Newspaper Columns – 2023

LIVING ON PURPOSE

LIVING ON PURPOSE

Published 1/30/23

Appreciating every day and every hour

I have a good friend that is seriously ill with late-stage cancer. When he was diagnosed about 2 years ago, he began to write and send a daily text thread to friends about his treatments, how he is doing, the weather, anything associated with astronomy, and a generous amount of philosophical thoughts. His personality is that of a thinker who appreciates the beauty of simple things. As I have read his thoughts and was allowed to see into his soul, it has been such a blessing and encouragement to see the good work that God has been doing in his life. He has gone through a lot more discomfort and challenges than we know. He has always been an optimistic person and now even in his difficult moments, his light of love and hope cannot be hindered. The Bible mentions in Psalm 91:1-2 about finding a secret place with God where nothing or no one can penetrate, disturb, or threaten. It is a refuge where even though the storms may be intense and the violence of spiritual warfare rages all around us; we are safe and at peace in His presence.

When he writes about sitting next to the window in his recliner covered with several layers of blankets, those of us who are constantly on the go can hardly grasp the beauty of being still before God. When he allows us to enter into his world of simplicity with things such as watching the rabbits and squirrels running around the yard doing what they need to do to survive, we see the quiet analogy of how he is doing the same thing. He talks about the neighbor’s dogs and cats and how he imagines their daily routines or things like watching the snowflakes falling and how as a child he loved to try to catch them on his tongue. He often mentions the importance of community and how we need to care about each other and not be consumed with the fast pace of life that we forget to live. Humility, meekness, and an attitude of gratitude help prevent haughtiness from gaining control.

And there is the frequent mention of the trinity as this is a reference to the awareness of God’s Spirit and the passionate desire to be in His will. To me, he is more than a survivor; he is a lighthouse. His lifestyle of sensitivity and compassionate lifestyle has always been a contrast from how the fast-paced world operates, and now that he has opened the door for us to get to know him on a more personal level, it’s the Lord that is reminding us what walking in His Spirit actually means.

It’s fascinating to realize that when we are not feeling any pain and have the energy to do whatever we want, we do not think about what it would be like to be sick. When we hear about those who discover they have a terminal disease, we are sad and say a prayer, then off we go back to our busy lives and the carousel of what we believe is important. It’s when WE receive a serious report that our merry-go-round comes to a stop. If there was ever a time in our lives to take the lantern of self-examination down the path into our soul, it would be then. When the distractions and clutter are removed we can make things right with everyone, especially God. Our perspective changes as our world is now different. Beyond the reality that God is the ultimate authority, this does not mean that we do not have the opportunity to make critical choices. We can allow the feelings of hopelessness and fear to dictate our minds and hold us in depression, or we can see the glass half full and be humble and thankful for all the blessings and good things that God has given to us throughout our lives. Instead of becoming bitter, we could invest our time into interceding for others.

My friend has always loved kayaking and admiring the beauty of God’s nature. He looks forward to going this spring and always includes at the end of his posts that he will see us creek-side. He closes the thread the same way every day by encouraging everyone to find the stillness within God’s grace. His heart sings, he is grateful, and he is always wearing his sunglasses because God’s love and mercy is shining on him so brightly.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

LIVING ON PURPOSE

Published 1/23/23

Maybe we should let someone hold our mule

“Hold my mule” is a figurative expression from the American South that means when a person is leading a mule and they need to go somewhere or do something very important they will ask someone to hold their mule. Sometimes it meant they were going to enter into a confrontation be it a verbal or physical one. Nonetheless, in church settings where the members were not embarrassed to express their emotions, the phrase also meant they were getting ready to get happy and praise the Lord or spend some time at the altar crying out to God. Do churches still have altars?

When it comes to people expressing their worship, I’ve been in a lot of assemblies over the years and witnessed several worship styles. I was raised in a conservative Baptist church where I sang wonderful hymns and later became a worship pastor for more “lively” groups such as Vineyard, Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God churches. I love all styles. I’ve written and recorded several albums of Christian music and wrote a book about worship, but whether we raise our hands or we are more reserved, God knows what we believe in our hearts.

Spiritual music is dear to my heart, and often I feel that God is speaking to me in a song. Powerful emotions well up inside and many times tears will flow as it seems the Lord is embracing me with His love. I will never forget a day back in the 80s, I was driving and listening to the radio when Steve Green began to sing “In God Alone” and I just started weeping. Among many others, I remember another song that is very special in my life and that is, “His blood” by Shirley Caesar. If you’ve never heard these songs, I highly recommend them.

As a young minister, I used a small segment of “His Blood” as the intro for some of my teaching cassette tapes. You do remember cassettes, don’t you? Anyway, if you are familiar with Shirley Caesar’s music, you know that she gives everything she has when she sings. She was known around the world as the First Lady and the Queen of Gospel which included 17 Dove Awards, 10 Grammy’s, 12 Stellar awards, and forty albums. She would always say, “I’m called to be a preacher first, and a singer second.” When you hear her minister, you will know what she’s talking about.

One of Shirley’s songs is called, “Hold My Mule” where she tells a story about an 86-year-old man named John, who joined an ultra-conservative church where everything was dreadfully sophisticated and solemn. From the moment John began attending, his presence disturbed the reserved and comfortable congregation. He was such a positive and encouraging personality and would come in beaming with joy. As the sermon was being preached he would loudly exclaim amen and praise you Jesus with sincere enthusiasm. Everyone raised their eyebrows in disapproval and when the deacons tried to intervene, they could not contain him. I’m reminded of the passage in Luke 19:40 when Jesus spoke out and said if these people keep silent, the stones will cry out in praise.

One day the deacons when to see John dressed in their finest and driving their big fancy car. They found him around back plowing his field with a mule. He saw them coming and said, “I know why you are here, you want me to stop worshiping my Jesus.” They replied, “John we don’t act like that in our church. There are dignitaries and many wealthy and important people in our midst and they have a reputation to protect. If you don’t stop shouting, dancing, and praising we are going ban you from our church.” With tears in his eyes, John said, “Well, then you’re going to have to put me out because I can’t hold my peace. Let me tell you why. Look at all that beautiful land that you just drove through. God gave me that land. Look at my children. God gave these blessings and they all love Him and have never given us any trouble. Look at me, I’m 86 years old. I’m still able to walk behind this old mule and harvest my crops. So, you don’t want me to show Jesus how much I love Him in your church? Here, hold my mule, because I’m gonna sing and dance and shout and give thanks to God right now!”

LIVING ON PURPOSE

Published 1/16/23

Can you hear Him calling for you?

Life is changing all around us. With technology providing an opportunity for every person on the planet to speak and listen, we are surrounded by so many opinions about everything, it’s becoming more difficult to discern what is right and wrong. Not only is this massive amount of information chaotic and much of the time unnecessary, but it has reached a point where many people no longer think for themselves. It’s concerning when individuals become so addicted to the lives of others, they ignore the responsibility to develop a meaningful life of their own.

Some might believe there is no harm in using communication as a constant entertainment, but Christians have been warned to not be consumed with the spirit of the world as evil imaginations will attempt to distract and build strongholds of dark attitudes. Ever since the human race could speak and write thoughts, motives and intentions have been to teach and explain. While a portion of instruction can be beneficial, there is also the danger of receiving contaminated information that comes from the desire to control and deceive. This is the snare trap of our day. Romans 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

There is right and wrong, just like there is truth and error. God is always right while we mortals struggle in the quicksand of deception as the result of a lack of spiritual wisdom and understanding. Life contains a specific purpose for each person and it can be discovered, but our earthly journey also gives us the freedom to do whatever we want, and unfortunately, this is what we usually choose. Every minute we are either doing God’s will or our will and they do not agree. I believe we can say with confidence that if a human ever accomplished anything worthwhile; they were being guided under the inspiration and direction of God.

In the book of Philippians the third chapter, we find an analogy that is used to describe how dedicating our lives to Christ is like participating in a marathon. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” We also see this idea of running in II Timothy chapter 4, “I have run my race I have finished my course” and in Hebrews the twelfth chapter, “laying aside every weight of sin as we run with patience the race that is set before us.” This does not sound like the traditional idea of salvation where a person raises their hand, repeats a prayer, and that’s it, but rather the concept of running denotes constant participation and relentless determination to accomplish whatever God is telling us to do.

We have the potential to know the meaning of life and our unique destiny, but generally speaking, we would rather not be bothered with such things. We desire to live to the fullest, have amazing experiences, and enjoy everything we can while we have the chance. However, when confronted about the consequences of making wrong decisions, we become hostile as we dig in our heels. Those who rebel against God become like fugitives that are always on the run. They become very uncomfortable when confronted with anything that reminds them they are going the wrong way. The beautiful thing about God’s amazing grace is that He does not stop intervening and convicting the conscience of those who are His children.

In the book of Luke chapter 15, we find a few parables, and one in particular Christ talks about a man who has 100 sheep. A good shepherd (which represents God), watches over every sheep and never takes their eyes from them. Verse four declares that if the shepherd loses a sheep, he will leave the ninety-nine and go search for the one until he finds it. When the sheep is found he places it on his shoulders and carries it home where he calls his friends and neighbors saying rejoice with me for I have found the one that was lost. Jesus goes on to make the point that there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents and God brings them back to His presence. The Great Shepherd watching over us today but there is a strong temptation by the world to lead us astray. Are you lost? Can you hear Him calling your name?

LIVING ON PURPOSE

Published 1/9/23

Accomplishing God’s will is our purpose

It’s disappointing to God that most people are usually more concerned about what they want in life than asking Him what He requires of them. Since our eyes were opened in the garden, our fleshly nature specializes in the skills of compromising and justifying. Self-deception is common Only a few will take the responsibility to obey Him and get serious about dedicating their lives to being a living sacrifice for Him. Yes, included with the blessings of this life is being accountable.

You might have heard the unpopular verse found in Revelation 3:16 where John relays what Jesus thinks about the church at Laodicea. “So then, because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” We realize parables and analogies are common in the Bible, and without trying to explain the different interpretations of what this verse means, let’s just say that we want our coffee hot and our iced tea, well…cold. Within the context, Jesus is referring to their attitude. In short, He was saying their hearts were in a state of being lackadaisical, apathetic, and lethargic. And, not just this certain group, He is using them as an example of the dangers of backsliding when anyone takes their eyes away from His truth and drifts into the temptations of carnality.

Let us not forget that He is speaking to members of an established Christian church who were supposedly followers of Jesus and His teachings. This letter to Laodicea is the harshest of the seven churches that are mentioned in chapters two and three. There is no beating around the bush on His disappointment and He is warning them about trying to make the Christian life into a comfortable social club. By His judgment of their works, He makes it clear this is a dead church. What does this mean and can it happen today? Definitely. Whenever the members of an assembly see themselves as independent, materialistic, and self-sufficient, they have already slipped into a state of religious indifference.

Jesus continues to be more specific using cutting words such as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Their lukewarm faith had become hypocritical. The lifeless atmosphere of the services, was the result of a lack of enthusiasm and passion for Christ in their minds and hearts. They had become backslidden and maybe there were a number of individuals that had never been converted, and were just pretending to be Christians. It’s not an exciting topic but there is such a thing as People who practice a form of religion, but their conscience is one of self-righteous complacency. They claim to be taking up their cross and following Jesus, but their hearts are unchanged, and their game-playing is sickening to God.

Many of us have been blessed beyond measure, but having daily quiet times where we pray and worship God, can help us remain humble and aware of the holy respect of His presence that is so vital to our intimate relationship with Him. Just because we have resources, does not mean we are to rely on them more than our faith. Instead of being proud of what we have accomplished let us realize that everything we have has been graciously given to us by the one who owns everything. In modern language, God offers us salvation through Christ and this gift of grace allows us to be transformed into a new person. Our spiritual identity goes from being blind and lost, to being filled with hope and joy that we have been rescued to do His will. Changing our mind changes our attitude.

A common defense of being lukewarm is that it does not matter. This is not true! Being backslidden is a big deal. When we lose our sensitivity and no longer feel convicted by the Holy Spirit, we are in serious danger. Becoming spiritually numb causes us to not care how our sin affects those who see it including God Himself. We do not realize the impact our halfhearted attempt of being a follower of Christ has on everyone. If demonstrating God’s character and accomplishing His will is not our purpose, what is? Accepting Christ is not all there is to salvation, it’s just the beginning. It’s an opportunity, a privilege to serve Him. Like Laodicea, the Lord is demanding for us to repent and get back on the straight and narrow. He is long-suffering toward the lukewarm and forgiveness is available today, but we must see our need and call on Him.

LIVING ON PURPOSE

Published 1/2/23

Enjoying the comforts of remaining the same

As God continues to move upon the earth, He has never stopped calling His children to be truth seekers, to speak His words, and demonstrate His character. The painful fact is this does not happen automatically. There must be a passion to advance into God and this means the closer we come to Him the more we will become the best version of ourselves.

Most people have never really studied religious history and know very little about why we believe the way we do. The traditions the masses learn about God derive from what they have been told and very few have the desire to research on their own to see if the information is correct. I better stop there before I make too many waves, but one thing we can agree on is that personal transformation is one of the foundational pillars of the Christian faith.

When we watch a baby grow and progress in their learning, we celebrate and rejoice in their development. Likewise, there is no reason to doubt that God feels the same way about our spiritual maturity. Changes within our society and culture are inevitable and it’s easy to look back and remember how life used to be and how technology is always coming up with something new. Remember when we used to go to the movie rental store and used pay phones? When we look in the mirror, we can see that our bodies are slowly changing and unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it. However, there is an area in our lives where change will not happen unless we want it to. We are in control of our spiritual growth.

When we think about God and the spiritual life, it’s relatively easy to construct ideas about the way we believe, and it seems that everyone has private interpretations. We have been given free will to make decisions and we are basically in control of what we think and do. Very few comprehend what it means to surrender their will unto God. We can go to church, sing songs, and even give a few dollars in the offering plate, but no one including God is going to force us to develop an intimate relationship with Him. Christians have been given a new spiritual identity with the capacity to be convicted which is the ability to discern what is right and wrong. However, we can override our guilty conscience by ignoring God, and like a lawyer presenting a case in a courtroom, we can justify our thoughts and actions in the light of intentional self-deception.

There are numerous examples of characters in the Bible who have rebelled against God including His favorite people the Jews, as no human is a robot that He can control. One of the dangers that every child of God faces is compromising with the world’s system which by the way is the easy path and very common among the lukewarm crowd. Only those who have developed an awareness of God’s presence will ever have the faith to stand for His truth. And what is this truth? Well, truth means a lot of different things to many people, but the truth I’m talking about is believing that God is who He says He is. Remember Pilate said to Jesus, “what is truth?” At this hour, this question has never been more urgent. In the preceding verse, Jesus said that He was a king bearing witness to divine truth, and everyone that understands this truth can hear His voice.

I’ve mentioned the comfortable path where we just try to get along with the system without offending anyone, but this is not the way Jesus lived and neither is it the way He wants us to be. The desired path is a commitment to ignore our so-called dignified reputation and declare that obeying Him is our highest priority. When we make this choice, let us be prepared to experience a similar negative reaction that He faced. Taking up our cross and following His demands is not for the faint of heart because it places us on the front line of spiritual warfare. Will we choose the broad or the narrow way? Could it be that our New Year’s resolutions are the result of spiritual conviction? Are we being reminded by the Lord about what He wants us to change? What a perfect time to examine our hearts and dedicate our lives to God more than ever before.