Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: A Spiritual Odyssey

As I glance back across 2010 I am first and foremost stunned that it’s over. The year has been a time of joy and frustration, highs and lows, good and bad. Overall, it will go down as one of the most amazing years of my life.

I can vividly recall ministry frustrations early in the year. I remember sitting on one of the furthest back rows of church one Sunday morning, hidden in a crowd of over 800 worshippers and suddenly feeling like the preacher was right up in my face. His message had taken a turn to discussing forgiveness and I felt like he’d written the entire thing for me. His sermon ripped off the scab of an old wound and revealed I’d been harboring some bitterness, anger and resentment in my own heart over past hurts.

At one point I just wanted to shout, “Okay, okay! I get it big guy! Back off!” I wanted to run away, hide and cry. Well I stayed, but I still shed some tears. I went down to the altar and confessed my un-forgiveness to God. Suddenly I realized one of the biggest stumbling blocks to my ministry was this stuff I’d been holding in my heart. I told my wife all about it and felt like I’d unloaded a 100 pound weight from my back.

Just a few weeks later as I sat in that same seat, I felt God relating a message to me. I strongly felt it would be one of my last weeks at my home church. Depression seized me, especially because worship time had such power that particular morning. I shared the feeling with my wife and told her I could feel God working, I just didn’t know where it was all going. I felt like I was on the threshold of something.

It had been since 2006 that I had surrendered to preach. I had served from 2007-2008 as associate pastor at my first church, but it had afforded few opportunities to fill the pulpit. Most of my preaching was done inside the local adult and juvenile detention centers as a volunteer and for 2009 as assistant chaplain to the local jail ministry. I’m not sure why God gave me such a heart for inmates, but I loved bringing the Gospel message to them. However, I still felt I had not reached God’s destination he had set for me.

I felt unfulfilled spiritually despite the great opportunities in jail and the blessing of co-teaching a wonderful group of 9th grade boys for Sunday school. Back pain became a constant throughout the year and I was deep in the midst of it by spring. We took a trip to Arizona and I was privileged to walk my oldest girl down the aisle. She made a beautiful bride. The 19 hour trip there then back wreaked a little more havoc on my back.

My wife had encouraged me to send out my resume to several local churches looking for a pastor, but honestly, I had become discouraged that anything would ever come out of it. I seemed to keep finding closed doors and disappointments at every turn. She called me with excitement while I was at work one day to tell me a little church named Lee Chapel Baptist Church just outside of town had called expressing interest in meeting with me. I drove by it at lunch that day, and I felt something odd in my heart, a longing, a desire, and the seeds of some sort of peace.

A few weeks went by with no further word from them. I felt disappointment settling in like a heavy weight again. It had been over 6 months since I had stood in a pulpit although I still had a semi-regular opportunity to preach in jail. I remember taking a dose of vicodin to dull my backpain and sitting down to watch one of my daughters play “Red Dead Redemption.” I’d had it that day, and I expressed a great deal of frustration to God in prayer. I felt drained and depressed. The medicine helped with the physical pain but not with what I can only describe as the spiritual pain.

Suddenly I heard my cell phone ring. It was the ringtone for a call from somebody that was not in my directory. I felt my heart leap at the thought that it might be from that little church, but then I tried to prepare myself for disappointment as well. The voice on the other end was that of the search team leader, and they wanted me to come preach in view of a call. I think I just about exploded in excitement.

A few weeks later, under God’s divine direction and provision, I found myself called to be the pastor of Lee Chapel Baptist Church. I always wondered how I would know when the right church called me, but I had such a peace about it that I knew it was God’s absolute direction.

The excitement was not over as my previous home church arranged to ordain me and two other younger men into the ministry. It was such a powerful and emotional experience, and I was thrilled that the chaplain was able to come and participate, laying his hands on me and praying for God to bless my ministry.

Wow, that’s a lot about that event, but I must confess, it is the most important event for me in 2010 and one of the most important in my life. I am a bi-vocational pastor, but I can say I have one of the greatest blessings of any person – I get to do a job every week that I love. God put a dream in my heart to be a pastor, and I am living out that dream right now.

My second grandchild was born in 2010, baby Abi, coming a bit prematurely but progressing miraculously. My youngest girl started kindergarten and one of her older sisters started her senior year, the next sister moved out to a place on her own, and the aforementioned oldest girl was wed. These ladies keep me busy!

God brought some great people into my life as friends. One of my best friends came on board with our church as the worship leader, and for me it has been a match made by God. I am just stunned as I look over the past few years how God brought us together and how he works out his perfect plan beyond any ability of us to fathom. I even got to perform the first baptism at my new church, and I’m ready for more!

I fought through some challenges and frustrations in my secular job, but everything took a turn for the better towards the end of the year. We suffered some heavy turn over, but I am blessed to have my two team members still with me, and they are the finest folks I have ever had the opportunity to work beside.

I experienced one of the most excruciating bouts with tooth pain ever as I battled an abscessed tooth that had to be extracted. I guess it’s been a year with a good deal of physical pain but a greater deal of spiritual joy. We had some family bumps in the road as one of our girls moved out, but thankfully we all are a unified family at this point.

One of my big disappointments came when PepsiCo decided to discontinue my favorite energy drink on the planet – Sobe No Fear. That happened back in April, and I finally came to terms on drinking Monster Energy. My friend and co-worker scored me one of the last cases of No Fear, and I have a total of three cans left in my inventory now. The last three cans on earth…I think I’ll celebrate the New Year with one.

AS for the resolutions I made at the beginning of 2010? All of them have fallen by the wayside save one: floss daily. I suppose that is a noteworthy accomplishment, especially in view of my dental run-ins over the past couple of years. My dental hygenist was certainly proud of me.

2010 has been a year of turning points. Again, I cannot believe it is over. It’s been a wild ride – exciting and exhilarating. The bad has been more than outweighed by the good. I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds. I pray I’ll see some good and exciting times, and I pray for strength, endurance and wisdom during the bad times.

Happy New Year!
Randy Alan

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Gospel of Hate

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35)

I’m often amazed at how much hatred we can direct to each other in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have been a bit obsessed over the last week with Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ. He spews hate from his pulpit, going so far as to say he prays every night for President Obama to die and burn in hell and calling for the public execution of homosexuals. He openly professes he hates the President along with homosexuals, pro-abortionists and apparently anybody who reads anything but the King James Bible. He actually claims that true salvation only comes through the King James Bible so I guess all those people cursed to be born before 1611 that relied on English translations such as the Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible are all rotting in the nether reaches of the abyss. So much for the Puritans and their preaching from the Geneva Bible: I guess they were as heretical as any heathen that would dare to read from the pages of the satanic NIV translation.

I’m sorry, I digress. It’s just so easy to get sidetracked when you are dealing with fascinating characters like Anderson. I’m not sure where to start or finish with him. He is a clean cut looking man in his late 20’s with a beautiful family. You’d never imagine by looking at him that he was capable of vomiting the vitriolic messages he preaches each week. He really isn’t a bad speaker, just a bad interpreter of God’s word.

Let me clarify my stance before going further. If you show up at my church on Sunday morning you will most likely hear me preaching from the King James. I like it’s majestic and poetic language. I even believe it is an accurate translation. However, I don’t believe that it is the be all and end all of Bibles. Yes, I admit it…I confess…I read from the NIV, NASB, NKJV, NCV, AMP, NLT, ESV but I draw the line at the Message! Too much of a paraphrase, but I’m pretty okay with any other mainstream translation allowing that you understand the translation methodology so you can utilize it properly in study. We don’t send you through a TSA level pat down to see if you are smuggling in non-KJV Bibles on Sunday at Lee Chapel Baptist Church.

I believe homosexuality is wrong and sinful. I believe the same about adultery, lying, stealing, murder and a whole string of other things clearly laid out as such in God’s word. I’m glad God doesn’t arbitrarily strike down any sinner, but desires all to come to repentance (just glance over at 2 Peter 3:9 if you don’t believe me). I believe we should preach about such things from our pulpit concerning God’s wrath on the sinner and the grace, mercy and salvation offered to each and every sinner (the balance offered in Romans 6:23).

I’m just wondering if guys like Anderson (or the Westboro Baptist crew or Terry “Burn-a-Koran” Jones) bothered to read over Matthew 5-6 or huge sections of the Gospel of John? Anderson claims to have over 100 chapters of the Bible memorized but I think the bulk of them are from Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. I often believe we glaze over the wrath of God, but let’s not leave out the love of God either. God’s wrath towards sin condemns, God’s love towards man offers salvation. Yes Pastor Steve, even a homosexual, pro-choice Obama supporter that reads from the NIV can experience the love of Christ. Anderson and his followers in all their abhorrence for Obama love asking those opposed to such views, “If Hitler showed up on your doorstep what would you do?” The inference is the best choice is to take him down.

I’ll be honest with you, if Hitler showed up on my doorstep via some sort of temporal time distortion I’d grab the most effective weapon I had – God’s Word. I can’t change the heart of a man like Hitler, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ can. I’d do the same thing if the President of the USA knocked on my door…even if all I had was an NIV.

In closing, I cannot help but reflect on the life of the Apostle Paul. He was intolerant and uncompromising in his faith. He is my role model. When you think of Paul, it’s not hate that comes to mind, but love and sacrifice. What will Pastor Steve Anderson be remembered for? What will Pastor Terry Jones be remembered for? What will Pastor Fred Phelps be remembered for? I believe they have all erred over simply missing the mandate of one important verse, written from a titanic leader of the early church to his struggling protégé:

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The phrase “rightly dividing” is the Greek orthotomeō. It means to cut straight. I’m afraid they have studied the Word that they might cut deep with it, inflicting grievous wounds on their flocks and any other unfortunate individuals who cross their path. I do not believe God approves of their teaching, and I believe they bring shame upon themselves because of their hatemongering.

Randy Alan

Friday, December 17, 2010


But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15)

I spend time daily surfing various locales on the web that purport to be “Christian Discernment” sites. The goal of these sites is to function as spiritual whistleblowers for the church at large. Legitimately they engage issues such as syncretism, the Emerging church movement, political attacks on Christianity and things that turn the church into a circus. However, a disturbing trend I have noticed lately is that they mow down potential allies with friendly fire.

Case in point: The Crosstalk Blog leveled their guns at the publisher of “The Almighty Bible” recently. Crosstalk’s beef was that a “comic book Bible” was a perversion of God’s word. However, upon investigating “The Almighty Bible’s” website, I found they are a Biblically grounded group of folks who want to encourage young people from 8-14 years of age to read God’s word. They even have their new Bible in an iPad app that also contains the entire text of the particular book (they have done Genesis and Exodus so far).

The accusation from Crosstalk is that this is “adding to and/or taking away from” God’s word and is therefore an insult to God. Have you ever read a picture Bible? I have a couple I have read to my youngest girl for quite awhile now. It has helped give her a strong Biblical foundation. The stories are presented in a simple to understand format with great illustrations. These sorts of picture Bibles are a wonderful introduction to the Scriptures that can help a child or young person in learning about their wonderful Savior.

After expressing my opinion on Crosstalk, I found myself accused of “blasphemy.” I always expected insults and accusation for my faith…from unbelievers! I cannot help but chuckle at the label pinned on me for my views. My opinion is simply this: the folks at “The Almighty Bible” are trying to bring God’s word to a generation that desperately needs it. I’ve used similar tools before such as “The Manga Bible” and “Manga Messiah” along with numerous movies and cartoons and music from Christian hip-hop artists... all teaching sound, Biblical doctrine and staying true to the Bible.

I believe “Christian Discernment” sites must walk a fine line between discernment and denigration. Heresy hunters can quickly become witch-hunters. If you really want to find a witch bad enough, you always will. If they don’t exist, you will create them (remember the Salem Witch Trials?). We must be careful about drawing conclusions without thoroughly researching the target of our accusations. I believe we have a great precedent set before us in the works of the early church father Iranaeus and his voluminous tome “Against Heresies.” He knew the teachings and writings of the heretics and apostates and was able to address them specifically.

What bothered me most about Crosstalk’s attack on “The Almighty Bible” was that nobody appeared to be interested in visiting the publisher’s website and undertaking a thorough investigation. My suggestion to do such fell on deaf ears while the blind accusations continued to drop. Perhaps the best advice I can offer is to check your targets before opening fire. You could be emptying a clip on friendly forces.

The danger I find is that of creating an insular community that rejects anybody who even reasonably disagrees with them. They embrace preconceptions without intensive research. What raised Crosstalk’s ire were words in the press release about “The Almighty Bible” that stated it was “edited” from the original texts. The accusations flew and I’ll share a few of those statements:

“Our forefathers were literate enough to actually read a Bible, and today, ‘graphic novels’ (that’s another name for comic books) are assumed to be all anyone can handle.”

“The ‘Almighty Bible’ will bring essential books from the Bible to life, they say. No need for the Holy Spirit then. No need at all. We just need comic books with edited Bible stories for media-driven youth.”

“The same evil redefining of Truth that occurred in the Church and is being played out every day in stories like this…”

“Another example of how we are trivializing the Scriptures.”

“…who dares to think that God and The Holy Spirit didn’t make account for a ‘visual generation’. Blasphemy.”

And perhaps the worst came when the publisher responded to the attacks, saying:

“We are not trying to replace the traditional Bible, we just want to grab the attention of kids and teens who would otherwise have no interest in picking up a Bible. Everyday young people are challenged to balance their time and much of this time is spent using gaming consoles, Facebook and mp3 players. We have chosen to release the Bible in these formats to compete for their attention and introduce them to God’s word.”

The reply that came was stinging and to me totally out of line:

“You and your team are not a solution to anything,….the fruit of 30 years of relevance and seeker sensitivity and youth adoration are in…you are part of the problem. I wouldn’t want to be in line for Gods’ wrath that comes upon those who add or subtract from Gods WORD.”

As I read over the words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 I am saddened at such responses. The Greek word for “answer” is the root etymologically of our word apologetics. It means to give a reasoned answer for your beliefs. I do not see reason in such vitriolic attacks. I certainly do not see “meekness” (gentleness and kindness) or “fear” (respect).

We are called to be discerning (check out 1 John 4:1). However, I am afraid it can be taken way too far. I’m not going to swear off such sites, but I will continue to express my opinion on them both positively when they blow the whistle on serious church issues, and negatively when they aim their attacks at friendly forces.

I guess to sum it all up, please use discernment when you are discerning.

Pastor Randy

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Catcher

For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV)

One of the greatest parts of jail ministry is a thing we call “beanhole.” The beanhole is a small metal opening at about waist height in a cellblock door. It’s about 15” x 8” in size. Our adult detention center has 8 cellblocks, and throughout the week volunteers will go to the beanholes of the various cellblocks to visit with inmates. It is mostly a ministry of prayer, as we hold hands with the inmates through that narrow opening and cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ together. We also hand out Bibles, Christian literature and share the Gospel through the beanhole. The Holy Spirit performs amazing work through that little metal flap in the cellblock door. I cannot fit through it, but he sure can, and although inmates are locked in, he is not locked out.

I had the blessing this past Wednesday of seeing a man give his life to the Lord Jesus Christ through the beanhole. I wish I could have filmed it and posted it right here for you to see the joyous occasion. The Holy Spirit had been working hard on him. He came to the beanhole and asked for a Bible and prayer. I took the opportunity to ask him what his spiritual life was like. He began to share he had felt a heaviness in his heart for almost three months about turning his life over to Christ. He told me he planned on getting into a church as soon as he was out of jail and making things right.

I felt prompted to share with him that he need not wait. The Lord led me to 2 Corinthians 6:2 which I shared with him. He acknowledged he had already been putting it off too long. He took my hand and cried out to Jesus to come into his life right there. He asked for forgiveness, asked for Jesus to lead him in the right path. I felt like dancing down the halls of the county jail, but I wasn’t quite sure how the deputies would take that. I prayed for him as we still held hands and asked God to protect and lead him. What a moment!

God blessed me to see the spiritual re-birth of this man. Notice, I did none of the work. The Spirit led me into the jail and to a particular verse in Scripture. I simply had the pleasure to see this man be born into the kingdom of God. It reminds me of when my daughter Destiny was born. My wife went through 16 hours of grueling labor. Right at the end, the doctor showed up, caught my newborn daughter, cleaned her up and left. He did none of the work; he just had the pleasure of catching this beautiful newborn child. He was more like a catcher on a baseball team holding out his glove to catch the ball as it comes his way.

We need more catchers on God’s team! My “beanhole buddies” as I call them are an awesome group of people. None of them would lay claim to being awesome witnesses or preachers or Bible scholars. They are obedient followers of the Lord Jesus and have a heart for reaching out to the lost and hurting. More than anything, they are loyal and obedient, just showing up with a strong shoulder and attentive ear. Too many times we are intimidated in being witnesses because we are afraid of what we’ll say or how people will react. I cannot save anybody. I can’t pitch, I can’t hit and I can’t run. I am merely called to show up at home plate with my glove and be ready. The only way to truly fail is not to show up. Nobody warms the bench in God’s game unless they choose to. Let him use you this week!

Randy Alan

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

“Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.” – Patrick Henry

I wish we had men like Patrick Henry around today. We may believe political divisiveness didn’t exist in “the good old days” but Henry made the above quote in March of 1799 over a contentious issue called the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that challenged the Constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Even the framers of our great nation faced bitter political battles, but they knew how important it was to avoid division in order to preserve unity.

However, I believe men like Henry had cooler heads and more patriotic attitudes than we see in politics today. I believe he was an intellectual and a gifted speaker of the likes which are either totally extinct or in danger of extinction today. The 30-second sound bite has reduced politics today to vitriolic slogans that do little to build our nation, but indeed function as a battering ram to pound American solidarity to dust.

I could not help but cringe to watch the video of 23 year old Lauren Valle having her head stomped into the ground by Rand Paul supporters before a debate in Kentucky. I am not saying I agree with Valle’s political views, but I totally disagree with the barbaric attack against her. Supporters say they were concerned about Paul’s security, but I’m not sure if they thought her sign or fake blond wig were the weapons she planned on using to attack their candidate. It’s a sad testimony to the volatile political atmosphere in America today.

I believe our nation is at a crossroads and we have reached a level of unprecedented divisiveness. We have an opportunity to divide and fall, or to unite and rise. We must remember that we are not first Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party or Independents. We are first Americans. Our nation’s symbol is the majestic red, white and blue of Old Glory, not the elephant, or donkey or whatever political symbol that represents your chosen party.

I believe the greatest threat to America today is this very divisiveness amongst its own citizens. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, straight, homosexual, pro-life, pro-choice, Christian, atheist, Wiccan, rich, poor, white collar or blue collar we are all Americans. We are a country founded on principles of unified diversity. Somehow in the landscape of the 21st century we have embraced diversity and sacrificed unity. We need to reclaim that before it’s too late and America is torn apart at the seams. Speak your opinions, but do not impose them on others. Vote your conscience but do not denounce others for doing the same. Respect your opponents and don’t insult, belittle or physically attack them for expressing their views.

My prayer is that despite our differences we can join together to strengthen this great country despite the challenges that lie ahead.

God Bless America!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Comfort Zone

Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman." So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:8-9 NIV)

Let me be real with you. Speaking in front of a crowd used to make me physically ill. Pass the barf bag nauseous. I can remember agonizing over giving book reports in grade school. I lost sleep thinking about it. I’d have rather done anything else…anything else that didn’t involve water. I never learned how to swim. I grew up in the tri-lake area and never learned to swim. My dad spent 20 years in the US Navy, sailing around the world, but I never learned how to swim. Water more than knee-deep ties my intestines in knots.

I became an atheist when I was a junior in high-school, right around age 16. I remember reading several books about mythology and finally coming to the brilliant conclusion that the so-called “Holy Bible” was just a collection of interesting myths that gullible people accepted as truth. So basically I was a shy, water-fearing atheist.

Why in all of creation would God choose me to be a preacher and pastor? How could he look over all the qualified candidates then rest his eyes on me and say, “You’re it.” He could have chosen a bold speaker, a brave swimmer and someone who grew up well grounded in Christian faith. However, he chose me.

You want to talk about getting out of your comfort zone? Speaking in front of a group of people on average three times a week? Stepping into a baptistery of waste-deep water to dunk somebody under it and hope you don’t go under too and drown? Searching out truths with a mind filled with skepticism and unbelief? God took me light years out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone is long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Have you ever noticed how God calls people out of their comfort zones? I can think of many: Moses, Abraham, David, Elijah, Daniel, Isaiah, the 12 Disciples, Paul and many others. Each has an amazing story, playing a role in God’s epic. However, I wanted to look briefly at Barak.

God called Barak out of his comfort zone. He reached out to him through the prophetess Deborah. Barak could have gone down in history as one of the great military leaders of Israel, getting credit for crushing one of the wicked enemies of his people. In order to do this he had to move out of his comfort zone. He just wasn’t ready. He was unable to take that big leap on his own. He wanted Deborah to go with him because he just wasn’t sure about it.

I can relate to Barak. He’s my kind of guy. I can feel his tremendous discomfort at God’s call on his life. I can feel the knots he must have had in his gut. I can imagine how dry his mouth must have been and how hard his heart must have beaten when Deborah said, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.' " (Judges 4:6b-7 NIV).

Barak was thinking of those 900 chariots Sisera had at his command, and the 20 years of cruel oppression he had enforced, all mentioned back in Judges 4:3. He was being called way out of his comfort zone. He just could not bring himself to go there, and because of that, he sacrificed honor and blessing.

As you sit back and read this today think about this question: How is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone? What is the Lord Jesus Christ asking you to do that makes you want to go hide in a dark corner somewhere and hope he cannot find you? Even more importantly, what blessing and honor are you missing because you are not willing to step out of your comfort zone? It may simply be that you are so comfortable where you are at that you are not willing to turn your life over to him at all. Will you step out of your comfort zone today?

I’ll be real in closing. I still get nervous in front of groups, but the Holy Spirit carries me through. I still am worried that I am going to drown while baptizing somebody, but the Holy Spirit inspires me to step into that water. I have embraced faith, because I have seen the power of the Lord Jesus Christ at work. Either he is real, or I am crazy, or more than likely, he is real and I am crazy. Step out of the comfort zone and into the crazy zone with me.

Randy Alan

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My City

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NASB)

I grew up in Hot Springs just a few blocks from downtown. My mother loved to walk, and we’d often stroll through the heart of the city. Downtown Central Avenue was the heart of commerce back then, featuring all the big stores like Sears, J.C. Penny, Walgreens, Kress and many others. All the businesses had yet to undertake the great exodus to Hot Springs Mall, and a different vibe filled that area of the city. We’d often walk the Promenade which was vibrant. Hot Springs had a large pigeon population then, and many people would sit on the benches and just feed the birds. Elderly men actually sat at the tables with checkerboards and played checkers. After a walk and some shopping, we’d stop at the diner inside Kress and have a meal.

Things have certainly changed. I am glad to see downtown still has life. I took a walk from the fountain in front of the old Majestic Hotel all the way down to the old Malco theatre this past Saturday night. People filled the sidewalks and the downtown breathed with health and vitality. It’s different now, but definitely alive.

Yesterday, I walked the Promenade before heading to class, and it has changed, too. It’s mostly deserted now, and strangely so for me since the pigeons and any reminder of them are long gone. I passed a few people, but it seems for the most part, the Promenade is some sort of Hot Springs anachronism. As I got to the end, I turned onto Fountain Street and started to walk back towards Bathhouse Row. A wall runs alongside the sidewalk there, and I glanced up at it in memory. My mother used to lift me up on that wall and hold my hand as we walked that same walk many years ago.

I thought to myself, “You ought to hop up on that wall for old time’s sake and walk it again.” The pragmatic adult inside me said, “That’s preposterous.” I ignored that part of me and mounted the wall and walked it to the end. Of course I’m much taller now and don’t need my mother to hold my hand to keep my balance, but it sure brought back some good memories.

I tried to drink in every aspect of downtown on that walk. I listened to the sounds of traffic that bled through the soft music on the headphones of my ipod. I stared up at the heights of the Arlington and the Medical Arts Building. I watched the steam rising from the hot springs. I breathed in the aroma of the magnolia trees. I was glad to see many people taking in the sights of downtown. It’s different, but it’s still the same. More than anything, it’s my city, and I love it.

The thing God impressed on me on both walks was that he has put me here for a reason. I thought of Christ’s commission to his disciples in Acts 1:8 and how he told them they would first be his witnesses in Jerusalem, the city where they were all at during that time. My deepest concern is that many times we have forsaken our Jerusalem in order to be witnesses “to the end of the earth.” I’m not saying we should desert our foreign mission efforts, but I am saying that Hot Springs, Arkansas is a wide open mission field. It is filled with people who desperately need the Gospel. I have no doubt my mission is here and I pray I have the boldness to fulfill that mission according to God’s plan. This is my city, and my Savior has called me to preach his message in this place. Where is he calling you to go, and what is he asking you to do today?


Saturday, October 16, 2010

What Do God and Jesus Look Like?

I have a picture of Jesus that hangs on my bedroom wall. My mom had a portrait like it that hung on her living room wall when I was a kid. I never really cared too much about Jesus back then. She gave me that portrait after I moved out and started on my own. By then I was a full blown atheist and the painting landed in the deep, dark, dank recesses of my garage. When I finally came to know Christ and dug it out, I found it had been destroyed by mold and mildew. However, shortly after I found an exact copy of it buried in a rack of paintings at a flea market. I snatched it up and hung it on my bedroom wall.

The painting means a lot to me, but I am not certain that when I meet Jesus he will look anything like that at all. It’s merely some artist's concept of him. Just like in my favorite movie about Jesus, “The Gospel of John.” Henry Ian Cusick plays Jesus in the film, and he does the finest job of any actor I have seen. However, I am not sure Jesus will be that fair skinned and speak with an English accent. So what does Jesus look like? In fact, what does God look like?

Speculation only leads to an inconclusive hypothesis. The best thing to do is search the Scriptures. However, even there one comes up short finding a true physical description of God or his Son. More than anything else, the Bible describes the attributes and work of God and Christ. Those are the most important things. However, inquiring minds want to know.

First let’s look at God. A couple of Scriptures offer some insight into his appearance:

Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:26-28 NIV)

His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:14-16 NIV)

The most noteworthy thing about God is his majesty, his glory and his holiness. I don’t believe the human mind can actually wrap itself around his appearance. Notice how Ezekiel fell on his face in his presence. John “fell at his feet as though dead” in Revelation 1:17. I cannot describe exactly what God looks like, but the reaction to his appearance is obvious: it’s overwhelming.

Now, what about Jesus? Does he look anything like the cultured actor Cussick from “The Gospel of John”? Does he have feathered hair, neatly pressed robes and stylish sandals? The best description of him is found in the prophetic words of Isaiah:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2 NIV)

To put it simply Jesus looked like an average Joe in his human form. He was a blue collar class, hardworking carpenter, most likely with calloused hands and a face that did not stand out from the crowd. However, he had the commanding presence of the Almighty God inside of him.

How can we know what Jesus looks like? The one way is to surrender your life to him, to answer his call. Those that repent and believe the Gospel will one day stand in his glorious presence and see him as he truly is, as the Apostle John tells us:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:12 NIV)


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spiritual Hygiene

I just finished up a cleaning at the dentist's office. I must confess, I used to have horrible dental hygiene. I went for decades without stepping into a dentist's office. I'd just as soon have subjected myself to waterboarding by the CIA. I didn't floss, and I didn't aggressively brush. As you might have guessed, this created some serious problems. My dentist is the best. Instead of spending any amount of time chastising me when he first saw me, he simply set to work fixing me up. My mouth became a construction zone. He had to do a little demolition, a little rebuilding, and before everything was done, I learned what a real cleaning was like, about fillings, extractions and unfortunately dry socket. I had a nurturing dental staff and some good bouts of laughing gas to help me through the ordeal. I vowed to be diligent in my dental hygiene from that point forward.

I went out and purchased a Sonicare. I had to have the best toothbrush on the market. A Sonicare is to a toothbrush what a jackhammer is to a pick and shovel. It turns brushing into an adventure. This year I broke down and on my list of resolutions I wrote with a shakey hand, "floss daily." I won't list my other resolutions, because they've all fallen by the wayside. However, seven months into the year, I still floss daily. Good dental hygiene takes diligence and perseverance.

Often we give more dilgence and perseverance to those type of things than we do to our spiritual hygiene. Just as teeth are prone to rot and decay if exposed to an abundance of junk food or deprived of cleaning, so our spirits are as well. Tooth decay is a serious issue. However, spiritual decay is even moreso. We fill our spiritual lives with junkfood everyday by the websites we surf, the shows we watch and the music we listen to just to name a few things.

Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 to "be sober, be vigilant." He is saying, "Let's take this stuff seriously folks, there's alot at stake!" My dental hygienist has told me how nefarious plaque and bacteria can be on your teeth. All that stuff starts down in little pockets around your gumline, or in the crevices between your teeth. A regular, cursory brushing is not going to keep up a good line of defense. You have to brush aggressively on that gumline, pop that floss between your teeth. If you want to have good dental hygiene, you have to work at it.

If you want to have good spiritual hygiene you have to work at it. My wife and I have both had to go over things we used to watch, read and listen to closely. I am careful what I let onto my television, radio, ipod and computer. I've let my defenses down in the past and I've paid the price. It can be something as simple as a song that starts a bit of spiritual decay in my walk with Christ.

When I sat down in the dentist's chair today and the hygienist lowered that bright light to examine my teeth up close and personal, I wondered, what if Christ could put me in a chair and shed a light on the condition of my spirit? What would he see? What would he need to scrape away? What would he advise me to do to have a better spiritual life? Where have I been lax, what junk have I been letting into my life that is detrimental to my spiritual health? If my dental hygiene is important, how much moreso my spiritual hygiene?

I never want to sit in the dentist's chair and here him say, "Randy, we have a cavity we are going to have to fix today." I should even more fearfully dread hearing the Lord Jesus say to me, "Randy, we have a sin we are going to have to fix today."