear in a dream). 

God sent the angel Gabriel to two different people. The first was Zechariah, a priest who was on duty for burning incense in the presence of God in the temple. The angel appeared to Zechariah while he was carrying out his priestly duty, and told him he would have a son. (This son would be John the Baptist who would turn many people to the Lord.) Zachariah had trouble believing that he, an old man, and his elderly wife, who had been barren even as a younger woman and was now past the age of child-bearing, could have a child, so he asked the angel for a sign. Wrong answer. Here’s the thing. If you’re standing in the very Holy of holies, the one place on earth that God has committed His presence (at the time), and an angel, the one who stands in the Heavenly presence of God awaiting His instructions, appears to you and gives you a message from the Almighty, accept it. Regardless of how many obstacles to that message exist, believe it. The lesson? God’s Word trumps any obstacle, all obstacles. 

A little over six months later, Gabriel stood in Nazareth before a teenaged girl named Mary. She was engaged, and a virgin, and heard the angel say that she was about to have a positive pregnancy test.  After hearing Gabriel explain that she would conceive, not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit, and that her baby would be the eternal King, and called the Son of God, Mary gave the right answer: Let it happen to me as you have spoken. The lesson? Always say yes to God, because with Him nothing shall be impossible.

So Mary is pregnant before she marries her fiancé Joseph. There must’ve been quite the buzz around Nazareth. Everybody could see the emerging bulge, and there’s only one way it could’ve happened, right? So was Joseph premature in becoming intimate with his promised bride (Could he not even wait until they were properly married?)? Or was Mary so promiscuous that she sought pleasure from someone other than her betrothed? Doubtless, Mary’s story about an angel and the Spirit of God was met with whispers and sneers from the Nazarene town folk. And Joseph must’ve landed somewhere amid angry, confused, and puzzled about how to respond. But then the only thing that could clear this whole thing up happened, at least for Joseph. God spoke to him. And He did it in a dream. The Lord told him how Mary, indeed, became pregnant (by the Holy Spirit), what he should do next (marry the girl), and what he should name the child (Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins”). (Jesus means Jehovah saves.) And Joseph did as the Lord commanded him. The lesson? When circumstances confuse, let God’s Word clear it up for you.

Once Mary became Mrs. Joseph, and the newlyweds, their marriage still not consummated, traveled to Bethlehem for a Caesar-decreed census, and the time came for the child to be delivered, God again sent an angel with a message. This time the angelic message was announced to shepherds near Bethlehem. A child had been born in town, and this child is the Messiah, the Savior. Here’s how they’d know it’s Him. He’d be swaddled and lying in a feeding trough. The shepherds did go into Bethlehem and verify what the angel said, and they worshipped the baby Messiah. But before they left the sheepfolds in the pastures, a multitude of angels joined the one who’d delivered the message, and they all praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest way! And may peace now come to the earth and goodwill come to mankind!” The lesson? Don’t be surprised. God may speak to anyone anywhere anytime.

Wisemen from the East later came, following a phenomenon in the sky, probably the one we just experienced on December 21st, when Jupiter and Saturn moved into alignment from earth’s perspective, presenting as a super-brilliant star. They found the Christ child in Bethlehem, gifted Him generously and worshipped Him. When the time came for them to return to their home, God spoke to them in a dream, warning them to take a route that wouldn’t lead them through Jerusalem, where King Herod awaited their information about the child born King of the Jews, so he could carry out his secret plan to abort Him. The lesson? God’s Word will direct us as we play our part in His greater plan.

Since Herod was a danger to the child, God gave another dream, this time to Joseph again, and in this dream was an angel who warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt, because King Herod wanted the child dead. Joseph did immediately what God instructed him to do, and it preserved Jesus for His purpose. The lesson? Immediate obedience to God is key for us as we fit into His big picture.

The Christmas story is a story of God expressing Himself to mankind. Christ, Himself, is the expression of God in human form. And God also spoke to individuals by angels and in dreams. The lesson? Always be ready to hear God speak. He usually does when He’s about to do something phenomenal. (Read the whole story of Christmas in the first two chapters of both Matthew and Luke. And have a Merry Christmas!

The Advantages of Addiction Recovery

I lead a ministry called Christian Recovery Houses (CRH), which is a discipleship ministry for people recovering from addiction. So I have a front row seat to see people walk with God as  they recover from addiction. Some of what I’ve observed in them has been both interesting and surprising. Although every person who’s been enslaved by the chains of addiction has known a darkness many others haven’t, their recovery journey requires of them certain necessary priorities that serve them advantageously, many times over their brothers and sisters in Christ who aren’t recovering from addiction. These observed advantages are too good not to share with the non-recovery community. Perhaps we can take advantage of them and gain a new appreciation for our siblings in Christ who are also in recovery as we consider – and, hopefully, adopt for ourselves – these seven advantages:

  1. They realize honesty is critical.

The healthy recoverer is keenly sensitive to any hint of dishonesty in their own heart. They’ve learned that deception is always the forerunner of using, so wise recoverers keep a vigilant check on their heart for that  

  1. They submit to accountability.

Among the most dangerous enemies to the recoverer are secrets, casting shadows wherein one can hide and find the privacy to which the enemy longs to lure them in hopes of tempting and ensnaring them. Light is the recoverer’s friend, and light often shines from the lamp of others in the recovery community who hold one another accountable.

  1. They have a healthy respect for relapse.

Having been, often recently, in the throes of addiction, recoverers remember all too freshly the pain and loss of active addiction. They know that one step in the direction of their drug of choice (DOC) could lead to maxed out credit cards, destroyed families, sitting in jail, intense damage to their health, or even accidental death, all in a matter of hours, With indelible memories of such terrible consequences, someone walking the path of recovery keeps a healthy distance from anything in the vicinity of their DOC. 

One of our key verses at CRH is Proverbs 5:8. The context is a warning to men about the trap of the adulterous woman. And verse 8 warns to stop well in advance of the woman’s bed, or bedroom. Its prudent warning is: “Do not go near her door.” Of course, the adulterous woman serves as the stand-in for any luring, destructive bait of Satan.

  1. They embrace humility.

Once you’ve owned your loss, come to terms with your failure being  placed on public display, and accepted that you’re nothing without God, and can do nothing without His help, shame is no longer your master. Free from shame, but aware of your weakness, now you’re correctly positioned for God’s work of restoration. Such is the positioning of a recoverer with the right perspective. As long as we remain humble, God can pour into us the seed of His life-giving Word. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” What an inspiration to see recoverers walk up the mountain of restoration in step with God, letting Him set the pace, and reach the summit of life and freedom.

  1. They’re growth minded.

Speaking of being exalted, recoverers are hungry for higher altitudes. When you really hit rock bottom, you can only go up. Recoverers find themselves having hit that bottom, and desperately rising from the ashes of their incinerated life. They have a renewed sense of vertical direction, a growing hatred for the low, and a humble longing for a high like they’ve never known before. Ever present in them is a deep desire for personal growth.

  1. They’re service minded.

Inherent in addiction recovery programs, including ours at CRH, is a responsibility to serve. Recoverers need sponsors. Since each recoverer benefitted from their sponsor, they want to be a benefit to another recoverer. Not only that, but there’s an awareness of the personal benefit of living a life of giving, helping, pouring oneself out for the benefit of others. And as long as a person focuses on serving others, and serving God, that person won’t be consumed with their own problems.

You see what I mean? These people society looks down on so often, these recovery people, they’re really doing better than the rest of us in a lot of ways, aren’t they? My charge to the readers and this writer is twofold: 1) Let’s adopt these advantageous traits for ourselves; 2) Let’s support the recoverers we know with our prayers and with our encouraging words and actions. 

What Christians Wish Non-Christians Knew About Christians

I feel like there’s a pretty big gap when it comes to Non-Christians understanding Christians’ attitudes and intentions. Here are four points that may help close that gap.

1. We don’t see ourselves as better than you in any way.


The way we became Christians is by receiving a gift from God, not by doing anything. I repeat, anything. How can we see ourselves as better than others when all we’ve done is receive something? What’s more, the same gift we’ve received – salvation through faith in Jesus Christ – is offered to you. We’re recipients of God’s grace. Grace means unmerited favor; in other words, we have God’s favor, but not because of anything we’ve done.


I have six kids. Last year I wrote and sang them a song. Watch it here:
http://gabrieltew.com/my-favorite/. All their lives I’ve told each one of them, whispering in
their ear, “You’re my favorite.” It’s been true every single time I’ve whispered it, because I’ve
never meant it in a comparative sense. I simply meant that I favor them. They would smile at me sheepishly, and I back at them, like we were keeping a secret from their five siblings. But they all soon figured out I was actually saying those same words to each of the others.
That’s how God’s favor is. He doesn’t favor some above others. He offers every person the
same grace (unmerited favor) that He would offer if there were just one of us. God’s favor isn’t comparative. It’s amazing for everybody.


What’s more is that the people who accept the gift of salvation from God do so because they know they’re lost without Him. So we Christians are keenly aware of our depravity and our need for God’s forgiveness. We don’t look down on anybody; we see ourselves as the lowest of the low. But we also see ourselves as forgiven, because that’s the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming and dying. So we don’t see you as lower than we, but we hope you’ll see yourselves as needing of Christ, and accept His invitation to salvation.

2. We don’t want you to act a certain way or believe like we do; we just want you to
know Jesus.


I know we’ve been misrepresented in this (by our own behavior), but please know that
behavior is not our priority for you, and neither is your adoption of our beliefs. The only thing we want is for you to experience a relationship with God that will last forever, and wherein you will be happier than you could ever be otherwise.

If we do push for certain behaviors in our culture – and I speak for myself, although I suspect other Christians feel this way – it’s so our kids (and everyone, really, but mainly our kids) won’t have unGodly examples lived out before them. We hate for our kids, whom we want to know and walk with God, to have to overcome cultural norms that are displeasing to God. Lifestyle models in a culture are huge in shaping values for its children. We just want our kids to have an advantage in this way when possible.

3. We don’t identify with a certain political party; no party can accurately represent us.


Our identity is in Christ, and in Him alone.
Nothing in this world can contain Him. Whatever earthly thing He enters, He destroys and gives new life. Even the human heart, which is really the only thing He came to indwell, He doesn’t improve, but makes new. Old things pass away when we are born again, and we become new. Jesus used the analogy of new wine and old wineskins (Luke 5) to illustrate the impossibility of fitting God’s kingdom into worldly systems. Human governments and political parties are like old wineskins. Jesus didn’t come to overthrow Rome and establish His government in its place, which was the expected mission of the Messiah in the context of first century Judea. And He doesn’t offer us a political platform, liberal or conservative. He offers us eternal life, and the promise of guiding us, by His Spirit, through the challenges we face in this life.

4. When we disagree with you, we still love you just as much as if we agreed.


One of the most frustrating things for us is when people equate approval and affirmation with love. Which means that, if we disagree with you, we hate you. We aren’t going to affirm
someone’s immoral lifestyle choices that God has made clear in His Word are unacceptable to Him. We cannot condone what God says is wrong, even if the whole world says it’s right. As much as we are called to love you, we are called to love God first. If you require that we either love you and your sin, or hate you and your sin, I’m sorry. We must exercise a third option: we will love you and call your sin what it is. Wrong. But it isn’t wrong because it’s your sin. Our sin is wrong too. There’s a misused adage: Love the sinner; hate the sin. I tell my Christian brothers and sisters it’s fine to take that approach as long as we begin by hating our own sin.

Jesus instructed His followers to love even their enemies. That’s the standard of love to which we are called. I’m sorry that we haven’t always lived that out, but that’s our intention to do so.

I hope this helps Non-Christians better understand Christians. But I’m not so naive to believe this one blog post clears it all up. Maybe it can instigate discussion. Please let me know your thoughts.

Why I’m a Creationist

I can boil my reasons for being a creationist down to two. Here they are.

  1. Because conclusions are commonly drawn at the beginning of an experiment, not the end.

My wife and I visited The Creation Museum in Kentucky near Cincinnati a few years ago. The first exhibit we saw when we entered the museum was about a dig made by two archeologists. One was a Creation scientist, and the other an Evolution scientist. The whole point of the exhibit wasn’t about the findings of the dig itself. Rather, the exhibit showed that each of the two scientists went into the dig with certain assumptions that determined the conclusions they ultimately drew.  So the Creationist, going into the dig with the assumption that there was a global flood several thousand years ago, concluded that the fossils uncovered in the dig were from a much more recent time than did his Evolutionist counterpart.

            I think the word preposterous is an interesting word. It’s two word parts (plus a suffix) put together. Pre means before and post means after. So what belongs in the front (or the beginning) is at the back (or the end), and what should be at the back/end is, instead, at the front/beginning. The proverbial cart before the horse is the perfect word picture for preposterous. And that’s what that scientific process really is: preposterous. Our conclusions, which should come at the end, are established – albeit usually unknowingly – at the beginning. I suppose it really speaks to the power of one’s worldview, because it’s our worldview that most powerfully informs how we see, and what we believe about, pretty much everything.

            I’m certainly not exempt from preposterity. (I think I just invented a word!) And neither is anyone else. That’s why it’s uber-important to have a worldview built on assumptions that are correct. I’m convinced that the Bible is God’s written Word, and I try to build my worldview completely upon its principles, so I know going into reading an article that I’m not buying any assertions that don’t somehow line up with Biblical Scripture. I won’t be swayed on that issue. But if I’m preposterous based on God’s stated truths, I’m in good company, God Himself is preposterous in the most awesome and holy sense:

For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done. – Isaiah 46:9-10 NKJV

2. Because I know the Creator.

I believe we must go outside all the things we can study intellectually in order to find the truth about origins. Once we find that truth, we can study it intellectually. Once we encounter the Creator of everything that exists, we can view it all with the knowledge that He created it. Once we have that perspective, the creation itself serves as evidence. When I see a night sky, massive ocean waves running up to a sandy beach, or a majestic rocky mountain reaching up to a beautiful blue sky, I see God’s handiwork. I see it that way because God has introduced Himself to my heart, and has helped me understand His Word. Speaking of preposterous – getting things backwards –  it’s preposterous to expect someone to believe God created the universe before knowing Him intimately. I see God’s creation because I know God. I didn’t see the world and exclaim, “Wow! Who created this?! I want to meet Him!” I met Him, and now He helps me see His work as His work. Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If He is the Truth – and He is – then it’s in Him that we’ll find the real story of how the universe originated. We can look forever in the wrong places, and we’ll never find the truth.

Dear Wifey at 10 Years Old

Dear Sharlene,

You’re ten years old and I’m your future husband. I’m currently fifty-eight and you’re currently fifty-two. That’s right, I’m six years older than you. So when you’re reading this at ten years old, I’m actually sixteen. You don’t know me yet, and I don’t know you. 

We’ll meet when you’re fifteen and  I’m twenty-one. By that time, your parents will have opened a Christian book store. That’s where we’ll first meet. You’ll be working there part-time, and I will have recently given my life to Christ. I’ll go in to buy a Bible, and you and your mom will help me with it. At first sight, I’ll be struck by how beautiful you are. You have a pure beauty, the kind that doesn’t need makeup. But you’ll still look incredible with makeup. When I later learn your age, I’ll be surprised, because to me you’ll look a couple years older than your age. Now, you look younger than your age, still with that same pure beauty. Three years after we meet, I’ll ask you out and we’ll go on our first date. We’ll date for a year-and-a-half, including a year-long engagement. 

We’ll get married when you’re eighteen and I’m twenty-four. You’ll be an awesome wife. We’ll love each other a lot. We both have the thing people want most: to love and to be loved. Even now, after thirty-three years being married – and increasingly every year – you’re the thing I thank God for most. Your love for God grows each year, and it’s really your love for Him that makes you the unbelievable wife and mother you become. 

We’ll have six children; you’ll spend ten straight years being pregnant in some part of each year. We always say we want four kids, but God clearly wants two more for us. You’re obviously very fertile, as am I; I think you got pregnant one time when we kissed. (That’s a joke. That’s not really how it happens, although you will be an incredible kisser!) All our kids love you very much. They recognize how you always go the extra mile to do things well, parenting included, and you never cut corners. That’ll be a quality every single person in our family, myself included, picks up from you. You’ll become a real estate agent after several years working in healthcare management and management of other types of businesses. I’ll become a pastor and you and I will lead a team in establishing a new church in Wilmington; the years of pastoring and leading that church will be probably our most memorable ones as a family . We’ll also lead other outreach and discipleship ministries. Looking back now, it’s been such a pleasure with you as my partner, whether in ministry, business, parenting, or marriage. You work so hard, and keep such a great attitude; you always carry more than your load, and you keep me encouraged all along the way. We have lots of hobbies, but the thing we enjoy most is being together.

If it were really possible for you to receive this letter from me as a ten-year-old, I’d leave this part out. Your mom passes away from ovarian cancer at age forty nine. You’ll be twenty-five at the time, and our third child, Kristin, will be two months old. That’ll be the hardest thing you’ll go through up to this point, but as usual, you’ll be very strong through it all. You’re generally stronger than I am. I’m definitely the crybaby between the two of us. 

Another tough experience for both of us – and the kids – will be this year. It’s then, at the beginning of the the current year, that I’ll have a stroke. I won’t be able to walk in the beginning, but I get that back very quickly. However, it takes a little longer to regain my swallowing, and several months before I can lift my left arm all the way up and use the fingers on my left hand. It’ll be hard for me because I miss opportunities to do things with my kids and grandkids, and I’m hampered in my ability to express myself the way I want to. Throughout my lengthy recovery, you’ll demonstrate a new level of love and commitment. You’ll be my nurse, my chef, my counselor, and whatever I’ll need. There’ll be times when I’ll feel sorry for you and I’ll apologize for the plight that has befallen you and that you spend so much of your time taking care of me. I’ll say I’m sorry you’re not living the fairy tale life you dreamed of as a little girl because if anybody deserves it you do. And you’ll just say, “I’m doing exactly what I want to do.” You’ll tell me that the only thing that bothers you is when I get down on myself. That’s the kind of wife and person you become.

Let me offer a couple of words of advice. Be sure to enjoy your family along the way. You’ll say how right those old ladies were when they told you to enjoy your kids while you have them because they’ll be grown and gone before you know it. Also, enjoy your parents and siblings as you’re growing up and into a young woman. One of your most impactful memories will be when your parents tell you, as a teenager, that you’re their first daughter and they’re trying to figure it out just like you are. After that conversation, you’ll be more patient and understanding, but go ahead and give them grace even before that conversation happens. You’ll be glad you did, and so will they.

Trust your mom and dad. You’re on the right track to become the kind of woman you want to be. They’ll help you maintain your purity and instill in you a love for God. Training is hard, so remember the result it produces, and you’ll get through it without too much stress. Please know, as much as you can understand now, that I love you. Your future husband loves you. Very very much.

Your

Husband

Dear 10-Year-Old Me

Dear Gabriel, 

You’re ten, and I’m you at age fifty-eight.  Two things gave me the idea to write you a letter. First, There’s a picture of you in my living room. My wife, Sharlene, (Oh, you marry a beautiful, Godly woman, so don’t ever be anxious about girls or whom you’ll marry.) put it there. She thinks you’re cute, and that somehow works in my favor now. So, thanks for that. Well, I saw your picture the other day and thought it would be a good idea to write you a letter – kind of therapeutic for me, actually. That’s the first thing that gave me the idea – your picture; the second thing I’ll reveal a little farther down in the letter.

In a couple years, God will speak to you in church one Sunday morning. He’ll let you know He wants you to be a preacher. Don’t just blow that off later that day. Go play basketball with your friends that afternoon, like you always do. But don’t just fall into your same old way of talking and thinking and dismiss the idea of being a preacher. 

And please don’t wait until you’re twenty-one years old and in college to surrender your life to Jesus and begin your journey of trusting, and walking with, Him. Go ahead and give your life to Him that very Sunday morning. He won’t be just giving you a prophecy that you’ll one day be a preacher; He’ll be calling you to put your faith in Him and become very close friends with Him. 

And that afternoon, or any other time, if you find yourself saying things that don’t match up with being a Christian, don’t just abandon the idea of walking with God. Instead, say something like, “Hey everybody, I’m sorry, that’s not the way I want to talk or act.” And tell God you’re sorry. The Lord will forgive you immediately, so just get right back in step with Him. And that’ll be a great model for your friends, because they’ll need to do the same thing whenever they make mistakes. 

Now, if you do end up not committing your life to Christ that day or if you bail on your commitment to Him at any point, turn back to Him as soon as you realize it. He’s so merciful and His arms will always be open to you.

Another piece of advice is this. Forgive Dad. I know you feel like he treats you unfairly, but just forgive him and keep deciding to love him the way you did when you were a little boy and he was your hero and you wanted to be like him. You’ll be so glad one day that you always honored him and Mom.

Speaking of parents, you and your wife will have six kids. Then you’ll understand how hard it was for Mom and Dad. You’ll also see that your wife and children are God’s greatest earthly gifts to you, and your parents, siblings, and grandparents will become more and more valuable to you as life goes on. I’m so proud of the kids now. They’re scattered all over the country, and Sharlene and I don’t get to see them as much as we’d like. What’s cool, though, is that we can talk with them on a video screen – like a two-way television – any time. (Actually, most everything on The Jetsons has come true, except for the individual air-travel vehicles. Not sure why, but we just don’t have those yet.) (By the way, buy as much stock as you can in each of these companies in the respective year: Apple – 1980; Microsoft – 1986; Amazon – 1997; Tesla – 2010.)

We’re very proud of the kids. They’re all blessed with talent, wisdom and a strong work ethic, and they’re all doing well. Some are still finding their way to God, but they’ll be walking with Him soon. They’re also all very nice-looking, which is a credit to their beautiful mother. (Sorry to tell you this, but you’ll be the least attractive member of the family. Your wife-and-kids-family, that is; you’ll be the most attractive member of your parents-and-siblings-family, however.)

The second thing that gave me the idea to write to you is that I had a stroke earlier this year. A stroke is a type of brain injury where you lose some function of your brain, temporarily, at least. Well, in some ways, I’ve become like a kid again, so I’m having to relearn and develop things all over again. For example, You know how hard it is for you to do things left handed now? Well, you’ll improve, but the stroke paralyzed my left-hand fingers, and their function is slow to come back. So I’m probably at about your level again for that skill. I also don’t really catch traffic lights and brake lights like I should, kind of like a beginner driver. So, if you don’t mind, work hard to develop that left hand and to build some really good driving habits. Maybe those efforts can help me somehow.

Please try your best at things. You tend to be satisfied with just getting by when you could do much better. Do your best at whatever you do. You’ll be glad you did. 

Finally, remember that God loves you beyond your ability to comprehend it. You have nothing to worry about. Enjoy the next forty-eight years, and I’ll take it from there.

Sincerely You at 58,

Me

4 Truths about Love (that many don’t know)

Love is a word very hard to define. Although it’s a common word, it’s really complex. We use it – or misuse it –  a lot, but to put an accurate, complete definition to it would take a lot of thought, study and prayer. I’m not going to attempt to define it. Instead, I’ll list, and elaborate on, four truths about love.

Truth #1: Love is a lot more about choices than about feelings.

My senior year of college I was invited to a girls dorm lobby to watch a video on love. To this day, I’m so glad I went, because that video changed my whole understanding of what love is. In the video, Josh McDowell explained that love is not a mere feeling; it’s actually something we choose. I’d never thought much about love, so I just defaulted to what the world at large – through song lyrics , love-story tv and movies, and pop culture in general – understood and expressed about love. Love, as the world, including me, understood it, was something that just happened to you. It kind of descended upon you like a fog, and then it lifted, and you had no real say in when or if it fell or lifted. If you were lucky enough to be in it, you felt great, and its lift left you empty, longing for another foggy day. But Josh McDowell said we decide when, whom, and how we love, because love isn’t a feeling anyway. It’s a choice. Feelings may or may not be there when we choose to love someone, and real love has more to do with how we treat someone than how we feel about them. I remember leaving that dorm that night feeling enlightened, like a fog of new understanding had engulfed me. Of all the things I learned in my college experience, this was at the top of the most helpful list.

Truth #2: Love originates with God.

The reason we can love at all is because God loves us. Love is something that, like life, is part of who God is. It exists in Him, and can exist in us because of Him. 1 John 4:8 says Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. (NLT) This verse implies that if we know God (have a relationship with Him in Christ), we’ll love. Whom will we love? We’ll love both God and people. We’ll love because God modeled love for us. As it says in 1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us. (NIV) We’ll also love because God produces love in us. Because of our faith in Jesus, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and the Holy Spirit produces fruit in us. Galations 5:22 says The fruit of the Spirit is love… (NKJV)

Truth #3: You can’t love God and not love people.

1 John 4:20-21 says If someone says “I love God” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (NKJV). ‘Nuff said

Truth #4: You can love people (well, sort of) and not love God.

Jesus is recorded in Luke 6 calling His disciples to love our enemies. In verse 32 He says But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (NKJV) Even though it isn’t the love that comes from God, there is a love possessed by people who haven’t accepted Christ. It isn’t the love I acknowledged in the first three truths above. It’s a reciprocal love only. Remember, God’s love loves first (not just in response), and that’s the love His followers are called to, have received,and should have. I’ve noticed often that people who don’t know God recognize loving people, but don’t see the value of loving our Creator, Savior and Provider. Jesus was asked what the most important law was. He gave two.  He said most important is to love God; He said to love others is second. As important as it is to love people, it’s even more important to love God. Do we keep that order? Let’s.

So that’s not everything there is to love. But these four statements are true. Whatayasay we try to live with them in mind?

BLM or ALM?

During one of the Democratic Presidential debates in 2015, the moderator asked, “Do black lives matter or all lives matter?” I wondered how I would answer that question. I would’ve wanted to answer in a way that acknowledges the unnecessary, unfair loss of black lives at the hands of law enforcement officers while still recognizing the value of every life, regardless of race or any other categorization.

Since then, I’ve wondered how Jesus might answer the question. We aren’t without clues of how Jesus would respond. The Gospels are chocked with examples of religious leaders using a question in attempt to trap Jesus into saying something that could be used against Him. But He was the master of avoiding traps and even turning the table on His cunning inquirers, trapping them with His answers.

The question still stands today. Five years later now, and because of recent unnecessary, unfair loss of black lives (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atationna Jefferson, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark) –  it resonates louder than ever. 

So how might Jesus answer the question? First, look at how He responded in a couple situations.

Luke 12:13-15 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”  And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” NKJV

  Jesus first established that He wasn’t in the role of arbitrator; even though He would one day be the judge of every person’s soul, He didn’t come for the purpose of deciding their civil matters. “But,” one could argue, “the BLM vs. ALM question isn’t around a civil matter, but a criminal one.” And that’s, of course, true. But, in my view, Jesus would still explain that He didn’t leave His Heavenly throne and take on the form of man to settle our criminal justice matters; He came to settle, once and for all, our eternal case – the one wherein we each and all committed crimes against God and mankind and stand in need of forgiveness and being reconciled with God. So Jesus’ answer would include a clarification of His role. 

Jesus also, in the above passage, addressed the deeper issue in the one asking the question. “Beware of covetousness.” The condition of the guy’s heart was more important than what he stood to gain or lose in his inheritance. If you think Jesus wasn’t confrontational, do a quick-read of the book of John (or any of the four Gospels). You’ll see that He almost constantly challenged people. There’s no doubt in my mind that He would challenge something in us as part of His response to our question. Able to know the thoughts of our heart, not just the words of our lips, Jesus would point us to that for which we are responsible, and about which we can do something. He might say something like this: 

I’m not taking on the role of earthly sage or municipal judge. I’m more concerned that you hate people. You want to know what matters? Your heart matters. Out of it springs death or life. Do you stand against BLM? I’d prefer you hear them, love them, and protect them. Do you stand with BLM? Don’t allow  your peaceful response to escalate into violence and harm. Are you My follower? Do you trust Me? Then love your enemies and pray for them. You have My example.

So Jesus wouldn’t condescend from His divine position to that of judge of earthly matters, and He would address the hearts on each side of the issue. But wouldn’t He show which side is the right one in such an important issue as BLM vs. ALM? Well, check out what He said when faced with one of the monumental cultural questions of His day:

Matt 22:15-22 (NLT)

 Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”  “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply amazed them, and they went away.

Pile of ancient silver coins with portraits close-up macro shot selective focus

The real question behind the stated one was, “Should we abide by God’s law or by Roman law?” Answering the question within the either-or parameters with which they posed it would have gotten Jesus in trouble, which was the very purpose for which the question was crafted. The question was an either-or one, but the answer couldn ‘t be. Either-or questions are designed to divide. Our world is full of them, and I, personally, am praying for God to give me His answers, so I can avoid the ones into which the world tries to corral me.

Jesus wouldn’t be corralled, either, into the BLM side or the ALM side. Rather, He would reveal another side, one more important than the two our question presents. He would introduce a life different from, and even more valuable than, black lives or all lives. Jesus would say something like:

“Black lives matter and all lives matter, but more than anything, eternal lives matter. Stop fighting with your fellow man and turn to Me. Believe in Me. Trust that My death gives you life that will never end. When you know you have eternal life, and your hope is to spend forever with Me in Heaven, even the most weighty issues of earth fade into relative insignificance. The time will come – and soon – when you won’t even care how you were treated in this life, although it is important how you treat others.” 

Jesus’ teachings prioritized eternity over this age. See what He said about some of the most important things here compared to eternal life:

Matt 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Do black lives matter or all lives matter? Both. But mostly, eternal lives matter.

What Will History Say About COVID 19?

     Two hundred years from now, if someone does today’s equivalent of an online search for COVID 19, what will they find? Before I try to answer that question, a couple disclaimers: First, I’m not a clinician. I’ve been a healthcare administrator, but I’ve always had to defer to nurses, therapists and physicians for the clinical perspective when I needed to make decisions; this is no problem, though, since I don’t think COVID19’s biggest impact will prove to be clinical. In other words, I don’t think it will yield any groundbreaking developments in epidemiology.   Second, I have zero expertise in politics. I mean, I have a perspective and opinions, but pretty much my only involvement in politics has been in the voting booth, and maybe a few barbershop debates, most of which my opponents went away winners, at least in their own eyes. This is not a problem either, since I believe COVID’s deepest historic impact will not be political, although it will impact the political world more than the clinical one.

     Here’s my stab at the year 2220 equivalent of the Wikipedia entry for COVID 19:

COVID 19 (also known as The Corona Virus) a global pandemic that began in November, 2019, and was eradicated in the summer of 2023, and eradicated in the United States, the first country with a population of more than 300,000 to eradicate the disease,  in the fall of 2021. Believed by many historians to have originated in China, the virus spread quickly across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, resulting in nearly 900,000 deaths worldwide, mostly elderly people with underlying poor health conditions before its eradication. Many attempts by scientists to develop a vaccine were ultimately unsuccessful, mainly because a high percentage of people refused to take the vaccine, some leery of the vaccine’s safety risks, and others suspicious that the vaccine included a chip that could be used to monitor their location and behavior.  However, the disease was ultimately eradicated through herd immunity, the first widespread disease ever overcome by herd immunity.

               The COVID 19 Pandemic proved to be an opportunity for nations to unify in new ways, as the World Health Organization compiled data from various countries and brought scientists and political leaders together from around the world to address the crisis. Some world history scholars believe the COVID 19 crisis did more toward the formation of our current One World government than any other event ever. Many Christians of that time expected the pandemic would set the stage for the Biblical Tribulation period, when the Antichrist would come into power and persecute Christians and anyone unwilling to accept his mark on their forehead or hand.  In 2022, well known pastor and politician, Mike Huckabee, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying, “People two hundred years ago thought the Great Tribulation was about to happen, and four hundred years ago, and six hundred years ago, but Jesus will return to earth when the Heavenly Father says. Our job is to be ready all the time for His return.”

One more disclaimer: I’m not a prophet, and this is not intended to be taken as prophetic. It’s just a fictitious rendering of how history could possibly, but probably won’t, paint the pandemic in a couple hundred years. To be honest, I think in two hundred years, Jesus Christ will be reigning on the earth, the Great Tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon will be in the past, and believers in Christ will look forward to the new heaven and the new earth. I could definitely be wrong, but what I know I’m right about is that Jesus is my Savior and I will, therefore, be with Him, along with all other believers, for eternity, regardless of COVID 19’s role in world events.

Exceeded Expectations Ahead

  The generation of Jews to which Jesus came continued in the expectation of their forefathers. The Messiah would sit on the throne of David and rule over all nations. Surely, that meant He would overthrow Rome and end the centuries-long oppression Israel had endured under several different empires. The throngs who hailed Jesus as He rode a donkey colt into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration must’ve thought He would very soon lead them into a glorious victory over Caesar.  But He and His Father had something much better in mind. Rather than sitting on the throne in Jerusalem constructed by human hands, The Son would soon sit down at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, having fully made the sacrificial payment for the sins of all who did, and would, believe in Him. The Roman Empire wasn’t the enemy from whom He would deliver His people. Nor were it the Greeks, the Medo-Persians, or the Assyrians. It was death, Hell, and the grave, the age-old bullies of humankind, whose power would be overthrown. As Jesus rose like a beam of light out of the dark grave designed to hold Him, He defeated our final enemy, and freed us from the bondage we deserve. 

Three days after His corpse was taken down and laid in the tomb, Jesus showed Himself alive again to His closest followers, and word spread that He was alive. He appeared later to more followers before ascending into Heaven, at which time angels announced that He would one day descend back to earth. Now we know, by the pens of His apostles, that when He returns, He will come in great majesty as our glorious King, starkly different from His humble first coming to a virgin and laid in a manger. It is then that the world will see His power and His glory. What a better reign that will be than the one the first century Jews and their ancestors envisioned! How much more splendid to be enthroned over Heaven, the earth, and the under-earth! How much more victorious to subdue every region, every, nation, every tribe, every tongue! How much less magnificent to sit on Jerusalem’s throne, having conquered mere Rome! Yet such is the difference between God’s plans and man’s, between the hopes of people and the vision of the Almighty, between the expectations of the greatest faith and the reality that God brings about.

I suffered a major stroke seven months ago. A couple of months into my recovery, having struggled with how to organize my faith in my situation, I decided to ask God for, and believe Him for, complete recovery, and leave the timing and the process up to Him. My role has been to trust Him each day and walk with Him through the process. Now all these months later, it seems from my perspective as though I’ve been progressing at a snail’s pace (although my wife, my kids,  and other supporters somehow see more rapid improvement). The other day, I was meditating on this verse:

Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you. He will achieve infinitely more than 

your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest 

imagination! He will outdo them all, for His miraculous power constantly energizes you. 

(Ephesians 3:20, The Passion Translation)

At one point that day, I got on my knees and said, “Lord, I don’t know exactly what my situation is going to look like when you complete this, but I know it’s going to be far better than if I were deciding it.” As I was  writing this today, I took a break and went over to my wife for one of her life-giving hugs, and told her that I’m so glad God is in charge of my outcomes.  Maybe it’ll be as much better as Heaven is better than earth. If it is, I shouldn’t be surprised. How about your situation? Do you think God can and will exceed your expectation for it? Tell you what. If you’ll pray for me to trust God to that end, I’ll do the same for you. Praying now…