Is Putin the Antichrist?

Russia has invaded Ukraine and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is at the center of it all. Many have likened his invasion to Hitler invading Poland in 1939, which started WWII. This is a fair comparison, I believe, since Ukraine was no real threat to the Russian Federation that would require invasion.

I have already seen two articles on the Internet that accuse President Putin of being the Antichrist and that this is the start of the End Times. This is a standard reaction whenever someone unliked does something bold. I found out just last Sunday that US President George Washington is the only US president who was not accused of being the Antichrist at some point during his presidency. These accusations fly far too often, and usually out of ignorance.

But, on the heels of worldwide pestilence (Covid), is Russia actually fulfilling their place in God’s final chapter of history? Is President Vladimir Putin really the Antichrist? Well…yes, and no.

If by Antichrist you mean “the one ultimate bad guy and agent of Satan who leads the forces of darkness against the Church and ushers in the final battle of Armageddon,” then no. The reason I say this is because THAT bad guy isn’t “the Antichrist.” Allow me to explain.

The term antichrist is only used four times in the whole of Scripture and all four occurrences are in the epistles of John (1st & 2nd John).  Read John’s descriptions of the antichrist and decide for yourself if he is the epitome of evil.

1 John 2:18 “ you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” 

1 John 2:22-23Who is the liar?  It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a man is the antichrist.”

1 John 4:2-3Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

2 John 7-8Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world.  Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

These passages say that anyone who denies that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ (i.e. Messiah, Savior) is an antichrist figure.  Rather than there being one single antichrist, there are countless antichrists.  Further, these antichrists were active even in the days when John penned his epistles (circa A.D. 85-95), for he says they have now come.

The Biblical definition of antichrist is any man, woman or child who goes out and says that Jesus is not the Christ.  All non-believers are antichrists and there are billions of them.  The key point is that antichrist figures of the world, while often being the instigators of the great tribulation, are also the focus of the Great Commission.  We are called to take the good news to those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ!

So, if antichrist is simply synonymous with unbeliever, who is the super-evil person we hear about in all the End Times passages?  There will come one who will be evil personified, and who will eventually deceive the world with lies and lead the very forces of hell into the final battle of Armageddon. 

That one person the False Prophet.  The sole purpose of a False Prophet is to replace Jesus…not deny Him.  Antichrists say, “Jesus isn’t the Christ”. False prophets say, “I am the Christ!” Quite a difference!

Jesus says that, like antichrists, many false prophets would come.  For example, in 1 Kings 22:1, the prophet Micaiah encountered “about four hundred” false prophets, whom King Ahab had gathered around him so they could tell him what he wanted to hear.  The danger of false prophets is that they often have power to perform miraculous signs and wonders and will deceive many.  Like Jannes and Jambres, priests of Egypt, who were able to conjure up some of the same plagues that God worked through Moses. Scripture never warns that antichrist figures would have such power. 

Just before Christ’s Second Coming, there will come one great False Prophet who will be the granddaddy of all false prophets.  This is the False Prophet of whom Revelation speaks (and the one we mistakenly call “The Antichrist“).

Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.” (Revelation 16:13-14)

 “And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.  They will be tormented for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)

So, when people say that Vladimir Putin is the Antichrist, they are actually confusing terms. What they usually mean is that Putin may be the False Prophet of Revelation. However, I’ve never heard President Putin say, “I am the Christ!” or “I am the Son of God.” He may be deluded and believe he’s actually saving the Ukraine, but that’s not the same as claiming to be God’s Messiah.

So is Putin the Antichrist? Yes…he is certainly one of billions of antichrist figures and he is our mission field. He needs to hear the good news of the Gospel so he will no longer deny that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) and so he will love the Ukrainians as himself. Is Putin the False Prophet? I don’t think so. What miraculous powers has he displayed? Where has he replaced Jesus and called others to worship him?

Is Putin evil? In his twisted unbelieving heart I believe he is, but that’s not what defines an antichrist figure or a false prophet. It’s only what they say about Jesus that matters.

So the next time someone claims that Putin is the Antichrist, ask them what they mean by “Antichrist.” You’ll probably find they have their terms confused. Don’t be quick to correct…be kind and show grace! Then ask if they believe Putin is the False Prophet of Revelation and why they believe so. This could lead to a nice discussion about the Biblical definitions of antichrist and false prophet, and help people be a little less frightened about Vladimir Putin and his army.

New Beginnings

It’s a new year, and you know what that means: New Year’s Resolutions! I work out at the gym and I see them every January. People flooding the gym after January 1 who are desperate for a change and don’t know what they’re doing. But don’t worry…they’ll be gone by Valentine’s Day. Happens every year.

So why do humans always desire to improve, but rarely do? I mean, I committed in August to lose 10 pounds, but by December 31st I had gained 10! What’s wrong with us? I find it helpful to at least recognize the human inclination to set lofty goals and regularly fail to meet them. It’s in our DNA.

Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys summed it this way. “I have a job to do that is not very complicated, but it is very difficult; to get a group of men to do what they don’t want to do so they can achieve the one thing they have wanted all their lives.” Landy, of course, was saying, “All these NFL players want to win a Super Bowl, but they don’t want to work for it.”

Another analogy is told via a story. “A young coach said to a wise veteran coach, ‘My team will start winning when they find the will to win.’ The veteran coach replied, ‘No, your team will start winning when they find the will to prepare’.” Same sentiment, told a different way.

So, here at the start of 2022, a new year and a new blank slate, what would you like to achieve? Then ask yourself, “Am I ready to prepare?” As Tom Landry said, “It’s not very complicated, but it’s very difficult.”

The good news is you don’t have to achieve your goal all at once, but rather in small bites over a long time. Or as Beth Moore puts it, “An obedient life grows from obedient days.” And Dr. John Maxwell simple sums it up this way, “Winning starts with beginning.” So…BEGIN! Those people in the gym in January are at least far and away better than the ones who didn’t even try!

God’s blessings on you as you “find the will to prepare.”

I’m Awesome!

Many years ago, I heard the comedian, George Carlin, saying how he dislikes the way Americans ask, “How are you?” and then answer with the dismissive, “Fine.”  He pondered, “What would happen if we didn’t answer ‘Fine’?  What if we replied, ‘I’m moderately neato!’ or ‘I’m just above average, thank you’?”  I agreed with Carlin, in that our mechanical response ends a potential conversation when we simply reply with, “Fine.”  It’s as if we’re saying, “I don’t want to really engage with you so I’ll politely dismiss you with ‘Fine.’

Taking Carlin’s message to heart, I resolved to reply with something other than, “Fine,” to see what happened.  So, when someone asked, “How are you?” I started responding with, “Peachy!”  This went on for a while until friends actually started referring to me as “Peachy.”  But at least we were engaging each other!  I’m also responded to “How are you?” with “I’m well hydrated,” or “Better than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow.” Those inquiring of my mental status are usually pleasantly surprised by answers like these.  You have now informally invited them into a real exchange of thoughts.

One day at work a co-worker, Laura, passed me in the hall.  She smiled. “Hey, Cris, how are you?”  To which I replied, “I’m awesome!” as I passed.  We each kept walking and I didn’t give it another thought.  Laura stopped, wheeled around and called out.  “Hey.  You’re always awesome.  Why?

Why?!” That took me quite off guard.  Suddenly, something quickly came to mind.  “Well,” I replied, “I have an awesome God.”  I smiled, thinking that would satisfy her and turned to continue walking away.  Usually, when you mention God in the workplace, it’s a real conversation ender.  I had crossed into forbidden land and thought that would surely end the interaction.

Instead of walking away, Laura became very serious. “But, I have the same awesome God you do, and I’m not always awesome.”  Laura was a young single woman, and feeling far less-than-awesome that particular day.  I saw real honest interest in her face that moment and melted.  I walked over closer.

Can we go to lunch sometime?  I’d love to tell you about how my awesome God makes my life awesome everyday.

Laura agreed.  Later that week we met in a very public cafeteria (to keep it honest and above suspicion) and during that lunch I shared with her the joy I receive from investing my life in a personal relationship with God.  I gave her ideas for retreats, Bible studies, Christian music, and good books.  In short, I showed her that investing in a relationship with God is easy, if you just take the time to find the right tools.  And if you invest in an awesome God, you start to leverage what Jesus called, “The life more abundant.”

That little exchange in the hallway, which all began with a snarky reply to the question, “How are you?” led to a great opportunity for ministry, and God used me to reach a lonely young woman who was seeking life more abundant.

It just goes to show; you never know when or how God may use you to witness to someone.  So, the next time someone asks, “How are you?” how will you answer?  Looking back, I believe “I’m blessed beyond measure,” may have been a better answer than, “I’m awesome!”  But, I’m so glad God used that opportunity to minister to a lonely person through a snarky George Carlin wannabe.

Random Thoughts

         My dear friend, John, and I write together just for fun.  We write silly, random things that would be appropriate for a Monty Python skit.  Our two main characters are always Dan, a dashing American from Kokomo, and Jenny, a cultured blonde from England with royal ties.  I usually start with a few paragraphs to set the scene and tone, then send it to John.  He adds a few paragraphs to make it even more absurd, then sends it back to me.  This goes on until we’re bored with the story.  One such story ended up being pretty good, so we published it (Operation Cutback e-book), but most end up never getting beyond the first few paragraphs.  Below are two that I recently rediscovered that, for obvious reasons, never went beyond the first few paragraphs.  I hope they give a smile, or at least make you question our sanity.  Enjoy!

Jenny – Colonial Scout

       The young scout was surveying the hitherto unseen regions of the Western wilderness in what is now Davenport, Iowa.  She flitted quickly down a trail as lightly as a mouse.  Every now and again, the trail’s path was muddy and marked with human footprints.

            “Indians,” thought Jenny as she knelt and cautiously examined a set of prints, “I wonder if they’ve seen white people before.  This could get tricky if they think I’m some sort of spy for the French.”  She hurried along the path a few more yards and saw a more distinct set of prints.  Pausing again to examine them, she concluded, “Iroquois.  Male.  Five foot five with black shoulder length hair.  These tracks are less than 4.21 minutes old.  Hmmmmm…” she pondered, “…he obviously ate veal for supper last night, and has a tapeworm, but he’s carrying something odd.  I can’t quite make it out from these prints.  What could he be carrying?

            Fearful that the nearby Iroquois warrior might be brandishing a weapon, she stealthily continued down the path after him.  The success of this scouting mission could determine whether Pelt-Mart bought the land for a new distribution center or not, so assessing the Indian threat accurately was of the utmost importance.

            Then, as she rounded the bend in the trail and the path extended before her, she stopped dead in her tracks.  There he was, the Iroquois Indian just as she had determined.  And what he was holding arose fear in her that she had never know before.

            “Ohmigosh!” Jenny gasped as she stood frozen in horror, “Bagpipes!”

Coming in Hot

          “Air Force One,” Jenny said into the headset, “Approaching DFW on vector 2-1-0.  Air speed 300 knots.”

            The earpiece crackled, “Roger, Air Force One, we have you on visual.  How’s the President doing?”

            “The C-I-C is failing rapidly.  That massive coronary was worse than we feared.” Jenny continued with urgency in her voice, “Is the medevac helicopter ready to airlift him to Walter Reed?”

            “Roger, Air Force One.  We’ve got a Bell 206-B with stretcher capability, extra lift capacity for the secret service contingent, and a vanilla air freshener.”

            “I asked for summer linen, but vanilla will do.” Jenny replied, slightly disgusted.  She continued, “We’re coming in hot, what with two engines on fire and no landing gear.”

            “No problem,” replied Chief air traffic controller, Dan Sorenson, “We’ve removed all the concrete runway and tarmac and replaced it all with the deep shag carpeting as you requested.”

            “Is it Blue?” Jenny asked urgently, “Did you get the blue carpet?”

            “No,” apologized Dan, “On such short notice, all we could get was a rich burgundy with little accents of aqua and peuse.”

            “The President can’t be seen landing on that!” Jenny thought to herself.  Then speaking once again into the headset, she responded, “Is it too late to divert to Laguardia?”



Covenants – Part II (If-Then)

Last time, we saw the difference between a contract (which is between two equal parties exchanging things of perceived equal value) and a covenant.  Covenants are made unilaterally by someone in authority (the covenant maker) and are imposed on another party to promise reward or punishment based on the behavior of the covenant receiver.

Before we push this concept further, let’s lay down another foundational truth.

  • God’s love is unconditional.  We cannot do anything to increase it, diminish it, it cannot be cut off, hindered, or earned.  God loves all people regardless of how they behave.  Matthew 5:45 “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Most Christians have no trouble with this concept for they know God loves all mankind and that love cannot be earned.  This next one, however, may be surprising.

  • God’s blessings are conditional.  Does that shock you?  That’s not a popular thing to say these days.  We like to believe that because God’s love is unconditional, so are his blessings.

Returning now to the language of the covenant, we find two key words usually contained within them: If and Then.  The mother told her son, “If you touch the icing on that cake, you’ll be sent to your room!” and a covenant has just been put into place.  The rules are firm, the covenant receiver now has the freedom to decide which outcome they will receive: blessing or punishment.

God’s Word is filled with these If/Then covenants, and God’s people are bound by the conditions, yet always have the freedom to choose the outcome.  Covenants are why God’s everlasting love is unconditional, but His blessings are conditional.  We must unlock the covenant (i.e. the blessing) by meeting the If of his conditions.  Even His salvation (offered to all) is a conditional blessing.

Romans 10:9 “..if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

These two famous verses don’t exactly use the If/Then language overtly, the feel of an If/Then covenant rings out of them.  “If you believe in him, Then you shall not perish but have eternal life.”  That is a conditional blessing.  You have to meet the condition to receive the blessing…simple as that!

2 Chronicles 7:14 is perhaps my favorite example of a God laying out conditions to meet before a blessing can be poured out.

If my people who are called by my name, will…

  1. humble themselves
  2. and pray
  3. and seek my face
  4. and turn from their wicked ways,

Then will I…

  1. hear from heaven
  2. and will forgive their sins
  3. and will heal their land.

Here, there are 4 distinct conditions that God says we must meet before He will pour out 3 distinct blessings in return.  Have you ever wondered why our land is not blessed of God?  The answer is simple, we have not met the conditions God laid out for a nation to receive His blessing.  It’s not because God isn’t loving, for He loves unconditionally.  It’s all about conditional blessings…the If/Then statements.

In John chapters 14-15 Jesus uses if many times to define the conditions that bring blessing.  In all of these examples, the then part  is implied.  See if you can insert it when you read (I added the first one for you).

  • If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  (Then) My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (14:24)
  • If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.” (15:10)
  • “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)
  • If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (15:5)
  • If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers.” (15:16)
  • If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (15:7)

The question then is never one of whether God loves you, your neighbor or your nation.  God’s love is unconditional.  The question for you, your neighbor, or your nation is whether you will meet the conditions of His covenants so God can pour out His blessings on your life, your neighbor’s life, or your nation.  God has laid out the conditions to meet.  Now, you decide which outcome you’ll receive.

It might encourage you that God is even on your side, cheering you on to make the right choices.  I’ll leave you with His word from Deuteronomy 30:19-20. “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”   

Well, go on…choose!

Covenants – Part I

The Bible regularly speaks of covenants. Covenants aren’t very complicated, but we often confuse them with contracts.  A covenant is quite different from a contract.

A contract is a mutual agreement where one party agrees to exchange something of value with another party for something else of value.  I walk into a guitar store, pick up a Fender Stratocaster, and say, “I’ll take it!”  The store clerk agrees to give me the guitar in exchange for something of equal value (in this case, money).  A contract could be far more formal, such as when I sign dozens of official documents to buy a house, but most are very informal.  To recap, a contract goes like this: If you give me X then I will give you Y.

A covenant, however, is unilateral, meaning that only one of the two parties sets the terms.  In covenants, the term-setting party promises reward or punishment based upon the behavior of the second party.  It is not negotiated.  As with a contract, though, both parties are bound by the covenant’s conditions.  So, a covenant usually is an “if/then” statement.  Like this: If you do behavior X, then I’ll reward and/or punish with Y.

Just like informal contracts, we encounter covenants all the time without thinking about them.  Imagine a mother has just finished icing a beautiful cake when her 5-year old son walks into the kitchen.  She knows her boy and says sternly, “If you touch that icing, you’re going to get a spanking!”  That is a covenant.  A teenage girl studying for final exams hears, “If you get As on your exams I’ll take you to see an off-Broadway show.”  That’s a covenant.  The conditions for the reward or punishment are clearly laid out, but the second party has no negotiating ability.  They only get to choose which outcome they will get based on their behavior.  The choice is not imposed upon the second party – only the conditions by which each outcome is unlocked.

The covenant, therefore, is unilateral and put in place by someone in a place of authority over the other.  No wonder God uses them so often in Scripture.  God could never barter with humans as an equal party, as happens with a contract.  As the ultimate Authority, He dictates to us the conditions by which we either receive His blessings, or receive His punishment.  We cannot barter for different terms, but we have the free will to choose which outcome we will receive.

God establishes many covenants in the Bible  Whenever you see the word if in the Bible pay attention because usually it means that God is about to lay out the terms of a covenant, and you are likely (even today) bound by those terms.  

Can you think of any if/then terms (covenants) stated in the Bible that apply to your life?  Do some of them frighten you?  Since God has supreme authority to impose a behavioral covenant, and we can only accept those terms, it is understandable that we get uncomfortable with His covenants.  Do any of them bring you joy?  Many do, because they promise rewards unimaginable for good behavior.

In Covenants – Part II we’ll examine some of the more well-known covenants from God’s Word.  If you come back then you’ll be blessed.  (See what I did there?)

You Must Be

Many years ago, when I was young and new in my faith, I was quite brash. Often, when taught Sunday school class I didn’t lead in the sense of “leading a discussion”.  Instead, I lead by lecturing the ignorant and giving them the blessing of hearing my wisdom.

One of my offended classmates went to the senior pastor and told him that I dominated the class and that I was not very gentle with those who disagreed with my newfound views.  (This is disturbing as I look back on those days because today I disagree with about half of what I was cramming into other people’s heads back then.)

Soon, the senior pastor “called me on the carpet,” to address my attitude.  Now, this pastor was one of a kind.  He had been in charge of this particular church for about 15 years, and Dr. Nicholson was gentle, but spoke with purpose and firm intent.

He opened by celebrating my vigor to grow and learn.  I rather enjoyed that and my ego swelled accordingly.  He then brought to my attention the charges that some in my class felt intimidated whenever I taught because I didn’t allow opposing views to have any voice.

I stumbled and stammered and started into a tirade about how “that’s just my style”.  after all, I grew up in a family that debated competitively.  Mind you, we never shouted or argued, we just debated: much the way a radio talk show host may find a thrill debating with a contentious caller.

I rambled on for about twenty minutes how I am who I am and that the people in the class just don’t get that.  When I was done blathering, Dr. Nicholson said, “I’m just asking you to show a little more love toward your classmates,” I replied with, “Well, I’m just not a loving type of guy.”

Dr. Nicholson never flinched.  He just purposefully and calmly said, “But you must be.”  He said nothing else, but his stare penetrated me.

There was a long silent pause.  After all, what could I say?  I couldn’t argue with the fact that Dr. Nicholson…well, actually Jesus…demands that  “I must be” more loving toward others.  They are not competitors in a debate to be conquered with air-tight arguments.  They are friends, seekers and hungry souls searching (like me) for Truth.

I left his office in shock and very humbled.

Many years hence, Dr. Nicholson’s words echo in my head.  Yes, I’ve made much progress, but the eager debater looking for a fight is still there inside me, but I’m keenly aware that he needs to reigned in .  Whatever your natural “style” may be, if it leaves behind hurt, pain, frustration or anger, strive to be more loving to those around you.  After all, you must be!

Thank you, Dr. Nicholson!

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Surely you’ve heard the common phrase, “Practice Makes Perfect.

I admit that practice is the most vital component to improving in any venture: Sports, learning a new language, a hobby such as crocheting, and so forth.  Practice is essential!  But did you know that practice doesn’t guarantee you’ll be perfect?

What if you practice incorrectly?

At the peak of his amazing golf career, Arnold Palmer did an astounding thing.  Before each pro golfing season began, he would seek out a golf pro and contract with them to teach him the game from scratch: How to hold the club, how to swing, how to putt, etc.

Why?  Why would perhaps the greatest golfer in his day hire a golf pro to teach him?  What could Arnold Palmer stand to learn from a man barely fit to be his caddy?  The answer lies in practicing perfectly.

You see, left to ourselves, we ingrain bad habits.  Arnold may get full of himself after winning a few tournaments and think, “My new altered grip is winning.  Therefore it must be an improvement.”  Arnold was wise enough to know that he needed fresh eyes on his game to weed out any bad habits that were creeping in.  This commitment to “practicing perfectly” added longevity to his brilliant career.

What Arnold knew was that the phrase “Practice makes Perfect” should actually be re-worded to “Practice makes automatic.”  That is more precise.  Whatever you do on a regular basis becomes natural to us.  It becomes second nature because we’re trained to make that behavior the automatic response, whether it’s preferred or not!  When I was in the US Army, I was around men who cussed regularly.  Guess what?  Suddenly, I found myself cussing very naturally, even at home!  Practice makes automatic…not perfect (unless you practice perfection).

St. Augustine wrote of the chain reaction of what practice can do.  “The enemy held my will; and of it he made a chain and bound me.  Because my will was perverse it changed to lust, and lust yielded to become habit, and habit not resisted became necessity.”  His will became lust.  His lust became habit.  His habit became a necessity (i.e. an addiction).

In other words, bad habits not resisted become natural!  And once something is natural to us it’s much harder to correct.  And the worst part is that we are poor judges of our own poor practices, which is why Step 1 of the Alcoholics Anonymous creed is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  This is what St. Augustine speaks of, and it all begins with practicing poorly.

The good news is that, like Arnold Palmer, there is power to help us practice perfectly.  AA Step 2 says, “We came to be aware that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  St. Augustine would heartily agree.  God rescued him from his lusty “necessity.”

What are you practicing that could lead to habit, and eventually necessity?  What things should you be practicing to strengthen your character and make good things your automatic response?  Like Arnold Palmer, what help could you enlist to help you “practice more perfectly?”  The Church has excellent resources, and if you have a Bible lying around, I think you’ll find it a useful “Pro” to help you improve your grip and swing.  I’ll leave you with this tidbit from Rev. Charles Stanley, from his book The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life.

“The most balanced Christians I know are those who spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis.  The most unbalanced people I know are those who do not.  It is that simple.”

Practice makes things automatic…whether good or bad.  Practice perfectly!

I’d Have to Change

I worked at Furrow Lumber, back at the Lumber Desk.  You came to that desk and we helped you find whatever you needed: two-by-fours, double-hung windows, storm doors, or a galvanized lock nut.  A member of my team there, named Don, became my friend.

One slow night Don an I were just chatting.  He seemed quite agitated so I asked what was wrong.  Life wasn’t fair, he thought.  His wife had left him in a bitter divorce and taken his two teenage boys to Colorado.  Living in Indiana, he had no money or time to go see the boys when it was “his weekend” to be with them.  They were effectively removed from his life.  Well played, ex-wife!

Don’s career had stalled, which is why he was picking up extra funds at Furrow on weekends like me.  His current live-in girlfriend had just kicked him out of the apartment they shared, keeping half his “stuff.”  He now lived in an efficiency apartment with just a mattress on the floor as his bed.  Then he shifted gears and shared about his health.  A serious heart chronic heart issue was slowly turning his heart muscle into un-functioning scar tissue.  He claimed he would be dead in ten years if he didn’t get a transplant, but had no insurance so he felt doomed.

Feeling that Don needed something more than just sympathy I invited him to church.  At that time I attended a large, healthy church with many active and diverse ministries that could have helped him with many of his issues.  He flared with anger and barked, “Never!”

Confused, I recapped his list of pain points.  “Look, your wife left you and took the kids.  You can’t see them.  Your latest girlfriend left you and kept most of your stuff.  Your career is stalled and your health is failing.  Why won’t you come to church and give God a chance?”

Don stood tall, sneered and pushed a stiff finger into my sternum.  “Because I’d have to change.”

I must say, I didn’t expect honesty like that.  I was flummoxed.  All the evangelism training I had ever had helped us discuss God with people who a feel unworthy, feel the church would cave in if they entered, or feel they have done nothing wrong.  I was never trained to deal with someone who said, “I know I’m a mess…but I OWN it!”

I thought for a moment and just feebly offered, “Yes, Don.  You would have to change.  That’s what Christianity does to people.  They change for the better.”

Don maintained his bitter anger.  “I know my life’s a mess, but it’s MY mess and I’ll fix it.”

That pretty much ended the evangelism session.  God doesn’t have much to say to someone who recognizes they are in need of a Savior, but vehemently refuse any help.  I also couldn’t help but wonder if this stubborn refusal to improve was why his relationships kept disintegrating in bitterness.

We eventually changed the subject and finished our shift.  A few months later I quit that 2nd job at Furrow and lost touch with Don.

As God’s plan would have it, I crossed paths with Don ten years later when I hired him to inspect my house.  We laughed as we reminisced about our time at Furrow.  As we walked to the car I probed again.  “So, is your life any better now, Don?”

He quickly updated me.  It wasn’t.  So, I invited him to church again and said, “You’ve had ten years with no progress, isn’t it time for some help?”  Don smiled and as he climbed into the same beat up clunker he had ten years ago and said, “No, thanks.”  He shut the door and drove away.  Same broken down car – same broken down man.

Now 15 years later I don’t even know if Don is alive, but I’ll bet you this: if he is, he still owns his mess of a life.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

The Impact of a Father

It’s not exactly fair, but facts are facts.

In his book, For Father’s Who Aren’t in Heaven, author Ron Rand presented this little statistic:  “A denominational study reveals that if dad and mom both attend church regularly 72% of their children remain faithful.  If only mom attends church regularly, 15% remain faithful.  But if only dad attends regularly, 55% remain faithful. ”

That is a stark difference in impact!  Being a data analyst, I graphed the difference to visualize the disparity.


Why is there a 40% difference between Mom’s and Dad’s lasting influence?  Only God knows.

A dear Christian mentor, Jean, once told me a story.  She attended a spiritual retreat and the leader there asked participants to close their eyes and imagine themselves sitting on God’s lap.  Jean immediately protested, “I can’t do that!” The leader asked why she couldn’t.  Jean said, “Because I never had such an experience with my own father.”  Jean used that experience to make a point. “It is more difficult for people to develop a healthy image of a loving God if they never knew a loving father here on earth.”  Then she smiled and added, “Notice I didn’t say impossible…just more difficult!”

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, known as the Shema in Hebrew, may be very familiar to you:

“4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I have always been moved by verse 7.  Ask yourself, “Who is there with my children when they “sit in the house?”  Who is with them when they “walk by the way?”  How about when they “lie down and when they rise up?”  The pastor isn’t.  The Sunday school teacher isn’t.  The VBS volunteers aren’t.  You are.  God is telling us parents that it is our responsibility to teach our children the faith.

That is a huge responsibility!  You may feel overwhelmed by the burden of passing your faith on to your children, especially if you’re a Dad (who’s influence seems to carry more weight).  What if we blow it?  But, thank God, the Church is there to help.  The pastor, the Sunday school teacher and the VBS volunteers are all willing to come alongside you in mentoring your little ones, and they may join you in praying for them as well.  That’s a big relief.

So, dads, pull your kid up on your lap, give them a big loving hug and read them a Bible story or two.  You’ll be setting the stage for their success later in life.  Oh…and Mom’s, you keep loving with all your heart too!