giving thanks

keightleyThe child of God cannot wait until official holidays to thank our Father in heaven for His incredible blessings of love and mercy. We recently celebrated Keightley’s second birthday. She is so sweet and unique. Everyone calls me Opa as a Grandpa, but a month ago Keightley started calling me Opie. I told Kinsey her daughter has permission to call me anything she’d like.

Taylor’s volleyball team ended up with the state runner-up trophy this year after an incredible season. Saturday, as I watched his girls battle a strong Holy Innocents’ team, I could not help but remember a thought I had last year as Hebron won the state championship: “Wouldn’t it be great if Taylor’s youngest sister Karlyn could have the opportunity to coach while teaching school?” I shared this thought with others and it became a matter of prayer.

As you know, Karlyn was hired at GAC to fill a late opening at the very end of the summer. She loves her students and is doing a great job. After school started she was asked to help with the JV volleyball team. Now, I’ve been asked to coach a sixth and seventh grade girls’ basketball team and the varsity coach asked Karlyn to be her dad’s assistant. What a joy! (If you want to see some excellent basketball, I can probably arrange some tickets…)

bintzThis past weekend Dave and Cindy Bintz visited our home. Dave was a coach and athletic director in Florida for 37 years before God called him and Cindy to the mission field. Susan and I visited them in the Catalunya region of Northern Spain in the summer of 2019. Camp L’Arcada (which means ‘The Archway’) was established in 1991 and the Bintzes have run the athletic section of the Christian camp for the past six years.

Less than 1% of the citizens of Spain know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Familiar with the tragic episodes of abuse in their nation’s history, generations have rejected or simply ignored all religion. Young people love sports in Spain and Christians from Europe and America have used athletics as an avenue to present the gospel. Only after trust is built and relationships are established does there seem to be a chance to effectively share the life-giving message of Jesus Christ. There are 25 Christian camps throughout Spain and it is estimated that 80% of all who come to Christ in the whole country find Jesus in these settings.

Susan and I witnessed the beautiful way Dave and Cindy serve God. Though living in a culture very different from ours, they love people and pray for all to come to know the Father who created them and gave His only Son for them. The Bintzes work hard, believing the gospel has the power to overcome all the strategies of Satan, whose aim is to keep everyone in darkness.

The apostle Paul had this same hope. Once he saw the light and surrendered his life to the King, he wanted all people everywhere to understand and experience a righteousness that could never be gained by human effort. Everyone, Jew and Gentile, has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but through Jesus a way has been made for any person to be saved. Paul declared the power is the gospel. He, as have multitudes in the centuries to follow, shamelessly made every effort to proclaim the ‘good news’ to the world. Let’s give thanks for the gospel.

“Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve.” I Corinthians 15:1-5

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

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The Bible says when Jesus returns the archangel will give a loud shout and God’s trumpet will sound. (see I Thessalonians 4:16). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, there were shouts of ‘Hosanna’ and the religious leaders asked Jesus to silence the shouts of children. Jesus pointed them to Scripture.

The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”…

The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked Him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants You, Lord, called forth Your praise’?” (Matthew 21:9-16)

God must like shouting about His Son. Twenty-five years ago Martin Smith, lead singer for the British band Delirious?, wrote a song encouraging us to do our part:

Men of faith rise up and sing
Of the great and glorious King
You are strong when you feel weak
In your brokenness complete

Shout to the North and the South
Sing to the East and the West
Jesus is Savior to all
Lord of heaven and earth

Rise up women of the truth
Stand and sing to broken hearts
Who can know the healing power
Of our awesome King of love

Rise up Church with broken wings
Fill this place with songs again
Of our God who reigns on high
By His grace again we’ll fly

Shout to the North and the South
Sing to the East and the West
Jesus is Savior to all
Lord of heaven and earth

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.”
Psalm 95:1

“Shout To The North” ©1995 Curious? Music UK/PRS

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Military leaders, coaches, and teachers know the power of the spoken word. One statement, one command, one word can reverberate through a platoon or a team or a class and be the difference between success and failure. “The Word who became flesh” often spoke a message He wants all believers to take to heart: ‘Watch out’… ‘Be alert’… ‘Keep your eyes open’… ‘‘Be vigilant!’

There are two main contexts for such words of warning:

  1. ‘Beware of the enemy.’ Guards are posted at night to prevent surprise attacks; coaches scout and watch film to learn tendencies of the opponent; teachers warn of common mistakes… vigilance is critical. Jesus says we have an enemy that plots, tempts, and attacks His followers.Though we have a Good Shepherd who will not let His sheep be snatched from His hand, the sheep must listen to His voice and heed His warnings. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32) Thank God, Jesus also intercedes for us! (see Hebrews 7:25)

    “Be careful,” Jesus warned, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:15) Today He might say: ‘Watch out for the subtle dangers of religion and politics.’ “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Today He might ask if we are laying up treasure on earth or in heaven… Jesus knows every weapon the devil throws against God’s children and He tells us to be vigilant.

  2. ‘Keep watch for Me.’ “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on your guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-37)

The enemy is as active today as ever… We are now nearer to the return of Jesus than ever… ‘Vigilance!’

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom He may devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” I Peter 5:8-9

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be strong. Do everything in love.” I Corinthians 16:13

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The two oldest sons of Rex and Barbara Davis were born in Houston, Texas. We moved to Chattanooga when I was four years old where my sister and youngest brother were born. I’ve always felt connected to Texas, and my dad tells me the family roots go back over a century.

img_1745This is a black-and-white picture of my great-grandmother, Viola Gray. Living on a farm in Arkansas, her husband left her so Viola accepted a relative’s invitation to join a homesteading effort in West Texas. Pregnant, she traveled in a horse-drawn wagon with her only child, six-year-old Gracie. In Denton, Texas she paused to have baby Nola, my grandmother, on April 30, 1900. Gracie was born in 1894 and Viola was born in the early 1870’s, as the Comanches and settlers were fighting in the wild West.

Gracie lived in three different centuries, dying in the year 2000 at the age of 106. She was a witty, vibrant woman and I have fond memories of visits to her home in Arkansas. Nola died in 2003 at the age of 103. We took great family trips to my grandparents’ home in Rockford, Illinois when we were growing up. img_1746Once Susan and I took Taylor, Kinsey, and Karlyn to visit their great-grandmother. As Grandma told of life in West Texas on the Pecos River, it made me wonder how the two oldest daughters of Viola lived a decade, much less a century.

There were places on the Pecos River where patches of quicksand earned it the nickname, ‘graveyard of cattlemen’s hopes.’ My grandmother and her older sister recalled jumping from skeleton to skeleton of unfortunate cows and horses across the quicksand to get from one side of the narrow river to the other. I’m not sure they had permission from Viola to do this, but they thought it was fun.

Each of us probably have stories of ‘narrow escapes’ in our past. Most definitely, there are stories from each of our family histories where one misstep or one different turn would have canceled our existence. If young Nola had slipped and drowned in the Pecos River, my dad would never have been born… and I would not be writing this.

Luck… happenstance… coincidence… fate… destiny… different words are used for the mysterious turns of life, but God understands perfectly: “Before you were born, I knew you and had a plan for your life. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you can’t understand… just know you’re not an accident. The devil tried to destroy My Son shortly after He was born, but I prevented it. Because He lives, you live and I want you to find your entire identity, purpose, and joy in Him. You are loved more than you can imagine.”

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” John 3:1

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5

“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her Child the moment He was born. She gave birth to a Son, a male Child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.’ And her Child was snatched up to God and to His throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God…” Revelation 12:4-6

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repentance and rest

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…’” Isaiah 30:15

It does not matter who wins the White House, the message of the Sovereign Lord to our nation will be the same: “Repent.” It does not matter the color of an individual’s skin, if he or she is not walking with Christ, the One through whom all were created says: “Repent.”

We can be confident this is the Word of God for today because this was the message of Christ as He walked the earth many years ago. “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 4:17) Love tells us what we need to do.

“Now there were some present at the time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’” (Luke 13:1-5)

There is no true rest in darkness. Pretending to be what we’re not; justifying wrongdoing; blaming others; denying the truth… we’re not created to live this way. Jesus invites us to come into the light, to receive forgiveness, and to find rest.

‘Get right with God! Quit focusing on others and examine your own heart. Look at your own actions and confess your own sin. Be honest. Come to Me for healing and freedom. My blood has already covered your debt, but you cannot continue to live in darkness. I am the Light! I am the Way; I speak Truth with perfect love; I give Life filled with joy and hope.’

A merciful Father wants all to believe that His loving Son stands with open arms to receive any person who comes humbly to Him. May all hear His invitation.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

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