Category: Encouragement

When Rome falls

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You find the most interesting things on Facebook.

Scrolling through my news feed this morning, I came across this gem, comparing the distraction most Americans enjoy via the NFL with the distractions most Romans enjoyed via chariot races, gladiator “games,” and the Olympics.

And while the Roman government deliberately built elaborate stadiums to distract the masses from the crumbling empire and human rights abuses, in America, we distracted ourselves.

Now, I’m not bashing sports, or the NFL. I enjoy watching football, and even have been able to attend a few Big-12 College Football games, and one Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game.  I will probably continue to enjoy watching sports for the foreseeable future.

But for some reason, seeing the above-posted meme on Facebook was kind of an eye-opener for me.

Do you know why the NFL protests were so controversial? And subsequently, why the NFL protests have, at least in part, played a role in the decline of NFL ratings? It’s because, once the players used their platform to advance a socially conscious agenda, they reminded us of the social problems that remain in America.

Whether you agree with Colin Kaepernick or not, seeing he and his followers take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner reminded you that the reconciliation we thought we had accomplished hadn’t advanced us as far as we had thought. Having that bubble burst, watching football became a reminder of the deep-divides that remain in American society. Once that happened, watching football wasn’t as fun as it was before.

And that’s why the NFL protests were so controversial. People don’t like to be reminded of their problems as they try to escape them. So, we had the controversial debate over the past two years, and we quit watching football.

The good news is that we can use our newly raised awareness to make good things happen. True change will not come through legislation, political action, or by socially-conscious NFL players. It will come through the small, daily decisions made by each individual. So, to borrow a phrase, “be the change.” Extend random acts of kindness to others, and let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.

And Go Bulldogs!

We never meant for this to happen, but we can still help

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nIn 2003, I was sold on the Iraq invasion. Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people in order to put down rebellions, and was possibly colluding with terrorist organizations who planned on carrying out major attacks against the American homeland.

If the above statement seems ignorant to you, please forgive me. I, like millions of other Americans only want to see our nation secure and our people prosper. In the aftermath of 9/11, neither could be guaranteed as terrorist organizations in the Middle East had not only stated their intent to destroy America, but managed to kill thousands merely by hijacking airliners.

What we were told leading up to the invasion of Iraq was that we would (a) be neutralizing a direct threat to the American homeland, (b) eliminating stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, (c) disrupting terror operations and (d) liberating an oppressed people.

We were warned that the war would be a prolonged effort to establish a free and democratic nation in Iraq, and that the culture change would take at least a generation. The cost would be high, the sacrifice would be great, but once successful, Iraq and Afghanistan would become beacons of freedom and hope to the Middle East, which would result in people being liberated from dark totalitarian regimes.

That’s what we were told. I believe that President George W. Bush was sincere in his desire to effect lasting change in the Middle East, but that didn’t happen.

In the aftermath of the invasion, the country destabilized. Al Qaeda set up operations in northern Iraq and immediately began persecuting Christians. When the Obama administration pulled out of Iraq (to fulfill a campaign promise to end the war), ISIS went on the offensive, essentially conquering the northern part of Iraq and increasing the persecution of Christians and non-Muslims.

This morning on my radio show, I had the opportunity to visit with Juliane Tamoorazy, the president and founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. Tamoorazy discussed the plight of Christians in northern Iraq, and hoped that Vice President Mike Pence would visit with them upon his trip to Iraq scheduled for January.

While Tamoorazy blames American policy for the problem in northern Iraq, she doesn’t blame Americans, emphasizing that Americans have good hearts and want to help people. She noted that, even in Iraq, the people blame the politics, and not the American people.

It was a difficult interview for me to conduct, because I couldn’t help but think about what the situation would be like if it were my house that were marked for persecution, if it were my family kidnapped and sold into slavery, or it was my time to be killed, all for believing in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

On my show, we debate policy. We discuss political ramifications of legislative or executive action. We discuss what’s happening in the government. Today, I couldn’t have that conversation.

So, I asked, “What can Americans do for our Christian brothers and sisters who are enduring persecution in Iraq?”

She thanked me for the question, indicating to me that she doesn’t get that question very often, and told me that the Iraqi Christians need blankets, heaters, air conditioners and basic needs for living. Of course, her organization is putting on a drive for those products.

Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

To remember them in bonds, to remember the persecuted Christians, means to keep them top-of-mind, the way God remembered Noah in Genesis 8:1. We are to be mindful of them as if it were our very own in bondage, because, when you think about it, they are our very own. We are to remember them the way we would want to be remembered if we were enduring that persecution.

And, we are to remember them “which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” This means that when some of us suffer, we all are affected.

2018 promises to be a good year in American life. Let us not be guilty of enjoying the good times while our Christian brothers and sisters suffer. Let us remember them, and as we have opportunity, do good unto them. This can be done through a number of organizations, including the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, Open Doors, or Voice of the Martyrs.

The time for silence and complicity has ended. It’s time to help.

The one thing that has challenged my faith

13350239_624569961040640_8092507861845382051_oA stranger knocked on my door one day.

“Hello, Mr. Acker. My name is Brother Turnbow.”

The elderly preacher was doing what he had spent his entire ministry doing. He was knocking doors to share the Gospel. I welcomed him to sit with me, told him I was also a pastor, and discussed with him the scriptures and the state of the world today.

The year was 2011, and I had just moved into my new house. Bro. Turnbow had gotten my name from the list of new water accounts opened with the city of Early. My heart had been heavy that week thinking about the rise of sin, and the animosity toward Christianity in society. Sin is taking our country down the hill of destruction, but the loudest voices in our society blame Christianity for the downfall.

That’s why a certain stanza from Marc Schultz’ song, “I have been there,” resonates with me:

He’s been a pastor 20 years, but tonight he sits alone and broken-hearted in the corner of the church.

Trying to change a fallen world, with his words and with his wisdom but it seems like it is only getting worse.

“Bro. Turnbow,” I asked, “Do you ever feel obsolete?”

Bro. Turnbow smiled and said, “As long as you preach God’s word, you are never obsolete.”

The problems of the world all come from unbelief. People distrust God, so they sin against Him, which causes all kinds of problems. It has been that way ever since Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they thought that God was holding out on them. Since then, the world has been in disarray, suffering from the effects of sin.

It is tempting to watch the demise of western civilization and conclude that, the end time is here, and Christ will soon return. He very well may, but to give up on the calling God has placed on your life is not only a dereliction of duty, but it expresses the same lack of faith shown by the generations before who “gave up” because of the changes in society, saying “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

I was reading Luke 5 in my personal devotional time the other day, and Luke 5:17 struck me.

“And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.”

The power of the Lord was present to heal them. Heal who? The Pharisees and doctors of the law who sat by, watching in unbelief as Jesus taught the word of God and ministered to the people. These people were diametrically opposed to the message Christ brought, and his rise among the people. He was a threat to their influence and lifestyle, so they opposed Him.

Yet Luke 5:17 seems to indicate that the Lord had the power to heal their unbelief. And if the power of the Lord can heal the unbelief of some crotchety old Pharisees in the first-century AD, imagine what he can do for a world blinded by the selfish pursuit of pleasure.

Where my faith has fallen short in the past is that I failed to believe that God is the one who reaches people, convicts them, then redeems them. My faith has fallen short in believing that God can do that, and that He will do that. My faith has fallen short in believing that God WILL save, not just that He can.

That unbelief is in my past. I have repented from that sin, and now I am looking forward to seeing God move in mighty ways.

My wife once said, “True faith is realized when you no longer have to be the solution to the problem.” It would help us Spiritually, psychologically and emotionally to remember that the battle is the Lord’s. He will be the One who effects the change.

Our jobs are the same as the Apostles in Acts 5, who were told to “Go, stand and speak the words of this life.”

So, share the Gospel. Defend the faith. Preach the scriptures. But remember, the results are not up to you. Once you realize that, you’ll more fully understand “freedom in Christ.”

May God bless you in your Spiritual walk today.

The day a generation died

Tom_Petty_2016_-_Jun_20I don’t normally get emotional when news of celebrity deaths hits the airwaves. On my radio show, I often find myself putting together tributes to musical greats, movie legends and iconic performers whose time on this earth has come to an end. I do so with the understanding that time passes on, people age, the circle of life turns, and everyone faces that time when they “cross over Jordan.”

So, when Mary Tyler Moore died, I didn’t get emotional, even though I had watched every episode of Dick Van Dyke and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When Glen Frey passed away, I put together an Eagles tribute for KXYL, but I didn’t shed a tear.

This is life. This is our ultimate destiny. It’s one we should be prepared for, Spiritually, mentally and financially.

However, when news broke Monday that Tom Petty had been found in full cardiac arrest, I knew what was coming next. There was no doubt in my mind that his time on this earth had come to a close.

For some reason, this time, I was emotional. I was overcome with sadness. I felt as though something special had been lost. The worst part is, I couldn’t explain my own emotion.

Explaining emotions is impossible, because emotions by nature are illogical. Still, it took days to explore this emotion so I could understand why I was so upset about the passing of Tom Petty, but not other performers.

So, I went home and pulled up the video of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Take the Highway Live” tour on YouTube.

As I sat watching Tom perform his classic hits that carried me through late childhood and adolescence, it dawned on me. Tom Petty was the icon of my generation.

He’s never been called this before. He has never been labeled as the voice of Generation X, the lost generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials that no one cares about. Seriously. For 40 years, marketers tried to figure out how to reach the Baby Boomers due to their numbers, before skipping over Gen-X,Y, Z,Whatever to reach the over-hyped Millennial generation, a generation defined by youth and whatever label commentators want to attach to the bearded kid in the coffee shop. I digress.

While Petty himself was a boomer, his songs played a key role in the upbringing of Gen-X. His own daughter posted online that she grew up to his songs, that everyone grew up to his songs. I did as well. From “Refugee” to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Petty’s music emanated from the speakers of my radio, and radios around me from childhood to young adult-hood.

His videos were creative and iconic, earning him the 1994 MTV Michael Jackson Music Video Vanguard award. He was one of the reasons my generation sat glued to MTV before it was overrun by episodes of “The Real World.”

Petty toured right up until his death. He continually worked on new projects and cranked out new music.

But we never considered him the voice of our generation, even though his music spoke directly into our life’s experiences.

“Refugee” taught us that life goes on even after we’ve been burned, that we don’t have to languish in the pain our past experiences have caused us.

“Won’t Back Down” tapped into our defiant attitudes. “King’s Highway” tapped into our desire to hit the open road and go “Running Down a Dream.”

“Learning to Fly” keyed into our struggle to overcome the daily rat race, and “Last Dance with Mary Jane” identified with our experiences of lost love.

Think of a moment in your life, and there’s probably a Tom Petty tune to match the occasion. And that’s why his passing hits us hard.

You see, we Gen-X’ers, the last generation to grow up before cell phones, smart phones, internet and social media, remember a simpler time. A time where concerts were safe venues to enjoy music and let your problems go for a while.

We remember a time when TV was funny, entertaining, and wasn’t trying to change our view of culture. We remember calling the local radio station to place our requests, Saturday nights at the skating rink, and the ability to leave home without having your day-off interrupted by cell phone calls from work.

We remember a time when we felt safe, long before 9/11 and mass shootings put us on edge. We remember when music was fresh, innovative and artistic. We remember music on MTV, and wasting hours staring at the screen as music videos from all genres aired.

Cruising. Road trips. Spring break at the beach before Girls Gone Wild turned it into a freak show. Bubble tape, Ecto-cooler, Crystal Pepsi, the Arch Deluxe, and the Isuzu Amigo.

We remember going to college to prepare for a fulfilling career.

Some of these experiences are still a staple of American life. Some aren’t. But no one can honestly say life today is as simple as it was, say, in 1993 when Tom Petty had his last major hit on commercial radio. And that’s why we’re sad.

The simple life of yesteryear no longer exists, and will never return. Tom Petty’s death reminds us that life changes, and the things we hold dear often fade into the backs of our collective memory.

Or, as Tom put it, “The good ole days may not return, and the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn.”

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There is good news, however. The fact that the good ole days may not return does not mean that there aren’t better days ahead. Tom’s music was optimistic, so we too should be optimistic.

Photo credit: David W. Baker

Shell Shock

In World War I, there was a condition where soldiers would mentally shut down after their minds and emotions could no longer process the violence and devastation around them. The condition was known as “shell shock.”

This is a condition where you have experienced so much trauma that you can no longer process any more difficult emotions, tragedies, traumatic experiences, etc. You just go on autopilot.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, and I cannot really describe the intricacies of this disorder. However, even a layman can observe the way people who are “shell shocked” tend to just shut down mentally and emotionally. They may continue the motions of life, but the thought and passion just aren’t there.

With the recent events in the U.S., and in my personal life, I have found myself a little “shell shocked.”

I have found myself unable to explore my own emotions and reactions to things. Thus, my writing has been hindered, and I have been unable to formulate coherent thoughts to post on this blog.

Thankfully, I am finding healing, and I will soon be able to share my thoughts on some of the horrible events to hit our nation recently.

This healing I have found has come through a study of the scriptures. My small-group has been studying through the book of 1 Peter. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with pain or struggling through life, because this book was written directly to people who are suffering.

Chapter 1 seeks to comfort those who are hurting, mourning and struggling by reminding them of the blessings they have as a result of their salvation in Christ. Oh, I skipped that part, did I?

Yes, 1 Peter was written to Christians who were suffering, particularly those enduring persecution at the hands of Nero and the Roman Empire. And while evangelical writing may not be your thing, the fact remains that any hope we have of going to Heaven, or eternal blessings, come through the Salvation what is freely given in Christ Jesus.

Peter brings this out in 1 Peter 2. He reminds us that Christ suffered for us, taking our sin upon Himself, that we can be freed and delivered from the judgment of God because Christ endured that for us on the cross. Christian doctrine teaches that this salvation is freely given by Christ to all who turn from their sin and trust Him to receive them into His Kingdom based on His work on the cross.

If you believe that your only hope for getting into Heaven is the death of Christ on the cross for your sins and His willingness to forgive you, then you have the proper faith for salvation. Profess that to others.

That’s the backdrop of 1 Peter 1. Peter is writing to people who have trusted Christ as their Savior. He is reminding them how Christ not only gave His life on the cross, but that the Lord diligently worked to bring them to the saving knowledge of the Lord. We also have the assurances that the Lord will receive us into Heaven and that our suffering will one day end.

In Chapter 2, Peter gives purpose to our suffering, which is basically for the purpose of bringing as many people to Heaven with us as possible. Toward the end of the chapter, the underlying theme becomes “Christ suffered for us, can’t we in turn endure hardness for Him?”

While an agnostic may feel that concept borders sadism, the fact is that our willingness to suffer empowers us to live out the challenges of life. Chapter 3 immediately turns the topic to marriage. If Christ suffered for us, can’t we in turn sacrifice for our spouse? If Christ suffered for us, can’t we in turn sacrifice for our friends and family?

It’s hard to make a living today, and parents often find themselves sacrificing their dreams in order to care for their kids. Young adults find themselves overwhelmed, trying to take care of an aging parent. There are no shortages of demands for self-sacrifice in living the typical 21st Century life, and there are no shortages of people who simply walk away from the responsibility.

But for those of us who stay in the “fight,” who continually struggle to care for family and friends in need, the struggle can become exhausting. Yet, Jesus endured all for us.

That reminder keeps me going. Christ endured all for me, so I can endure all for my family. Chapter 4 continues this thought pattern, and Chapter 5 relates it to our church life.

Someday, we’ll all overcome this together as we enter the Lord’s Kingdom. Until then, let’s endure together and keep each other encouraged.

Hit me up anytime on Facebook or Twitter. Or, come visit me at Life Point Baptist Church, 104 E Industrial in Early, TX, inside the Early Chamber of Commerce, Sundays at 10 am.

 

The State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed

O_brother_where_art_thou_ver1In the movie, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou, three prison escapees evade law enforcement while journeying home to find a hidden treasure. The three convicts, Everett, Pete and Delmar, embarked on a fantastic journey mirroring that of Homer’s The Odyssey while traversing the back roads of Mississippi.

One afternoon, while dining on fire-roasted gopher, the three observe a group of Christians march down to the river’s edge for a baptismal service. Delmar runs out into the water, speaks to the pastor, and then is baptized. Pete follows suit.

Later, the three discussed their fates as they drove down the road.

“But that man said that our sins were washed away,” Pete said.

“We’ve been forgiven of our sins,” Delmar said.

“You boys may be square with the Lord, but the State of Mississippi is a little more hard-nosed,” Everett explained as he convinced the boys to stay incognito.

They had been forgiven by God, but not by the State of Mississippi.

Scripture promises forgiveness of sin and redemption from sin. However, those around us might not be so quick to forgive.

I recently read a Facebook post from a lady who had recently been baptized. She had repented, trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior, and had followed the Lord in baptism. She was in church. She was raising her kids. She was making every right decision she could think of. However, the people around her were still skeptical, and reluctant to let her back in their lives.

As hurtful as that situation was, we often have to accept that, while God has forgiven us, those who saw us live through our sinful phase may not be so quick to give us a fresh slate.

As painful as it might be, we have to remember that God’s rewards are in the life to come, not this life. If we are living for rewards in this life, we are living for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes we experience the redemption Christ offers, but we don’t see the redemption in our broken relationships. And that’s okay. Just as we have to heal from the scars of our sins, those around us often need to heal as well, and that’s a process that takes time.

In the mean time, remember that 1 Peter 1:4-5 says that we have been begotten “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Whatever brokenness you may be experiencing right now, just know that it is not eternal. The day is coming when Christ will come and receive all of us who know Him as savior into His kingdom, and this pain will be a dark, distant memory. Take heart. Our best days are still ahead of us.

‘I miss Him’

Anselmo was a benevolent, peaceful man, raised in the church, and thrust into the perils of the Spanish Civil War. Having seen the atrocities of the war, Anselmo’s faith wavered.

Struggling to harmonize the sufferings of the war with the existence of God, he told Robert Jordan, “If there were God, never would he have permitted what I have seen with my eyes.

“Clearly I miss him, but a man must be responsible to himself.”

While Anselmo is nothing more than an imagination of the late Ernest Hemingway immortalized on the pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls, his unbelief and reasoning are typical of the modern mind, which struggles to understand how a loving, righteous God can allow evil to flourish in this lost and dying world.

Clearly the evil of this world cannot be overstated. Texas Child Protective Services are overwhelmed by caseloads as thousands of kids are abandoned, neglected, abused, harmed, and prostituted by their biological families. Human trafficking has become the modern day slavery, a dark underbelly of an otherwise prosperous and advanced culture.

Law enforcement is overwhelmed by the increased prevalence of illegal drug abuse to the point that law enforcement officials, politicians and correctional facilities are even beginning to wonder, “why bother?”

Contemporary Christians preach against judgmentalism and absolute truth while abusive husbands maim their wives. Yet, adding a coffee bar to the church foyer will somehow save the world.

Murder rates skyrocket and hope plummets in the inner cities, and students on college campuses have become incapable of debate without riots.

These are all first-world problems. Overseas, people sleep in fear of being captured and executed for no other reason than being born into the wrong tribe. The atrocities happening around the world are unprintable, but we’ll gladly pretend they aren’t happening if we can build a factory producing cheap electronics, or if we can buy cheap bananas from the despot in charge.

Modern man living in western culture has been blessed with technological and medical advancements that allow him to solve almost any problem that arises in his life. We have become comfortable with modern living.

Therefore, when faced with the suffering that man faces in the third world, and that man has faced throughout history, our perception of blessings versus suffering is challenged, and often, western man comes to the conclusion that suffering negates God’s presence, and with so much suffering in the world, God must not be present at all. Therefore, He does not exist.

This conclusion ignores the facts of God’s character as revealed in the Bible.

First, God did not create suffering, man did. In Genesis 1, God created a perfect world. In Genesis 2, God placed man in paradise. In Genesis 3, man tried to overthrow God, and was thus banished from paradise. In doing so, sin and disease entered in, as did ambition, avarice, lust and evil. The result, man suffers for his sin, and all too often inflicts suffering on others. God didn’t create this chaos, but He is working to correct it.

Since the fall of man, suffering is a natural part of life. Whether it is Adam eating bread in the sweat of his brow, or the Christians in Romans 8:35-39 who are killed all the day long, suffering is a common part of the human existence. In modern times, it manifests itself in political turmoil and physical illness. In other times and places, it manifested itself in conquests, persecutions, and famines.

God is present throughout the suffering. While modern man equates suffering with the absence of God, scripture actually teaches that God is present through the suffering. Romans 8:38-39 says:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Suffering is not the result of God withdrawing His presence. It is the result of sin and evil. Meanwhile, God remains present, working through the suffering to transform His children into the people He intends on them being, building our endurance, building testimonies for Him, and lining up the global geopolitical situation to bring about the return of Jesus Christ.

God Himself suffered. Or, as Romans 8:32-34 says:

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

God suffered in that He gave His only begotten Son, who suffered at the hands of sinners during the crucifixion which resulted in the payment for the sins of all mankind.

Hebrews 4:15 says, He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Jesus Christ lived the human experience in a country that was occupied by a tyrannical empire, working to survive in a meager economy, before launching his earthly ministry which saw Him live on nothing, sleep outside, and suffer the persecution and rejection of His own people.

God is not some mystic being who sits in comfort in the clouds completely oblivious to the plight of those who suffer. Bette Midler is full of baloney. He is one who has experienced our suffering, weeps when we weep, and takes our pain personally.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Anselmo made the false conclusion that the sufferings of the war negated the existence of God. As a result, Anselmo’s life lacked direction, meaning and comfort. Thus he said, “I miss Him.”

For us, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Recently, I was counselling with a young mother who wanted to get her kids involved in a youth program. She discussed how simple and good life was when she went to church as a girl. There were youth car washes where they raised funds for church camp. There was church camp, retreats, lock-ins, and Sunday night pizza.

“Those were good days,” she said. Truth be told, she was missing the peace and comfort that come from living by faith in the company of other believers. The fact is, this young mother can return to that lifestyle any time she chooses.

So, if you have wandered from the faith, and are finding your life empty and hopeless, address the root cause of your emotional strife. You miss God. But you don’t have to. You can return to His presence at any time. Turn from your sins, place your faith in Him, and then gather with other believers at a true church that teaches His word, and that fellowships together.

Do this, and God will not only give you the grace to endure, but you’ll understand the “why,” and then receive the peace that surpasses all understanding.