Friday, July 04, 2008

Important Announcement

As some of you may have noticed, it has been a while since I have posted anything here on the Soulscape blog.  The reason I have not posted is because I have sort of shifted my preferred format, opting instead to send my "blog entries" in an e-newsletter format.  For the first several issues of the Soulscape newsletter, I also posted them here so that those who did not subscribe to the newsletter would still get to see each entry.

After a few weeks, this became not only tiresome but troublesome as well.  Formatting issues, as well as the time involved in transferring from one program to another (it wasn't as simple as copy-and-paste) made it impractical to continue this pattern.  That, coupled with statistical data on the visits to this blog, has led me to place the blog format of Soulscape on hold indefinitely.

There are still many visits each day, but usually these visits are to prior entries, especially my two series on The Armor of God and The Book of Ecclesiastes.  Since newer posts are not visited with such vigor, it stands to reason that the best format to continue the Soulscape ministry is through the e-newsletter.

So, if you'd like to have Soulscape delivered to your Inbox once a week, simply leave a comment to this entry, including your name and e-mail address and I will add you to the mailing list.  YOUR PRIVACY IS OUR PRIMARY CONCERN!  I have to approve the posting of all comments, so your name and e-mail address will not be posted for anyone to see; I will be the only one with that information.  The newsletter is also sent using the blind carbon copy or BCC feature, so your information will remain private.  You can also unsubscribe at any time, should you so desire.

I again thank each of you for your interest in this Soulscape blog, and hope that you will join me again by subscribing to the Soulscape Newsletter.  And who knows?  We might just see each other here at Soulscape from time to time!  God bless!

Chris Keeton
Pastor and Author of "Soulscape - Inspiration for the Heart"

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Copyright 2008, Chris Keeton and Soulscape -- blah blah blah legal stuff blah blah

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I know there are a lot of “inspirational” newsletters, websites and blogs these days, and I know mine probably doesn’t stand out in the vast mix.  My goal for Soulscape is to take spiritual truths and look for ways to find them in everyday situations, maybe adding a little humor or a little, “Hey, that’s happened to me, too” into the story.  Hopefully this approach is just different enough to make the underlying principle stick with you a little longer.  There are times I’ll go for the laugh; other times I’ll sermon ize or preach a little, being a bit more serious.  But hopefully these stories or topics will bless you and will help you just a little as you go through your own life and trials.  And if I can give you a smile or a chuckle along the way, or make you think about some thing in just a little different way, then I feel it’s worth it.

It is currently Monday evening, the remnants of a Memorial Day cookout resting comfortably in my stomach.  It’s bedtime, and I suddenly hear my son start coughing furiously, his liquid antibiotic (administered my his mother) apparently “going down the wrong pipe.”  To make sure everything is okay, my wife has my son open his mouth so she can see inside.  I hear her say, “We need to go brush your teeth, because I see some yuckies on them.”  That got me to thinking about last Monday, and suddenly I had my topic for this week’s newsletter.  Bear with me.  I do have a point that I will get to eventually (as a preacher I’m contractu ally bound to use an excessive amount of words to express a thought best expressed in a sentence or two; but if we preachers did that, our congregations would only get about a five minute sermon each service, and what fun would that be?).

Last Monday I made my first trip to the dentist in, I’m sorry to say, far too long.  I’d done my best to keep up with my oral health since our last meeting, but just recently acquiring dental insurance after quite a while without it, I wanted to take advan tage.  With x-rays taken and myself reclined in the “torture recliner,” the dental hygienist goes to work with her instruments.  As she uses a tool described to me as “a little jackhammer,” she tells me that it does not appear that one previously suspect area has produced a cavity as expected (a fact I’d totally forgotten about from the last appointment).  I was both surprised and re lieved, trying my best to stay in the chair amidst the sounds of whirring and scraping metal against teeth.

She then begins to do a little clean-up work using, as comedian Bill Cosby put it, an “iron hook,” to get those areas some­how missed by the miraculous miniature jackhammer.  I wondered to myself, “Did the jackhammer get ANYTHING?  She’s cer­tainly doing a whole lot of work.”  I again gripped my cell phone in my hands, hoping that the good folks at Motorola had indeed created a trustworthy and sturdy product, not just for service but for grip-strength.  Still, I knew that going to heaven from a den tist’s chair was as good a place as any.  I prayed for speed from the hygienist, grace to see me through, and made sure every thing was right between me and the Lord . . . you know, just in case.

Taking her tiny mirror-on-a-stick, she says, “Huh!  It looks like there may be a cavity back there.  Let me get everything cleaned off around it.”  SCRRRRAAPPPPEEEE!  CRRRRRRRUNNNNNCCCCCHHHHHHHH! Then a spray of water and air, fol lowed by a re-examination. “Yep.  The x-ray didn’t even show it.  It’s on the flat side, the back side of the very back tooth.  The doctor will have to stand you on your head to get that filled, but he can do it.”  (Author’s note: the filling is to take place June 19th.
BE IN PRAYER!)

So, a choking five-year-old with dinner still sticking to his teeth and a personal dentist visit, and we finally arrive at the point.  One pre-point, though: dental health is important, if for no other reason than you get to avoid the jackhammer of doom fol­lowed a month later by drilling and filling.  Moving on to the spiritual perspective (yes, there is a spiritual perspective in all this) we find something all of us can benefit from.

The area of my teeth most susceptible to a cavity, the one area I worried about, never got the cavity, though not for a lack of trying.  Instead, the cavity, a hole eaten into the tooth, showed up on the back side of the back tooth, a place I didn’t think much about, a place I just assumed was being taken care of during brushing, flossing and rinsing.  That explains some of the pain I’ve experienced, but it also sets me up for a painful follow-up visit to fix the problem, the solution being a filling I’ll carry for the rest of my life, or at the very least the rest of the tooth’s life.

This is what happens to our lives and our souls when we deal with sin.  Sin is a bit like sugar: it tastes good, is addictive to some folks, but can eat away at even the strongest parts of us.  Sin is also a bit like those little food particles, bacteria or acids that cause cavities: it gets in places we don’t realize, and in the darkness begins to go to work wearing down the strength and leaving a big hole.  The devil attacks us in places we don’t even realize are vulnerable, sometimes hitting us in expected areas just enough to keep us occupied.  We work extra hard there, but aren’t aware many times that we’re weak somewhere else.
Then little by little we start to slip and stumble there, a little spiritual cavity begins to open up, but in the confusion of life and cir­cumstances it’s covered up, but still grows over time.

Finding these areas might not be very easy.  We stop for a few moments, have a little look-see around our heart, don’t no­tice anything amiss, and we go back to life, content we’ve done our duty.  But a more thorough inspection, a little digging, and we might be surprised what we find.  It might be that something just feels a little off in your life, not quite right.  You don’t know what it is, but you’re determined to find out.  So, you begin to pray that the Lord would show you, that He would open your eyes to see what’s wrong and what needs to be done to fix things.  It’s not pleasant to admit there might be something wrong, but the only way to get better is to acknowledge it, then go to the One who can help.  You see, the Great Physician’s license covers Spiritual Dentistry, too.

The Holy Spirit shows us those areas when we take time out to pray sincerely about it, we repent, and we know that the Lord will forgive us.  But the healing process sometimes takes a long time and is painful.  We know that in the end we’ll be “good as new,” strong once again, but scars are left, little reminders that we failed.  But these scars, these “spiritual fillings,” aren’t meant to keep us hurting, but to be gentle reminders of what can happen when we don’t pay attention, when we don’t do our best, and when we take for granted that everything is okay.  When we see them, we say, “Better be careful this time.”  As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I have personally learned from my failings, my shortcomings, and the healing is an ongoing process.  Those spiritual and emotional scars inspire me to try harder today than I did yesterday.  I might still make the same old mistakes because I’m still hu­man.  Chances are I will make plenty of new mistakes.  But if I continue to do my very best to take care of my spiritual health, the Lord won’t have so much scraping and drilling to do when I come to Him for strength, grace and peace.  And even if there were no other benefits, which there are plenty, that would most certainly be enough for me.

Now all I have to do is be as faithful with the brush, floss and rinse.


© 2008, Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press.  All rights reserved.  All material printed on this site is protected by the copyright law of the United States.  It may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press, obtainable by leaving a comment (with your request) which will be forwarded to Chris Keeton. Altering or removing any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content is not permitted.  Any and all portions of material copied from the Soulscape Blog must be properly attributed to Chris Keeton and Soulscape, and cited with original blog web address.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Call to Sacrifice

Genesis 22:1-2

1Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 

As I sat pondering what direction I should follow for today's Soulscape edition, what topic to pursue, I decided to consult a few daily devotionals. I came across these verses from Genesis, verses that have always intrigued me. Over the years I have heard many questions on this subject and have preached several sermons on it as well. Reading these words again today inspired a new line of thinking, and I just wanted to take a few minutes to share these thoughts with you.

I have recently had several conversations concerning the spiritual condition of the Church in today's world. It seems that with each passing year the general trend of the Church is a growing spiritual coldness. This isn't true in every congregation or with every person, but overall there seems to be less dedication and fervent effort seen on behalf of the Lord and His work. It is disturbing to me personally, because I have so many wonderful memories of "camp meetings" and revivals and even weekly times of worship that were filled in so many ways, like with a desire for service, with an overwhelming sense of God's Spirit present with us, with attendance and so many other ways.

Then, little by little, it seemed that things began drifting off. There were fewer people showing up, services grew more and more subdued and quiet, and the general atmosphere was just a little colder than it used to be. I have wondered (and still do as a pastor and a concerned Christian) what the root of the problem is and how to address and fix it. Reading these verses today opened up my mind to a new way of thinking, so to speak.

We are a blessed country no matter how you look at it. We have so much to occupy our attention and care. Abraham's one deep desire was to have a son, and God promised that he and his wife Sarah would indeed be blessed with an heir. Finally, Isaac was born and Abraham received the desire of his heart. No doubt the old man grew very close to Isaac over those early years as he watched him grow and mature into an honorable young man. Then, out of the blue, God calls on Abraham to do the impossible: give up the very gift he'd waited a very long lifetime to receive, give up your own son. I myself being a father, I can't imagine what it would be like to be asked to give up either one my sons, and I don't expect that will happen . . .

. . . or has it happened already?

Allow me to explain. No, I don't believe God has asked me to sacrifice the life of one of my beloved sons. He has asked something else of me, though; in fact, He has asked it of every Christian. God has asked each of us to sacrifice our own lives to Him. While we could easily get into all the symbolism of this story with Abraham and Isaac, looking at the types of Christ in these verses, instead I want to propose an alternate way of thinking about this scenario. Abraham wasn't being asked to sacrifice his son; he was being asked to sacrifice himself. Remember, the one thing Abraham wanted for himself was a son. Now that God had given him that son He was asking Abraham to give him up. The object of Abraham's love was his dear son Isaac, all his care, all his attention focused on that blessed gift from God. How could the Lord ask Abraham to give Isaac away, to sacrifice him?

In our own lives we have so many things that occupy our attention and become objects of our love: family, friends, hobbies, careers, even self. The more we focus on these gifts from God, the less we tend to focus on the God who gave them to us. That is where we begin to drift away from our devotion to the Lord. In my opinion (for what little that might be worth) Abraham was in danger of caring more for Isaac, more for his relationship with his son, than he was for God. This was the way God wanted to use to remind Abraham what was truly important in life, that being our relationship with the Lord.

I think that is one reason we have this story given to us in the Bible, to remind us of what is important. I have seen so many people begin to lose devotion to the Lord by placing so many other things first. All those things I mentioned a moment ago sometimes become impediments to a person's individual walk with Christ. Their family begins to take more and more of their time, usually on Sundays and Wednesdays, but in other ways and on other days as well. Service to the Lord, attendance in church, the expenditure of efforts and resources are traded in for jobs or for hobbies instead of the Lord's work; it's as if people say, "I don't do it all the time, so it's not all that bad," not realizing that in some cases the infrequent nature of such tradeoffs become more and more frequent (I'm not saying people shouldn't have jobs or hobbies or take vacations or go to family reunions; I am saying that we need to pay a little more attention, though).

Ultimately it comes down to serving self more than God, of saying, "I'm going to do what I want to do," with little or no thought to how it might affect our personal relationship with Christ. Sometimes we have to make the decision that, come what may, we will do what the Lord wants us to do, even if it goes against what we would like to do. For instance, I recently made a trip to go to a book signing with my favorite author. It was a Saturday, I hadn't been feeling well, but I was determined to go, having made plans for many months in advance. I knew I would be home late Saturday evening and wouldn't really get the opportunity to study for Sunday services as I normally do, but I figured I'd make do. Then the thought crossed my mind, "Why not just have your associate pastor preach instead of you?" As soon as that thought came to mind, I pushed it out and decided to come home early, missing the seminar-like discussion the author was giving at the end of the book signing. For my own conscience, I couldn't drive 250 miles for a book on Saturday and then not fulfill my duty to the Lord the next day because I was tired or my throat was sore.

In this way I had to make a choice. God blessed me with a love for reading, an opportunity to meet my favorite author and hear him talk about his writings, the gas money to get to and from the event, safe travels, and so much more. But in the process of giving me so much He didn't want me to forget Him and the fact that everything I have is because of Him. I, like everyone else, have had plenty of instances where I have forgotten that for a while. Still, when I took the time to really think about it, I knew what I had to do. I had to be willing to sacrifice what I wanted for what the Lord wanted. And if I do say so myself, it was worth it. Books come and go, they're read and then shelved. But preaching the Word of God (or not preaching it) can have eternal implications. What was more important?

Abraham had to make the same choice: whom do I love more, my son or the Lord who blessed me with him? God wanted to re-center Abraham's heart and attention on Him, and so He asked Abraham if he would be willing to give up the very thing he loved the most in order to serve God. We know how the story ends: Abraham went through with the sacrifice, had lifted the knife to spill his son's blood, but the Lord stopped him, then provided the ram for the sacrifice. By being willing to give up what he loved the most, Abraham actually was able to grow closer to God and to his son, because this was a shared experience.

Never let the blessings of God take the place of God in your life. It might seem like we're being asked to make a very big sacrifice, but ultimately we will come out better and stronger because of our willingness to make a sacrifice for the Lord. So never let up, never give in, continue to offer the Lord 100%, asking Him to help give you the strength to do that, and you will see just what can happen. Our churches can once again be filled, the Holy Spirit can once again warm our souls and fill us to the overflowing, and the work of Christ can once again move in a mighty way. The question is, "Am I willing?"

© 2008, Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press.  All rights reserved.  All material printed on this site is protected by the copyright law of the United States.  It may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press, obtainable by leaving a comment (with your request) which will be forwarded to Chris Keeton. Altering or removing any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content is not permitted.  Any and all portions of material copied from the Soulscape Blog must be properly attributed to Chris Keeton and Soulscape, and cited with original blog web address.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Fleecing of the Faithful

(NOTE: While usually sending the Soulscape e-Newsletter or posting here on the blog only on Tuesdays, this situation arose which I felt required immediate attention.  This edition may be disturbing to some, but is intended to help bring light not only to the primary issue discussed, but to the mindset which has allowed it and many other things to happen.  This is a commentary, an editorial if you will, which addresses an important spiritual need in this world and in the Church today.  Thank you. — Pastor Chris Keeton, Westwood Church of God, Ashland, KY and publisher of Soulscape)

Earlier this week I was contacted by a friend of mine, an editor and reporter covering business and technology for a company called WebProNews.  He asked me to comment on a topic about which he was writing a story.  This topic shocked me, and provoked a lengthy response.  In a nutshell, the basis behind the story is that Penthouse Media Group, the controlling entity behind Penthouse Magazine, is also the owner of several networking and/or dating sites including BigChurch.com.  BigChurch.com is used by many Christian singles trying to find suitable matches with which to share their lives.  But that Penthouse Media Group is the ultimate owner and thus the beneficiary of membership fees was shocking, and I felt compelled to offer some commentary on the subject.

(To read the entire article by Jason Lee Miller at WebProNews which contains many more enlightening details and more information, visit Mr. Miller’s posting.  Soulscape is not responsible for content on that site or any links included in the article.)

Our Christian culture is trapped today, trapped by an interesting, two-pronged phenomenon.  One issue is that the “religious right” (evangelicals, Christian conservatives and other popular classifications) is most certainly making more noise, gaining more media attention, spending more money and exerting more influence in the culture.  The second issue is that many other entities are now pandering to this group of people for many reasons, chief among them being election and financial.

Unfortunately, we as Christians are allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of, giving into the pandering by choosing to be blissfully ignorant of the truth, thinking we are thus immune from any consequences that may arise.  Christians should not allow themselves to be pandered to; we are too often guilty of voting or buying based on a sound bite, some reference to our faith which makes us say, “That’s for me!”

This is what has happened with BigChurch.com.  Penthouse Media Group purchased a company that ran the site, but never disclosed their ownership to the hundreds (if not thousands) of Christians seeking spiritual and emotional companionship, people who would never under any circumstances purchase a Penthouse magazine but are doing the equivalent through monthly membership rates to a site supposedly by and for Christians.

It is time we hold others, and more importantly, ourselves, accountable.  We need to do more to examine where our money, our time and attention actually go.  We can sit back and blame Penthouse Media and others like them, but we often do nothing to discourage such practices, as we are out for personal gain of some kind.  It seems people on both sides of the issue have a similar problem: a tendency to stand on capital instead of standing on principle.

There is certainly nothing new to pandering.  It exists on many levels, is called by different names.  Ultimately it is saying or offering certain things to a targeted audience.  With that definition, even this e-newsletter would fall under that category, as I am bringing you an opinion I hope will stir you to action.  But this is where it is different: this is for principle, not personal gain.  I have seen and heard so many things that appeared holy, things or people that may have even invoked the name of Jesus, yet below the holy surface existed lies and deceit.  Many of these things ultimately caused little or no harm, but that is not always the case.

Where is the line drawn?  Sometimes the line is drawn at such an outrageous place that we’d never cross it.  So compromise is made, the line moved just a little closer to us, and we accept that.  But we cannot have a “moving line.”  We must stand for principle no matter what the cost.

Undoubtedly such websites based on a person’s religious affiliation, while simultaneously playing to the emotions of the lonely, have the potential to be quite profitable.  Yet the lucrative nature of these sites would be greatly decreased if dedicated Christians, most of whom claim to be against such products as Penthouse produces, discovered where their money was going.  Unfortunately in America, it seems the almighty dollar takes precedence.  Political ads stress “Christian faith,” organizations and individuals speak of unflagging dedication to “family values,” and many times it’s all done to further the agenda of the speaker and nothing more.  This takes on an even greater seriousness when we see the hypocritical and two-faced nature of those claiming uber-righteous religiosity (certain members of Congress and influential ministers included) yet living another way.

The basis of the Christian faith is not just adherence to a list of do’s and don't’s, or even acceptance of certain morals and values.  It is both a relationship with and an attitude toward a Person, but that message is lost in many of our churches and Christian organizations.  For example, a certain lottery winner, known to have been arrested numerous times for DUI, being robbed at a strip club, and having numerous run-ins with the law, made sure to very publicly give sizable donations to a number of churches in his area, donations which were readily and enthusiastically accepted.  But what about the appearance of association?  The Lord told us to avoid the very appearance of evil.  Do we do that?  I’ve heard ministers say, “I’ll take all the money the devil is willing to give me.”  But Christianity is about more than money, though one would be hard-pressed to actually prove that these days.

If the CEO of a pornography publisher rolled into my sanctuary with a million-dollar check, I would kindly decline the offer on the basis that, for me, it would be “blood money,” earned at the cost of thousands of people’s lives and souls (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and many other ways).  That is a cost I’m not willing to pay.  But this is exactly what is happening with sites such as BigChurch.com: thousands of people seeking companionship on a spiritual level, yet unwittingly financing that which is greatly contributing to the downfall of the very society these same people are hoping to influence in a Christian way.

Matthew 7:15 says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  It seems that companies like this are attempting to earn “false profits” by not only wearing the sheep’s wool themselves, but by pulling it over the eyes of sincere yet unsuspecting Christians.  They hope we won’t discover the truth, won’t ask questions, will willingly feed ourselves to the roaring lion who is out seeking whom he may devour.

Still, in all honesty and fairness, the reality and the problem goes far deeper than this issue.  Yes, this should inspire us to do more personal research, to demand fuller disclosure from corporations seeking to gain from the hoped-for ignorance of its customers.  But some of the blame must fall upon us for choosing to remain in ignorance.  We as a culture must, MUST look beyond the simple title of “Christian” and seek the deeper truth.

Everyone struggles, everyone fails, and I am chief among them.  Still, as Christians we must try and keep trying to go beyond the minimum requirements of our faith.  We must strive to be better and do better; we must do all in our power to move beyond the sound bite or even the inflammatory issue and ask, “What does it truly mean for me to be a Christian?  What does the Lord really want me to do?”  We might never know the full story or the ultimate effects, but woe to us if we don’t even bother to try and find out.

God bless you, and let’s keep praying!

© 2008, Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press.  All rights reserved.  All material printed on this site is protected by the copyright law of the United States.  It may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press, obtainable by leaving a comment (with your request) which will be forwarded to Chris Keeton. Altering or removing any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content is not permitted.  Any and all portions of material copied from the Soulscape Blog must be properly attributed to Chris Keeton and Soulscape, and cited with original blog web address.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

World-Changing Faith

Aside from Mother's Day, this past Sunday was also the celebration of Pentecost or, as I and others like to call it, the birthday of the Church. And like most people, I enjoy a good birthday celebration. Since Easter I had looked forward to Pentecost because I love the story of how the Christian movement began with the coming of the Holy Spirit. It's one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and one that has not lost its relevance in our modern world.

In most towns and cities around the United States it is almost impossible to walk or drive one mile without passing at least one house of worship. So many cross-topped steeples, so many offering plates and pews, so many pulpits and long-winded preachers offering the world a message. Just what that message might be depends in large part on the name over the door, the up-in-lights denomination out front. It seems there is a church for every taste these days, and no shortage of people at the religious "buffet line" seeking out some place, large or small, that suits their beliefs.

Maybe that's why I like the story of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit so much. Before that day, before that moment there was no Church, no bold ministry, no fiery sermons that inspired people to seek a real and personal relationship with a risen Savior. You couldn't walk down the street and pass a series of church buildings wondering what was being taught. But on that day something remarkable happened. On that wonderful day things changed forever. A relatively small band of faithful people, just 120 dedicated folks, obeyed Jesus' command to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Comforter and Helper. Then, when the Spirit came and filled them with boldness, giving them the words to speak, they emerged from their meeting place into the thousands who had come to investigate that great sound from heaven.

Luke, in the book of Acts, describes the sound like that of a rushing, mighty wind, something we might equate to the "freight train" sound of a tornado or the howling of a fierce hurricane. Time and again I've heard people on television talk about how terrifying that sound is, how it instilled such fear that they ran for their lives. But the sound on Pentecost was a little different. The crowds started running, but they ran toward the sound, trying to figure out what it was. The first recipients of the Holy Spirit were also inspired to run, but it was to run to their neighbors, their friends, and even total strangers, and share the one message of the Cross and of the salvation that a risen Christ purchased for all mankind.

What were the results of that first great revival on the day the Church was born? Well, many mocked but others believed. Three thousand souls were saved that day, and those people carried the great message, that single and united message of Jesus back to their homes, and the Church began to spread. The fire of the Holy Spirit ignited the hearts of the 120 disciples, and then it began to spread, catching the whole world on fire.

The reason this story is so important and special to me is because of two verses of Scripture (from NKJV):

"For I am the Lord, I do not change…" Malachi 3:6

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8

If the Lord God does not change, if Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then that means that the Holy Spirit is still alive and well and working with the same power as that Pentecost day. Thousands can still be saved, the winds of God's Spirit can still blow through this world and change lives, and the fire of that same Gospel message can still set hearts ablaze with hope and with love. What is required is that we get back to the basics.

The 120 disciples represented one Church, one Savior, one message, and that is the key to our success today: being in one accord within our spirits. I am not saying that one denomination is better than another, nor am I advocating that we all take our names and heritages and throw them on the rubbish heap. But I wholeheartedly believe that if we set our focus on Jesus and His desire to save souls, preaching His Gospel in love and unity, we can see our world change, no matter what our church name might be.

Can you imagine how wonderful it was for those disciples to tell their story to the crowds that day? Can you imagine how wonderful it was for those who heard that message and accepted Jesus to then go back home and tell others? That has been the backbone of God's Church for 2,000 years: one person telling another person, "This is what the Lord has done for me, and He can do it for you, too." So don't be afraid to tell YOUR story. You are the best qualified person to do that, and your story, your unique experience with the Lord, can change lives today. Whether you come from a small church or a large church, a congregation that's been around for a few weeks or one built centuries ago, you can make a difference.

God's Spirit remains the same, and so the effects His Spirit can bring must also remain the same. It's time we as Christians allow ourselves to be affected by the Holy Spirit's fire, fueled by the infinite love of Jesus Christ for us. It's time we as Christians caused a little noise that makes people want to know what's going on. It's time we as Christians look at the Church not just as some bygone era of history or as individual buildings and conferences, but as one body of believers reaching out to a lost and dying world, offering them the one true message of the life, grace and peace of Jesus. If we do this, and we CAN do this, then we will see our world change as well. Just let the Holy Spirit guide you, and you might be the candle that ignites our world.

 © 2008, Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press.  All rights reserved.  All material printed on this site is protected by the copyright law of the United States.  It may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Chris Keeton and Soulscape Press, obtainable by leaving a comment (with your request) which will be forwarded to Chris Keeton. Altering or removing any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content is not permitted.  Any and all portions of material copied from the Soulscape Blog must be properly attributed to Chris Keeton and Soulscape, and cited with original blog web address.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The First Facts of Life

This past Friday I told my five-year-old son that when Mommy got home from school, he and I would go outside and play, perhaps toss a ball around, play tag, whatever way the wind blew. Looking at the radar on Friday, it appeared that the wind was going to be blowing some rain showers and thunderstorms our way. This meant that we had to hurry, that we wouldn't have much time to play. 

So, out we went, down the steps and onto the sidewalk. I got the mail out of our mailbox and remembered I had to also pick up the neighbor's mail. "No sense in waiting for the fun to commence," I told myself, so I threw the ball into the side yard. "Go ahead and play, David. I'll be right back." My son picked up the ball and proceeded to romp as most kids have a tendency to do, while I gathered the lonely mail for my absent neighbor. 

As I make my way back to my front porch, my son runs closer to me and says, "Daddy, I tried to wake Peanut-girl up, but she won't wake up." I already had all the information I needed. Approaching the large dogwood tree, walking beneath a canopy of white blossoms and small green leaves, I see Peanut lying motionless in a little hole she'd dug and in which she liked to spend her time. I took my son by the hand and we walked back to the house. "Why won't she wake up, Daddy?" "Because she died, Bubby." Then the question I knew was to follow: "How do we fix it?" I looked down and said, "We don't, Son." 

My wife's mother passed away a few months before David turned three years old, but he doesn't remember the events, the emotions of the moment. While being somewhat exposed to the passing on of people through my own position as a pastor, this is the first time my son has been truly "emotionally connected" to death. 

I was about the same age as my son when I lost my first dog. I remembered those emotions, over a quarter-century later, as I dug the grave for Peanut (I should say that Peanut had a cancer-like ailment for most of the six years we owned her which caused her to experience several painful episodes, so her sudden and easy passing was a blessing). With shovel in hand I realized that for the rest of the evening, and probably much longer, I would be confronted with questions I could not answer: Why did she die? Will we see her in heaven? How will Jesus wake us up when we get there? Does Jesus have breakfast?  

There were tears, laughs, more tears, moments of comfort and of grief. It's hard for a child to have to confront death, especially the death of a beloved pet that has been around his entire life. But as I sat contemplating the whole situation, I realized that for most people's first experience with the real "facts of life" is dealing with the fact of death, and usually that of a pet. As parents we often fret about that inevitable day we'll be forced to explain the birds and the bees, but it's probably far harder to explain that which even we as adults don't fully comprehend. 

The fact of human life is that it comes to an end, and many times there are no answers, nothing to make everything okay. It's just something that everyone must face sooner or later, and the best way to get through it is by seeking the solace of the Lord. Searching Scripture, I have found no specific references to "pet heaven," but I know that as my son stood at the small grave with my wife and me, he is the one who referenced Jesus. As a pastor and as a father, that made me feel better, because I realize that as an earthly father, there are questions I can't answer and things I can't fix, things like a broken heart. 

We can't always understand fully why things happen the way they do, the reasons behind why and when death comes, and dealing with the pain of that (along with the pain of having no answers) can be almost unbearable. But dealing with the facts of life, all the facts of life, is much easier when you have the Lord to lean on; just knowing there is SOMEONE who DOES have the answers is sometimes enough to make the unbearable just bearable enough. 

As I sat typing this message, my son sat down beside me, saw the pictures of Peanut close to the camera, and the both of them playing. He said, "There's Peanut. You know, I'm really going to miss her, but we had some really good times. We'll just have to remember her and see her in heaven." Is it any wonder Jesus extolled the virtues of childlike faith? Our world today says that faith is child-ISH, but it takes child-LIKE faith to find the peace we need in those hardest of times.  

This won't be the last tragedy my son will have to face in this life, nor the last we as a family will have to endure. But at this stage, I'm glad I can go to bed knowing that my five-year-old son knows where to turn when Daddy can't fix it. To me, there's no greater knowledge, no greater hope, or no greater peace than that. 

So long, Peanut. Thanks for being part of our family, and bringing so much joy to such a special little boy. 

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