Our Response to God's Love

I recently read an article about a woman I’m going to call Natalie. She had spent ten years in the adult film industry, making $30,000 per month! She owned a $10,000,000 mansion in Malibu and enjoyed every comfort life could afford. But her life was far from perfect. She was in an abusive relationship and felt like things were getting out of control. One Easter, she ended up in a church and heard that there was a God who loved her more than she could imagine. She went forward during the altar call, weeping and giving her life over to this God. From that moment, her life began to change. She spent hours reading her Bible, learning more about the character of this God who loved her. Finally, one day, she decided that she couldn’t continue the life she was leading, and quit the industry. Today, she’s a full-time paralegal, a Christian counselor, and a worship pastor at her church. She has dedicated her life to serving God and introducing others to the One who loves them unconditionally.

When we think about salvation, we sometimes forget the price that was paid on our behalf and what our response should be to the love shown us by Christ. But the reality is, God paid an unfathomable price - the life of His Son - in order for us to be saved. As a response, we get to live a new life of righteousness. The Apostle Peter once wrote, “Christ also suffered for us, . . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:21, 24). As the old song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face / And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace.” The more we think about the love of Christ, the more unattractive the world around us will appear. Before we know it, God will completely change the trajectory of our lives, just as He did for Natalie.I recently read an article about a woman I’m going to call Natalie. She had spent ten years in the adult film industry, making $30,000 per month! She owned a $10,000,000 mansion in Malibu and enjoyed every comfort life could afford. But her life was far from perfect. She was in an abusive relationship and felt like things were getting out of control. One Easter, she ended up in a church and heard that there was a God who loved her more than she could imagine. She went forward during the altar call, weeping and giving her life over to this God. From that moment, her life began to change. She spent hours reading her Bible, learning more about the character of this God who loved her. Finally, one day, she decided that she couldn’t continue the life she was leading, and quit the industry. Today, she’s a full-time paralegal, a Christian counselor, and a worship pastor at her church. She has dedicated her life to serving God and introducing others to the One who loves them unconditionally.

When we think about salvation, we sometimes forget the price that was paid on our behalf and what our response should be to the love shown us by Christ. But the reality is, God paid an unfathomable price - the life of His Son - in order for us to be saved. As a response, we get to live a new life of righteousness. The Apostle Peter once wrote, “Christ also suffered for us, . . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:21, 24). As the old song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face / And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace.” The more we think about the love of Christ, the more unattractive the world around us will appear. Before we know it, God will completely change the trajectory of our lives, just as He did for Natalie.

God's Laundry

This past weekend we were able to drive down to Lakeland, Florida, for Sun ’n Fun International Fly-in. There were tons of airplanes there, lots of airshow performers, and plenty of greasy carnival food. I was helping out with the Adventist World Aviation booth a little bit as well as preaching at the Lakeland church on Sabbath, so it wasn’t all vacation, but we certainly enjoyed our time down there. We were camping, which meant that we didn’t have any electricity and the closest bathroom was a little blue portable toilet. At least there was a shower house with actual hot water, though, so we couldn’t complain. Getting back home, however, is something I don’t necessarily enjoy because it means catching up on everything that has been accumulating while we were gone - including laundry. I saw a meme recently that totally described the laundry process in our home. It said, “Washing - 30 minutes. Drying - 60 minutes. Putting Away - 7-10 Business Days.” Since we did 3 loads of laundry today and then just dumped the clothes into the pile already needing folded and put away from the batch of laundry we did before we left, that seems about accurate.

After David’s affair with Bathsheba, he prayed a beautiful prayer to God, asking for forgiveness and cleansing. You can find this prayer in Psalm 51. Near the beginning he made this request: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2). This is a prayer God longs to hear and loves to answer. He enjoys nothing more than washing our sins away and cleansing our hearts. The wonderful thing about the answer to this prayer is that it takes God a lot less time to clean us than it does for us to finish a load of laundry. Yes, it may take some time for him to recreate our hearts so that we will have the desires that He has, but He will wash away our sins in an instant. I’ll be thanking Him for his cleansing while I go finish folding that laundry…

Look Foolish!

As you probably know, Monday was April 1st. If you didn’t remember that it was April Fool’s Day, then you were most likely reminded of that fact by the end of it. I typically try to avoid reading a whole lot on email or social media because I know that a lot of it isn’t true and I really don’t like looking like a fool. A couple of years ago, however, a BMW dealership in New Zealand posted an ad entitled "April Fool's Day special" on the front page of the newspaper saying that they had a brand new car waiting for the first person to bring that add into the dealership on April 1st. The directions included bringing their old car in as a trade and asking for an employee named Tom. Most people thought it was a joke and wanted to avoid looking foolish, but Tianna Marsh decided that the chance of trading her old Nissan in for a brand new BMW was worth looking a little foolish over. She showed up with her car, the ad, and a request to see Tom at 5:30 on the morning of April 1, 2015, and was awarded a brand new car worth $37,000 with a license plate which read NOF00L.

You know, the Bible talks a lot about fools. Solomon especially gives quite a few descriptions of how fools act in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. They include things like committing adultery, making fun of guilt, being reckless, slandering others, despising wisdom and discipline, and despising a parent’s discipline. Yet how many of these things are tolerated or even celebrated in our culture today? In fact, it’s considered foolishness not to do those things and to search for God and have a relationship with Him. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, said, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Even though some who claim to be wise think that God and religion are simply a crutch for weak minds, God has chosen that those “foolish” things would put the worldly wise to shame. Following Christ may be considered foolish by some, but, just like Tianna discovered, sometimes those who look foolish are really the ones who are wise.

Admit Your Flaws!

I sometimes envy the villains in stories or movies. I know, that probably makes me sound like some sort of psychopath, but hear me out. The hero, or protagonist, of a story is usually one of the weakest characters. We watch them struggle, nearly give up, deal with their own flaws and insecurities, rely on the help, wisdom, and strength of others, before finally barely achieving their goal by the end. The villain, on the other hand, is usually calm, cool, collected, and calculating. He or she intimidates the hero with their unflinching bearing, can run forever at a steady pace without breaking a sweat, and never seems to have any kind of weakness. That’s the kind of person I would like to be - perfect in every way, not swayed by emotions or crippled by failure. Ok, maybe I am a psychopath. But either way, most people don’t truly respect or look up to individuals like that. According to an article in Money Magazine, research has shown that people respect others more who have failed and are willing to admit their flaws and mistakes. In other words, we value and appreciate authentic humility.

Part of being human is to make mistakes. We all have weaknesses and flaws. Sometimes when we make a mistake, either physically or spiritually, we want to throw the towel in and give up. We expect to be like the villain in a story, not the hero. According to the wisest man who ever lived, we will all fail and fall down. It’s what we do about it that makes the difference. “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16). As humans, we’re going to make mistakes. We are going to be flawed. But don’t let that discourage you. When you’re on the ground, look up and reach out your hand, because God is there, ready to stand you back on your feet. Then turn around and help the person next to you by letting them know that you fall too, because remember, people respect you more if you’re willing to admit your mistakes.

Free Tickets

Chelsea and I made a quick trip to Asheville, North Carolina, this week to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. One of the places that people told us to visit while we were there was the Biltmore Estate. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to get tickets to visit the house and grounds and we weren't sure that we would be able to make it work this trip. Yesterday morning, however, we decided to drive into the estate to see how far we could get before we had to purchase a ticket. The answer is one mile. Even though it's another two miles to the house, that's where the ticket center is and there is no way to get further in without paying the entrance fee. We went into the ticket / visitor center and watched a short film about the Vanderbilts and the Biltmore Estate. As we were coming out of the little theater area, a man was standing there holding two tickets in his hand. As a couple of people passed him by he made the comment that you couldn't give these things away. Then, spying us, he came over and asked if we were buying tickets. Chelsea told him that we were thinking about it. He then informed us that he was a season pass holder and he had these two free tickets that would be expiring in two days that he couldn't use and was wondering if we would like to have them. Of course I said yes, and before we even realized what was happening, he handed me the tickets and disappeared. We reserved our entrance time to go through the mansion and ended up spending the rest of the day enjoying the beautiful Biltmore Estate.

As we walked around the grounds and toured the extravagant home, I couldn't help but feel a little out of place. I looked at the people around me, realizing that most of them had paid full price to enter, and felt a little like I didn't quite belong there. We had paid absolutely nothing, yet we were enjoying this beautiful place along with everyone else. And then it hit me. There's another place, more beautiful than the Biltmore Estate or anywhere else on earth for that matter. It's a place we want to go, yet none of us could ever afford the entrance ticket. Jesus is here, though, standing in our path, trying to give away free tickets. Like those people in front of Chelsea and me, most are simply passing Him by, thinking that it must be too good to be true. When we get there, we may feel a little out of place, realizing that we paid absolutely nothing, yet we're enjoying this place along with everyone else. But then we will suddenly realize that everyone around us has the same story. Everyone around us will be there because Jesus gave them a free ticket. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Won't you accept His gift today?

Our Pale Blue Dot

On Valentine's Day, 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned around and took one last picture of earth before continuing its journey into interstellar space. Carl Sagan, one of the imaging team at NASA and the one responsible for the idea to turn the camera around towards earth, wrote this several years later about the resulting photograph.

      Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. . . .
      It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
~ Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

What boggles my mind is that "God so loved the world (this world; this tiny, pale blue dot) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). What an incredible God we serve. He sees our frailty, our immaturity, our conceit, and loves us anyway. And someday, the Holy City, New Jerusalem, will settle on this little pale blue dot and God Himself will dwell here with us. What a God we serve!

In Love With Love

Chelsea and I were watching something the other day where this guy decides he wants to take a woman he had recently met to the fair. They were both in their upper fifties and he had written a beautiful note saying that he wanted to squire her (this was set in the early 1900's). The woman was extremely excited and even bought a new dress for the occasion. When she arrived to the fair, the man met her and made the comment that he "loved to be in love." The woman was in a dreamy paradise all day long, but as the viewers, we were able to see things she was not. When he would go to get her a drink or leave her for a moment to check on something, he would be flirting with any other woman he happened to meet as well. In the end, the woman discovered that he wasn't really in love with her - he was simply in love with love.

With Valentine's Day coming up tomorrow, I'd like to ask: Who, or what, are you in love with? Are you in love with the idea of love? Or are you truly in love with a person? And better yet, where does your love come from? In the Bible, the apostle John said this, "We love each other because he loved us first" (1 John 4:19, NLT). Because of God's love for us, we respond with love for Him and for each other. Love is a beautiful thing, but it's only a channel between people. The idea of love is nothing if it's not active between two people. So don't fall in love with love - fall in love with God and the person He has placed in your life.

Too Many Gifts

The bustle and excitement of the camp created a happy, incessant hum as the young man drew the canvas tent flap aside and squinted into the morning sun. It seemed only a few days ago that Moses, their leader, had gathered everyone together and announced plans to build a tabernacle, a tent that God Himself would live in. Moses had encouraged all the people, young and old, to give generously and cheerfully. Eliab had given a few pieces of gold himself! But now, Moses was again gathering everyone together in the center of camp where the tabernacle was going to be built. Hurrying between the tents, he noticed how happy everyone was. Not too long ago there had been a terrible ordeal when Aaron had made the golden calf. Families were divided and many lost their lives. But since the announcement about the tabernacle, a different spirit had come over everyone!

Arriving in the center of camp, Eliab noticed Moses and Aaron, standing near the mountain of treasure that had been built over the last few days. They both had huge smiles on their faces. Once a crowd had gathered, Moses raised his arm, silencing the people. He then made this shocking statement, “Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary" (Exodus 36:6). "We have too much material! Please stop giving!" A cheer erupted all around Eliab and everyone scattered throughout the camp to spread the news. They had more than enough for the tabernacle! It's a wonder, thought Eliab, how much is given when it's given cheerfully. I wonder if God multiplied the things we gave? No, that's a silly thought. He shook his head, laughed, and ran to tell his best friend the wonderful news.

Equipped to Serve

I love learning more about myself and those around me through personality assessments. As I'm sure you know, there are quite a few different personality typing systems out there. There is, of course, the Zodiac Sign system, which tries to classify you based on the time of year that you're born (I'm a Taurus, which means I'm smart, ambitious, and trustworthy). The Myers-Briggs is probably one of the best known personality typing system out there. It takes into account four different aspects of personality, coming up with sixteen distinct personality types. I'm an Advocate, or INFJ, meaning I'm introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. Check out 16 Personalities for more information and to take an assessment for yourself. Another very popular system is the Enneagram. I have learned more about this one more recently and discovered that I am a Type 4, The Romantic. Apparently I'm creative, sensitive, and moody, and motivated by a need to be unique and understood. To find out which type you are, check out Explore Your Type.

The more I learn about personalities and how unique God has made each one of us, the more I marvel at how we all work together by carrying out distinct roles. Paul used the analogy of a body as he tried to describe the church. To the church in Corinth he said, "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12:20). We are each unique, yet we each have a specific role God has equipped us to fill. We should look at our various personalities as the tool belt that God has given us and find ways to serve Him the way that He designed. How has God specifically equipped you to serve Him and the world around you?

Communication Problems

A couple of years ago, shortly after getting my pilots' license, I started renting a Piper Cherokee 140. Unfortunately it had old radio equipment that had its quirks. One of the first trips I made in the plane was a 30-minute flight to pick up some books from one of my friends who was giving them away. I made periodic radio calls as I was taking off, in flight, and landing. No one responded to any of my calls, which was not completely unusual, and I just assumed that there must have been no aircraft around. Come to find out, there was a little switch on the intercom box which was in the wrong position, meaning I was not broadcasting my voice on the radio frequency. No one responded to my radio calls because nobody heard them. Another time, months later, Chelsea and I were flying around sunset, enjoying the beautiful evening. Again, no one responded to my radio calls and this time, as we were coming into the traffic pattern for a landing, I saw another aircraft headed straight for ours already in the pattern. I turned the plane to get out of the way and made a very negative comment to Chelsea about pilots who don't communicate their location. After landing, the pilot of the other plane walked up to me and informed me that my radio mic had been stuck on, meaning that everyone in the air heard everything Chelsea and I said to each other on our entire flight. We also had been hogging the frequency, meaning that no one else could say anything on the radio.

Thankfully, shortly after that, the Cherokee had new radios installed and we never had any problems after that. But thinking about those two experiences in that airplane makes me think of how I feel sometimes when I try to talk to God. It sometimes feels like I'm praying into thin air and He doesn't respond. But could it be that, just like the Pharisee Jesus talked about in Luke 18, sometimes I'm praying with myself, the switch on my soul's intercom in the wrong position? Or maybe I'm so busy talking, hogging the frequency, that I don't even give God time to respond! God promises us, "Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you" (Jeremiah 29:12). He hears and answers your prayers. Just make sure you give Him the opportunity to respond.

Why Were You Created?

Why were you created? It's a simple enough question, but do you know the answer? Some will say that we were created to do missions and evangelism, others will say that we were created to show love. Still others may say it's to relieve the suffering we see around us. Each of these are wonderful reasons, but they don't adequately answer the question. John Piper says this in his book Let the Nations be Glad, "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”

As we think of the heavenly beings, we realize that they, also, were created to worship. There's a beautiful picture that John describes seeing. "The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!'" But not only them! The passage goes on: "Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 'You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created'”(Revelation 4:8-11). Those who are already in heaven, such as the four living creatures, exist to worship their creator. In addition, the twenty-four elders, humans who were raised with Jesus and who are now in heaven, also continually worship Jesus. If our ultimate purpose is to worship God, don't you think we should start fulfilling it here and now? How can you make worship the foundation of all you do?

Walk With Integrity

One of my goals in 2019 is to make sure my life is consistent with my core values. Last summer I completed a class for my graduate degree on time and life management for pastors. One of the assignments for that class was to spend time alone and in prayer writing a personal constitution, starting with twenty to thirty core values. I ended up with thirty, which is surprising to me and anyone else who knows how short and to the point I am. These values cover things from doing all things to the glory of God to delegation. One that I'm especially trying to focus on in this new year is value number nine: Embrace humility (Proverbs 27:2). Silence is golden. As the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Don’t defend yourself. Don’t think you are better than others. Remain teachable.

In the book of Proverbs, the wisest man to ever live wrote this: "He who walks with integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will become known" (Proverbs 10:9). The word integrity has its origin in the French and Latin and simply means to be intact. It has developed a meaning of being upright and moral; but in its simplest form, integrity means cohesive and unified. It basically means that a person with integrity lives a life that is in agreement with the core values that person professes to believe. This makes the person intact, or whole. What are your core values? If you don't have any, I would suggest finding a quiet spot where you can jot some down. Then live a life that exemplifies them because when you walk with integrity, you walk securely.

My Resolution

Happy New Year! It's hard to believe that 2018 is now just a memory and we are already two days into 2019. We're probably far enough into the new year that you've already failed at some of your resolutions. Which, talking about resolutions, when did that become a thing? According to History.com, the Babylonians started it somewhere around 4,000 years ago. Their new year, which began when they planted their crops in March, was a time of celebration, reaffirming their loyalty to their king and promising the gods that they would repay their debts and return any objects they borrowed. The Romans picked up the tradition when Julias Caesar created the calendar we now have around 46 BC, and January 1 became a time to offer sacrifices to their god Janus and promise good behavior for the coming year. Christians picked up the practice of welcoming the new year with a look back at the mistakes of the previous year and resolving to do and be better in the future.

When I think about resolutions, my mind goes to several passages of scripture where people resolved to do things. I think of Daniel purposing in his heart not to defile himself, or Paul deciding to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. I remember Joseph, who wouldn't sin against God by taking Potiphar's wife for himself, or Jesus Himself who said, "Not my will, but Thine be done." But the one that seems most applicable to me right now is found in Paul's epistle to the Philippians: "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13, 14). May this be our one resolution as we move into 2019. Let's forget those things which are behind, reach toward those things which are ahead, and press ever onward toward the prize.

The Reason

It's one of those phrases that makes it onto cards, ornaments, Facebook posts, and a whole array of other Christmas marketing. I've seen it a hundred times and don't really care to see it again. But here I go, reminding you of the phrase: Jesus is the reason for the season. I'm sorry - I know you're probably just as tired of the mantra as I am. Yet, I wonder, when was the last time you actually thought about it? In the midst of all the tinsel and lights, the picturesque snow villages and manger scenes, have you taken a moment to realize what all this is for? Jesus came - giving up everything He held dear, possibly forever - for what? A life where He was hated, despised, and ultimately nailed to a cross? Why would He do such a thing? To quote an old song written by Dottie Rambo, "For what earthly reason would the Heavenly Father send down His Son / To suffer rejection and pay for crimes He had not done? / For what earthly reason would the Father let Him hang on a tree?" The answer finally comes: "I wept with the answer, that one earthly reason was me."

Next time you see the phrase, "Jesus is the reason for the season," instead of rolling your eyes, pause a moment and think about what it means. Two thousand years ago, a man by the name of Joseph had just found out that his betrothed was pregnant with a baby who was not his son. As he was preparing to divorce her quietly, an angel appeared to him, telling him that the child was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. He went on, "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). What an amazing sacrifice Christ made - for you! Won't you thank Him this Christmas?

Harnessing Difficulties

Last week we were on a cruise in the Bahamas with my dad. While sitting on the beach in Nassau, he spied a couple catamaran sailboats that people were using to go out into the ocean a little ways. He talked with one of the guys and was able to work out a deal for us to take one out for an hour. The problem is, none of us had ever operated a sailboat before. But no worries, the guy gave us some quick instructions and we were off - at least, off the land. We were, however, drifting directly into the swimming area. After nearly running over someone, the sail began to fill with the wind push us out to open water! Over the next sixty minutes, we learned how to tighten and loosen the sail so that the wind would propel us any way we wanted to go - even into the wind! It boggles my mind, but there's something magical about harnessing this powerful force of nature and allowing it to propel you.

Often, we look at wind as a negative thing. We think of the winds of strife and imagine our lives battered and tossed around by them. However, as we were sailing, I saw that the wind can be harnessed and used for good, even when it was pointing in a direction we didn't want to go. The Apostle Paul was sitting in a prison cell, writing a letter to the believers in Philippi. Many people would have been discouraged and disheartened to be in his situation, yet he confidently proclaimed that he was content in all circumstances, finishing his statement with, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Through Christ, we can harness the difficulties that come our way and allow them to propel us forward. What an incredible God we serve!

A New Name

How important is a person's name? I tend to think they are quite important. In fact, have you ever found out someone's name and then visualized what they look and act like even before you met them? Apparently parents tend to like names that go along with their own personalities and since children tend to have personalities similar to those of their parents, the names match their personalities as well. And of course, based on the name, we can usually have a pretty good idea of how old the person is, since different names are popular different years. I just read a list of the top ten boys and girls names for 2018 and here are the results. The top ten boys names were: Jackson, Liam, Noah, Aiden, Caden, Grayson, Lucas, Mason, Oliver, and Elijah. The top ten girls names were: Sophia, Olivia, Emma, Ava, Isabella, Aria, Riley, Amelia, Mia, and Layla.

In the Bible, names are really important. In fact, when an angel appeared to a woman and told her that she would have a child, the angel usually named the baby. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; and later, to her fiancé, Joseph; he told them to call their baby Jesus; because He would save His people from their sins. Of all the names on earth, I think the name of Jesus is the most precious of them all. But as we accept the gift of salvation Jesus came to offer, our names no longer apply to us the way they once did. Our characters and personalities begin to change to match His glorious character and personality. And when we finally get to heaven, we will have a new name, describing who we truly are in Christ. Jesus describes it this way: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). I want to know what my new name is, don't you?

God Hears

Chelsea and I are currently in California, taking a few days of vacation surrounding Thanksgiving. We spent a couple of days in northern California, visiting my grandparents, and we are now in the Napa Valley area, visiting Chelsea's family. Most of our visit here has been quite smokey. There has been a constant haze with limited visibility, and our lungs burn after awhile due to the constant irritation caused by the smoke. Today it started raining, which has helped alleviate the smoke smell, but it has been a constant reminder that, just a few miles away, many people have lost everything due to the Camp Fire. There have been 18,421 structures burned, including over 13,500 homes. There have also been 81 confirmed deaths so far. With Thanksgiving approaching, it seems that those who have lost everything have nothing to be thankful for.

Hannah was the first wife of Elkanah, a Levite who was no longer needed at the tabernacle due to corruption and politics surrounding the worship services. She discovered that she could not have children, however, which caused Elkanah to marry another woman, so he could carry on his family name. Being barren was a fate worse than death, and Hannah cried out to the Lord, asking Him to give her a son. He finally did, and as she held the baby Samuel in her arms, she exclaimed, "For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him" (1 Samuel 1:27). In her darkest days, she was reminded that God is a God who hears and answers prayer. I'm not sure what you're going through or how dark your days have gotten, but don't give up! God hears and answers your prayers, and that's something to be thankful for.

Go to Search

Pastor D. J. Soto was a mega-church pastor in Pennsylvania. He had helped pioneer what had now become a multi-site Assembly of God church. This was his comfort zone, his safe place. But he felt like God was calling him and his family into a unique church planting ministry. They moved into a thirty-foot travel trailer and began driving. Suddenly, an idea came to D. J. Why not start preaching online in virtual reality? Out of this idea was born the VR Church. It is the first virtual reality church and each week people put on their virtual reality headsets from wherever they are and worship God together. It provides a sense of community and a way for people to get to know God together with people they would never meet in real life. It also allows people who would not feel comfortable walking into a regular church an opportunity to worship within their comfort zone.

When I saw something about this church in the news this morning, it immediately fascinated me. As a church, we should be the first ones to take advantage of new ways to share Jesus with people. Christ Himself gave us the example, not only in His own life but also in His teachings. He once told a story about a shepherd who had lost one of his sheep. “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?" (Luke 15:4). He didn't expect the sheep to find its way back to the fold. He went to where the sheep was and brought it home. As Christians, we should be doing the same. Find ways to connect with people who wouldn't have a chance of finding their way to Christ on their own. You'll be surprised at who you may find.

Looking and Trembling

In our prayer meeting in Pulaski, we are reading through the book Patriarch’s and Prophets by Ellen White. Yesterday we were talking about the Israelites, their Exodus from Egypt and crossing of the Red Sea. Psalm 77 was referenced in the chapter, where Asaph writes a thrilling, poetic account of the occurrences that day. Here it is in the New Living Translation: “When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled! The sea quaked to its very depths. The clouds poured down rain; the thunder rumbled in the sky. Your arrows of lightning flashed. Your thunder roared from the whirlwind; the lightning lit up the world! The earth trembled and shook. Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there! You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds” (Psalm 77:16-20, NLT).

Isn't that a powerful account? Think of how amazing it would have been to stand there as the waters saw God and trembled. Imagine the arrows of lightning as they flashed and the thunder rumbling in the sky. And yet, those who were there soon forgot the amazing things God had done for them. It seems that every time some new trouble showed up, they blamed Moses and wanted to go back to Egypt. Just a few days after the Red Sea had split for them to walk through, they again were complaining; this time, because they were out of food. "And the children of Israel said to them, 'Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'” (Exodus 16:3). We can wonder at their unbelief, but how many times do we do the same thing? God shows us that He is powerful and that He can lead us and yet we doubt His love and goodness. Oh let us remember the working of God even when things don't seem to be going well, because the problem may very well be looking at God and trembling.

Priceless Advice

Have you ever had someone give you advice that you use on a regular basis? Maybe it was something that you've never heard anyone else share, yet it's something that you couldn't imagine living without. I can think of a couple examples. I still remember when my dad, as I was learning to drive, taught me that you turn on your blinker around the same time you put your foot on the brake before a turn. Even though I have never heard anyone else teach that, there is hardly a time that my foot touches the brake that my hand doesn't automatically turn on my blinker. Another example has to do with aviation. My flight instructor gave me a rule of thumb for knowing when to start my descent into an airport. I've read all kinds of complicated formulas and equations online that give this answer, but my instructor told me to start descending three miles out for each thousand feet I need to descend. He said it works in nearly every situation with nearly every kind of aircraft. And so far, it has. I couldn't imagine flying without knowing this even though I've never heard anyone else teach it.

When Jesus was on earth, He was teaching a lot of things that no one else was teaching. In fact, the people were tired of listening to the rabbis and religious teachers of His day; but when Jesus began His ministry, they were constantly following Him. After Jesus finished His Sermon on the Mount, the Bible says, "And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:28, 29). Jesus is still giving priceless advice with authority today. Read the Bible and I guarantee you'll find something in there that no one else is teaching that will change your life if you let it.