Is God On My Side and Does He Care?

Does God take Sides?

Yesterday, I watched the New England Patriots play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Foxboro, MA. The contest was one-sided so how many Steeler fans prayed in the stands during the game? We hear of high school students praying before a game and ask God for the victory. Surely there are soldiers in the midst of a battle asking for victory against their foes. Then, I wonder how many people pray to God so they can win the lottery?

All of these scenarios beg the question, “Is God on my side?” Theologians and philosophers could spend eons discussing this very topic. With all of the evil in the world, we need to know if the Creator works for our benefit. The trials of the world are seen in sporting events. There are the good guys(our team) and the bad guys(the other side). During the contest, referees ensure teams obey the rules. However, they are not perfect and when we feel the things are not fair, we rebel against the call.

Does God Care Who Wins?

We love winners in the United States and look at successful people as self-made individuals. We give awards to winners but losers get nothing. We look at winners with envy and wish to be them. The famous West Virginia lottery winner Jack Whittaker faced unlucky events after he won. The winner of $315 million lost over $500,000 cash at a strip joint by thieves breaking into his car.  His dead granddaughter, wrapped in a tarp, was found with illegal drugs in her body. His home burned down to the ground without insurance and was a total loss. He regretted winning the lottery a few years after winning at the death of his daughter. No matter how much he has, Jack Whittaker will one day die.

“I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”

                                                                  Ecclesiastes 3:18-20

God Cares Who Lives

The fate of mankind is God’s great desire in the face of his greatest enemies. Our simple wishes of sports victories or lottery winnings pale in comparison to Death and Sin. His desire is so important his plan required complete faithfulness by his Son, Jesus Christ. During the prayer in the garden, Jesus asked the Father if the cup could pass but willingly accepted his Father’s plan.

All of God’s creation will cease to live according to Scriptures. The flowers and grasses will wither and die but God’s creation of the animals and mankind will return to the dust of the earth.  However, man faces the chance of the Second Death–eternal separation from God. We have no understanding of what this means but God describes it in terrifying images. Death, Hell. and those who rebelled against God are cast in the lake of fire for eternity. Pain and agony encompass the lost but, a loving God wishes man will turn from their wicked ways and return to Him.

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Guidance from the North Pole

Guidance which leads

The tax forms arrived in the mail today from our accountant. John is a Christian and an approved professional with the Dave Ramsey ministry. His knowledge and expertise are why we call him every year. Is it John or the fear of the IRS?

Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 NIV

We trust our guts, our friends, or horoscopes in the newspaper as we search for advice. We look for opinions aligned with ours because we have already decided our path. This may feel good but never really leads in the right way. Godly counsel may be one-hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction and if we seek Godly counsel we may not like it.

Guidance which supports

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that can endure it.  I Corinthians 10:13 NIV

Things happen for a purpose if we don’t flee the difficult circumstance because God uses a circumstance to train or guide our life. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul uses the image of a building as a picture of God’s help. The word endure refers to the support beam of a house which held up the roof. The beam needed to be strong since the roof is used by the family as a place of prayer or entertaining. As we rely on his love, mercy, and grace, we learn how to endure the circumstance and see them as opportunities.

Guidance which loves

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 NIV

Christ lives inside me! What a wonderful thought!  Instead of looking for someone to give me guidance why not interact with Christ who lives in me? Maybe it is because his counsel will disagree with my plans.  He might answer me if I ask him and then I would be responsible.  This is the idea of living by faith.  Faith in the Lord means living by this faith. During hard times this faith reminds me over and over of his love.  If I can trust in his love then maybe I will accept his guidance.

 

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Everlasting Love Goes the Distance

Going the Distance for a Child

The last few weekends Santa has traveled to West Virginia from South Carolina and from the upstate of South Carolina to Beaufort, South Carolina.  The mileage for these two trips was near 1,700 miles but, the payoff was seeing a child smile as only they can in the face of Saint Nicholas.  A child’s smile can melt even the hardest heart.  Recently a story about a four-year-old and a man in his eighties came across my phone. He had recently lost his wife and his zest for life.  It was the smile of this small child giving him a reason to live.

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (Disney Movies 2006) Lucy Miller melts Jack Frost’s heart with a warm bear hug.  Posing for photographs with a child I have seen adults looking foolish with babbling words and strange faces to get the toddler to smile.

How Far Did Someone Go For You?

In Luke 15, Jesus faces down the condemnation because he fellowshipped with those the religious rejected. The religious Jews condemned tax collectors who worked for the Roman government collecting taxes and extracted more for their own pockets. Jesus gives them a picture of the shepherd leaving the sheep who were cared for to find the one in danger.  A wandering sheep is easy prey for wild animals  Such is the loving Shepherd who sought us.  Those who know they are sinners cause the heavens to rejoice when we turn our lives around through Christ.

 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:4-7 NIV BibleGateway.com

What is the Message For Us?

Over years of pastoral ministry I learned the Great Shepherd’s seeks after the lost sheep and not me. The reason many of us are not looking  is we have not learned how to love ourselves.  I received a message from a lady asking the very question.  After several exchanges I explained our ability to love ourselves comes from understanding who loves me.  If he loves me then how can I not love myself and consequently others.  Santa reminds children how much they are loved and how can we not be so loving to seek after the lost sheep.

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.     Jeremiah 31:3

Santa Goes the Distance and brings smiles to children.  See us at http://santacallsforyou.com  A discount is available by typing in the word, CHRISTMAS in the appropriate box.

 

Christmas and Childlike Wonder

A Child’s Question of Creation

When Stefani was six years old, she called out with a question about God’s creation.  It wasn’t about how or why He created but her question caused me to stop in my tracks.  Stefani wanted to know when God created color.  I explained the story of creation from the Bible but she had a simple understanding.  She asked another question which made me laugh. She said, “Daddy if God created everything in color, why are your favorite movies black & white?”

Laughter is a Good Medicine

Christmas is a time of Joy, Love, Peace, and Hope.  These qualities are present in the Baby of Bethlehem.  I enjoy the Christmas season because I lived in a home of chaos as a child.  However, during these seasons things seemed better and looked forward to Christmas with childlike anticipation.  It wasn’t until I became a Christian at twenty-six years old I began to know the qualities of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. I am not saying as a new believer I was bubbly and trouble-free.  In fact, as I grew as a Christian, I had Stefani’s dim understanding of God’s plan.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22 NIV 

Childlike trust brings Hope, Peace, Joy and Love

Stefani trusted her Daddy and came asking her questions. Trusting in our heavenly “Daddy” we begin experiencing the four qualities remembered during Advent. Advent means to come, and as we look forward to his 2nd Coming, we have the hope of the resurrection. We have peace knowing our relationship with God is secure in Christ. We have eternal joy which no one can diminish. We have love for God, Christ, and God’s creation, man.

The Manger’s Misfits and God’s Invitation to All

Mangers Hide a Great Truth

As we lay out the decorations of Christmas an important part is the manger.  As we place Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep, shepherds and the Magi it reminds us of God’s wonderful gift in His Son and holds a special message for all.

Unmarried women found pregnant could die for breaking the Law of Moses and be stoned at her father’s house.(Deuteronomy 22:21)  Joseph had the law on his side but wanted a quiet solution to Mary’s condition. Joseph accepted this child and Mary as his wife but faced years of ridicule to obey God.

Shepherds announced His Son’s birth! The loving image of Jesus as the Great Sheperd is a different reality than shepherds during the time of Christ. Mistreated and losing civil rights, shepherds could not testify in court proceedings.(www.epm.org) These misfits, according to the religious leaders of Israel, testified throughout the city of Bethlehem about Jesus.

Gentiles to His Son’s birthday

In our mangers, three kings or magi come to worship the One called King of the Jews. Magi are a priesthood of the Medes with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. Some Magi proved expert in the interpretation of dreams and were established over the state religion of Persia by Darius the Great. The Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian Empire. Holding Daniel of the Bible in high regard, they may have been exposed to the prophecy of the coming King. Those who looked to the stars for guidance followed the Star to Bethlehem.

God’s invitation to all 

A woman pregnant before marriage, a godly Jewish man, mistrusted shepherds and gentile magicians invited to the manger of the Son of God. In the greatness of God’s sovereignty we see the depth of his mercy.  All are invited to the manger of the Lord to be fed for a MANGER was used to feed.

 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. 

Psalm 34:8 NIV

Christmas Traditions Bring Happiness Through the Generations

Taking the secular to celebrate the Holy

I know the things we see at Christmas originated from other cultures and beliefs. Today we are going to see what they mean today for believers as we celebrate Christmas.  The first item is the ever present Christmas tree taking center place in living rooms. Pagans used the fir trees centuries ago, but around the 1500’s Europeans started decorating trees with paper, cookies, and sweets. As the tradition started the top was adorned with Baby Jesus but changed to an angel who told the shepherds and finally the star which led the wise men.

During the Victorian era, candles were used representing stars. With the risk of fire Christmas tree lights were invented by Ralph Morris in 1895. After a hospital burned down because of candles and with pressure from insurance companies, people started using electrical sets of lights for the tree. (whychristmas.com)

Singing from the secular to the sacred

Again, the earliest carols were taken from the pagans who sang for the Winter Solstice. They sang and danced around stone structures and the word carol refers to dancing.  The early Christian carols were written in Latin so the common person did not understand and by the 1200’s most people stopped celebrating Christmas.  Centuries later carols and public singing  became popular during the Victorian era and so many of today’s carols were written during this period.

One such song, Silent Night, was written by Father Joseph Mohr in 1816 and the music added two years later by Franz Gruber.  It was sung by the two on Christmas eve 1818 at midnight mass. (whychristmas.com)  Over the years carols spread across Europe. During World War I, carols led to a temporary truce among the death and destruction of the war.  It is attested by two soldiers, Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment and Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade.

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” (time.com Christmas Truce 1914)

O Holy Night…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:8-14 NIV (Biblegateway.com)

 

Never believe the most simple and common things cannot be used by God to point to his Son–even us.

 

Santa Claus & hurting children

The Question of a child

There are times a child sitting on Santa’s lap has a question about the reindeer, the elves, or Mrs. Claus. The questions are simply honest searches for knowledge as a child envisions the North Pole. They just want to know how it all works.  Simple answers will usually suffice the child’s imagination, but at times you get a question needing compassion and comfort.

One such child wanted Saint Nicholas to bring peace within her troubled home.  Looking deeply into this waif’s eyes I sensed a deeper issue.  I desired peace within my childhood home and related to her wishes.  The first thing I could do was hold her close to Santa’s chest and provide her a safe place.

The sincerity of her question seen in the moisture-filled eyes truthfully was not within my powers to answer her request.  The best answer I could give her was as a child she could model peace to the people in the room. Even Jesus used a child as a sermon illustration to a crowd of adults.

The Father and his child

In the Bible, the imagine of the Father and his children is a reminder of his desired relationship with believers. In the Old Testament, a person seeking to be a rabbi finds a teacher and ask to follow him. Teaching is done as an oral tradition.  Over and over the teacher instructs his disciple until he felt the student was ready.  He sends him into the world to instruct others in the same manner.

A rabbi in the book of Acts was Gamaliel the Elder, a doctor of the Law held in high regard by all Jews.  He spoke about not condemning the apostles of Jesus and was the teacher of Paul the Apostle. (Acts 5:34) It was Paul believing he was doing God’s work, persecuted Christians until he met Jesus on the Damascus road.

The Jews of the Old Testament said God is the Father of the Jewish people. The prophet Isaiah records in Isaiah 64:8 “O LORD, thou art our father.” It was Jesus teaching his disciples of a real and personal heavenly Father and his desire to have a relationship with us.

God instructs his child

God first brings the answer to the question of our lives–is there anything else? We struggle with status, wealth, health, and life in general. Malcolm Forbes said the one who dies with the most toys wins. But, what was lowered into the ground at this death measured the same size and the casket of a poor man.  Our Father gives salvation and then teaches us by his loving kindness how to make the best of this life.

God uses two kinds of people in our lives to be examples of self-controlled and godly lives. First, the person whose life with God is marked by trials overcome by faith. They learned to trust God one step at a time.  These living bibles model the life we are to live. The others are the negative example of the godly life.  We have an opportunity to compare and contrast the two and hopefully make the correct choice.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘NO’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Titus 2:11-13

 

Santa Calls Out For Peace In a World of Strife

Christmas Carols of the Past

Listing to Pandora today I was amazed at the references to LORD, JESUS, GOD, and the what Jesus brings.  One name for Christ in the book of Isaiah is Prince of Peace. Imagine the fearful shepherds in the presence of God’s angel. The angel is quick saying don’t fear.  God”s peace is not the cessation of war but a restored relationship between two people–God and man. Many translate the pronouncement of the angel as “good will to all men.”  The Greek says “peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (NIV Zondervan 1984)  Peace comes to those whom his favor rests because our relationship is restored by Jesus Christ.

Peace during a contentious political season seems impossible.  People harming others in the name of their political candidate.  The name-calling, throwing of eggs, and physical contact reminds how far mankind has fallen.  Even computer programs have come to make judgments.  (My grammar program just showed me somewhere in the course of this discussion I have said something politically incorrect or offensive language.)

Christmas Carols of Today

In our culture speaking about Jesus, using his name, praying, worshipping, and acts done in the name of Christ is dangerous. The offensive, myopic, narrow-minded, or homophobic speech will not be tolerated, even though their speech is offensive.  It has even affected the music sung by children in schools, malls, and other public venues.  Adults feed the message we must be inclusive and so our Christian gospel judges people instead of bringing them together. So malls and other public places restrict the singing by choirs to secular music during the Christmas season. The music overhead no longer includes such songs as “God rest ye merry gentlemen”.  If you ever hear the song by Gene Autry “Here Come Santa Claus”, he speaks about God, say your prayers, and peace on earth will come to all if we just follow the Light.

Peace is removed from Christmas–the day we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

The world struggles for peace and but we have taken out the one who brings peace. We see hurting people with addictions; the insults of others; joblessness; and poverty. The Day has become a massive marketing event.and we call the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday as people madly rush the doors to get the best deals.  Christmas day many are grateful it is over and they can begin their normal hectic routine.

From the Word of God:

If it is possible as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

 

Let us make every effort to live at peace with others and we may find the very peace we need. 

Saint Nicholas

Kids and childlike memories

A Vision from the Past

Watching children at the Columbia children’s museum I remember the first years of our daughter. In the middle of the museum, a two-story image of a young boy fills the room and children climb up and slide down the slides encircling him. I focused on the slides and remembering the day Stefani celebrated her third birthday. It was the same day my doctorate was conferred but, we wished to celebrate her birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. We drove down the road from the hotel pulling into the lot without telling her where we were going.  The laughter and smile on her face started a special day for the entire Mentzer family.

After we shared the pizza, drink, and cake, we played the machines winning little trinkets from the tickets. Suddenly, Vicki cries out from across the room, “Steve, where’s Stefani?” Panic crept into our hearts and though a child cannot leave without parents, we searched the entire restaurant looking for our precious Babygirl.  Suddenly from above, a small voice calls out, “Hi Mommy! Hi, Daddy!”  Somehow, she climbed in the overhead tubes sitting at a window and looked at her bewildered parents.

 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

 I Corinthians 13:11

A Certainty for the Future

Stefani has grown too tall to climb in those tubes which encircled the room at Chuck E. Cheese.  She has grown into a beautiful young woman who loves the Lord and is a gem to her parents.  Once she had a duck costume for a dance recital and would wear it till we took it away.  It is in mommy’s cedar chest we are saving for her.  Likewise, God expects us to grow, mature and leave those things we no longer fit the image of a Christian.  God expects his children to grow, mature and leave behind things like hatred, malice, evil intent and many others.  This future can be called a certainty because God continues to discipline those he loves.  This is not chastisement like a spanking but the intent of the father to grow us and mature us into the image of the Son.

 

Paul says in this passage of Scripture he put off the childish ways.  Similarly, we must put off the things in our life which reflect immaturity instead of Christian maturity. I hope we get rid of everything that stands in the way of our maturity–beginning with self.

The Fear of a New Direction

 Which way should I go?
When I was a young boy in Orlando, we would build forts in the woods beyond our home.  Of course, if you were part of the gang, you knew the pitfalls and traps we laid out for those who would dare trespass into our lair.  We had sticker bushes tied back so if you walked down the path and tripped the string, you got brushed with sharp points.  We dug holes and filled them with the stuff in the backyard if you owned a dog (no further picture needs to be shown) and sharp sticks in them as well.  It is amazing I grew up to be a minister!  However, if you knew the path, these would be no problem. We know the stories of men who would rather drive around for hours instead of stopping and asking for directions.  We also know the joke that heaven will have fewer men than women because most men would not stop and ask directions to heaven.  I even argue with my GPS on the dash of my car, resisting its instructions and tempted to toss it out the window.
Our plans meet headlong into reality
We all have expectations and plans for how we expect our life to go.  We plan our weddings, college, and a career spanning decades with the plan to retire to sunny Florida.  But things sometimes get in the way.  Children, sickness, financial woes, and business failures can cause us to have to re-direct our plans and courses.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.  Proverbs 16:9 NIV

God has a greater purpose and if we trust him and not fear his decisions we might find ourselves doing things which would seem impossible.  My goal from college was to complete graduate school and work to earn the designation of CHA or certified hotel administrator.  I would travel the world and manage some great hotels.  And then God showed up one year after college and I knew I needed to be doing something for him.

The fear of God changing my plans kept me arguing with him for three years.  In four weeks I will have the chance to do something I never thought possible–pray before the West Virginia Senate.  Fear has a way of keeping us from great opportunities.  Heroism is not about extraordinary men and women doing heroic things but ordinary men and women doing their best in the face of great obstacles.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21 NIV