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The Question (A short story)

Since it has been quite some time since my last article, I feel as though I should explain my lack of content.  As my personal ministry has continued to increase, I have had to take time from other things, this being one of them.  I love writing and conveying those things which I have been give, and those things which I have been taught.  This article will be different than many of the others.  Several years ago I wrote several short stories and since my time to write has become limited I want to share with you one of those stories.  I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, feel free to share it.  Here is the story:

THE QUESTION
In this world one of the most difficult things to endure is heartache.  As children, and I speak from experience, we have our hearts broken by our parents and usually over something as insignificant as a toy.  Children want and desire things, items, or to go places and most times given the answer “no”.  Of course, looking back, it seems trivial.  From the child’s perspective, though, it is heart wrenching to want something so badly and then be denied.  As teenagers and young adults our hearts are usually broken due to failed relationships.  You know, boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy and girl break up, and so on.  Being on the wrong side of maturity, this scenario does seem to be very catastrophic.  Yet, with age, patience, and maturity these things help us become who we are.  Hindsight being 20/20, we are able to look back and see these things being far less tragic than originally perceived.
When we become adults, the heart aches we go through are quite different.  The loss of parents, children, and other family members usually generate the greatest aching within our hearts.  Seeing someone suffer through sickness, divorce, loss of finances, and drug or alcohol abuse also bring an aching heart to people.  All of these things, from the
time we are children until we leave this life, tear at our heart strings.  This, however, is not the kind of heartache my story contains.  In very rare instances, we can experience our hearts breaking, in a way that gives us joy and inspires us.  If you do not believe that can happen, please allow me the opportunity to change your mind.  By trade I am not a writer, but after telling this story several times to family and close friends I have been convinced to put pen to paper (actually, fingers to keyboard), and tell my story.  We all have stories.  Some are better, some are worse, some are long, some are short.  This one is mine.
My name is Jim Duvall.  I am 46 years old and work as an advertising and marketing agent for a sporting goods manufacturer.  In college I played baseball and played semiprofessional baseball after graduating for five glorious seasons.  I was good, just not good enough.  I took a job with one of the teams sponsors and the rest, you could say, is history.
My job allows me to travel and work with children, showcasing the latest and greatest  equipment.  I have always loved children, my wife and I have four of our own.  I have been married for twenty two years (I hope I got that right, if I didn’t, I’m sorry honey!)  We met in college and for our first official date she invited me to church.  She is a great Sunday School teacher and all the kids love her.  Thanks to her, I too, have learned much.  It was her devotion and dedication that led me to the altar of salvation, then to the marriage altar.
My wife’s name is Natalie.  She has taught Sunday School since she was a teenager and in her adult life she runs
a day care center at the church.  I suppose that Nat’s love for kids influenced me enough to want to work with them as well.  I eventually became a youth pastor, and I have enjoyed that far beyond anything I would have imagined.
Now that we have a little background I can get on with my story.  As I said earlier, my job allows me to travel and showcase our newest equipment.  For the most part I work directly with schools.  Colleges and high schools to be more specific.  Working with athletes and being able to impart the knowledge I gained through my own short lived baseball career is rewarding.  After the demonstrations are over I always stick around to answer any questions the kids may have and sometimes it proves to be a good way to witness to them about my personal life and my faith.  That is by far my favorite part.
Last spring, however, presented me with a rare treat. Our company had come up with some new face shields and batting helmets for Little League players, usually ages 10-12. It had been quite some time since I had done a demonstration for children of that age.  Once they hear that you played anything resembling professional baseball or have met a big name player (which had happened several times), they become awestruck.  From that point on, you have their undivided attention.
I was excited.  Not only would I be able to work with the smaller children, I would be working right in my own community!  I knew some of the children that would be there because they were part of our church’s youth group.  Seeing some familiar little faces was going to be a very special treat and that day was fast approaching.
On the day of our presentation I was greeted by many smiling faces.  As I had anticipated, some were familiar but
most were not.  I waved to the children, told them about myself, who I had played for, and the baseball stars I had met.  I continued by introducing the new equipment we had developed and explaining the differences between the old and the new.  Once the official speech was over, the kids got to try the helmets and our other youth equipment out.
While the kids were busying themselves with the new products I spoke with the coach’s, officials, and principal’s.  I assure you, talking sports with kids is much more satisfying than talking business with adults.  After the “grown up” business was taken care of I spoke with the children again and asked for their thoughts on the new equipment and finished up the official part of my job.
With everyone being dismissed and the presentation being over, as I usually do, I waited around and answered any questions they had.  I offered my usual “semi-professional” advice about batting, fielding, and which products “I” liked the best.  Finally, before leaving, I spoke about my other job of being a youth pastor.  Considering our church is in the same area as the school I invited all of them to our next Sunday morning service.  The following Sunday morning I was surprised and very pleased to see some new faces in our youth group.  One of the new faces in the back seemed quite familiar to me, but I was not immediately sure why.  Youth service being over, I searched for the familiar face of the boy who had been sitting in the back.   The boy, instead, had found me.  From behind I heard “Excuse me, Pastor Jim?”  In both of my jobs I have answered a lot of questions. Some of them you expect. Some of them are silly.  Some are embarrassing. Some make you think.  Some are funny. Apparently, some will make your heart break.

I turned to see the boy who was speaking to me.  I recognized him from the Little League demonstration I had done here in the community.  I’m glad he had accepted the invitation to attend our church.  New faces are always a welcome sight and it gave me joy to know that some children do listen to the parts that are not about sports.
As I faced him, I was met with a question.  No, I was met with THE question.  A question, which, in all its simplicity, filled me with an initially deep sadness.  A question which only a child could ask.  The question was this:  “Pastor Jim, when we get to heaven can you have your company make me a special wheelchair so me and my dad can play baseball together?”
I’m not sure if it was the question or the innocence and sincerity with which the question was asked that brought tears to my eyes.  I had not noticed his disability, but will never forget his question.  Here was a child who was not concerned with a disability, not concerned with being in a wheelchair, but only wanted to be in heaven to play baseball with his dad.  That broke my heart.
With tears streaming down my cheeks and a voice that quivered uncontrollably I made several attempts at talking and couldn’t.  I put my hand on his shoulder, knelt down, and prayed silently until I was able to gain a little composure.  It was with sheer and utter joy I explained that a wheelchair would not be allowed in heaven because Jesus would make our bodies glorified.  Bodies that would run and jump and not get tired.  After explaining the goodness of God and all that we have to look forward to, he was crying tears of joy and saying how he couldn’t wait to get there because his dad was already there waiting on him.
It hasn’t been long since the the story now referred to as “The Question Story” took place.  Each time I tell the story I get choked up.  The question has always reminded how innocent a child really is and how we should all be so lucky to find a part of that innocence within ourselves.

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The Love of God

How are we portraying the love of God?  This question should be asked of ourselves when confronting any hot-button issue.  It is so easy to get caught up in being right that we can lose sight of being right in the eyes of God.  There is a quote, and I use it often, that says “the truth, without love, is just brutality”.  I am not making a suggestion to sugar coat anything, but I am suggesting there are, at times, a better approach.

As a Christian we accept the inerrancy of the Bible as God’s Word.  We accept His Word is Faithful and True.  We accept that He is right in all matters, in all judgments, in all things.  When preaching to the choir, that boldness and righteous indignation toward sin is understood, to the sinner, it is indignation toward the person and often misunderstood.  Read almost any debate regarding the legalization of gay marriage here in the United States and you will see many examples.  Being right with God must exceed our need to be right to man.

We do, however, have a job to speak the gospel, be a witness, be a light, expose the darkness of sin, and speak the truth of God’s Word.  We must not be afraid of standing on His truth.  Let me ask, though:  Was it a hateful Christian that led you to Christ or was it someone that reached out in love, compassion, and understanding?   How are you responding now?  I have some bad news, this world will get worse and the love of many will wax cold.  Knowing this does not give us permission to let our love wax cold too.  When love waxes cold, the church must be a storehouse of love from which the world can find an example.  The church, and we as Christians, should have love in abundance and readily available.  We are not called to be like the world, but to be transformed from the world and worldly ways.

For those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, I often hear “…but God loves everyone”.  This is true, and thank God for that.  God even loves the sinners, we must never forget this fact.

Romans:5:8: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The love of God has never been in doubt, it isn’t even what separates a Christian from a sinner.  It is the acceptance of God’s love through Jesus that separates and saves.  For those who are yet in sin, God loves you.  This goes for the homosexual, the liar, the thief, the adulterer, and any other form of sinner.  You know the saying “love the sinner, hate the sin”.  Never doubt God’s love.  Yet, it is your acceptance of God’s love or rejection that will define your eternity.  God is love, and Jesus is His love toward mankind.  Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world and won victory over all sin for those who will accept Him as Savior.

The choice must be clear.  As a Christian, we must show the world the love of God.  For the sinner, God’s love is Jesus, and if you haven’t accepted Him, you have not accepted the Love of God.  Turn from your sin, ask forgiveness seek His love, His Son.  That gift is available, but like any gift, it can be accepted or rejected.  Unlike other gifts, this one has eternal consequences.  Only love covers a multitude of sin, seek Him while He may be found.  Today is the day of salvation, call upon Jesus now and accept the Love of God, there is no promise of tomorrow.

Not of this World

Throughout the Bible we find many interesting passages and phrases, and some of these send our hearts and thoughts wandering in amazement toward a truth we cannot yet comprehend. The Word of God is in many ways so much more than we can comprehend. The carnal, the human, the fleshly things we understand. The spiritual truths are often a lengthy pursuit, a quest for deeper understanding and riches beyond our imagination. Those truths are given by the Author to those who seek Him and His kingdom first.

Other times we find statements, phrases, and verses that lead us to meditate on Him. Jesus has prepared for us so much more than this world, this life, can show. While in this flesh, many of the spiritual things of God are veiled to us, for what more is this flesh than a veil? Yet, there are times, places, and people that have been given the privilege to see beyond this veil and glimpse the glory of God.

One of those verses, for me, is found in the book of John:

John:17:16: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

This verse, for me, is an awesome statement. Jesus says that we are not of the world just as He is not of the world. He makes a direct connection between Himself and us. The fact that the King of kings mentions us in the same breath as Himself is incredible. Does that fill you with awe? With wonder? Does that move you in any way? To know that we are like Him, in any way, because of Him and all He has done and given is indescribable.

Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we die to this world. Just as we die to this world, our life is then in Him. Our citizenship here, in this world, is temporary. We gain a new, permanent address and become citizens of His kingdom. One verse, so many thoughts.

This verse can also be a way to live, a mantra, a battle cry. We live in this world, but do we live TO this world? We cannot serve two masters, nor should we try!

The reason I decided to write this article and the many thoughts that the verse brought to mind is as simple as a bumper sticker. On the back glass of a vehicle I seen a sticker with “NoTW” (Not of This World). If you are not familiar with this brand, maybe you should check them out. Their website is http://www.notw.com

I met some of the NOTW staff at a Seventh Day Slumber concert. While at their clothing booth my wife and I made a couple of purchases. I cannot tell you how good it is to truly deal with a Christian business that is not afraid of the name Jesus, nor are they ashamed of the gospel. It is my privilege to relay what a great brand they are building on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have to say, I like their brand and I am not afraid to let people know that I may be in this world, but I am Not of This World!

It is a great verse, a great message, and in the day and time in which we live, I feel as though we should support Christian business and the message they are sending. It has been said “you may be the only Bible a person reads”, and I find that to be true, so let Christ be seen in you. Live as though you are not of this world, and let Jesus be glorified in all that you are and do.

Unleavened bread

Exodus:12:15: Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

The feasts of the Lord are of great significance. Their historical importance for the Jewish people and the church should not be overlooked. The most discussed and well-known are the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, for good reason. The other feasts are just as important. At this time last year I wrote about the feast of Passover and the prophetic fulfillment which is found in Jesus.

Today, I want to illuminate the feast of unleavened bread. This feast is no less important than the others. Although leaven is a term rarely used today, we should know what it means. Leaven means fermentation and expansion in dough or batter, and can also mean a substance that causes a gradual or altering transformation. To understand it in todays terms, you would use leaven in dough to make bread rise, as in a loaf of bread. Unleavened bread could resemble a cracker.

It is now that we see the difference between unleavened bread from bread with leaven. Symbolically, leaven is another term for sin.

Galatians:5:9: A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

Next we see that even a little leaven is enough to alter the whole lump. In the same way, a little sin is enough to cause a problem to the whole person. With that in mind, the question that arises is this; what am I allowing? Just because the sin is small, or appearing to be harmless, can it be that bad? The answer must be yes. It may not seem that bad now, but leaven and sin both can start small, practically unnoticeable. With time it begins to transform and in the end resemble something completely different than what it was at the start.

The difference between bread and crackers, really, is leaven, yeast, hot air. Are we puffed up by our leaven? Has our sin transformed us into something we were never meant to be? That is what sin does, it turns us into something far different from what God would have us be.

Prophetically, this feast too, was fulfilled in Jesus. He lived a sinless life. How can we know that? He was presented the Passover Lamb, without spot or blemish. He is the unleavened bread, the flesh without sin.

1st Corinthians:5:7: Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

We are commanded to purge out sin. How do we do that? By confessing our sin to God, if we do this He is faithful and just to forgive us. By accepting Jesus as our Savior we are a new creature, or as Paul said, a new lump. When a person repents of their sin, they turn away from it, becoming unleavened bread.

Luke:22:19: And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

1st Corinthians:11:24: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

If you were to try to break a slice of bread, it would pull apart. If you do the same with a cracker, it will break. During the last supper with His disciples, the feast of unleavened bread and the fullness of its meaning was to be understood. The same should be understood today during communion services. It is a very solemn occasion, knowing that same unleavened bread is offered freely. It is that Lamb without blemish, it is the Bread without leaven, and only by His blood, His sinless life, His abundant grace that we too can become unleavened bread. It is because He endured the the breaking of His body that we too can share in His inheritance. During Passover, never overlook the importance of unleavened bread the fulfillment found in Jesus. Give thanks, and praise Him, for He is deserving!

Love without rejection

If you have spent any amount of time reading and understanding the Bible, is there any doubt the most important theme is love? Not our love, but His love. Too often we think carnally, we think worldly, we think about ourselves first. We consider our love.

Our love is secondary. His love is first, His love is greatest. It is His love that surpasses our understanding, exceeds our expectations, and gives more abundantly than we can reason. His love stretches the span of time, generation after generation, reaching from the beginning of time throughout eternity.

The love we have to offer is measured by our time, which is not infinite. Our love reaches, but within bounds. When we offer love, it is sometimes with measure or restriction. Often, we love with condition. Unfortunately, we also fail to offer love out of fear or rejection. It is here where the love of God shines brightest. His love knows no fear. His love was given, poured out from the cross at Calvary.

Today His love is still calling out to “whosoever will”, any who will accept it. His love still beckons to show its strength, breaking the strongholds of sin, mending the broken-hearted, cleansing away all unrighteousness. There is no love like God’s love. No other love can do, and no other love will do, what God’s love can.

Why do I love God? I love Him because He first loved me.

1st John:4:19: We love him, because he first loved us.

He loved me when I was not worthy of His love. He loved me when there was no reason to love me. He loved me despite who I was, and all that I had done. Here is a small nugget of truth: Because He loved me first, there was no fear of being rejected by Him, because He died for me there was no doubt of how much He loves me. He has shown His love for me through Jesus, because He loved me first, all that was needed on my part was to accept His love.

It is because of His love that I submit myself to Him, His Word, and His Spirit. All that I am or will be, all that I do or will accomplish is only because of His love.

He has not only done this for me, He has done this for all who came before me and after me. The best news is this: He has also done this for you! If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, His love is there and all it takes is your acceptance. The greater your sin, the greater His grace, and the greater His love is. It is my sincere hope and prayer, if you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, that you will not let this day pass without considering and accepting His love for you. Today is the day of salvation, there is no promise of tomorrow. Let the love of God give you life, eternally. He is calling, will you answer?

In the beginning

The very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1 is full of beauty. In just the first four words we find the subject, the authority, the direction, and the cause of all things.

Genesis:1:1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

“In the beginning God”. Many great sermons could be derived from just these four words. In these words we have the starting point of history, which is really His story. Just beyond these four words we find God as the Creator. He first created Heaven, the place of His throne, His realm, putting Himself above all else that would ever be. Following closely, He created the earth. This sets the order of all things, and we should always understand our place as the created, submitting ourselves always to Him.

As simple as this verse seems at first reading, we find a greater understanding with its New Testament counterpart.

John:1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The similarity of these verses should never be overlooked and give us a more complete picture. Here we find the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. What else do we know about the Word? The Word became flesh and dwelt with man. The Word gave Himself, that we could be saved.

Today, we still have the Word. We have the Word in the Bible, and we have the Word as the Holy Spirit, still dwelling with man. We have His Word, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life. He bids all who thirst, come and drink freely the water of life. The One who created all things is still seeking those who are lost. Let me encourage you to seek the Word, the Creator, Jesus Christ. See His beauty, accept Him as your Savior, know a love greater than man can fully comprehend, and become a part of His story.

Victory

1st Corinthians:15:57: But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we also accept His victory as our own. Do we consider the price? Do we reason that we are worthy? Do we include the things we have done to be part of that victory? When we accept Jesus and His victory, it is just that, His victory. He allows us His glory, His life, His Spirit, His strength, His peace, His word, and His blood.

We should humble ourselves knowing that we deserve none of it. We have been made part of the family of God due to His grace and His love. No part of that is of man, it is all of God. Everyday we have the chance to share that love, that victory, to as many as will listen.

We must not cheapen that victory. The victory which we have in Jesus came at a steep price. There is no other blood which could cleanse from all sin. There is no other blood which is pure, for no other could be called the Son of God.

What is the price of victory? Whips laced with stone and bone fragments tore the flesh from Christ. A crown of thorns pierced His precious head. His beard was plucked from His face. He was spit on. He was beaten. He was nailed to a cross and mocked. While on that cross, Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world, then died.

When we trivialize the cross, the crucifixion, and Jesus Christ, we cheapen His victory. When we sin willingly, when we sin openly, when we sin knowingly we take away from that victory. We must submit ourselves to His Word, His will, His purpose and be up and about His business. He gave Himself wholly and endured the shame of the cross for our sake, we should be willing to always submit ourselves the same for Him. We do have victory and we also have an obligation not to cheapen any part of it, our victory did not come easy, but is freely given. Today, let us praise Jesus in spirit and in truth, for He is truly worthy!