CLEAR back in January of 2017, I came across this scripture as I was preparing for my new series on relationships entitled, "Love Handles". The passage I was working on for the series was Romans chapter 12, which we went through for the entire year. I decided, in order to get a better understanding of this chapter, I should research the previous chapter to get a better idea of the context. The verse was Romans 11:32 and says, "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all." I realized from this verse, that mercy was key for all good relationships, for this was how God deals with His creation. I guess if viewing people through the eyes of mercy is good for God, it has to be good for us too.

            FAST forward to late spring of 2017, as I was preparing to speak at the Western District youth camp and I felt strongly that Romans 11:32 should be the first message I spoke to the youth. As I was working on this verse two particular words rang out. Those words were "SO THAT". What I saw was the first phrase of the verse, "God has bound all men over to disobedience." This happened SO THAT God could do something else. The one set up the other. The other being "mercy on them all." The first had to happen SO THAT the next could take place. What these two words have come to mean to me is an expectation. Because the first things had happened we could now expect the second to happen.

            FROM all of this, I started seeing those two words, "SO THAT", regularly in my daily devotional readings. In fact, just in the New Testament alone "SO THAT" appears 299 times. Obviously, some of these did not carry the same deep spiritual meaning as what I saw in Romans 11:32. But some of them sure did.

            ALL of this has led me on a journey of exploration as to what "SO THAT" really means for our spiritual growth and maturity. I came to see that the Lord was speaking to me about this new year.

            WITH what has been happening in our beloved country and the world these past months: Horrific hurricanes; horrible floodings; mass shootings; devastating fires; earthquakes; terror attacks and political upheaval, I sensed a bit of foreboding for 2018. But this, as I have learned, is not how God views our new year. In fact I believe God is excited for 2018 and has great plans, not only for our country and the world, but for us individually. I'm reminded of His great promise from Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." No matter what is troubling our world and even our hearts and minds, does not negate what God wants to do and how He sees things. I prefer God's view of my life and not how the world may see things! How about you?

            IT is with great joy, anticipation and excitement that I see for 2018 and I pray you join me. The word that I believe God has given our church for this new year is:


            JUST think what positive things God could do in our lives in spite of all the negative things going on. God isn't bound by global economies, natural disasters, terrorists, governments or anything else we could name. The only thing that binds the hands of God moving in our life and our new year is our lack of faith in Him. We are the only ones who can prevent God from working great things for us in 2018.

            IN Matthew 9:27-30 it says, "...Two blind men followed Him, calling out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!' When He had gone indoors, the blind men came to Him, and He asked them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they replied. Then He touched their eyes and said, 'According to your faith will it be done to you'; and their sight was restored." Just like that, their faith in Jesus caused the miracle of sight. Who knows what God can do for you? Well, God does, He knows exactly what your new year is going to be. He's already been there for you mapping out what is best for you and what will cause you the most growth and blessings possible.

            SO what do you say? Will you join with me in believing that 2018 will be the best year of our lives? One thing that is so important is having Great Expectations for 2018, SO THAT we see His goodness.

Count Your Blessings

            IT'S Thanksgiving morning and I am reminded of a hymn we used to sing at the church where I grew up. Now at this church we sang a lot of hymns; "On Christ The Solid rock" (my favorite); "A Mighty Fortress"; "Amazing Grace"; and "Blessed Assurance", to name a few. But this hymn I'm thinking of today is "Count Your Blessings" by Johnson Oatman. The last part of the chorus goes, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done." I distinctly remember asking myself back then, is this even possible? Could someone count all their blessings that God has done? No way!

            FIRST of all we have been blessed in so many spiritual ways that we can't even comprehend this in physical realm. Paul wrote, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Ephesians 1:3. Now I could name a lot of spiritual blessings I have received, but I could never list "Every spiritual blessing in Christ." But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try.

            WE have been blessed with salvation from our sins and the forgiveness of them that accompanies salvation. This means all the bad things I have done (an exhaustive list as well) have been totally washed away, pardoned and forgotten by the Lord. In reality, unbelievable, and yet must be believed to be received. We have also been blessed with God's grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of the Lord (Goodness Received At Christ's Expense). His grace is something that cannot be earned and is never deserved. This is what makes it grace. We also have been blessed with Mercy. While grace IS receiving what we DO NOT deserve, mercy is NOT receiving what we DO deserve. Grace and mercy, two blessings I've been given and I am so thankful for.

            GOD has also blessed us with His peace. Jesus said in John 14:7, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." This peace is like a triple blessing because we get the peace and then His peace eases our troubles and alleviates our fears. Paul says in II Timothy 1:7, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

            OBVIOUSLY we can't name all our blessings, but here are a few more. We have been adopted into the family of God. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will." Wow, adopted as God's own kids, and He was happy to do so for anyone who believes. John said, "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God."  John 1:12

            THIS adoption into God's family means we have many brothers and sisters in Christ. God blessed me with two sisters by blood but no brothers. But now, I have so many more sisters and a whole host of wonderful brothers in the Lord. How rich can one person be?

            SERVING the Lord is in itself a great blessing. Because of this my life has purpose that reaches beyond this temporary world into the Heavenly realm. In other words, my life has meaning for this life and for the after life.

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." It's so beautiful to be able to live a life that matters to God and for others.

            WHAT is another blessing about being able to serve God is I don't have to try and do it all by myself. God blesses me with His power to achieve what He is asking of me. This power is through the Holy Spirit, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses..." Acts 1:8

            FINALLY, (for the letter, not for the blessings) we have hope. This hope is for the life we are living now and hope for the future. Peter writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."  I Peter 1:3. This living hope is the blessing of being resurrected to heaven after I die. The great blessing is that this world is not all there is to life. There is a better one waiting for us. What hope we have, what blessings (impossible to count) we have!

Stay In Your Yard

            FROM the start, let me apologize for, once again, using sports as an analogy. I am aware I use them often, but I do like my sports.

            WHILE on vacation last week I was watching a sports talk show hosted by Colin Cowherd. He started off his segment by saying that he does not like to go camping. Immediately I was intrigued because I do not like camping either. Camping for me is a Motel 6 and hiking is when your room is on the second floor. Anyway, Colin was saying that he didn't like camping because he did not want to get eaten by wild animals or bitten by reptiles or bugs. He said, "That is their backyard." He went on to say that in his backyard, "there are no bears." He also commented on how a surfer shouldn't complain if bitten by a shark. Once again, you are in the shark's back yard. I was kind of wondering where he was going with this and then he started talking about Aaron Rodgers, the Quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers had been injured the previous game and could likely miss the season. The reason for the injury, Colin stated, was because Rodgers left the pocket (his backyard) and ran into the backyard of the linebackers. He went on to say that "running quarterbacks" are much more likely to face injury than pocket passers (those who don't run). He also gave the list of quarterbacks who seldom leave the pocket and who have the longest active game streaks. Amazing analysis. Stay in the pocket and stay safe. Venture out and possibly get creamed.

            THIS got me to thinking about my own life and the life of you, the members of The Foothills. When, in fact, do I face the greatest risk to my spiritual life? It's usually when I venture outside the pocket because I either think I am as swift as a Cheetah or agile as a Squirrel.

            JESUS said in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Notice Jesus said, "The thief comes only..." There is no other purpose or goal of the Devil than to destroy you, your spouse, your kids, your finances... your life. He, the Devil, doesn't play fair, doesn't play nice, doesn't take pity and doesn't play games. He wants to steal your relationship with God and people, kill all your hopes and dreams for the future and finally destroy you in the pit of Hell for eternity. I know that sounds a bit morbid or over the top, but if you don't believe me, trust Jesus, He is the one who said it.

            JUST how does the Devil end up destroying us? By getting us to leave the pocket, assuming we will be O.K., and then cutting us down in an unsuspected blind-side. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." I want to do that. I want to be safe and guard my heart and in doing so my life, my family, my future and my friends. But how?           

            STAY IN THE POCKET! What is the pocket of protection that God has provided and assigned for me? There are several: #1) Read God's Word. Every morning of my life I get up and spend time in the Bible. It is a safe haven for me. #2) Spend time in Prayer. Each day and at various times throughout the day I ask God for wisdom and guidance. His voice to me is life, health and wholeness. #3) Church attendance. One hour a week. O.k. with shower and getting ready time and then drive time, an hour and a half. That's it. We all have one full week (52 of them a year) and God asks you to spend one hour with Him at His house, per week. Church is a great pocket of protection for you... and for your kids! #4) Small Groups. Ladies Bible studies (morning and evenings), Men's Bible Studies, The Forge, Marriage classes... All of these are meant to keep you safe and strong in the Lord. #5) Worship & Thanksgiving. It is so important to thank God, sing to God and listen to Worship music. Worship of God can change our attitudes quick, fast and in a hurry.

            THERE are no short-cuts to growth, maturity and safety in the Lord. Stray outside the pocket (His backyard) and don't be surprised if life kicks you upside the head. Folks, it's a dangerous world and dangerous times. All I want for you, as your Pastor, are the words of John, "I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." III John 2

Dynamics of a Healthy Family

            THERE are healthy families and sadly, there are unhealthy ones too. But make no mistake, there are no perfect families. What we need are just good, healthy, strong families. But for this to happen there are some things we must know.

            FIRST of all, there is the family way. Will it be humble and heavenly or hard? In James 3:13-15, James writes, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."  "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil."

            THE humble and heavenly way is God's way (that's why it's heavenly) of relating to one another within the family unit. It is a way of treating each person in the family with love, grace and mercy. It is the "wise" way to live which produces a climate of growth, inclusion, happiness and freedom. These families are well, well, because they treat each other well. And this is not just for the family, but for our work places, schools, neighborhoods and communities. Make no mistake about it, good begets good.

            ANOTHER way which some families or members of the family adopt, is the hard way. This is the way of bitter envy and selfish ambition. Envy is different than jealousy in that jealousy can be rooted in love. Like God who loves us with a jealous love. Envy is never rooted in love but in greed, lust, and unholy desires. Selfish ambition is different than ambition. Ambition is good and we all should have it. But selfish ambition, well, it speaks for itself.

            ENVY and selfish ambition is a contentious spirit that is always wanting more, never satisfied with any outcome or result and always believes it is being cheated or taken advantage of. This spirit is devastating in any group of people. It is a pushy, demanding, selfish attitude which causes all sorts of fighting and bickering.

            EVERY established country has a currency. The same is true of heaven. The currency of heaven is love, grace and mercy which purchases acceptance and forgiveness. When we live this way now it's a slice of heaven on earth. But how can we get a hold of this "wise" heavenly currency? By choosing to be content. People who choose to be content have little strife in their life... they are "good."

            CONTENTMENT can best be defined as "I am good (full, satisfied), God is good (all the time), and whatever (everything) I am going through will work for my good." James writes, "...Wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving..." James 3:17. Contentment is wise because it brings about purity. Paul's perspective on purity comes from Romans 16:19, "...Be wise about what is good, and innocent (unwise) about what is evil." Innocence about evil means I am unaffected by the temptations of Satan. This will bring great peace to my life and therefore to all my family members.

            PAUL says in Philippians 2:14-15,  "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." People who argue and complain are more susceptible to temptation and thus less likely to be pure. This takes us back to contentment versus envy and selfish ambition. Contentment is the antidote for all the arguments and complaints in a family. Being content makes us good. Learning to be content will give us peace. The more at peace we are, the more we prefer it. This makes us peace-loving people, which is good for all of our families. By choosing to be content, I choose to be a safe person and at peace with everyone in my family.

            THIS practice of peace is easier once we have learned contentment. Being content makes us wise, according to James 3:17, "...Considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." All good things for our families.

            HOW could we go wrong by being content? Contentment helps us to be pure and peace loving (not envious or selfishly ambitious) and full of good fruit, all of which are good for our families.

            IF this were the case (true), who in a family would ever be hurt again? We'd all have healthy (dynamic) families.