4 Churches: Which one do you attend?

Dreams arouse the motivation to change. Dreams scare the sweat out of people. Dreams inspire courage to do what is right. Dreams lead people to make foolish decisions. Dreams should often be forgotten. Dreams can even be the voice of God describing truth in our subconscious.

I had a dream. In this dream, I visited four churches. All four of these churches were located in the United States of America, but each were different. Different not only in physical appearance, but different in purpose.

In the first church, I could feel the hard surface of the wooden pew beneath my body. The pews reminded me of the church I had grown up in. It appeared that the worship service was already underway, because the pastor was preaching up on the stage. As I listened intently to the sermon, it became clear that the preacher was angry at something or someone. Even though the pastor was speaking many different words, the only words I could understand was “I hate you” and “I hate the world” and “I hate sinners” and these words were all dripping with the venom of a poisonous viper.

As the worship service came to a close, the song leader stepped up to the piano and led the congregation in the song, “They will know that we are Christians by our love,” but as I listened to the people around me singing, I only heard these words: “They will know that we are Christians by what we stand against!” I tried to clean out my ears, but no matter what, this is the only phrase I could hear.

Finally, the people were dismissed and as I stood up to walk out, I could feel the judgmental stares of the men and women around me. They could see my hidden sins and they were glaring into my soul with thoughts of “How could you?” and “I would never do something like that!” and “A good Christian would never even think about doing that!” and the worst one: “God is going to send you to hell, buddy!” An indescribable darkness surrounded me at that moment. I couldn’t find the exit fast enough. I needed to get out of this place. They might have felt like they were one happy family, but I felt like an orphan being thrown into the garbage.

I walked outside the church facility and noticed that there was a large clear bubble surrounding the building. Whenever someone walked away from the building and into the bubble, they would burst through it and receive a smaller bubble that would surround them as they would leave the property. They would be safe from the sinners in this bubble.

Standing in the parking lot of this church, I could feel a gentle breeze coming from the east. This wind whispered something to me: “This church knows the truth, but has forgotten how to love. Do not be like this church.”

I woke up from this dream sweating. For me, it was a night mare. I had lived this feeling too many times in actual churches from my past. I laid in bed staring into the darkness, not wanting to fall back asleep too quickly. Hoping that the longer time I spend away from my subconscious, the more likely I would avoid that dream sequence again. Immediately, when I drifted off again, I found myself in a large auditorium with nice cushioned individualized seats. The people around me were singing and lifting their hands and seemed to praise God, but floating above the raised hands of the people were phrases that shocked me: “I come for an hour to feel good about myself” and “God must be happy with my efforts” and “I wonder what I am going to have for lunch” and “I hope I meet a beautiful women here” and even “Games on this afternoon, get-together with friends tonight, this is a great day!” Hundreds of people were singing, but their minds were on autopilot. They were not trying to connect with the God of the universe. They were in the most ironic twist, worshiping themselves as they sang. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so-called Christians loving themselves in the sound of the beat. But there was no contrite hearts, no feeling vulnerable before a Holy God. This worship service was for their pleasure, and they were enjoying it.

After the singing, a man dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt stepped up on stage and gave an uplifting, positive talk. In fact, I felt like I was listening to a motivational speaker trying to convince the crowd to buy into his 8-step program so that they could become a success, just like he is now a success. But just as I was starting to feel great about myself, I looked down at my feet, and the floor opened up. At first, I fought against looking down, for I knew that I would be looking into hell. But something in me forced me to gaze into the fire beneath me. I could see someone with no face shouting up at the speaker saying these words, “Tell them about sin! Tell them about hell! Let them know that it is God who transforms their hearts! Help them understand that they need a savior!” I could hear these words, but the speaker could not. I could then look into the brain of the speaker and he was filled with happiness whenever people would laugh at his jokes and when the crowd would shed a tear for a touching story.

How could something that feels so good be so wrong? I thought to myself. As the speaker closed his talk in prayer, I didn’t bow my head, but instead my eyes were focused on a scoreboard that was lowered out of the rafters and hovered right above the speaker. God was keeping score. On the scoreboard it gave the number of days since the speaker had mentioned the problem of sin, the reality of hell and the depravity of the human soul. The scoreboard read, 2,378 days. This church had formed 2,378 days ago with a small group of people who wanted to focus on God’s love and encourage people, instead of focusing on anything negative that might turn people away. And they were growing. Who could argue against such growth? If it grows, then it must be God, right? Not always.

After the service, I walked to their lobby and saw dozens of people sipping on their coffee, all smiling, and conversing with each other. It seemed to be such a great place to hang out until I felt that breeze again come into the building when someone opened up the door. This time the wind came from the west, and it whispered a second warning to me: “This church is tolerant of sin and avoids presenting the complete gospel. They have forgotten that Jesus came to die on the cross to save sinners. They believe it is best to show a love that really isn’t a love at all, because they are sending people to an eternity without God by ignoring the problem of sin. Do not be like this church.”

I did not wake up from this dream, but disappeared from the second church and then reappeared in the third church, or at least that is what it felt like. There was something unsettling about this place, more so than the first two churches. Once again, I was sitting in a pew, this time with cushioned padding and the worship service was just starting. I was astonished as I listened to someone give an announcement about an event they were having at the church. This event would be a celebration of the very thing God condemned in His Word. As I looked around the sanctuary, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, for everyone in attendance had a chest blowing up with pride. They felt great about being inclusive of all types of lifestyles, and they paraded it for the world to witness. I sat there dumb-founded that this church promoted what was clearly spelled out in God’s Word as sin.

The pastor wore a long, black robe. When it was his time to speak, he decided to spend his 18 minutes lecturing about how “love wins” and that we all must accept every lifestyle no matter what because that is exactly what God would do for us. At first, I was captivated by the idea that everyone can do whatever he or she wants and we should just accept it and even lift up the idea that if it makes them happy, then it must be good. But my soul just couldn’t accept this teaching. I knew the truth, and if everyone is right and there is no wrong, then there is nothing but chaos. And worse yet, if what the Bible says is a sin and yet it really isn’t a sin because we interpret it differently than we used to, then what is the point of following the Bible anyway?

As the congregation was reading the apostle’s creed in unison, I heard something else from their lips. It was eerie to watch their mouths open and speak these words: “My freedom to live how I want is more important than submitting to God. I desperately want to be loved by this world. I want people to praise my efforts and tell me that this is how the church should really be engaged in our society. I will not be convicted by the truth, but will listen to the pride of my heart and allow what God has called an abomination to be an act of worship here in my church.”

When the worship service ended, the people exited the sanctuary, and I was frightened to see demons suspended just a few feet above them. These evil spirits were patting them on the back, telling them, “You should be proud of yourself. You are enlightened. Those other churches are close-minded bigots. You are doing a great work. You will bring about a utopia!”

After the last person left the sanctuary, I could feel the breeze again come into the building. This time from the south. This wind whispered a third warning to me: “This is not My church. This place is a den of the devil. This is not a reflection of My love. For My love is holy and pure and I have standards in which I demand obedience. Their pride has puffed them up and their destruction is near. Do not be like this church.”

I woke up again. This time I was freezing. Not only did I lack covers, but I had fallen off the bed. This last church disturbed me to such an extent that I could not fall back asleep for about an hour. I laid there, tossing and turning, thinking about these churches and how the majority of churches today fit in one of these categories. As I started to drift back to sleep, my mind wondered what kind of church God wanted. What does a God-honoring church look like? I thought to myself as my consciousness turned into the subconscious.

In the fourth church, I could not tell if I was standing or sitting. I could not tell if I was in a traditional style church with a steeple or a modern auditorium. There were no pews or chairs. I couldn’t tell if the church served coffee or donuts. Everything about this church was blurry, except for one thing. There were two words standing up on the stage and they were of equal size and both words were speaking at the same time. As I looked upon the stage at these two words, there was a spotlight that came from the rafters that lit up the words with a radiant light. It was almost as if there were two kinds of light. One part of the light was physical, and there was another part of the light that allowed these two words to be seen outside the building from miles away.

These two words spoke with such passion and yet gentleness. The two words were bold and kind and revealed the complexity of God and applied faith to practical living. When I comprehended what those two words were, my heart filled with joy. I could sense that God was well pleased with the presence of these two words in His church. The first word was TRUTH. And the second was GRACE.

TRUTH was so clear and honest as it spoke. It called sin an abomination to God and told everyone to repent of their wickedness. But as TRUTH spoke, it pointed to the word GRACE and said, “Here is your hope! Here is your salvation!” GRACE then took over and agreed with TRUTH and told everyone the good news of God. The good news was that Jesus came to this earth to die for each sinner so that he or she can have full access to God. The good news is full of TRUTH and GRACE. You cannot have one without the other.

After looking upon the stage, I glanced around me and saw all kinds of people of all different kinds of color. I could see in their hearts as they looked to the stage. Some people were in a right relationship with God, while others were living in sin. Some of the sinners were listening to the TRUTH and GRACE in order to break free from the chains of their past mistakes. And there were other sinners who were offended at TRUTH and they convinced themselves that they didn’t need the church. It all looked messy, but there was a beauty in the mess.

I didn’t want this worship service to end, for I knew that I was experiencing the will of God for His church. But then all at once it ended abruptly. I could see every kind of weapon…bombs, guns, knives, chemicals…being used to destroy what was happening. Even though this should have been a disturbing sight, it brought a peace to me, because I knew that Jesus promised that His truth church would have trouble in this world.

Once again, I heard the gentle breeze on the back of my neck. This wind was from the north, and it had a new kind of warning about this kind of church: “TRUTH and GRACE are the foundation of My church. But few churches know how to balance TRUTH and GRACE. This church is under attack because it is My church. It is the true light of the world, and the evil one hates this and will do anything to destroy it. A time will come when My church will not be tolerated anymore. But do not lose heart, for I am with you always.” And I woke up with a warm feeling surrounding my entire body. I could sense the love of God around me.

The entire next day, the haunting reality of this dream followed my thoughts constantly. I knew in my heart that this was the problem with America. It wasn’t “Washington” or the “liberal media” or “Hollywood.” It was the American Church. Instead of being a light to clear the way, the Church has become confused as to what its purpose is on this planet. And because the Church is confused, the people are confused and no one wants to follow someone who is confused.

The day after the dream, I had hoped that I could just forget about those first three churches. “It was just a dream,” I would tell myself. But every time I would try to convince myself that it was just a dream, my soul shouted out the truth: “When the end is near, many people will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

Did God Watch the Presidential Debate?

abeThe other night I watched the presidential debate. I have watched many debates before, but only a few minutes into listening to these two “so called” leaders arguing back and forth, I felt something very different than at any other time in the past elections. I felt despair. Despair is the complete loss or absence of hope. Several times during the debate my mind drifted into a visualization of past presidents. I wondered what Abe Lincoln would be saying if he was standing on that honorable platform. I pictured our first president, georgeGeorge Washington, looking into the camera and inspiring the republic to unite in the pursuit of liberty. I longed for a day when a leader like this would arise and guide America with a renewed spirit of freedom.No matter how many times I heard the phrase “stronger together” or “make America great again”, I just couldn’t shake the despair. And the longer I watched, the worse this feeling became. I am invested in this country. I have voted in every single election since I was able to in 1996. It is still a great nation to live in, but there is something different, utterly scary, surfacing upon the horizon. It is a new age for our nation, and my fear is that it will not be kind to those who hold the ancient values of Lincoln and Washington.

My fear is not for myself. I have been given every opportunity to achieve the American dream that our forefathers spoke about. I grew up in a time when most of our forefather’s values were still held by the majority of Americans. But the despair enters my heart when I realize that I have children who will inherit our decisions. I have despair, not so much for me and my pursuit of the American dream, but for the crippled chaos we are placing our children in.

Towards the end of the debate, I could hear my five year old daughter crying upstairs in her room. She had awakened from a nightmare and was scared. I left the comfort of my couch and walked upstairs into her room and hugged her and told her that everything was okay. I knelt down beside her as her eyes were slowly opening and closing, fighting sleep, yet giving into the heaviness of her eyelids. I felt the need to sing to her as she was drifting back to sleep, knowing that a song can sooth the soul when there is turmoil. My mind raced through all the different possible songs I could sing, and a few seconds later I found myself singing softly: “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” As I sung about how God has the “itty bitty baby” in His hands, the peace of God overwhelmed my heart because God was speaking something profound through this song: God has always been in control and He will still be in control in the future.

As I walked back down the stairs after finishing the ninety year old American spiritual, my mind flashbacked to some of the worst times and places to live as a follower of God. I pictured the plight of the Hebrews, who, for four hundred years (ca. 1800-1400 B.C.), were cruelly enslaved by the Egyptians. My mind fast-forwarded ahead to the latter years of 700 B.C., when the Assyrians captured and led away many people, including the Jews, to become statueslaves. This evil empire was notorious for cutting off limbs, gouging out eyes, burning little boys and girls alive and even hanging the heads of victims from tree branches throughout all the cities they conquered as a testimony of their brutality (they were the modern day ISIS). Then, I envisioned what it would have been like in the A.D. 60s, when the Roman Emperor Nero fed Christians to wild animals and crucified them. Possibly worst of all, Nero impaled these Jesus followers on a pole, poured oil on them and lit them on fire so that he could walk through his garden at night. Wow…life was difficult for most people who have lived in our ancient past.

Then my heart was convicted by how corrupt the purest religion on the planet could become as I imagined how the Crusades (began in 1095) morphed into a blood-thirsty conquest for power and riches. Many of these Crusaders were found to have raped women and killed anyone in their path who might have possessed any personal treasure. After this, I felt a punch to the gut as I thought about how during the Spanish Inquisition (began in 1231), the Holy Catholic Church executed thousands of people who were seeking after God, but were branded as heretics because their beliefs didn’t match up with their man-made traditions.

All of these flashbacks were happening in the course of just a few seconds. It is a fascinating reality that the mind can think through a myriad of ideas within a split second. This was happening to me.

hitlerThen my mind shifted to the 1940s, when the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler sent millions of Jews to their death at concentration camps. Next, I saw the face of Maodictator1 Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, who killed over 45 million people in a little over four years in the late 1950s in the name of national progress. Finally, I could see the small country of Cambodia on a map, with the mugshot of the 1970s dictator Pol Pot, who was responsible for the death of almost one million people who were not valued in the eyes of the government. A few other recent dictators like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-un flashed through my mind, and I could feel the despair once again.

As I stopped at the bottom of our stairs, my inner spirit was shaken. I was gripped by the utter evil of so many leaders of history. Most countries, over the course of her existence, will experience the great tragedy of allowing a leader to rise up who will selfishly change the course of that nation. Because of this leader, the nation will spiral down into the mud of desolation and will never be the same. This thought made me thankful for the geographical grace that God has granted to me to live in a country that has been led by men and women who have honored God throughout the centuries by protecting the rights and the dignity of humanity.

As I laid my head down to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but ask this question to God: Is the end for our nation near? Is this part of Your ultimate plan to humble the great prideful giant that is called the United States of America? God did not give me an audible answer that night, but I felt His answer in my soul. And even though it was the answer I feared, I fell asleep quickly that night as my head hit the pillow. Why? Because I believe in the sovereignty of God. I believe that God has the world in His hands and I believe because of this, He has my family, and my church, and my entire existence in His hands. And He has your life in His hands too.

Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Do you passionately trust in the God who is always in control? Do you live out your faith in ways that honor God? As you pray, you teach yourself that God is the leader of your life. As you pray, you realize that you need to seek guidance from the One in heaven. No matter who is in control of our government, our hearts do not despair for long, because we believe that “in His hand are the depths of the earth” (Psalm 95:4).

The Old Man and his Horse

As we are turning the page from 2015 to 2016, I would like to share with you one of my favorite stories. This legend has a wonderful lesson about patient wisdom and not stating too quickly whether something is a curse or a blessing. Enjoy…

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Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. People offered fabulous prices for this horse, but the old man always refused. One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came out to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed. “We told you that someone would steal your horse. You could have sold him before he was stolen, but you refused, and now you are left with nothing.” The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know. The rest is judgment.” The people of the village laughed and thought he was crazy.

But after fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen, but had run into the forest and returned with a dozen wild horses. Once again, the people gathered at the man’s house and said, “You were right and we were wrong. This was not a curse but a blessing.” But the old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that a dozen horses returned with him. That is all we know. The rest is judgment. If you read only one page of a book, then how can you judge the entire book?”

Maybe the old man is right, they thought to themselves, but deep down they believed he was blessed because he had a son who could now train those wild horses easily and then sell them for a nice profit. The old man had his only son train those horses, but after a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both of his legs. Once again the village gathered and said, “This was a curse. Your son has broken his legs and you have no one to help you.” The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that my son broke his legs. That is all we know. The rest is judgment. If you read only one page of a book, then how can you judge the entire book?”

It so happened that a few weeks later the old man’s country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded because of his legs. Once again, the people gathered around him and said, “You were right. Your son’s accident was a blessing. Our sons are going to die, but you still have yours.” The old man said this: “No one really knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

As something happens to you this new year, don’t judge the event too quickly. Be patient. Be wise in how you respond. We do not know how God is working out His purpose in our life.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

The Most Important 5 Minutes of Your Child’s Day

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I have always found it fascinating that there are certain comments you hear from individuals that seem to implant within your mind. No matter how many other events or sayings are forgotten, there are triggers in your life which bring these thoughts to mind from time to time. One of these thoughts date back to over a decade ago. I was surrounded by thousands of other people in one of the largest churches in America, listening to a famous pastor of a mega-church speak about order in a man’s life. I don’t remember anything else from his forty-five minute talk except this phrase:

“When your children are young, if you don’t spend at least four nights a week putting your children to bed, you will negatively affect who they will become as an adult.”

Maybe this guy didn’t even realize he said this. Maybe it was a passing thought to fill his speaking time, but it resonated with me. My first thought was, “Where did he get his research? How did he come up with such a random number like four nights?” And then he qualified his statement by confessing to each of us how much he would travel when his children were young and he was convicted to stop that kind of schedule because he could see that it was having a detrimental effect on his young family.

This phrase has always stuck with me. For those of you who have to travel for a living, this is not written to bring guilt into your life. Certain jobs require an absence from the family at undesired times, like at bedtime. But for those of us who can be around at bedtime, and we choose to do something else, then we should reconsider just how precious this time is to young children.

As I started researching how important the last few minutes were in a child’s day, I was overwhelmed by the convincing evidence. Expert after expert stated how important the moment before bedtime was for a child. And what surprised me the most was the fact that the importance of “tucking your kid into bed” didn’t stop when they became a teenager. Laying down beside your teen in the dark in an unthreatening environment are the only times that some adolescents will share about their day and some of the things that are going on in their life.

Some of you are thinking right now, “I hate bedtime! My kid never wants to go to sleep. She fights it every night. You think it is the best time of the day, well I think it is the worst!” We had this issue with our third child. Whenever it was time to go get her nighty on and brush her teeth, she would start crying and would often need discipline in order to obey. There was one thing that would calm her down: singing to her. Let’s just say that I have been singing to her for almost two years now. She often can’t go to bed unless I sing to her for a few minutes. I know, I have created a little monster. But I am counting on the fact that she will someday get too old to want daddy to rock her and sing to her and when that time is over, that season of my life will be finished. And I will miss that.

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During the last two years, I have sung many different kinds of songs to her. But recently, within the last two weeks, I have discovered a song that seems to really soften her spirit. It is a simple song that I have always liked. I learned it when I was in elementary school at a church musical. It is called the “Cares Chorus.” Here are the words:

I cast all my cares upon You

I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet

And any time I don’t know what to do

I will cast all my cares upon You

The first time I started singing this song to my daughter, she started kissing me softly all over my face. The song was speaking to her little heart, and she was demonstrating this to me. Every night for the last couple weeks I have sung other songs and she quietly lays in my arms, but the moment I start singing that song, she reaches up and starts to kiss me in such a precious manner. What is so special about this song? Four lines. How could there be that much power in such a short song? And then it hit me: this song is what our prayer should be to God every night. She doesn’t even realize why this song is touching her soul, but I think I do. One of the most powerful things we can do as humans is give our cares of the day over to God and humbly sleep the rest He has planned for us.

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I now look forward to singing to her, especially this song, as it seems to have a special soothing power that brings rest to her soul. I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life. After I tuck her into bed, I go into another daughter’s bedroom and I hug her and kiss her goodnight and I lay by her and we talk for a few seconds. She is still young and her personality doesn’t demand as much attention as some of the other ones. After I tuck this one into bed, I move on to our oldest. Almost every night she asks me to lay beside her so we can talk. It doesn’t last long, usually only a couple minutes, but in those moments, we connect in a way that God intended for a father and daughter to interact. She shares some things that she wouldn’t normally share in the light of the day when everyone is around and there is constant chaos. I have grown to treasure these interactions with my young ladies. For one day they will say good-bye and I will walk into their rooms and sing a song and realize just how good those days were.

Never underestimate how valuable those last few moments of the day are for your child. You have the ability to soothe their soul, and in this stressful world of unrelenting chaos, it can become the most important five minutes of their day.

 

The Most Important Trial of the 20th Century

The Most Important Trial of the 20th Century

(for modern day Christians)

A few years ago as we were traveling through Tennessee, I convinced my wife Amy to allow me to drive a little off course to a little town called Dayton. I had been studying about a famous trial that had taken place over eighty years before, and I wanted to walk around this small town to see some of the history come alive.

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In 1859, Charles Darwin wrote Origin of Species. This book and the teachings in it shook the Christian world. By the turn of the century, Christians were scrambling to find out how evolution and religion fit together. Some Christian leaders tried their best to help evolutionary theories coincide with what the Bible taught. On the other hand, many Christian leaders simply spoke out against evolution and taught that faith was based on what the revealed Word of God said, not science. Many Christian leaders concluded that if science seems to contradict the Bible, then science must be wrong because the Bible is infallible.

The world came to a cross roads and it appeared that the two theories would not exist simultaneously. Darwinism was ready to take center stage. Darwinism was shouting to creationism: “Your act is over creationism.  You have lasted for centuries, but now it is my turn to shine.” Darwinism received its chance to shine in the summer of 1925.

Darwinism and creationism came to a climatic showdown in the form of one of the most publicized trials in United States history. The trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee from July 10-21 in the year 1925. Public school teacher John Scopes was accused of teaching evolution, which was illegal in the state of Tennessee. Scopes was defended by the ACLU’s Clarence Darrow, a master debater. William Jennings Bryan, a Populist Democrat and former Secretary of State to President Wilson, was the prosecuting attorney.

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As I walked into the courtroom on that hot July day a few years ago, I could picture the excitement surrounding the trial. I stood where the lawyers presented their closing arguments. I sat down where the jury would have been seated. In the emptiness of the courtroom, I could envision the crowd waving their fans to keep cool. A thought kept coming to mind: “It was possibly the trial of the century for Christian thought, and almost no Christians know anything about it today.”

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I walked around down town (which was only a few blocks), and I tried to have a few conversations with the local folk, but I was amazed at how little even they knew about the trial and all those involved. Maybe that is just the way it is with people. They forget history so quickly and the important lessons these events teach us.

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John Scopes, who was merely a substitute teacher and a pawn in the hand of the ACLU, lost the trial and was fined $100. But the creation-believing Christians received a major black eye from the trial. The press depicted Christians as those who were backward, ignorant and certainly not enlightened.

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As I was driving away from Dayton, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it represented to my faith. It saddened me that Christians were viewed in this manner. Not much has changed, I thought to myself.

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After I got home from our trip, I continued to research the trial and the aftermath of it. I came across this fascinating decision by Baptist Pastor William Bell Riley to try and take back every public school system in the United States only months after the Monkey Trial in Tennessee:

Every state in the union will be organized within twelve months to aid in a national campaign for a national law similar to the Tennessee anti-evolution law, Dr. W.B. Riley of Minneapolis, executive secretary of the World’s Christian Fundamentalist Association, declared on arrival here today (Logansport Pharos-Tribune, December 9, 1925, 9).

Riley was not successful in making Tennessee’s anti-evolution law nationally enforced, but his determination to fight against Darwinism no matter what the cost shows us that this man had deep convictions.

You might be thinking, Why would you want “creation” taught in public schools? Shouldn’t there be a separation of church and state? But you have to understand that everyone one and every organization has a religion. A religion is a belief system. Therefore, schools cannot be religion neutral. When the “God-based” belief system of the public schools was removed, a different religion took its place. This religion is secular humanism. The United States public school system has traded in the religion of Christianity for the religion of secularism (a disbelief of God and His purpose).

For several months, I was consumed with this trial. I bought and read several books written about the trial. I watched a couple movies based on the trial. I even started reading old newspaper clippings of the trial. I found out that the anti-evolution law in Tennessee was not repealed until 1967. Tennessee was still hanging onto a law that Christians held dear forty-two years after the Scope’s Monkey Trial. Should this teach us something about what public opinion really was back then? Could it be that the media painted a picture that was not entirely true? Could it be that the media has helped to popularize evolutionary theory more than by any other means? On February 17, 1939, The Hammond Times reported:

A bill to repeal Tennessee’s “Monkey Law” was stuffed into a pigeon hole to be forgotten today following its defeat in the state house of representatives. The law, which forbids the teaching of evolution in the schools and has been the subject of controversy for years, precipitated the famed Scopes Trial at Dayton Tennessee in 1925. The late Clarence Darrow unsuccessfully defended the young teacher as William Jennings Bryan acted as special prosecutor on the side of fundamentalism (The Hammond Times, February 17, 1939, 1).

Fourteen years after the trial, it was still clear that Tennessee’s state house of representatives knew that evolution was not simply a theory, but another religion that was not to be tolerated in their school system. This stubbornness to let go of the “Monkey Law” shows us that many Christians were still fighting hard in the state of Tennessee for the right to teach their belief system in school.

Much has changed in the last 90 years (1925 to 2015). It seems that so many of those in academia hold the power to make the public believe that evolution has won. Harvard’s evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr once said that “no educated person any longer questions the validity of the so-called theory of evolution, which we now know to be a simple fact.”

This is why Christians in the 1920s fought so hard to stop Darwinism. It was almost as if they were prophets. They could see the future before them if evolutionary theory won the day. What are the effects of Darwinism? Darwinism is a universal acid that “eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview” (Signs of Intelligence, Dembski, 34).

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Christians from yesteryear could not see what specific sins Darwinism would make acceptable in our culture, but they still sounded the trumpet of alarm, warning everyone of the destructive acid evolutionary theory brings to any civilization. Could it be that Darwinism is the foundation of some of today’s greatest sins? I realize that most of these sins have been around for millennia, but we must all ask if the belief in evolution heightened the impact of some of these sins in our culture today?

Racism (some humans have not evolved as much as others; just read Darwin’s writings).

Abortion (life is not sacred because no one is made in the image of God).

Neglect the poor (survival of the fittest teaches us that the poor should fend for themselves).

Homosexuality (marriage between a man and woman was not set up by God).

Situational ethics (the end justifies the means because there is no God to set a standard).

Pornography (nakedness is not shameful).

I am writing this article in a school building. The school building is located in a church. This school is a Christian school. Creationism is taught here. This is our religion. And I am thankful for the freedom I have to send my child to a school that will not just teach about evolutionary theory, but will also be open-minded and teach other ideas as well.

During my junior year in high school, I was scolded by a substitute teacher as I tried to explain my belief in an intelligent designer. He told me to shut up and then explained that evolution is fact and there shouldn’t be any discussion. At seventeen I was shocked and discouraged. Today, I am thankful for that experience because it taught me that everyone has a religion. Everyone has a belief system. Just admit it…go ahead and admit it substitute teacher!

What to Say When a Jehovah’s Witness Knocks on Your Door

JW door(My wife took this picture of our interaction to remember to pray for them)

The doorbell rang on Saturday morning. As I walked to the door, my two middle daughters (ages 3 and 6) scampered along with me. As I opened the door, there were two females. One was in her mid to late forties, while the other was just starting her teen years. I knew exactly who they were the moment I locked eyes with them: Jehovah’s Witnesses!

Over the years, I have been approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses many different times. It was always groups of two or three people, usually an older person along with someone who was learning how to go “door to door” and reach the world for Jehovah. Before I opened my mouth, I prayed silently that this would be a moment for these two women that would change their eternal destiny.

“You’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, aren’t you?” This is how our conversation started. They did not know that they had knocked on the door of a pastor who had actually taught about their form of religion in a class called “Cults and other World Religions.” I was ready to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Many people wonder whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians. The answer is a definite “no” when you ask them what they believe about basic, orthodox Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses and traditional, historical Christianity do not have much in common when you look at what is taught by each side. In this article, I am going to give you a few main topics to talk with Jehovah’s Witnesses about so that when you are approached by a JW, you will be comfortable interacting with them. You should burn with a desire for them to see the truth of the Bible so that they realize what they believe is not only false, but will send them to hell.

Jehovah’s Witnesses will probably bring up all of these topics in the course of your conversation. Here is how I answered them from a biblical perspective. Please read through all four. The last one is the most important and has really shaken them to their core. Topic #4 is worth the entire read in this article. But all of these topics will come up with a JW if you talk long enough with them.

Topic #1: Who exactly is Jehovah?

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Jehovah’s Witness: We believe in Jehovah and only He is God.

Christian’s Response: I also believe in Jehovah (Yahweh), but I believe that Jesus and Jehovah are the same God. Let’s look at these verses that prove that Jesus is fully God:

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus even said that “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).

“In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God, and the Word [logos] was God” (John 1:1).

You will have a hard time convincing a Jehovah’s Witness with the verse in John 1:1 because their leadership has translated it “the Word was a god.” But this is an inappropriate translation. If you talk with any Greek scholar, you will find that one should never place an “a” before the word god in this context. As you can see, this is why it is difficult to really talk through truth with someone who has been misinformed about the Bible.

A response you will probably hear from a Jehovah’s Witness when you try to tell them that Jesus is God is this verse:

Jesus stated himself that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Does this mean that Jesus is denying His godhood? No, it doesn’t. You cannot use just one verse to try to prove your point. That is why I presented several verses a few paragraphs above. But the lady that Saturday morning just kept repeating this one verse. She was taught this one verse and apparently none of the other ones. And too often, we forget to look at the context of the verse that becomes a proof text. In this context, Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit to the apostles after the resurrection. Jesus says repeatedly that He is doing the Father’s will, implying that He is somehow subservient to the Father. The question then becomes how can Jesus be equal to God when by His own admission He is subservient to the will of God? The answer lies within the nature of the incarnation (i.e. when Jesus became man and came to this earth).

During the incarnation, Jesus was temporarily “made lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), which refers to Jesus’ status. The doctrine of the incarnation says that Jesus took on human flesh. By taking on human nature, Jesus didn’t relinquish His divine nature. How do we reconcile the fact that the second Person (Jesus) of the Trinity is fully divine yet fully human and by definition lower than the angels? The answer is found in Philippians 2:5-11. When Jesus took on human form, something amazing and mysterious happened: “Christ made Himself nothing.” What does this mean? Jesus voluntarily made Himself different as He was on this earth. Somehow, someway, Jesus gave some things up to become a servant unto death on the cross. This “emptying” included following the will of His Father in heaven. And remember, subservience in role does not equate to subservience in essence.

You will most likely talk through this topic most of the time. You believe that Jesus is God, but they deny that Jesus is fully God. This is why topic #4 will put all of this together! Read the others first.

Topic #2: The Trinity

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Jehovah’s Witness: We believe in one God called Jehovah and you believe in three gods.

Christian’s Response: I believe in the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. All three persons are one God. They are mysteriously separate and yet one at the same time. Let’s look at these verses which teach the Trinity:

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Thomas said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)!

“You’ve lied to the Holy Spirit…You’ve not lied just to human beings but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor [Holy Spirit; John 14:26], Mighty God, Everlasting Father [Father; 14:16], Prince of Peace [Jesus; John 14:27]” (Isaiah 9:6).

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Jesus states that He is of the same essence of His heavenly Father. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus, he cried out that Jesus was now his God. And we see in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit can be lied to and there is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit being referred to as God.

These last two verses don’t say the word Trinity, but they do present three distinct persons in the form of God. These first two topics connect with each other and one must accept the deity of Jesus before they will accept the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity can really trip up many people who want to believe. As Christians, we must be humble about this and state clearly that the Trinity is a mystery that we must accept in faith. There is biblical evidence, but we do not know exactly how it all works.

Topic #3: The 144,000

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Jehovah’s Witness: We believe that only 144,000 believers will go to heaven. The rest of us will stay here on paradise earth.

Christian’s Response: It appears that the 144,000 in Revelation 7 are referring to actual tribes of Israel. Each of the tribes represents 12,000, possibly hinting towards the idea that this number is symbolic and that during the Great Tribulation God will save a large number of Jews who rejected Jesus earlier in their life. There also seems to be another group of people who are believers and this multitude cannot even be counted (Revelation 7:9). To say that there are only 144,000 individuals going to heaven totally disregards the rules of biblical interpretation.

I would like to talk about your three main leaders and their false prophecies. Here are four examples:

False Prophesy #1: The return of Jesus Christ in 1914. Charles T. Russell, the man who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses, calculated when Jesus Christ was going to return to this earth: 1874. When Jesus didn’t show up, he changed the year to 1914. When 1914 came and went, he redefined the second coming of Jesus to mean that Jesus came invisibly as a spirit in 1914 to help set up his organization.

False Prophesy #2: Return of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob between 1925-1929. Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the second main leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prophesied that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would return to this earth to promote the kingdom of God between 1925-1929. He built a large mansion in San Diego for these three patriarchs to live in when they arrived. But by the end of 1929, they never showed up, so Rutherford moved into the mansion himself and lived there until he died in 1942.

False Prophesy #3: The 144,000. After Rutherford became president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1917, he started prophesying that Armageddon was right around the corner. To increase membership, he taught that only 144,000 people were going to make it to heaven. By 1935 they grew larger than 144,000 people. Heaven was filled and Armageddon had yet to occur. Another revelation came to Rutherford: everyone who became a Jehovah’s Witness before 1935 would go to heaven, while everyone who became a Jehovah’s Witness after 1935 would stay here on earth and live in a new paradise.

False Prophesy #4: Armageddon is coming in 1975. Nathan H. Knorr, the third main leader, prophesied that in 1975 Armageddon would come to usher in the end of the age. In 1976 and 1977 over one million Jehovah’s Witnesses left the organization because of this false prophecy.

The first three leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization were all false prophets. This would be like having Paul, John and Peter give specific predictions in the early church and none of them are fulfilled. It would dishearten all the followers to the point of asking: “Is this really the right way to God and heaven?” If your main leaders have falsely predicted future events that have not come to pass, then how can you trust them with other teachings? Try your best to help them see that their own leaders are deceiving them. It will feel like it is impossible, but you have God on your side who wants these wonderful people to see the light so that they will no longer be led astray by falsehood.

Topic #4: The Book of Revelation

Christian: Can I show you a few verses in the book of Revelation?

Jehovah’s Witness: Sure, I love that book!

After talking through the first three topics, I felt like it was time to use a few verses in Revelation. I knew that this would make these two ladies run from my house, but it was time to present to them some powerful truth about Jesus. I asked the forty-something lady to turn in her Bible to Revelation 1:8. I always use their New World Translation because they will be much more comfortable with that. I even asked her to read it:

JW alpha omega“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I asked her who was speaking. Who is the Alpha and Omega? She responded with a resounding, “Jehovah God.” I told her that she was right and I asked her to turn to Revelation 21:5-7.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

“Who is this?” I asked. Once again, she stated that Alpha and Omega is Jehovah God. “Could you turn to Revelation 22:13 and read it?”

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

By this time, she was losing patience with me, but told me again that the Alpha and Omega refers to Jehovah God. I asked her if she could turn to one last passage. I had her read it out loud. It is Revelation 1:17.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”

I had her stop at verse 17 and asked her, “Who is the First and the Last? She said that the First and the Last is Alpha and Omega, who is Jehovah God. Then I had her read verse 18:

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

“When did Jehovah die?” I looked her in the eye and asked her this question. She just stared at the page and then looked at me. And then she kept repeating, “Jehovah never died! Jehovah never died!” I told her that this is referring to Jesus and that Jesus is Jehovah God and that He died on the cross for our sins! She had no answer. She told me that she was not familiar with these passages and that it was time for her to go. I could tell that she was frazzled. She gave a bewildered and concern look to her daughter as they walked away. As she was walking away, I pleaded with her to study the verses and ask God to show her the truth about Jesus. I shut the door and that was it. I had won the argument, but I also had a sick feeling in my stomach. Here was a wonderful lady and a young girl who were headed in the wrong direction. Their blindness kept them from understanding the truth. I prayed for them, that this interaction might shake them in such a way that they will find the truth and the truth will set them free!

4 Reasons Why I Don’t Observe LENT  

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I must admit that I did not grow up observing Lent.  I am a non-denominational pastor of a fairly non-traditional church.  So, some people might dismiss me before they read any further because of my background.  But with anything in life, sometimes an outside view is the best one when something on the inside might need to be reconsidered.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, Lent is a 40 day period of preparation for Easter Sunday.  It is a season marked by prayer, fasting, abstinence and giving.  For most people who follow Lent, it begins on Ash Wednesday, which is today.  In theory, the idea of Lent can be a good one.  But here are a few cautions I have observed over the years from my friends who decide to “give up something for Lent.”

Caution #1: Lent can lead us to focus on giving up the wrong things and leads to a false righteousness.   In high school I dated a Catholic girl during the season of Lent.  I remember that she gave up chocolate.  I also remember that she cheated on me with her ex-boyfriend who was away at college during that same season of Lent.  When we started dating, we had made a commitment to remain pure with each other because that was the right thing to do.  The logic behind “give up chocolate” but engage in “sexual immorality” has just never made sense to me.  But sadly, many Christians do something similar to this when they observe the season of Lent.  They give up chocolate, but not sin.

Maybe, instead of giving up chocolate and coffee for Lent, we could give up what the Bible actually tells us to give up: “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed…rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:5,8-9).

Caution #2: Lent often involves a fast which is frivolous.  When we give up candy or soda pop or something like that and call it fasting, we need to be careful to not make that which is holy all too common.  I used to teach that fasting was anything that you would give up for a time period to show God that you were serious about acknowledging Him as the leader in your life.  Fasting could be giving up television for a week.  Fasting could be just about anything.  I don’t believe that anyone.  Why?  Because a couple months ago I came across the teachings of someone who was dedicated to fasting.  It changed the way I will think about it until the day I die.  This “spiritual giant” has fasted for years.  He has fasted for a 24 hour period and also for 21 and 40 day periods.  He fasts by withholding from himself food and sometimes water.  This is what he said about fasting: “Biblical Fasting is always connected to food and water.  And there is a reason for that.  We cannot live without food and water.  When we give up one or both of these things for a period of time, we are showing God that we hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

If you want to give up coffee or candy for Lent, go ahead.  Just be careful about calling it fasting.  When your stomach growls because you haven’t eaten for a day, you are reminded that you are to hunger for righteousness.  When you decide to not drink water for a day, you are reminded that the true Living Water is the only One who will quench your thirst.  True fasting involves food and water because the substitutes (coffee, soda) fall short in bringing the human soul to acknowledge the supernatural work of God in your life.  Giving up candy doesn’t cause you to hunger or thirst.  Giving up your favorite television channel doesn’t cause you to hunger or thirst.  An empty stomach and a dry mouth has much greater potential to remind you of your need for the God of the universe.

Caution #3: Lent can wrongly lead people to believe that they can be saved by their works.   Since the beginning of the early church, people have engaged in asceticism in order to find salvation.  Let me give you a few example of asceticism over the centuries.  In the middle ages, monks would…

…mix sand with their bread and then eat it.

…stand for 7 years without ever sitting.

…allow beetles to eat them and do nothing about it.

…only eat uncooked food for 7 years.

…live in a swamp for 6 months.

…refuse to lie down for 40 years to sleep.

…not speak for one full year.

…keep a record of how long they would go without seeing a woman.

…even carry heavy weights everywhere they would go.

All this would be done so that they might become righteous before God.  They believed that by denying themselves of certain things, that would make them more spiritually fit as a Christian.  But when Jesus told us to deny ourselves, He was not referring to standing for 7 years or sitting in swamps.  He was referring to selfishness.  A certain kind of pride often creeps in and we think we are better than others when we do things in the name of denial.  So if you do some things in the name of Christ, don’t tell other people.  If you fast, do it in secret and only tell those who really need to know about it.  Don’t announce to the world what you are giving up for Jesus!  Just do it and let the world know that there is something different about you.

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The picture you are looking at is the 12th century Ladder of Divine Ascent in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt.  This picture shows monks, led by John Climacus, ascending the ladder to Jesus, at the top right.  These monks are climbing on a ladder with 30 steps.  They are to do 30 things in order to find their place with Jesus, to be worthy to get to heaven.  But along the way are demons with arrows that are trying to take them down.  This is asceticism and it has no place in the doctrine of salvation by grace.  The belief that if you work hard enough in certain areas, you will succeed in your entrance to heaven, has sent many well meaning people to hell.  It is not asceticism which saves you.  It is the grace of Jesus Christ.  Lent can sometimes turn into asceticism.

Caution #4: Lent often becomes ritualistic instead of deepening our relationship with God.  Even though I didn’t grow up Catholic, I did grow up with my own set of rituals and traditions that I was taught to follow.  Over the years, I have decided that most of the traditions I was taught were extra-biblical and do not lead me into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.  So, I have decided to stop following those traditions.  It has been an important part in my spiritual journey.

In the local church I lead, I estimate that we have at least 100-150 people who grew up in the Catholic Church but now attend Central Church.  As much as they have appreciated their heritage and the good foundation that the Catholic Church gave them, they almost always share with me a common theme after attending for a while: “For the first time, I realize that my Christian faith is about a relationship with Jesus Christ.”  For too many church-goers, it is all about going through the motions of a mindless ritual, and yet they are just as far from God as before they entered the church building.

Maybe Lent is a spiritually moving event for you.  Maybe you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ like no other time because you are giving something up for Him.  But maybe it has become a tradition that you do because you were taught it was important for a good Christian to do.  Maybe, just maybe, God’s plan for you is much bigger than 40 days.  Maybe, God wants you to deny yourself 365 days a year and get rid of your sin and instead clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12).

In the words of Job, who once had ashes on himself: “I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).  The season leading up to Easter should be one of complete joy, for we know that our redeemer lives!   We are not in a season of death, for our redeemer lives!  Our redeemer has paid the ultimate sacrifice!  We cannot and should not add to our Savior’s sacrifice.  Our redeemer lives!

Angels in the Operating Room

 

The last twenty-four hours have been some of the best hours of my life. Little Annalise Joy was born. She is a perfect conclusion to our family. During the last day, I have had two thoughts which keep coming to mind. And I think they are somehow connected.

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Thought #1: “Four daughters.” Every time I think about the fact that I now have four daughters, my mind shifts to another thought: four son-in-laws. And then my mind shifts yet to another idea: “What are the odds of my four daughters finding four great guys to marry?” I fear the worst. I am concerned that my daughters will have a hard time finding a boy who loves God the way she is brought up to love God. I am sure that I am being unreasonable here, but that is what my greatest fear is with having four girls.

Honestly, I love having daughters so much that I wouldn’t mind having ten of them. A few people have asked if I wanted at least one boy in the family, and I tell everyone that I am used to being the only boy. I grew up with three sisters and I was the only boy. I am now in a home with four daughters, one wife, and a girl dog named Sally (and we think the fish, turtles, and lizard are all females). I like all these “little women” around me. What I don’t like is the thought that in the future they might introduce a young man to me who doesn’t measure up to what God wants for them.

Have you ever heard of the term “arranged marriage?” It has a great ring to it. All joking aside, hoping my daughters find a godly man is a concern of mine and I have wondered why this is my greatest fear. Maybe it is because I have observed too many immature boys tease my daughters. Maybe it is because this is what most dads want for their daughter: a good, godly man. But then there are times when I meet a nice, young man who impresses me, and it gives me hope. But are there four of them out there? I sure hope so. My greatest hope is for my daughters to find a man who seeks after Jesus Christ and His supernatural presence. My greatest fear is that this won’t happen for all four of them.

Thought #2: “I could feel the presence of angels standing with us in the operating room.” If you are not a Christian, you will probably not understand what I am about to write because I am going to share an experience which was supernatural. When I was standing by Amy in the operating room, there was a moment when I could feel the presence of angels standing around us. If I had to guess, I would say there were probably at least four to six angels standing there. I sensed that they were right beside us, and yet much taller than us. And my heart confirmed this truth, as if an angel were whispering this to me: “A few thousand Christians are praying for you, and we are here to protect your wife and your newborn baby so that everything will happen according to God’s perfect plan.” I was so overwhelmed by the presence of this small angelic army that I almost crumbled to the floor sobbing, but then I was given the strength to hold it all together as I was holding our little baby girl and watching them operate on my wife.

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Why was it so important for those angels to be near us? A few hours before the scheduled C-section, our doctor noticed that my wife Amy was having several contractions close together and asked if she wanted to consider doing a natural birth. We talked about it for a few minutes, but decided not to do a natural birth because there was a slight chance that the uterine wall might rupture and the baby could possibly die. Then, when the doctor opened her up in the operating room, she could see what is called a uterine window. The wall was so thin you could see through it and it would have ruptured and that could have been a disaster for the baby and Amy if she would have gone into labor. But God’s holy angels were protecting us with giving us wisdom to make the right decision.

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It was important for those angels to be near us because my wife had an emergency hysterectomy yesterday. She didn’t have a choice. We were not planning on having one, but because the placenta was intertwined with the uterus, our surgeon made the difficult, yet right call: hysterectomy. If this wouldn’t have been done, my wife could have lost her life. God heard the prayers of His people, and He protected my wife with the surrounding angels.

I have had this feeling of angels around me several times before, and it is always filled with a comfort that caused me not to fear the future. Today, I thought about the Christmas story, and how angels appeared to four different people: Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, and they were all told the same thing: “Do not fear.” They were all told at different times to not be afraid of what was about to happen to them. For a believer, the presence of angels should be a comforting experience. Even though I have never seen one, I know that I have felt their presence in my life. And it has almost always been connected with how many people are praying for me at that particular moment in time.

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(A dear friend gave this bracelet to Amy early in the pregnancy when a subchorionic hemorrhage threatened Annalise’s life)

Even though I have not told my daughters yet, my greatest prayer and highest hope is for each of them to eventually find a man who loves God with all of his being. I want them to find a man who is moved by the Holy Spirit of God to be a righteous leader in his home. I know that he will not be perfect, for I am not perfect (far from it), but I want each of them to find a man whose heart lives to please God. And in those sacred moments, when God and His holy angels are near, I want these men to be spiritually sensitive enough to feel the presence of the Almighty Creator of the universe.

 

 

 

 

 

The Baby is Coming!

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In one week, my wife will be having another baby. Yes, we do know whether the baby is a boy or girl. But we are not telling anyone until the day of the baby’s arrival. My wife wants there to be at least one surprise on this important day.

The journey of pregnancy is about ready to end. In less than seven days, our doctor will perform a C-section on my wife so that we can welcome our final child into this world. The journey began this spring when my wife found out that she was pregnant. If you have been following our journey, you remember that we were not sure if this baby was going to survive. You have probably prayed for us. Thank you.

Even though this journey of “being pregnant” is about ready to end, a new journey of taking care of a newborn is about ready to start. This is exciting and exhausting to think about at the same time. But I am not going to focus on the future in this article. I will let the future take care of itself. I will trust that God is in control.

My focus in this article is the last ten years of our life.

In 2004, we had our first child.

In 2006, we lost our second child.

In 2007, my wife had an unviable ectopic baby.

In 2008, we had a baby who almost died and needed to stay two weeks in the NICU.

In 2010, my wife had another unviable ectopic baby.

In 2011, we had a healthy baby…but mom almost died.

In 2014, we are having another child.

People keep asking me if we are done having children. And my answer has been: “We better be done!” This chapter of my life is about to close, and I am ready. We all go through different chapters in our life. Some chapters are longer than others and some of them are filled with more joy than others. Here are a few things I learned along the way in this ten year chapter of my life.

It didn’t go the way I thought it would. When we started having children in 2004, I thought we would have a few healthy children and then eventually decide to stop on our own terms. We didn’t know that we were going to become the poster child for “what can go wrong in the pregnancy, will go wrong.” I had a plan. We were not going to get pregnant until after the first four years of our marriage. That went according to plan. And I also wanted to be finished having children by my early thirties. You could say that I missed my goal by a few years. Even though nothing went according to plan for these ten years, it was still worth it. God still gave us a family. And we are grateful. Here is something that should comfort us all when things don’t go the way we think they should: “God was never surprised by any of the events and He was in total control…and ultimately, God knows what the best plan is for you family.” So, hold onto your plans lightly, because if God has different plans, prepare yourself for a difficult, but rewarding journey.

Children are a gift, not a burden to raise. When you lose a child to death, or when you try month after month to get pregnant, but it is unsuccessful, it gives you a profound appreciation for the little one(s) that you do have with you. When we had “just Lily” for the first four years of our parenthood, we learned what a gift she was to us because we weren’t sure if we would have any more children. The trials I have had to go through in these ten years have given me a desire to show my children how much they are loved. They can count on their daddy hugging and kissing them several times a day. Just yesterday I was visiting with another dad at his house. Two of his children were trying to get his attention, but he kept telling them, “Go and play, I’m busy.” This dad has four children. When I have been around him before, I get the indication that he would rather not be bothered by his kids. That makes me sad. I wonder why some families even have kids if they spend little time with them. What’s the point of having kids if you don’t want to hang out with them? Soon enough, those little four year olds will turn into fourteen year olds and will not need your attention like they do now. In fact, the tables will turn and you will try to get their attention, but they might tell you to go off and play because they are now too busy for you.

Stories give evidence of God’s goodness in our lives. Maybe it is just my kids (I doubt it), but they love stories. Every single night before they go to bed, they beg for me to tell them a story. Most nights I tell them at least one story. Just last night, I told them each a story about them when they were younger, and they loved it. That is the power of being a parent. When we can reach back into our memories and bless our children with a past event from his or her life, it teaches them a few things about themselves. It teaches them that they are maturing and don’t do some of the silly things they did in the past. But it also lets them know that we, as a parent, were there for them when they were younger. We remember. We cared. We changed that “awful diaper.” We wiped up the vomit. We drove them to the ER when they broke their arm. We have a picture of the first fish they caught. We held them upright all night when they had the “croup.” We are mom. We are dad. And we have stories of God’s goodness to us in the trials and triumphs of life.

Being “okay” with the chapter ending. In my heart, I know that this should be our last child. But I will miss the excitement of having babies and getting to see little ones grow both physically and spiritually. I was talking with a man the other day whose wife had her final child when he was 46 years old. And what he told me shocked me: “Jeremy, I wasn’t done yet. I wanted to keep going, but my wife had to stop because of a procedure.” It is really hard for some people to end a chapter, but I believe God gives us the peace when it is time. Amazingly, God didn’t give us a peace after our most recent baby was born in 2011. I always wondered why. But now, I know why. He wanted us to have one more. Just remember, in order to experience the joys of a new chapter in life, the previous chapter must end first. Be willing to shut that chapter if God is gently calling you to. Listen to His voice. His voice is calm and yet there is peace associated with His voice.

Let me give you one last thought. Amy and I have to admit, that as December 17 gets a little closer, we have a few fears that well up within us. Look at our past story. Search the last ten years of our lives and I think you would agree that we have reason to be apprehensive. But we trust in God. And we appreciate your prayers.