Monthly Archives: September 2011

Sold out? or 'Souled' out?

As Christians in today’s society, we are faced daily with the pressure to compromise. To compromise our values, our beliefs, and unfortunately the pressure to compromise the message of the Gospel. When we do this we become more concerned with people pleasing in an effort not to offend the sinner. The question to ask ourselves is, ‘Are we sold out, or SOULED OUT?’

Confrontation is never easy. However, as Christians we are called to do many different jobs. One of these jobs would probably be featured on the hit television show “Dirty Jobs.” This is our job to expose sin; which means we are called to confront the lost with the hopelessness of their condition. Yet, it is at this uncomfortable time we gain the popular job of offering the cure for their wretchedness through the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Rest assured these jobs don’t always go as planned, nor are the ever easy. When we stand up and accept the jobs we as Christians are called to do, we will almost always be met with confrontation and opposition. Yet, we hold within us a courage that mere secular man cannot understand. Our courage to stand firm derives from a humble dependence on God’s power. It is derived from what Paul declares, “Being strong in the Lord, and in the strength of HIS might” (Ephesians 6:10).

As followers of Christ, we are not called to conform to this world or strive for the popular vote. We must remain committed to God’s truth and dedicated to, “Handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Moreover, just because we proclaim that we know the Gospel it’s never enough; we must live out it’s truth through our lives and be aware of how others view us as Christ’s followers.

As you go out into the world this week, whether it be at the office or the grocery store, I  encourage you to strive for being less dependent on what man deems acceptable and more dependent on what our Heavenly Father deems acceptable. It is at this time you will truly become ‘SOULED OUT!’

Building HIS Kingdom One Soul at a Time…

Pastor Steve

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Jonah and the Whale: Stories Beyond the Flannel Board

 

Remember the flannel boards and hand puppets of yesteryear? (Boy am I showing my age here…) Yes, I’m talking about going way back… to Sunday school. These were the times where we would all leave our parents and join other children to hear about the cutesy biblical stories of David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, and one of my favorites, Jonah and the Whale. As I was reading my Bible this week I just so happen to come across my favorite story in Jonah 2. As I read, I began to wonder just how many of us have taken the time to go beyond these great childhood explanations and see how they can now be applied to our adult lives.

Jonah 2 is one of the most widely used and most recognized stories in the Bible. What I love about the story of Jonah and the Whale is that it goes way beyond the flannel board and cute plastic figurines of our childhood; and even more so, the more technological DVD movies our children are watching today. This account, while seemingly simplistic, provides a diverse approach to man’s comprehension of the comfort, strength, hope, and unfailing love God provides to us in times of need.

Jonah 2 begins with, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1). This passage brings the reader to understand immediately that we are witnessing a miracle. To fully understand this point, its best to reflect back on Jonah 1:17 where God had arranged for a fish to swallow up Jonah after the sailors who he had been sailing with became frightened at the raging seas and threw him overboard. A good assumption could be that now that Jonah had been swallowed up, he seemed as if he was forced to repent and pray before the Lord as referenced by verse 2:2 that states, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me” (Jonah 2:2). Yet, this verse also conveys that while Jonah was still in the fish’s belly, he was reassured that the Lord had heard him cry out, “You listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2). This is the first sign of Jonah’s faith being used, for he knew that despite his current situation, he would be delivered. This shows that Jonah not only had faith, but he was also a man capable of receiving God’s reassurance and peace; a point that proves that sometimes our prayers are answered before the resolution actually occurs.

As the passage continues we get the impression that Jonah was a man who was familiar with God’s Word. Through his writing he uses many words and phrases that are associated with the Psalms. Not only does this strike me as important, but what stands out is that Jonah knew these phrases by heart because he recited them while laying inside the dark belly of a fish. As the passage proceeds, verses 3-7 seems to be one of recounting the dilemma Jonah finds himself in while crying out to God in humility. Jonah’s exclamation in verse 3 regarding, “You hurled me into the depths” (Jonah 2:3) brings forth an understanding that it was not the sailors that were responsible for Jonah’s plight; it was God who threw him overboard. This thought brought me to realize that just like man today, Jonah was never out of God’s loving hands even though he tried to run from him. Moreover, when Jonah states, “I have been banished from your sight” (Jonah 2:4), he was not doing so because of the situation he was in, but the realization that he had separated himself from God. Yet, with all that seems to be going on in these few passages, Jonah shows the resolve to turn back to God and his temple as proof in his words, “Yet I will look again toward your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4).

At this point in the passage Jonah seems overwhelmed with the situation that he found himself in. “But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit” (Jonah 2:6) shows once again that Jonah is showing praise to God even though the answer to his prayers had not occurred yet. As I read these passages, I began to think to myself that there must have been a time where Jonah lived a life where he would do whatever he was asked from God. Unfortunately, Jonah was now in a spiritual mind frame where he realized it was time to stop resisting God and start following His Word. For it seems clear that Jonah realized that resisting God was comparable to being an idolater as found in his own words, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (Jonah 2:8). Ironically, he came to find clarity inside the belly of that fish and repents for running from God with proclamations of, “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you” (Jonah 2:9). At the end, it is clear Jonah had not only repented, but humbled himself before the Lord. Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of a fish and on three separate occasions he called out to God for help and forgiveness (Jonah 2:2, 2:4, and 2:7). Oddly, while God controlled the fish that first swallowed Jonah, He now summoned the fish to, “vomit Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

So how can we use this lesson and apply it to our daily lives? It is in these short verses of Jonah 2 that we come to identify with the important message concerning the sovereignty of God, and what happens if we disobey what God has intended for us. Jonah’s deliverance after three days and nights affords us an amazing example of what it means to lay one’s life down, and a reminiscent foreshadowing of Christ resurrection. The remarkable point that we can take from this passage is that Jonah was not just repentant for what he had done, he had now returned to trusting God as before. This begs each of us to ask, “What things in our lives are we still not repentant for and are still struggling to place our trust in God hands instead of our own?”

Building HIS Kingdom One Soul at a Time…

Pastor Steve

Categories: Heroes of the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where was God on September 11th? (My Firsthand Account)

On September 11, 2001 the world as we know it changed forever. 10-years has passed since that fateful day, and we as American’s still find ourselves struggling to make since of it all. Some of us have been able to move on; yet for others like myself, the mere mention of the words “September 11th” brings up paralyzing memories of a day that will forever live in infamy. As a nation comes together this weekend to remember those who sacrificed their lives, I still find myself angered, grieving, and questioning why this day had to occur. While each of us carries a memory of where we were when we heard the horrific news, there are some of us that still struggle to cope with what occurred that day. It’s been incredibly difficult for me because I was there to experience it firsthand. As my wife will tell you, this is not a subject that I like to speak about; in fact, this is the first time that I’ve spoke about it publicly since that fateful Tuesday morning. While most American’s watched the events of this day unfold on television, I had an unwanted front-row seat of what occurred at the Pentagon the morning of the attack. I’ve often been asked what happened that day, but I could never bring myself to speak openly about what I had witnessed. After much soul-searching, I’ve decided to share what I saw as a way to help myself cope with this ordeal; and try and lighten the burden that I’ve carried with me the last 10-years of my life.

In September 2011, I had been in the United States Air Force for 13-years. At the time, I was stationed at Anderson AFB on the island of Guam and was working as a General’s Aide. Like all General’s Aides before me, it was now my time to be sent to the Pentagon for 2-weeks of culinary training. This training occurred at a location in the Pentagon called the Executive Dining Room. This is the area where the top military leaders are fed and the culinary skills of chefs are honed. To be honest, as I began my second day of training, there seemed to be a real eerie feeling in the air. But I shrugged it off thinking that it was probably just the fact that working in the Pentagon was different than I was used to. As we were in full swing of breakfast service, one of my fellow chefs came flying into the kitchen telling us that an aircraft had just hit the World Trade Center (WTC). As we all huddled around that small television set in the corner of the dining room, I like everyone else thought it must have been pilot error. This was until we watched in horror as another plane hit the second tower. As we gasped in disbelief, the kitchen’s food vendor called from the Pentagon courtyard to let us know that the morning shipment had arrived. Needing a break, I volunteered to go down with a fellow worker to pick up the shipment.

Looking back, I realize now that it was pretty ironic that the delivery truck was parked on the same side of the Pentagon where the aircraft hit. We had just finished unloading the truck and started to leave the courtyard while talking about the WTC attack. As we entered the building it seemed as if things began unfolding in slow motion. I remember the glass doors closing behind me as I uttered the words that will haunt me until the day I die, “I can’t believe they hit the WTC, you think if they wanted to hit something they would hit the Pentagon…” Just as those last words left my lips, the building exploded into a ball of fire. We never saw it coming; and we were just a few hundred feet from the aircraft entry point. Till this day I still remember the powerful compression of the blast as it knocked victims to the ground. The glass breaking around us as the walls came tumbling down. Suddenly there was the skyline, filled with smoke. Even as I write this, the memories seem unmanageable; the horrifying sound of screaming victims as they jumped from the 3rd and 4th floors of the Pentagon; the smell of jet fuel in the air; and the stampede of military personnel as they began to evacuate in chaos.

As I ran through the dark hallways in a daze of disbelief, we opened doorways looking for survivors as we evacuated. Imagine 23,000 people in full-blown panic mode trying to get out at once. The outpouring of personnel yelling and crying as we ran down the halls was indescribable. As we made it outside to the exterior of the Pentagon, suddenly the aircraft fuselage exploded sending everyone scattering. People were climbing over fences, hiding under SUV’s, and running through traffic; anything to distance themselves from what was happening. There was such fear and hurt in everyone’s eyes. And take make matters worse, a new warning came over the loud speaker to take cover, an unidentified aircraft was approaching 20-miles out. Luckily this time, it was a false alarm. Yet here we stood, all cell phones were dead, the Secret Service, FBI and local police swarmed around us, and as many as 10 helicopters were flying around as smoke poured out of the Pentagon. To add to the chaos, F-16 aircraft began circling the perimeter and we were told to take cover because they had orders to fire on any approaching aircraft.

When we were finally released to go home, it was 12:30 pm; however, due to the traffic congestion, the once 20-minute drive to my hotel took over 4-hours until I walked in the door. During this 4-hour period, with cell phone service cut, I was unable to call anyone to let them know I was okay; let alone alive. As I grabbed the hotel phone there were so many messages on the hotel message service that they literally stopped recording them. How heart wrenching it was to know that my family back in Guam had known about the attack for 5-hours before I finally was able to call and tell them that I was okay. Not to mention, how much emotion poured out of me when I called my father’s work and told his receptionist that, “When you see my Dad, can you please just tell him that his son is alive…” As I recount what happened that day, I look back now and think how close I really came to dying. 45-seconds longer and I would have been in the exact area that the plane had hit.

Later that evening I received a call that the Executive Dining Room Staff and I were being called back in at two-o’clock in the morning to support rescue efforts. As we walked into the Pentagon it seemed liked such a hallowed place. The once bustling hallways were totally empty. As I write this, one thing that still sticks out in my mind were the plate glass doors entering the building. They were completely smashed as if they never made it open; as if someone was running trying to get out but couldn’t. As we worked to feed the troops, we used literally anything available. Our once 5-Star kitchen had resorted to making sliced hotdog sandwiches; anything to feed those working diligently to preserve this countries peace and freedom in a time of cowardly agression. As we worked through the early morning the Pentagon was still on fire. The walls and floors were covered with thick black ash. And the smell of smoke, jet-fuel, and another chard smell that I wish not to name kept us on the verge of upheaving. As dawn broke, I took a moment to walk about the Pentagon corridors. From the windows, I was able to peer into the courtyard. It was at this time that I was brought to my knees in uncontrollable tears. There, lay row after row of sheet-covered bodies; someone’s mother, father, sister, brother or friend. The sight of innocent people killed while defending our great nation. Lives lost for some useless ploy at disrupting our way of life.

It’s been 10-years and yet the memories seem just as vivid as the day they occurred. As we join together this tenth-anniversary of September 11th, we as a nation remember those who lost their lives. It is at this time that I find myself reflecting on a question that many people have asked, “Where was God on September 11th ?” When we think back at what happened that dreadful day, people tend to focus more on the evil and destruction and tend to forget the thousands of miracles that transpired in the face of evil. While thousands never made it out of the WTC and the Pentagon, there were also thousands that were able to make it out just in the nick of time. Let’s not also forget the brave passengers on Flight 93 who defeated the terrorists and saved thousands of lives from another plane attack. Yes, I can tell you firsthand that September 11th was a tragic and unwarranted attack on this country; however, though these events were horrific, God still proved that He was in control. We should never doubt His sovereign grace. Did God have the power to stop what had happened? There’s no doubt. Yet how many lives did He save that day? How many lives are forever touched? And as a direct result of September 11th, how many people made the commitment to place their faith in Christ for salvation?

So the question remains, “Where was God on September 11th ?” The answer is, right were He was supposed to be. It is in these moments of trial and suffering that we as Christ followers must lean on the words found in the book of Romans, “And we know that all things work for good to those who love God, and are called to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). If we have learned anything from the tragic events that unfolded on September 11th, it should be that we should not go to work each day in an illusion that we live in a perfect world. That nothing of this magnitude could ever happen on U.S. soil. The pain that was inflicted that day will never be forgotten. Only bandages can cover the sores, but the pain will never go away. I for one will never go a day without remembering what I saw. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t shed tears for our fallen heroes. And while I pray for the victim’s families, I thank God that I wasn’t one of them. If you’re taking the time to read this, you have somehow touched a part of my life and I thank you for being in it. I would ask you to go to work each day knowing that one person can really make a difference. That life is too short to worry about the small things. Hug your spouse, children, family, and friends and tell them that you love them. Because that one-day that you don’t, just may be the last day that you’ll ever have the opportunity to. God bless you, and GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!

Building HIS Kingdom One Soul at a Time…

Pastor Steve

 

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