Back in 1961, on this day in history, a song called “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by a group known as The Tokens topped the Billboard Chart pop list and became a wildly popular song.
And that brings me to a story I’m sure I have never told you.
Back in the Fall of 1985, Nona was pregnant with our first child (Christy) and I was the student pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh. I was sitting in my office when I received a phone call from a friend who ran a local Christian bookstore. He called me because he knew that part of my story included a Jewish background. He had received a phone call from a man who had just rolled into Raleigh by bus and was wanting to talk to somebody about how to become a Christian. He said that he also was from a Jewish background.
So I dropped everything that I was doing and rode 15 minutes downtown to the bus stop where I met Alan.
Alan was not in good shape emotionally, psychologically, or financially. His story went something like this: He had grown up in a Jewish household but had drifted away from his religious roots. He had married and then struck it big in the music industry. He was the lead singer for a group called The Tokens who had popularized the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” back in the early ’60s. He sang the opening part of the song for me and he was quite good. Since then, he had lost everything, his wife had died, he was drifting around the country by bus, he was suicidal, and as a last resort called the Christian bookstore as he was passing through Raleigh – who called me.
I listened to his story and then shared the gospel with him which he readily embraced. And then, because he literally had no where else to go, I invited him to come stay at our house. Now a wiser man would at the very least have asked his pregnant wife if this was OK, but alas wisdom was not one of my better virtues. I was 27 years old, naively compassionate, and trying to do what I thought Jesus would do.
Alan stayed with us for six weeks. We introduced him to our church where he was baptized. We found him a job at McDonald’s. And we gave him a place to lay his head and a chance to try to heal.
About week five Nona and I had a weekend out of town that we were obligated to and Alan went to stay with our friends Paul and Macon. Paul and Macon worked alongside us with students at Providence and had gotten to know Alan. Paul was a lawyer and is currently serving as a judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court. A very smart guy. As they spent time with Alan that weekend some things came up in their conversation that didn’t add up. So he started doing some research. Now keep in mind that this was before the advent of the internet. By the time we got back into town he was convinced that not everything about Alan’s story was true.
So we sat down with him and confronted him with the inconsistencies. And then he told us the real story. The Jewish background – true. The singing career – not true. The wife – not true. The down and out part – true. He had fabricated the singing and wife part of the story as a way to gain our sympathy thinking that if he was just a drifter that no one would give him the time of day. He said that his conversion was genuine. He even went before our church and confessed publicly to the lies.
We believed him. We forgave him. We invited him to stay and make his home in Raleigh and grow in his faith at our church. But his feelings of guilt about the lies made him want to leave. He said that he had people out in Colorado so we bought him a bus ticket and sent him on his way. And so I said goodbye to him at the same place that I met him.
This would not be the only time that I invited a stranger into our home. But that is a story for another day. I will leave you with this thought: Asking the question “what would Jesus do” is always a good question to ask. Sometimes people will take advantage of your desire to please God but don’t let that keep you from asking the question again and again.
Never ever forget that you are very loved!
Verse 11 of this awesome passage is a succinct summary of what Paul talks about in these 11 verses:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
Paul’s concern for the Ephesian believers (and us) is that we stand firm in our faith. This is a concern because he has seen too many people fall by the spiritual wayside. I share his concern. And as I reflect on 35 years of ministry, many of them with students, I often wonder “where are they now?”
There are a few things in this passage that Paul wants believers to understand so that they will never be counted among the “where are they now”:
1) We are involved in a cosmic battle – We must never forget that we are at war and the battleground is our soul. Even though our enemy is invisible he is nonetheless real and nonetheless ruthless. The tendency among believers is to forget about Satan. This is very dangerous because our forgetting enables him to infiltrate our world without worrying about repercussions. It’s as if we give him a free pass to do what he wants.
2) Satan has a strategy to defeat us – It is a strategy that was field-tested in the Garden of Eden. And because it proved successful it has been used again and again. You would think that we would not be so easily duped after all this time, but alas, this is not so. Here are a few of his oft used tactics:
- He creates doubt in the minds of believers. This is what he did in Genesis 3:1 with Eve – “Did God actually say…”
- He distorts the Truth of God’s Word. Compare Genesis 2:17 with Genesis 3:3. Satan added something that God did not say. Sometimes he adds things and sometimes he subtracts things. In either case it is a distortion of truth.
- He discourages the saints of God. Often he will plant the question “Why God” in our minds when circumstances are not going the way that we would hope.
- He is a destroyer. He destroys relationships. He destroys churches. He destroys health. And he is clever enough so that we do not even suspect that he might be the culprit or the cause.
Once our eyes are opened to his strategy then we can begin to fight the real enemy. But too often we lash out at those closest to us when we are hurt or confused or despairing… and Satan just watches and malevolently grins.
3) We have been given everything we need to fight the good fight – Paul refers to the weapons of our warfare as the armor of God. He calls us to wield our weapons. All too often though, we leave our weapons unused, making us extremely susceptible to whatever Satan wants to do. The weapons we have been given are more than enough to defeat the enemy. So I will remind you, as I have been reminded:
- Remind yourself of truth and reject the lies of the evil one (v.14)
- Recognize that you are one of God’s righteous ones – made righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus. (v.14)
- Rehearse the gospel daily – delighting in all that the Lord has done for you. (v.15)
- Respond to everything in faith – expressing to God your confidence that He is in control. (v.16)
- Read, ponder, and memorize the Word of God. (v.17)
- React prayerfully in all circumstances. (v.18)
Just because these weapons don’t seem like spiritual machine guns or atomic weaponry do not make the mistake of devaluing them. They are powerful tools in our arsenal that will effectively neutralize the enemy.
May this brick help you to go into battle with confidence knowing that you you indeed will overcome the evil one.
“Thus says the Lord: the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The fears that the few good things that make you happy are slipping through your fingers, and the frustrations that the bad things you hate about yourself or your situation can’t be changed-these fears and these frustrations are what Christmas came to destroy. It is God’s message of hope this Advent that what is good need never be lost and what is bad can be changed.”
‘Tis the season when the Christmas story is read from Luke 2. No doubt you have heard it and are familiar with it. But I wonder if you have ever really thought about what it was like for Joseph and Mary. Here are a few things to consider the next time you hear the story…
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
- It was 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary most likely would have traveled south along the flatlands of the Jordan River and then turned west somewhere near Jericho to head up towards Jerusalem. And by up I mean up. It was about 18 miles of uphill rocky terrain to Bethlehem.
- As you picture this, keep in mind that Mary was 8½ months pregnant. If they were able to cover 10 miles a days it would have taken a week and a half. This would have been a grueling trek for anybody – much less a very pregnant woman.
- And whether she walked or rode on a donkey, which we do not know, Mary would have been sore and exhausted from the trip. She would not have been well rested as she went into labor and gave birth. Most stories of the birth account romanticize it, but I promise that Mary did not have a beatific look on her face when Jesus made His way into the world.
- In America almost all births happen in the sterile, comfortable confines of a hospital with multiple medical personnel on the ready. Joseph and Mary were probably hoping to stay in the spare bedroom of a relative or another Jewish family or worst case in an inn but because so many people were in town because of the census the best lodging they could find was likely a dark, dank cave.
- The cave no doubt was a respite for animals so use your imagination to take a good whiff of what Jesus’ delivery room most likely smelled like.
- And Jesus’ birth was like any other birth. There was a lot of wailing on Mary’s part, and a lot of anxious moments on Joseph’s part. And there was no doubt a lot of amniotic fluid and blood and possibly that gross looking cheesy stuff followed by the expulsion of the placenta. It was a royal mess – pun intended – as the King of Kings made His way into the world.
- And then Jesus began to cry – which was an awesome sound given everything that Joseph and Mary had just gone through.
And thus began the the most influential life that has ever existed.
The next time you read or hear the Christmas story – think about the story within the story. And be very grateful that God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
Never ever forget that you are very loved!
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Back on October 25 of this year I preached a message on verse 1 of this passage. You can find it HERE. So I will focus my pondering today on verse 2.
As believers, I think we can agree that we do NOT want to be conformed to this world – or as one paraphrase says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into it’s mold.” And we don’t want to stay the same way that we are. The only other option is to change. Or rather to be changed. To be transformed. Or to use the Greek word that you will recognize, “be metamorphosized.”
Paul tells us at the end of the verse that when we are transformed we will be able to discern God’s will. And who doesn’t want to know what God’s will is? Most of us are regularly asking the question, “Lord, what do You want me to do.” Paul is telling us how to figure out the answer to this question, which is… drumroll please… “by the renewal of your mind.” Two questions immediately come to my mind:
Why do we need our minds renewed? The answer is fairly simple. GIGO. That is computer speak for Garbage In Garbage Out. For years our minds have been programmed by the world. By the music we listen to and videos we watch. By the TV shows and movies we look at. By the books that we read. By what we are taught in school. By social media platforms. Little by little, day by day our minds have subtly been taught to believe certain things. Most of the time we have not even questioned the influence that all these things have had on us. And consequently, we have unconsciously come to believe things about God, about ourselves, about people in general, and about the world that may or may not be true. It’s time to challenge the world’s perspective that has infiltrated our minds. It’s time to have our minds renewed. So…
How do we renew our minds? Again, the answer is fairly simple. TITO. That is “Shay speak” for Truth In Truth Out. Instead of allowing the world to inform our minds we need to allow the Word to inform our minds. So here are a few very practical things that you can do to make sure that your mind is daily being renewed. All of these are things you have heard many times – but sometimes we try to make things too complicated and we ignore the simple answers:
- Read the Word daily – give the Truth of Scripture access to your mind
- Ponder the Word – Don’t just read Scripture, take some time and think about what it is saying.
- Apply the Word – Make sure that you are putting the commands of God into practice. If God says to do something, do it. If God says not to do something, don’t do it.
- Memorize the Word – Find a passage of Scripture that you really like and take the time to commit it to memory.
- Talk about the Word – As you go about your day find someone that you can have a conversation with about what you have been reading.
- Listen to the Word – Make sure that you are in church and hearing the Word being preached and the Word being taught.
- Sing the Word – Tune into a good Christian radio station or use the Pandora or Spotify Apps to sing and worship the Word of God.
- Exalt the Word – John 1 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen His glory….” Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. Honor Him. Praise Him. Magnify His name. Exalt Him.
May the Lord use this brick to remind you to get back to the basics and to be intentional about renewing your mind.
Grace sanctifies. It is too wild to let us stay in love with unrighteousness. Too free to leave us in slavery to sin. Too untamed to let our lusts go unconquered. Grace’s power is too uninhibited to not unleash us for the happiness of true holiness.
David Mathis – Habits of Grace
Without a doubt we can say that your third year of life was a year full of change. Let’s do a quick review of some of the major changes you’ve experienced the last 12 months.
- In February you went from being the baby sister to being a big sister when your family welcomed Haddon into the world.
- In March the whole world changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit and it forced everybody to make significant changes in their lives.
- In November you found out that your family would be moving to Raleigh – new city, new home, new church, new job for your daddy.
Those three changes alone are enough to rock anybody’s world. Add to that the crazy-ness of being a two year old and all the changes you were experiencing just by being a healthy, growing little girl.
Some people handle change better than other people. Even as I wrote that I heard your great Aunt Jeanne say out loud, “Amen!” But one thing that you can count on is that you will go through hundreds of changes in your life. Some of them you will readily embrace and some you will fight to avoid. Some will come from out of nowhere and some you will have a lot of time to prepare for. Some will make you laugh and some will make you cry. Some you will initiate and some will be thrust upon you.
The best advice that I can give you as you grow up to prepare for the changes that will come your way is this: Draw near to God! Psalm 91 says it this way:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you…
He will deliver you no matter what changes might come your way…. Draw near to God!
As a bonus, here are 4 quotes that I came across about change that I like.
- “Worrying about something you can’t change will forever be the biggest waste of your time.”
- “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ―Mother Teresa
- “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” —C.S. Lewis
- “You’re always one decision away from a totally different life.” —Mark Batterson
I hope you have an awesome day celebrating your birthday and that it is full of lots of fun surprises. Never ever forget that you are very loved!
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The implications of what the Lord has done for us are staggering. Here is a rehearsal of what Peter says that God has done and a few things to ponder…
- He brought us out of darkness: Remind yourself what it was like prior to coming to faith in Christ.
- He brought us into the light: What difference has Jesus made in your life?
- He chose us – Just let that sink in. He chose YOU when you were not the pick of the litter.
- He made you royalty – You are a child of the King of Kings
- He has called you to be a priest – As a priest, how will you bless the people you come in contact with today?
- He has made you holy – ALL those sins that have separated you from God – He remembers no more.
- You belong to Him as a treasured possession – He lovingly looks at you and says. “You are MINE.”
- He has given you a faith family to be a part of – the people of God.
- He has lavished His mercies upon you – even when you did not deserve them.
- He has commissioned you as a sojourner – never forget that this world is NOT your home.
- He has enlisted you as a soldier of the cross – never forget that you are in a war.
And WHY has He done all these things? So that you might proclaim His excellencies (v.9) and so that you might bring honor and glory to His great Name. (v.12)
May this brick be a reminder of who you are, whose you are, and all that the Lord has done for you.
“If God is indescribable, where does that leave us? It leaves us walking more humbly than we’ve ever walked before—bowed at the thought of such a mighty and mysterious God. It leaves us safe in the knowledge of His ultimate control—that the One who spoke these awe-inspiring, inconceivable wonders into being will never lose the plot or drop the ball. And it leaves us pondering just how much He—this creative God of hidden wonders—has in store for those who’ve chosen to love and follow Him.”