Musings from the Back Porch #164

What does "REPENTANCE" mean to you? It is a word often used in church, especially during this time of year. You do realize that Easter is just around the corner, don't you? I're barely over Christmas. None the less, Easter comes early this year, and with Easter comes the preceding season of Lent, a time deeply associated with spiritual self-examination and Repentance.

For some, repentance brings to mind a sense of groveling and depression---a time of realizing just how low we are as sinners before God. That line from the old hymn "At the Cross" comes to mind here that asks, "Would he (Christ) devote that sacred head for such a WORM as I?" Is that the way you feel about yourself? Do you feel like a lowly "worm" before our righteous God? Sadly, that is the basis for repentance for many.

But, when I look at REPENTANCE in scripture, I see a very different understanding. Sure, there is an awareness of sin and the barrier my sin creates between me and God, but that awareness is there not so much that I would see myself as a lowly sinful "worm" before God, but that I will come to see that my sin prevents me from becoming all I can be as a loved and valued child of God.

Let me ask you, how many times have you repented of some wrong, some sin you have committed and yet still felt bad about what you had done? Like you were unforgiven? How many times have you repented and yet continued to beat yourself up because you had let God down? Have you wallowed in your unworthiness?

Well, that is not how Jesus saw repentance! Not at all! Jesus healed the sick, embraced the widows, blessed the children, and set those who were possessed free. Jesus rejoiced when the lost were found, threw parties for returned prodigals, and told us the angels in heaven did cartwheels down the streets when one person repented! To the tax collector he said, "Today, God has come to your house." To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, "Daughter, I do not condemn you. Live free!"

Don't you see? Repentance is the act of realizing your need for God and coming "home" to the Father; of learning to see your worth, your value to God and claiming it; of allowing God to restore you to right relationship with Him.

So, may I ask you....what is it that is clogging up your mind, your life, your spirit? What is it hindering your relationship with God, your Father? What is preventing you from truly being the person God knows you can be? Turn away from that....and turn back toward God. REPENT, and believe this good news!

No matter how prodigal you are, you can come home!


Musings from the Back Porch #163

I am presently working with a Vision Team at our church. How exciting it is to be part of a group of people who, under the prayerful guidance of God's Holy Spirit, seeks God's vision on behalf of the congregation for the next 5, 10, even 20 years. It is a amazing yet humbling task.

As our Vision Team works through this process, we are beginning to realize more and more some of the qualities and characteristics needed by a church in order to become the "visionary" people that God wants us to be. I will address some of these in future "Musings", but let me start with one today that stands out to me. I am talking about DETERMINATION.
As we consider determination, let me share with you this little illustration about determination.

Determination is a major part of what it takes to become a firefighter in New York City. Those of us who witnessed the tragedy of September 11, 2001 saw this brave determination firsthand. You see, each of those firefighters who climbed those stairs to fight the fire of the World Trade Center knew that burning jet fuel cannot be extinguished with water, yet they bravely climbed those stairs anyway, determined to do whatever they could to save lives!

Such determination is required for the job of a New York City firefighter. Every four years a test is given for anyone aspiring to be a New York City firefighter. Each time more than 30,000 take the test and about 5,000 are accepted. Many of these who are accepted must then wait years to actually get in.....all for about $40,000 a year.

Determination is also a key characteristic of a faithful Christian and/or a faithful church. Determination means you do not give up. It is courage in the face of fire. It is the wherewithal to get back up when knocked down coupled with an unswerving faithful that "with God, all things ARE possible" and that with God's help and Holy Presence we will make it through!

Determination is a good starting point for our Christian lives and for the church in living out God's vision and plan!

I'm in! How about you?


Musings from the Back Porch #162

Until she died on January 31, 2011, Eunice Sanborn from Jacksonville, TX was listed as the world's oldest living person, a distinction she had held since November 4, 2010, the date her predecessor, Eugene Blanchard, died.

Sanborn celebrated her 114th birthday on at a party given in her honor at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville. When asked about her long life, Sanborn laughed and said, "I love everything about life....and have no complaints." She noted, "Life is a wonderful thing if you make it that way!"

We all know that ailments and disappointments are cumulative through life, but this gracious Christian, Eunice Sandborn, has proven you can make it all the way to 114 years without complaining!

Really? Why some of us can't make it one day without complaining!

I had a man once, a Christian (or at least he said he was), tell me, "I love to complain. It gives me something to do!" Before I could catch myself, I responded, "Well, friend, you need to get a life! God has enough to do without having to listen to you sitting around complaining all the time!" Wouldn't you know it? He then complained that I had responded that way!

Let's be honest. Most of us do our fair share of complaining. But....we need to stop. Paul, writing to the Church in Philippians 2:13-14, says, "For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing."

I have discovered that if I am busy doing the work God has called me to, I do not have time to complain. Besides, how do you complain to someone who would love you enough to die on the cross for your sins? Huh? How can you complain in the face of so much love?

Next time you start to complain, stop and think about that?


Musings from the Back Porch #161

I enjoy these clear, cloudless winter mornings when, from my kitchen window view out over my backporch, the rising sun creeps quietly over the hill. It reminds me of a saying my mother used to share when troubles plagued me as a child and from my childish perspective it seemed my world was caving in and darkness surrounded me. "DON'T WORRY, "she would say. "THE SUN WILL COME UP IN THE MORNING!"

That is one irrefutable truth. THE SUN COMES UP IN THE MORNING......ALWAYS! O it may be cloudy. Storms may be crashing in our lives, but the sun comes up....regardless!

I've seen this proven. I once caught a plane in Nashville, bound for Atlanta, and there in Tennessee terrible storms were raging. So much so, that I questioned whether or not the flight would be canceled. But we boarded the plane and took off and soon the pilot's reassuring voice came over the speaker: "Folks, this is your captain speaking. I know the weather is stormy, but soon we will be breaking through the clouds. Keep looking out your window. Soon you will see the bright morning sun." And he had no sooner said it than it happened. Suddenly we found ourselves above the storms and caressed by the bright morning sun!

God makes that same kind of promise. No matter the storms we face in life, if in faith we keep looking up, if in faith we keep believing, the SON will come shining through, driving the darkness and fear from our lives. Nothing can defeat us...
Not even death itself!

This is the promise Jesus kept sharing with his disciples. "Even though they kill me, I will rise!" And he did! The Son came up in power and glory! And still does in our lives when we look to him through trust and faith!

I hope you will join me in living with faith in Jesus Christ. Put your whole trust in him. Then no matter what happens, whenever storms of life come, you can hold on and find hope in believing "The SON will come up tomorrow!" He always does! He always does! Always!


Musings from the Back Porch #160

In 1893, Mildred Hill, a pianist and schoolteacher in Kentucky, wrote a song to greet students each day at school. The words were simple, but the tune was catchy. One day, however, Mildred's sister, Patty, convinced her to make a change to the song. So the words, "Good morning to you" were changed to "Happy birthday to you", and soon the song became what just might be the best known song in the world.

Warner/Chappell Music owns the rights to the song, and every time "Happy Birthday to You" is used on TV or in film, royalties are paid to the Hill Family Foundation, generally about $two million per year.

But..... what if Mildred Smith had refused to change the song?

Even though many of us resist change, change is a natural and important fact of life. It us also a natural part of faith. God continually calls us to new horizons of faith, always leading, always beckoning us to follow. It has always been that way with God and his people.

Consider the Israelites. It was tough on them, wandering in the wilderness for forty years. They'd pitch their tents, get set up, get settled, and then the cloud or pillar of fire (God's Presence) would begin to move.

These days the Church, as the people of God, has got to be willing to move with God. We've got to learn to respond to change positively. God never stays still---He is always working. We must learn to move with Him and work with Him. Is it easy? No! Not always! Is it necessary! Yes! Absolutely!

When Jesus called each of us as his disciples, his call was to "Come, Follow me!" How can we "follow" if we refuse to "move"?

Just saying!


Musings from the Back Porch #159

His is a story of great success, but it didn't start out that way. He came from a dirt-poor family and his father was an alcoholic who eventually killed himself. The boy was shy, intimidated, and given to bad grammar. His skills in high school basketball were notable, but when he got to college he quit. The size of the school scared him, and he felt overwhelmed by all the confident suburban students.

He returned home to the backwaters town of French Lick, Indiana and started working on a garbage truck. A failed marriage followed, and it looked like any hopes or dreams this garbage man might have once had were now most certainly gone. But, like he would later do so many times for the Boston Celtics, he fought back. Determined to overcome his fears, he gave college another try and that decision opened the door for a Hall of Fame NBA career.

Had this young man never tried to overcome his obstacles and fears he faced, Red Auerback would never have said, "Larry Byrd is the greatest player who ever played the game of basketball!"

Is your life paralyzed by obstacles and fears? You are not alone. In fact, nine months before September 11, 2001, U.S. News and World Report magazine released a sobering piece of information. In their January 22, 2001 edition was this assertion: "Recent studies have shown that children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950's."

To be fearless in today's world we must "fear less." And friends, that can only be accomplished through a vital relationship with Jesus Christ! Remember these words of the Apostle Paul: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline!"


Musings from the Back Porch #158

Somerset, KY, where I live, is still in the process of "digging out" of a record snowfall for this part of the country. And let me just say, after three days of shoveling snow just to be able to get my vehicle out of my drive, I do not care if I ever see any more snow!

But....the truth is....I've not had it so bad! After all, I've got my health, and I probably needed the exercise the snow shoveling brought on, especially after all the eating I've done over the last few days. It's funny how being shut in by a snowstorm just causes one to feel the need to bake cookies and make candy! Besides, the stretch of bad weather has afforded some quality time for my wife, Renee, and I to spend together. It's been nice to just have time to sit and talk. You know, folks, that's something we ALL do not do enough of these days.

I've also had the chance to spend some quality time at my piano keyboard playing and singing. Music has always been a major part of my life, but recently I have let others things rob me of that treasure. I have decided not to let that happen again.

As I was playing and singing my way through several songs the other day, a simple little praise song came to mind, and along with it, the story that endears that song to me. Do you know the chorus, "Give Thanks"?

In 1978, Henry Smith returned from seminary to work in his home church as a layperson. He took on odd jobs to support himself because his career choices were limited by a degenerative eye disease. He eventually lost his sight, but was nonetheless filled with gratitude for God's unfailing love.

One Sunday that year, Henry listened as his pastor quoted 2 Cor. 8:9: "You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich."

Henry wrote a song in response to that verse. He said, "I remember, as I heard it, being extremely thankful." And now, because a man chose to be thankful for his life rather than bitter for his loss, we can lift our voices in worship and sing, "Now, let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us. Give thanks."

The Apostle Paul urges us, "In everything give thanks."

Our lives may not be perfect....storms of adversity do come....for ALL of us. But still we have the choice to give God thanks. Will you join me in trying to always give God thanks? Let me tell you, there is strength in that kind of living!


Musings from the Back Porch #157


Musings from the Back Porch #156

Two ladies were visiting together at lunch when the topic of conversation turned to a mutual acquaintance. One woman said to the other, "It's a personal policy of mine never to say anything about someone unless it's good." She paused for a moment and then said, "And girl, this is gooood!"

Let's get something straight. One of the greatest weapons we humans have at our disposal is our "tongue." With our tongue we can speak "life" or "death." With our tongue we can build someone up or tear someone down. Nothing is more damaging and destructive than gossip and rumor. The following illustration proves it.

One of the most enduring symbols of New York City is the Brooklyn Bridge. This great structure was completed in 1883 to facilitate foot traffic and horse-drawn wagons or buggies. On May 30th, just one week after the bridge opened, a rumor began to circulate that the bridge was in imminent danger of collapsing.

This rumor tragically triggered a large stampede off the bridge and 12 people were trampled to death. Today the Brooklyn Bridge still stands after more than a century of heavy traffic, serving as an ongoing reminder that rumors can literally destroy lives.

God abhors gossiping and rumor- mongering. Both are abominations to God and directly embedded in a sinful heart. Proverbs 17:20 says, "One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper; one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble."

James 1:26 warns, "Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless."

Harsh words? Yes! But God wants us to know how seriously He takes the sinful use of our tongue. Each of us has the power with our words to encourage, lift up, and support other people. And believe me, there are many today who need just that.

Let's use our mouths and our words to give glory to God!

Who is with me?