Thoughts On Eternal Life

John 17:3 says, “ Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Eternal life is about knowing our God and Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not just a get out of hell free pass. It is not just a ticket into heaven. It is so much more. If we can begin to know the One who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness, know the One who was the ransom for the debt we owed God –  then not only will it make us achingly yearn for heaven but it will also make life on earth really worth living.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, is one of the greatest classic series ever written  On the final page of the final book (The Last Battle) of the series, some of the children who have been to Narnia are very sad that they once again must return to their homeland—called the Shadowlands. Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus) asks them about this:

[Aslan spoke to the children,] “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

The point here is that the children of Narnia dreaded the idea of going back to the Shadowlands and leaving Narnia – not because they didn’t like their home but because it meant leaving Aslan. Whereas we, for the most part, dread the idea of leaving this world for the next. Lets face it, we like it here. We’re comfortable here. We have our stuff here. This world is known. We don’t generally get excited about the unknown. We don’t like the idea of either dying or being dead. Contrast this with how the Apostle Paul felt about facing death and leaving this world:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain….I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 1:21, 22; 3:8)

Perhaps he knew something that we think we know but don’t really know: that knowing Christ is what we were made for and what we were saved for. That knowing Him is what makes heaven worth waiting for and life worth living. That knowing Him is the secret to experiencing eternal life in the fullest sense of the term.

So here’s the question that I have to ask myself: Do I know Him like this? Not just know know about Him. Not just believe in Him or even trust Him for my salvation. But do I know Him? Know Him like Paul knew Him. Know Him like the children of Narnia knew Aslan.  The answer to this question will determine whether I merely have eternal life or whether I am enjoying and savoring the eternal life that I have been given. And if you’re reading this, maybe these are good questions for you to think on as well. Grace and Peace to you as you think on these things! And while you’re thinking on these things, perhaps you can ponder this question as well: How do you get to know Jesus the way that Paul knew Him? Mmmm… I sense another blog post at some point.

Braggin' on my Bride

You may or not be aware of it but I have a wonderful wife. I want to brag on her just a bit. Yesterday she got some news that she had been waiting for (and hoping for) since May. She found out that she had passed the National Boards for Teacher/Counselor Certification. The process began over a year ago. It involved lots of studying, lots of paper writing, some intense exam taking, and a lot of waiting. Probably less than 50% of those who try to get certified pass on the first try. This was her first try. She called me yesterday from school when she found out and was ecstatically happy. Probably as much ecstatically relieved as anything. She was not looking forward to the work it would take had she not passed.

For those of you know her well you are not surprised that she passed. She tends to attack everything she does with a determination to do it well. While I’m bragging, here are a few things that you may not know about her: 1) She graduated #1 from her high school class and 2) She was selected to Phi Beta Kappa upon graduating from UNC-G. And I might add 3) She is a LOT smarter than I am.

I am very proud of her and count it a privilege that I get to be married to her. Well done Darling!

Why I love Being Bald

It used to bother me to think about losing my hair. Now that I am seasoned (as opposed to old) I realize all the benefits of being follicly challenged. Here are a few that come to mind:

I’ve got a great fraternity of other bald dudes (and dudettes): Chris Daughtry, Marc Francis, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Andre Agassi, Homer Simpson, Jason Statham, Michael Jordan, Al Huffman, Sean Connery, Van Diesel, Britney Spears, Elmer Fudd, Dr. Phil, Stone Cold Steve Austin … ‘nuf said!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE  not having to pay for hair cuts.

I never ever have to think about packing a hair dryer on trips.

I can use soap on my head as well as the rest of my body – no need to switch from one bottle to another.

The testosterone that I have left at 52 years of age does not have to be channeled towards keeping hair on my head.

It may give me yet one more thing that I will have in common with my sons and son-in-law.

I get my head rubbed by random people (seriously, this happens!).

And my favorite…

It will give me a conversation starter with Elisha the prophet when I meet him in heaven:  Elisha went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”   And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23-24)

The only down side I can see to being bald is that I get colder quicker. There’s no insulation so to speak. But even with that it just gives me a good excuse to wear a cool looking hat. So I’m embracing baldness and highly recommend it to those of you who were not “chosen” to be hairless. As someone once said, “God only made so many perfect heads, the rest He covered with hair!”

Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie

Reading this morning in Colossians and came across this verse: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ.” (2:9-10). In thinking about what this means and how it applies to me – how I have been given fullness in Christ – this is the best illustration that I can come up with….

Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie

My wife and I love to go out to supper together. We don’t do it all that often but we really enjoy it when we do. As I’m sure you have experienced, when the meal is over the waiter will ask, “Would you like to see our dessert menu.” Now I don’t know about you but it is not uncommon for me to look at the dessert menu before I ever look at the regular menu. And if we happen to be at Chili’s then I am already plotting my dining strategy. You see they have a Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie that I love. If I were to finish my meal without having the pie this is what I would be thinking: “That was a really good meal. But something is missing. I just don’t feel completely satisfied yet. There’s got to be something that could appease this unfulfilled longing that I have.  Oh – how about a piece of pie!”

This is basically my life story. Growing up as a teenager I had a lot going for me. I had a lot of friends, I made really good grades, I was a decent athlete, I had a supportive family and I never even knew that my life was not as complete as it could be until I was introduced to the person of Christ. In Him I found fullness. In Him I found completeness. In Him I found exactly what was missing from the “meal” of my life – which was a very good meal. But in Him I found complete satisfaction. I no longer had to wonder “is there something more”, because He was the something more. And He continues to be the something more. If for some reason you have not experienced this kind of “fullness” and completeness  then give me a holler – I would be thrilled help you understand how Christ can give you the satisfaction that you are longing for.

πολλῷ μᾶλλον

Many years ago when I was in seminary I had to do a paper on this Greek phrase. It is found several times in the New Testament. Here is one example:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:8-9)

The phrase is pronounced “pollo mallon” and is  transliterated “much more.” It is a favorite expression of Paul’s when he argues that if one thing is true how much more must something else be true. I mentioned in my “Defining Moments” post that I had done a 10 day fast. As I was thinking on what Christ had done for me during this time, this phrase  – “how much more” – got stuck in my head and I expressed my gratefulness to God in a poem that I appropriately entitled… How Much More.

How Much More

How much more could Christ have done
Than what He did so long ago;
And yet today he fills my heart
With  joy that overflows.

How much more could He have done
Than when He set this captive free;
And yet today I taste the fruit
Of His awesome victory.

How much more could He have done
Than when he rescued me from sin;
And yet today he gives me hope
And helps me find my strength in Him.

How much more could He have done
Than save my soul eternally;
And yet I find that in this world
I live with joy and power and peace.

How much more could He have done
Than break the chains of doubt and fear;
And yet today when I despair
I know that He is always near.

How much more could He have done
Than to create new life in me;
And yet He fills my soul with songs
And I sing joy-filled melodies.

How much more could He have done
Than make things right with God again;
And yet today He walks with me
As if I am His greatest friend.

How much more could He have done
Than prove His love at Calvary;
And yet today I am reminded
Of His faithful love for me.

My prayer is that you and I would comprehend and experience each day just how much more Christ has done for us than we can even begin to imagine.

Defining Moments of My Life (Part 4)

A decision on a rooftop – So in 1983 I graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary up near Boston but was clueless as to what avenue of ministry to pursue. So Linda and I moved back to Raleigh and plugged into our home church, Providence Baptist, to wait on a clear sense of calling. A friend of mine gave me a job roofing houses, we were volunteering with Providence’s youth ministry, and we were trying to be patient as we waited for direction from God. It was on top of a roof one day that I sensed God calling me to student ministry. (He used my fierce dislike for being way up in the air in 90+ degree weather to make this clear to me). I approached our pastor about this. We began an internship at the church to seek confirmation. And I ended up spending 22 years as a youth pastor. I look back on that rooftop decision and realize that sometimes God will put us in places we don’t really want to be to get us ready for places that He does want us to be. I loved being a youth pastor and now I have the bonus skill of knowing how to roof a house.

Fall 2010

March 3, 1986; October 27, 1987; August 22, 1990 – Yep, you guessed right – those are the days that my kids were born. VERY defining moments. It’s one thing to have your life changed by marriage and still another thing to have it changed by becoming a parent. Our kids are basically all grown up now. They make all their own choices and decisions now but allow us the opportunity to partially subsidize their lifestyle (not true for the married daughter). I am an incredibly blessed dad who has watched my kids grow into wonderful God-seeking young adults. Christy, Scott, Tucker – thanks for helping to define my life. You are each a treasure to me and you are very very loved.

A 10 day fast – In the Fall of 1998 I was in a spiritual stupor. I knew that I needed to do something to get back on track with God. I decided to do something I had never done before – fast for an extended period of time and use the time to seek God. I fasted from food and television for 10 days. My only nutrition was vegetable juice to keep from dehydrating. I spent 2 days at a retreat center just reading, thinking, and praying. It was during this time that I got introduced to the writing of John Piper. That week I read his book A Hunger For God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. His writing has probably influenced me more than anyone’s over the last 20 years. Especially his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Highly recommended if you want a book that will challenge your thinking and feed your soul. My soul was fed during my time of fasting and I got back on track with God. By the way, it was only the first 3 days of the fast that were tough. The hunger went away after that but the habit of eating remained. It was the habit that I had to fight against.

June 14, 2008

June 14, 2008 – To some extent this was more of a BIG day than a defining moment but I can also make a case otherwise. This was the day that my daughter Christy got married to Chad Ferrell. This was also the day that I turned 50 years old. I joke and tell people that I threw myself a huge party for my birthday – inviting hundreds of guests to come and celebrate with me. But really the day was about Christy and Chad. And it was a great day. It was defining in the sense that the dynamics of our family changed on that day. In a good way. It was also defining in the sense that I was now eligible for AARP. This meant that I was officially classified as old. 50 was always the number that I defined as old. Not 40. Not 30. But 50. It was also the age that I had prayed that God would allow me to live to be. I started praying that prayer about 20 years ago. I called it my Hezekiah prayer. You see my dad had died when I was 13. I very much wanted to be around to influence my kids until they were grown and making their own decisions about life. 50 years old was the magic number. This was when Tucker, my youngest, turned 18, graduated high school and went off to college. My influence on their lives at this point was now going to be very diminished as they were all on their own and living away from home. So God answered my prayer and for that I am very very grateful. It doesn’t mean I don’t want more years to see my kids grow older and be around potential grandkids but it does mean that I have seen the faithfulness of God in my life and I am a extremely thankful. I am a blessed man!

I have no idea what defining moments wait for me in the future but I am excited about watching what God is up to and am thrilled to be a part of the great adventure of following Him. Whether I live to be 90 or die tomorrow I intend to live out my days serving the God who has rescued me, redeemed me, and entrusted me with a wonderful family, a great church, and a life worth living.

Defining Moments in My Life (Part 3)

A comment at a conference – It was my junior year. I was 20 years old. I was an engineering major. And I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I attended a conference that was geared toward those who were in the same boat as I was… on the fast track to a good job and worldly success but not sure that was really the way that we wanted to spend the next 40 years of our lives. I heard a speaker that weekend make a comment that changed the whole direction of my life. He said this: “There are only 2 things in this world that are eternal, God’s Word and people, therefore we should spend our lives investing in these 2 eternal things.” From that point on I began considering vocational ministry so that I could maximize the time I had to invest in eternal things. I decided to finish out my engineering degree since that was the quickest way out of college and began thinking about graduate school at a seminary where I could get theologically grounded. Lesson learned: You never know how something that you say may challenge someone to change the course of their life – for good or for bad – so be careful what you say.

Hearing God speak loud and clear (the third time) – It was the summer of 1980. Linda had graduated from UNC-G and I had graduated from Tulane. We had been dating (mostly long distance) for 1 year. We were at Myrtle Beach for the week hanging out with my family. One evening while walking on the beach I expressed to her that I was having some doubts about our relationship. This came from out of nowhere to her and made for a very awkward evening. I couldn’t sleep so I went out to the hallway of the condo complex where we were staying and was praying. Again, in the quiet of the night, God spoke very loud and clear to me – not an audible voice but as loud in my spirit as if it were audible. This time He said, “You are to marry that girl!” There has never been a doubt in my mind from that night on that Linda is supposed to be my wife. And here we are now, 30 years later, enjoying each other in a great marriage and the fruit of  what comes from willful obedience to God.

August 1, 1981 (8.1.81)So I proposed on Christmas Day 1980 and we were married on August 1, 1981. We had a really fun celebration. A lot of my friends came up from Aiken. We were able to share with all our friends and family about how we intended for the Lord to be priority in our marriage. Wedding was Saturday afternoon. Flew to Atlanta for Saturday night and then to Bermuda for our honeymoon. It’s been a fun, fast 29+ years. God has used my wonderful bride to complete me, to help steer the direction of my life, and to be a fabulous helpmate as we have raised 3 children, served on 2 church staffs, and sought to navigate the sometimes rough waters of this world. It’s been a fun ride and I’m glad she has been with me every step of the way. We’re excited about what the next 30 years have in store.

***(The last few Defining Moments will appear in a later post)

Defining Moments In My Life (Part 2)

Spring of my freshman year at Tulane University (1977)

My decision to attend Tulane University (New Orleans, La.) – I applied to 4 schools as a senior in high school: Clemson, Cornell, Duke, and Tulane. I got accepted to Clemson, turned down by Cornell, wait listed at Duke and accepted to Tulane. For some reason at the time I did not want to go to the same school that all my friends were going to – which was either Clemson or U of South Carolina. I chose Tulane for 2 reasons. 1) My grandfather had gone there, and 2) it had a very good engineering program. I went there and majored in Biomedical Engineering. I remember sitting in my dorm room before classes had even begun, not really knowing anybody, when there is a knock on my door. I open it and this young man says to me,”Hi my name is Dirk, I understand that you are a Christian.” Well, I certainly had not told anyone that I was a Christian at that point so I was a bit surprised how he knew this. It turned out that he was with Campus Crusade for Christ – thus began my college career and my association with CCC. Little did I know at this point how that first conversation would impact my life.

Hearing God speak loud and clear (the first time) – So my last year of high school I had begun playing games with God. I was Mr. good Christian kid whenever I was around the church but away from church I was acting in some very non Christian ways. The most obvious was partying and drinking. So off I go to Tulane, join a fraternity and continue my game playing. Of course this was not hard to do in “Sin City” with The French Quarter so close by. All the while I am getting more and more involved with CCC and even assuming some leadership roles. How do you spell “hypocrite?” So in January I think God was pretty saddened by my choices and decided to give me a chance to repent once and for all. I remember walking across campus from my fraternity towards my dorm when I heard God speak to me as clear as I ever have. It was probably not audible but it was nonetheless unmistakeably loud and clear. He said, “Decide now!! What side of the fence are you going to live on?” It was loud enough that it stopped me in my tracks. And it was loud enough that I knew I couldn’t just blow it off. That day is the day that I surrendered my life to the Lord. I quit the game playing, quit the drinking, and began seeking to know Him and to find out how to serve Him.

The first picture I have of Linda and I Galveston, Tx (July 1979)

Hearing God speak loud and clear (the second time) – So fast forward 2 years, I am now in my junior year at Tulane. I have applied to go on a Campus Crusade beach project in Myrtle Beach SC. My thinking is that I can be a part of a project and still not be far from my home in Aiken for the summer. In early April I got notified by CCC that I was NOT accepted to the Myrtle Beach project but that I had been accepted to a project in Galveston, Texas. I had absolutely no desire to go to Texas for the summer so I fired off a reply to Crusade saying thanks anyway but I was declining their offer. I was lying on my sofa later that day listening to some music by Keith Green with my headphones on when God again spoke extremely loud and clear. This time He said, ” Go to Galveston! I’m not going to tell you why but you need to go to Galveston!” Again the voice was unmistakable. I knew without a doubt that God had spoken to me. So you know what I did? I went to Galveston that summer. And it was a life changing decision and a life changing summer… ’cause that’s where I met a young lady named Linda Tucker.

*The next 3 Defining Moments will appear in a later post

Ode to a Great Friend

EVERYBODY should have a friend like Bobby Salmon. I consider it a privilege to be his friend. Today is Bobby’s 50th birthday. I wanted to use my blog time to try to express why he is such a great friend and why I appreciate him so much.

1. He loves God and is a follower of His Son Jesus – This is expressed in a lot of the ways that I will mention below, but the  bottom line is that he genuinely loves God. Everything that he does flows from this fact. His life is centered on knowing God and obeying His Word. He is not just a good church goer – He actually practices what he says that he believes. I love that about him.

2. He has a great family – I love his family.  Kim, Tyler, Jordan, and Morgan. But more than that – he loves his family. I have watched him over the last 12 or so years as he has poured his life into them. He has been an involved husband and dad. Not a passive, hope-my-family-turns-out-ok kind of dad. And he has made sure that if nothing else, they know that they are loved.

3. He is a servant-leader – In the truest meaning of the term. He is a servant par excellance. He loves to serve God, serve his church, serve others. He finds great joy in helping – especially in helping others. He will do anything for you if it is in his power to do so. But he is also a true leader. In fact, I know few people who are as good at leading others as he is. And he leads in such a way that you want to follow. The mark of a great leader.

4. He is a generous giver – I know this because he has been very generous to me and my family. Generosity is an indication of a man who understands grace. Bobby knows how much he has been given by God – how gracious God has been to him – and in turn is generous to others and to his church.

5. He loves Haiti – 10 years ago Bobby began going to Haiti and has gone just about every year since then when it was possible and sometimes more than once a year. He loves the country. He loves the people. He loves Pastor Leon Dorleans. He has invested time, money, sweat, and tears into making the country a better place to live. Here are a few pics of him from over the years:

6. He is hard worker and a bonafide success story – By the world’s standards, Bobby is a successful man. Every bit of his success has been earned , not handed to him. But he is a hard worker at whatever he does – whether he is in the gym working out, or building a house in Haiti, or serving in the church. Whatever he does, he does with all his might. He is a great example of working hard and not expecting life to be handed to you.

7. He is very civic minded – Not only does he give a lot of his time to his family and church but he also has invested himself in trying to make Durham a better place to live. He has served in a number of different volunteer capacities in civic organizations hoping to make a difference in this city that he has spent his whole life in.

8. He is great story teller – If you are around Bobby for any length of time at all you know that he tells a great story. And his whole body gets involved in the telling of the story. He has great facial expressions and voice inflection when he gets going and make you feel as if you were there when the story happened. A part of his being a great story teller is having a great sense of humor. He probably makes me laugh more than anybody that I know. And he’s especially funny when he’s telling a story on himself. Like the RAT story in Haiti. Like the Lindsay story in Fondwa.

9. He is passionate about life – This is probably evident from some of the other stuff that I have said. I love the passion that oozes out of him as he pursues life. Whether deer hunting or announcing Riverside football games or cooking a pig or leading a finance meeting or teaching Sunday School or rooting for the Blue Devils or any number of other things – he is able to articulate and demonstrate passion in all things.

10. He knows EVERYBODY! – I’ve gotta figure that my six degrees of separation are greatly enhanced because I know Bobby. If I need to know somebody, Bobby is a great contact to have because of all the people he knows. Not just knows about them, but knows them. And is considered a friend by most of them. Indeed, Bobby Salmon is a GREAT friend to have. But don’t just take my word for it, here are what some of his other friends say:

“He got us in DORAL!  He is a Haiti Warrior. He is the Enforcer. When he speaks not only does everybody listen they hop to. Finally, he is another David, he has a heart after God.” Rodney H.

“Bobby is a friend who can always be counted on to help you in whatever way he can.  He also cooks a very good pig.” Tony B.

“Bobby Salmon is one friend that guys in ministry cherish as a guy who is never wavering and always on time with words of encouragement.” Don C.

“Bobby is a gifted servant-leader who is willing to stand, speak, move forward, and take the heat.  He doesn’t need recognition or the spotlight.  And – he cooks good!!!” Marc F.

Happy birthday Big Bob! Thanks for being a great friend!

Defining Moments in My Life (Part 1)

All of us have some significant moments or events that define our lives. Here are the first 3  of mine.

My parents divorce – I was 6 years old. I was living in Columbia, SC. When my folks split up my Mom moved my brother and I 60 miles away to the town of Aiken, SC. This had several repercussions upon my life. 1) Columbia was where the Jewish roots of my family was located. By moving away it essentially guaranteed that I would not be raised Jewish. 2) It meant also that I would be raised without the influence of a father. Both of these were very significant.

An invitation to church – When I was in the 9th grade my best friend and next door neighbor invited me go with him to his church youth group. The appeal was that the group was doing fun things like going on beach trips and places like Six Flags. There was also a girl that went to the group that I liked. So I started going and found out that I enjoyed it. Thus began my learning about what Christianity was all about. Never underestimate the power of a simple invitation or how God might use it.

My decision to become a Christian – I was 16 years old. I had been confronted with the gospel. I understood that  my sinfulness had separated me from the God who created me. I understood that God had sent His Son Jesus to pay the price that my sin demanded so that reconciliation could take place. I understood that not only had Jesus died so that I might live but that He rose from the dead to prove that He had the power to forgive sin and to offer eternal life to those who were committed to Him.  I understood that I needed to express my commitment through an act of faith that would demonstrate my confidence and trust in Him. So I prayed and told God of my neediness and asked Him to rescue me from my own sin and to restore me to a right relationship with Him. Even though I did not understand all that this meant at the time, it would prove to be THE most defining moment in my life.

The next 3 or 4 will follow in a later post.