Monday, March 30, 2015

Getting up for the 1001st Time!

The last 3 to 4 years have presented Luz and me with challenges that have not been easily detected by visual observation but that tested us emotionally to the core. There are a variety of ways one might choose to deal with such tests.  While the Lord provided us with much strength and determination to overcome, I found that I did not have enough energy emotionally to manage all areas of my life well. I found that slowly and steadily my physical fitness began to decline until I found myself in a state of being that was not at all satisfactory.  If I was going to overcome, I had to make a few decisions.

I had to first determine to get back in the saddle and endure what was certain to be a rough ride back to fitness.  I have generally been a lifelong practitioner of physical fitness with a few unauthorized hiatuses along the way.  This last hiatus had been very costly.  I began my journey back late last year after Luz and I celebrated our 25th Vow renewal.  Everything about the return was painful and unpleasant.  By the time 3 months had passed and I had my annual physical, I had barely reached the shape I had been in a year before, which was still very much characterized by being out of shape.  I took that as a significant warning bell that could not be ignored.  So, I pressed on.  Now after another 3 months, I can feel and see progress.  Not the progress of an infomercial with drastic, “no sweat” before and after results, but real progress based on consistent, faithful, hanging in there commitment to a process.  It’s not been a particularly exciting, interesting or pleasant process.  It has been sometimes hard, mundane and taxing.  Yet, so many important facets of life are made up of elements which are hard, mundane and taxing, yet beneficial and fruitful.  I don’t look or feel like a 20 year-old but feel pretty good for a fellow in his early 50’s.

Why am I sharing this?  Because I have been encouraged and inspired by others who share their journeys and struggles yet hang tough and exude joy and confidence all along their challenging journeys. They are the kind of folks who live by the axiom, “You may fall down 1000 times, just make sure to get up 1001!”  I also share because I rejoice in having grasped a hold of the grace of God which doesn’t count my failings against me, but endows me with a renewed spirit that is extended to me by faith, giving me hope, endurance and the power to press on.  Romans 5:1-5 says,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
How does this apply to the situation I am sharing? Because of the benefits of faith, I can stop worrying about my challenges but rather enjoy God’s peace.  That peace allows me to truly grasp the reality of faith, which brings joy and hope even to the point of rejoicing even if I am suffering knowing my character is being developed and from that process of maturity, hope and love overflow as powerful by products of God’s work in me.  Therefore, when challenges seem to overwhelm, I don’t need to drop out, I can instead, regroup, refocus and press on in faith with joy and peace of mind in the midst of life’s struggles and storms.

It is my hope that if you find yourself in a personal struggle that has you feeling whipped and knocked out of the race, you’ll bet back up, dust yourself off and begin your comeback with resolve and determination, knowing that God has not abandoned you, but rather has given you all you need to start afresh and press on with courage, dignity and victory.  The battle will be long, and the progress may be slow but as we enter holy week, I ask you to remember this encouraging word from Hebrews 12,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Hang tough and press on, knowing that Jesus endured and prevailed for our benefit. The fruit of His ultimate victory continues to manifest itself wonderfully as people of faith continue to endure and overcome, having embraced the love and hope that comes through faith in Him!  I am continuing to learn this lesson and hope that my learning serves as an encouragement to others among you who struggle too! Keep getting up. Keep pressing on!

Grace, mercy and peace to you all in this most holy season!

Your friend and brother,

Sam Jackson

Friday, March 20, 2015

Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me! Keeping an Eye out For Fake Preachers

I have been honored to have served as a pastor for over 23 years.  What a privilege it has been for me to serve others and to walk alongside them as they grow in faith and have helped me to grow in mine! It seems that this week the news has been replete with stories of misdeeds and ridiculous undertakings on the part of supposed ministers of the Gospel. As one who has devoted my life to serving in ministry,  let me offer a few words of reflection on how to differentiate true ministers from charlatans.  

We may not be called to judge others, but we can be fruit inspectors. Jesus said that His followers should let their lights so shine among others that they might "see [their] god works and glorify the Father in Heaven."  Jesus said of Himself, the Good Shepherd, that he came not to be served but to serve and to give His life. He calls those who lead in the faith community to the same standard of living.  

A true minister serves. If the minister is self-centered, they are not up to standard.  If the minister is motivated by selfish gain, their ministry focus is askew.  If the minister is consumed with greed,  they are a fraud.  Take the time to know those you follow. Seek to be a part of a local community - not a virtual one - where you can participate,  contribute and hold people directly accountable.  Observe the leadership up close. Get to know their character before you endorse or give. And by all means, if someone you don't know is petitioning you for money for a jet,  a 100 foot statue of Jesus or some other item that appears outrageous,  run don't walk, to the nearest exit or else change the channel and block the program!  Remember Jesus' standard.  He didn't demand the finest stallion or most ornate chariot as his transportation - his feet or a donkey worked just fine!

Wayward ministers must be confronted. Truth is at stake. Lives are at risk. Self-centered, money loving preachers are not just a menace, they are a danger to the spiritual well-being of throngs of people seeking the good.  We can't let these jokers slide, as they transpose good with evil.  They must be relentlessly challenged.  Too many faithful people have died to allow them to corrupt the reputation of the church.  Their false Gospel must be diminished.  The truth of the real Gospel must be defended!

As I consider my own call to ministry in light of an abundance of false teachers - some of whom began on the "straight and narrow" -  I ask you, my brothers, sisters and friends, to hold me accountable.  If my lifestyle departs from the standard of my Lord or the utterances of my messages, don't let me continue on without confrontation.  Talk to me. Challenge me. If I refuse to listen, a crisp left hook or a fresh 2x4 might come in handy, but by no means leave me in my error.  The only thing worse than not preaching at all is preaching a message of hypocrisy and calloused neglect.  May the Lord preserve the faithful and shut down the wicked! Even so, "come, Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Would You STILL Have Loved Me, Given Other Choices?"

How Do I Answer My Love?

Why do wives like to ask deadly hypothetical questions like this: "So Honey, let's say a year before you met me, you met a very godly, talented and sweet woman who loves the Lord, & she falls in love with you and she looks exactly like Halle Berry, with the Lord saying 'There's a woman named Luz whose appearance is a mystery but she'd be a very good fit for you and you will soon meet her...' what would you have done?" As she sweetly smiles and enthusiastically adds, "Be honest!" And how would you answer such a question? There are definitely right and wrong answers to this! I posted the question through social media and received many insightful responses as well as some humorous ones! Here’s how I ultimately answered the question from my perspective:

I appreciate the vast reservoir of knowledge that has been made available to me in response to my presentation of a question of significant consequence from my dear Luz.  Though the wisdom shared has been deep and wide, the best answer to such a question can only be found in the recesses of the heart of the one to whom the question was presented.  How do I respond to my beloved asking me if I could have given my heart to another, when I possess an irrevocable conviction that God ordained our union? I respond with all the love and commitment that I possess.   I assure her that though many wonderful, beautiful, capable, and amazing women crossed my path in my years of singleness - some of whom may have been exceptional life partners had the Lord allowed such a relationship - only she held the key to the combination that unlocked the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.  Only she had the pin that released the code that ignited the flames of my heart in to a level of holy passion that consumed and continues to consume me body, mind and soul.  Only she, Maria-Luz Roda Bautista is the woman for me.  There are many wonderful women in this world, but only Luz holds my heart in her hands, owns my will at her command, and has the singular and exclusive covenant that identifies me as her until the Lord calls us home.  I offer this verse from the Grass Roots to my Luz, “I’d wait a million years, walk a million miles, cry a million tears!  I’d swim the deepest sea, climb the highest hill, just to have you near me!”  I am hers and she is mine – my one and only Luz!