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Will the Real Christians PLEASE Stand Up?

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com.

For almost 25 years I’ve been a Christian, and if there’s one thing I often have wondered, it’s how much time in Christianity is lost when we have to stop and try to clean up the festering mess made by those who claim to be Christians. We’ve been hearing, seeing and reading about a Baptist church in the Midwest that’s been sending some of its members to various military funerals. Some were recently in Flushing, Michigan, to protest at the funeral of 26 year-old Army sergeant Joshua V. Youmans. I’d rather not give the church’s name, its website (which contains a derogatory term for homosexuals) or even the state it’s located in since it’s received far too much publicity already.

The protestors aren’t at the funerals to pay their condolences, but rather to take a sadistic stance of pleasure over the soldiers’ deaths. From what I’ve seen, it’s as though they’re thrilled the soldiers are dead – much like the way many Iraqis were ecstatic when confirmation came of the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein.

Some of the protestors’ signs read, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates You.” The church members must not know their Bibles well since the second sign directly contradicts one of the most famous passages in scripture, John 3:16, which starts with these six words: “For God so loved the world-” [Emphasis mine].

These crass, thoughtless protestors are against the war in Iraq, but not for the standard reasons you might be thinking. Their logic: America tolerates homosexuality and God hates homosexuality; therefore, God is punishing America by letting its soldiers die.

Sounds like logic one might find in a crackerjack box.

Last time I checked, American soldiers also died in World War I and II, and in those times homosexuality in America was generally a taboo topic only whispered about. If gay tolerance is why American soldiers are dying now, why did they die back then? (The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the compromise which replaced the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, didn’t even come into place until the 1990s under the Clinton Administration).

For those of us Christians who know of the Bible and its message of love, repentance and living a Christ-like life, it’s very easy – almost automatic – to dismiss these protestors as carnival kooks that nobody could possibly take seriously, much less pay attention to. These protestors, unfortunately, receive lots of media attention; it grieves me to wonder how many look at these protestors and assume that their positions reflect that of mainstream Christianity.

Just as Jesus told His disciples (and reiterated the Apostle Paul in his letters) that the preaching of the Gospel would be an unpopular one that would lead to ostracism, I imagine that the pastor of this church probably sees his anti-soldier, anti-homosexual message as being ordained by God.
But is this church’s “God hates homosexuals” message really Biblical? No, of course not. Granted, the Bible has some very critical things to say about the practice of homosexuality but the theological fact is, sin is sin. Many Christians love to speak out against homosexuality, but we sometimes forget that adultery, stealing and lying are also sins before God. So are envy, pride, cursing and allowing anything to replace God in your priorities in life. Romans 3:23 tells us that we have all sinned and have come short of heaven. The Bible is also very clear that God loves all mankind and would love nothing more than for all mankind to repent of its sins and return to Him.

Jesus also gave us the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. In the commission, He commanded his disciples and us to go into all of the world, preaching the Gospel and disciplining all those who come to Christ. Does anyone really think this is accomplishable if Christians spread a hateful message targeting one specific group, or if Christians who know the truth of God’s love sit back and let the world think these crazed protestors speak for Christianity?

What can accomplish the Great Commission is for Christians to publicly distance themselves from these false teachers and do a better job of telling the world that though God hates all sin, He loves us and has provided a way for us to have a relationship with Him.

Flint Journal columnist Andrew Heller once wrote this a column: “-Christians, in my view, have allowed the good name of their faith to be hijacked by the lunatic fringe in this country, just as surely as decent, peace-loving Muslims have lost control of their faith’s image worldwide-Christians have an image problem. Some of it, maybe, is my industry’s fault. We gravitate toward the extreme. Some of the blame, however, lies with the silent majority of Christians.”

Heller makes some great points, and the core of his message is clear: Christians have to speak up. English philosopher Edmund Burke once said that all that was necessary for evil to prevail was for good men to do nothing, and now it’s our time to do something.

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Why Jesus Wept

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com.

Jesus wept.

Two simple words; a subject followed by a past-tense verb.

These words comprise the Bible’s shortest verse, John 11:35. It’s hard to imagine that such a small collection of words could convey such amazing truths about God and His Son Jesus.

It might be hard at first to imagine Jesus crying, but not so much when you consider that He became a human and adopted human attributes. Jesus hungered, thirsted, felt pain, and even had to sleep when He became exhausted enough. We also know from at least three occasions that He became angry (driving money changers out of temple, rebuking Peter and getting frustrated with the disciples for being unable to cast out a demon). He also grew frustrated with the Jewish leaders’ inability to correctly interpret the prophecies of the Old Testament and being unable to see past their pride regarding who the Messiah was.

And if Jesus could do all these things, surely He could cry. As a child, He cried when he needed food or when He felt pain. The misery and heartache caused by man’s sinful nature must’ve made Him cry. He may have also cried when He saw the hearts of people who hoped their sacrifices and good works would get them into heaven.

Matthew 23:37-39 and Luke 13:31-35 tell us that He wept over Jerusalem. He also cried on the cross as He became the sin sacrifice for all mankind, partly because of the temporary separation from God that He had to endure and partly because He knew there would be billions of souls that would still reject His sacrifice.

This brings us to the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. John 11 tells us that when Jesus first heard Lazarus was sick, He waited. If Jesus had wanted to, He could’ve simply spoken or even thought the words, and Lazarus would’ve been healed. On at least two occasions that we know of, He did this (the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and the Greek woman in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30). He also could’ve supernaturally transported Himself to Lazarus’ home to get there quickly.

But instead, Jesus waited for two days.

Not just until Lazarus was gravely ill or on his death bed, but until he’d died. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary lived, it had been four days since Lazarus’ death. By this time, the decay process had begun.

Jesus waited because He knew God would use Lazarus’ death to provide a miracle to those around the area. It would also go a long way, He hoped, in further teaching the disciples about God and strengthening their faiths.

But despite His omniscience and omnipotence, controlling His emotions still wasn’t easy. When Jesus arrived, getting there four days after Lazarus had died, he encountered much sorrow. Those who were family, friends and loved ones were lamenting the loss of Lazarus, whom John 11:3 says that Jesus loved (suggesting they were very close friends). Others were there because they wanted to know why this “holy man” hadn’t gotten there in time to heal Lazarus of his infirmity. Others might’ve even been there to get a first-hand glimpse of the miracles they’d heard so much about. Whether it was for entertainment or because they were seekers is anyone’s guess. And yet others might’ve been there simply as spies for the Jewish Sanhedrin. Maybe they were hoping Jesus would commit more unauthorized miracles (such as Sabbath-day healing) that would warrant his death sentence.

When Jesus saw the heartache of the two sisters and those around him, and the wailings of “If you’d gotten here sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died,” He wept.

He wept because of the sorrow felt by Mary, Martha and everyone else who was there. He wept because Lazarus had been a dear friend of His, and he was saddened that he’d had to die. Lazarus’ death would be used to demonstrate God’s power, but Jesus still felt sorrow over the initial physical death of his friend.

Jesus wept over the pain Lazarus must’ve felt over dying. Surely, Lazarus must’ve heard the talk about Jesus coming to heal him and felt saddened that it didn’t come to pass. Jesus also wept over the souls of those who were there to see him. They were seeking eternal truths, and Jesus realized that for the receptive minds they had, this was a golden opportunity for Him to present them with truth of the Gospel.

But there was another reason Jesus wept, and probably the biggest reason. He wept because He knew that despite the miracle He would perform in raising Lazarus from the dead (an exceptional miracle considering Lazarus was already beginning to decompose), there were those there who would leave with hardened their hearts, never to receive the Gospel. Despite seeing one of His greatest miracles, they would still choose their own path and eternal separation from God.

And so, Jesus had the stone rolled away, prayed aloud thanking God for the miracle. He then cried out, “LAZARUS, COME FORTH!” To the astonishment of everyone, Lazarus came out of the tomb, bound in grave clothes. His sisters’ tears of grief gave way to tears of joy, and we read that many believed. Others simply left to report what they saw to the Jewish Sanhedrin; perhaps the sole reason they had gone there was for further evidence used to quell the nuisance of this maverick rabbi.

This miracle might seem very difficult for us to believe. We live in an era where God chooses not to perform miracles the way they were openly done in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But, as it turns out, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. We learn of another Lazarus who had died in Luke 16. The rich man in hell begged Abraham to send this Lazarus back from the dead to tell the rich man’s family about the horrors of hell. Abraham replied in Luke 16:31, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, but we can conclude from the text that some of the witnesses there left with hardened hearts.

Why Jesus wept is easy to understand. Besides the compassion He felt for those who felt Lazarus’ loss and for those who were seeking out God, Jesus wept because He knew that despite everything He did, people would still choose to go their own way into eternal destruction.

And that’s worth weeping over.

Steve Irwin's Tragic Death: A Reminder of How Short Life Is

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com. I liked Steve Irwin a lot and was very upset and depressed at his untimely death. Lord willing something good can come out of this entry.

Death happens all the time, often when completely unexpected. By the time you finish reading this column, several thousand people across our planet will have died. Sometimes they are as anonymous as the one-time obituaries that appear in a small-town weekly newspaper. Sometimes, such as in the case of former President Ronald Reagan, they warrant a state funeral and weeks of worldwide coverage.

When the famous of world die, they make the evening newscast. Some people, like The Beverly Hillbillies star Buddy Ebsen, live into their nineties. We’ve shaken our heads, though, as actors like River Phoenix, Bruce Lee and John Belushi and musicians like Aaliyah, Jim Croce and Rich Mullins die tragically young. I can still remember University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias dying of a drug overdose just days after being taken by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA draft. The deaths of the die young are tragic and completely unexpected.

On September 4, Australian conservationist and celebrity Steve Irwin died. Irwin, also known as the “Crocodile Hunter” and for his catch phrase “Crikey!”, was tragically killed while filming a documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest. He was swimming near a stingray in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef when the stingray’s poisonous tail barb pierced Irwin’s heart. Irwin was able to remove the barb but, unfortunately, nothing could be done to save his life. Marine biologists say that these stingrays normally are very placid creatures; it is extremely rare for them to attack or kill humans.

The death of Irwin, at least for me, leaves a gaping hole in the world. He was only 44 and left behind a wife and two children. I enjoyed watching his show as he constantly stayed one step ahead of the dangers of snapping crocodiles while talking to the camera. For me, Irwin’s Crocodile Hunter show was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on a very high dose of espresso. Some might’ve thought he was crazy-especially the time he held his infant son while feeding a crocodile-but Irwin’s energetic, passionate ways did much to educate people about animal conservation. You could also tell that not only was he very excited about what he did, but he also had a deep concern for it. Perhaps that deep concern is what fueled his excitement.

I have no idea what Irwin’s spiritual beliefs were. Whether or not Irwin was a Christian, his unexpected death teaches us a lot about the importance of life and how brief it can be. Every minute could be our last minute on earth, as death can happen through many methods: natural causes, unforeseen accident or, heaven forbid, a homicide.

If you’re a Christian, it’s a wake-up call to keep busy with the things of God. Each day it is important to have devotions, be in prayer and live a life that is above reproach. Of course, when the opportunities come to share your faith, it is important to do that. We never know as Christians when we will be spending our last minute on earth-whether because of death or because of the rapture. I can imagine fewer things more embarrassing than for our lives to be taken or our bodies raptured up to heaven, and we’re in the middle of doing something selfish, wasteful or embarrassing.

And if you’re not a Christian, an unexpected death is all the more reason for you to examine yourself and act upon the claims of Christ. Now is the time to examine the plan of salvation and make a decision about it. Now is the time to reconcile yourself with God by accepting His Son Jesus as your Personal Savior. It may seem like you still have weeks, months, years or even decades to make a final decision, but a simple perusal through a newspaper’s obituary pages will tell you that that’s not true. Death can come at any time. Your age, social status and bank account balance are all completely irrelevant. It is just as common for a young child to meet death as it is for an octogenarian who has seen it all and done it all. It is also just as common for death to come to someone in the middle of a hectic life of raising kids, paying bills, completing work projects and tackling a honey-do list on the weekends. If you die without making a decision to receive Jesus as your personal savior, then it will be eternally too late for you.

Steve Irwin’s death, as tragic and saddening as it is, should serve to remind all of us of just how short life truly is. None of us knows when we will die, so it’s important to focus ourselves on living for God instead of ourselves.

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Some People Will Get Offended Over Anything: Pope Benedict XVI Owes No Apology

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com.

Whenever I can, I like to pitch ideas for radio programs to the stations that I’ve worked for. Among the ideas was a comedy hour, filled with various skits, fake commercials and a fake news broadcast. One of the many skits was a brief, five minute broadcast of a chess game with the broadcasters calling the match as if it were a professional wrestling event. Irony can certainly make for great humor.

One guy read about this idea I had pitched and told me how much he disliked my idea of doing an entire hour of a chess game broadcast.

“It’s not for an entire hour, just for five minutes of the broadcast,” I tried explaining to him. “Henry,” though, was insistent that I wanted to do an hour-long chess broadcast.

Finally, I asked him: “Henry, did you even bother to read my entire e-mail about the show?”

Now, I know exactly how Pope Benedict XVI feels.

Angry radical Muslims have been staging often-violent demonstrations against the German-born leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the form of riots, mass protests and the burning of papal effigies. Many have demanded an apology. Why the rage, you ask?

It all came down to his comments in a speech he gave in early September at Germany’s University of Regensburg. In the speech, titled “Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization,” the pope briefly referenced a conversation in the late 14th century between Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian regarding Christianity and Islam. Pope Benedict XVI mentioned how the emperor addressed the issue of jihad (holy war) and quoted the emperor: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The pope then said that the emperor felt that violence was incompatible with Christianity and God’s nature and that the Christian faith should be spread through reason. After all, the pope reasoned, Jesus is known in John 1:1 as the “Word of God.”

Based on a text of the speech, the Pope Benedict’s comments regarding Islam accounted for less than 15 percent of the total speech. He used the rest of the speech to talk about the central theme: the “de-Hellenization” of Christianity (removing Christianity of its secular influences). Still, many Muslims saw a need to take the pope way out of context and get angry, protest violently and, ironically, confirm Emperor Paleologos II’s opinion of Islam.

The pope subsequently apologized for how his comments were taken, recently saying that he was “deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.” Pope Benedict went on to say that the Emperor’s comments did not reflect his own personal view of Islam, but apparently that wasn’t enough. Some Muslims are calling on the pope to issue a further apology.

Why? The pope didn’t say anything to merit an apology in the first place.

Some people just don’t play well with others. It’s hard to believe that even the hard-core radical Muslims could get so offended by the Pope merely quoting a medieval emperor regarding their religion. But then, maybe it’s not so surprising.

After all, these are the same type of extremists whose newspapers in places like Iran and Egypt frequently feature racist caricatures of Jewish people but can’t seem to handle someone drawing a picture of Muhammad wearing a bomb for a turban. A few years ago, one Egyptian columnist openly lamented that Adolf Hitler wasn’t able to kill off all the Jewish people during the Holocaust-a shocking statement considering that many Muslim extremists will deny it ever happened.

These are also the same types of extremists who will torture and murder those who disagree with them, dumping their mutilated bodies to decompose and be picked by scavengers until discovered by the authorities. But if anyone kills even an al-Qaeda insurgent, they had better make sure the body is given a prompt and proper burial.
Yes, the same group of terrorists who will try to force captives to convert to Islam at gunpoint somehow can’t handle a non-Muslim missionary setting up a church in their country.

If you look at all these protestors as they burn American and Israeli flags and call for jihads, you’d think they’re the only people on this planet who have ever been offended. What exactly entitles them to corner the market on being offended?

Not the most diplomatic thing to say, but I’m really fed up with it all. I’m sick of the Islamofascists who feel at liberty to torture, rape, murder, maim and threaten all in the name of their own interpretation of their religion, but yet they expect the rest of the world to treat their religion with the highest respect possible while cowering and catering to their every wish. Why must we still cater to those who insist on living in the middle ages? Okay, they’re offended. Get over it, I say.

As a Christian, I find myself offended daily:
* By people who use the name of God and Jesus as expletives.

* By Madonna, who has been doing performances in her recent world tour where she is “crucified” on an illuminated cross. Absolute blasphemy, if you ask me.

* By Hollywood, which seems adamant on putting out anti-family, anti-God films when time and time again research shows that family-friendly films are the ones that thrive at the box office.

* By the music business which churns out albums with all the raunchy lyrics.

* By much of what I see on television.

* By an ever-passive world that seems more and more inclined to appease these evil radical Islamic thugs than to stand up to them and tell them, “We won’t let our free society be compromised or threatened by an evil organization that seeks to spread out its regime throughout every corner of the world.”

Yes, Christians like me often find ourselves offended daily by the world’s ugliness. But despite all these things that offend me, I don’t resort to burning flags, sending death threats, raping, torturing, murdering or strapping dynamite to my waist to go out on a suicide mission. I also don’t resort to kidnapping those who disagree with me and forcibly convert them to Christianity, nor do I put them on video and make them denounce Islam and its leaders and beg for American or non-Muslim captives to be set free.

I understand that this world is a diverse place, and that the only true way I can make a difference as a Christian is to be aware of the issues and events, pray for God’s guidance, share God’s love with others and live a life that shows others God’s amazing, boundless love. It’s a shame the world largely prefers to appease an irrational faction that will get offended over almost anything.

Procrastination: The 8th Deadly Sin

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com in 2006.

Anger. Envy. Gluttony. Greed. Lust. Pride. Sloth.

You might recognize these as the Seven Deadly Sins. One prominent magazine ran a full feature of various celebrities and how they deal with a particular deadly sin (actress/writer Carrie Fisher with anger, celebrity weatherman Willard Scott with gluttony and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and then-New York Yankee Dave Winfield with pride). There was even a movie, Seven, in which detectives played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt try to track down a killer whose victims and their murders are based on the deadly sins.

The Seven Deadly Sins are a traditional list of sins, but not an actual list from the Bible. However, the Bible does tell us to control our anger, have no pride, keep sexual desire within the bounds of marriage and exercise moderation. And, of course, as much as many of us love to eat (myself at the very front of the line), temperance is one thing certainly that should be practiced in the dining room.

Much can be gained by avoiding the seven deadly sins. But I think there’s another very critical sin that we should try to avoid. The eighth deadly sin, if you will.

Procrastination.

This, of course, is putting off for tomorrow the things you should be doing today. Tomorrow, of course, never seems to come. Things that we know are the right thing to do get delayed through things like fear, laziness, or complacency. For example, there was a creator of a popular children’s show who was known to work through illnesses, including a nasty fever that he thought would go away. It didn’t and instead turned into an infection. By the time he sought medical help, it was far too late.

I am also reminded of a famous musician, known for his artistic skills, who used his skills to design a guitar strap. His colleagues encouraged him to get it licensed, telling him that the design would sell very well and earn him lots of money. He kept procrastinating, unfortunately, and by the time he finally got around to trying to get it licensed, he was too late.

For non-Christians, Satan works feverishly to make them procrastinate. One story I heard tells of Satan asking his minions about the best way to keep people from making a decision of Christ. Idea after idea was rejected until Satan came across one he loved: no hurry.

In other words, procrastination.

Here are some ways a person procrastinates salvation. Often, tragically, this pattern leads to a one-way trip to a Christless eternity:

Having fun – Satan would love to make the unsaved believe that the Christian life, and heaven itself, is a state of boredom. Christians, he might reason, never get to have fun. They don’t watch television, don’t drink and never engage in anything pleasureful. For married couples, sex is strictly for procreation. And heaven? It’s a boring place where Christians yawn, float in the clouds and play harps.

Before you make a decision to lead a boring life, why not have fun first and sew your wild oats? Satan might ask. Besides, you’re young. You’ve got plenty of time later to become a Christian!

The evangelist David Benoit, who heads up Glory Ministries and preaches about rock music and the occult, tells this story: a young man came up to him once and talked about salvation. He said, “I know that I need to become a Christian, but becoming a Christian means I’d have to quit having sex with my girlfriend. To tell you the truth, I’d rather die and go to hell than stop having sex with her.”

And so that person has their fun and one of two things happen. They either put off a decision for Christ for so long that their hearts become permanently calloused toward the Holy Spirit, making a salvation decision virtually impossible or they die prematurely.

Avoiding embarrassment – Some people put off getting saved because they don’t like getting up in front of church and admitting they’re lost. They put it off for weeks, then months, then years, and then, before they know it, it’s too late.

Perhaps there’s a young boy or girl who is coerced to repeat words that don’t make much sense to them. They fall victim to a well-intentioned Christian who, in an effort to get them saved, has them pray the Sinner’s Prayer even if they don’t grasp it. These kids then are presented to the church as “saved.” Unfortunately they haven’t matured enough yet to understand the condition of their souls and their need for salvation so they will go to heaven. Once they become older and understand what salvation is about, then they are ready to consider the claims of God and be held accountable for their decision. But by then, the haunting memories of being embarrassed as children might make it tougher for them to admit that they were prematurely rushed into a decision.

I am reminded of two young men. I grew up in church with Don, who, after years of seeming to be a wonderful Christian, came forward during an invitation and became saved. “For years, I’ve been living a lie,” Don told us. He had gone forward in a service when he was five, not to become a Christian but because a girl he liked had gone forward also. A Christian worker then asked Don pray to receive Jesus. Don cried in front of the church, not because he was now saved but because he was embarrassed and wasn’t really sure what he had done.

Years later, Don explained, he realized he was lost but was far too embarrassed and bitter to admit it or take care of it. So, for years he pretended to be a Christian, knowing that he’d spend an eternity in hell if he didn’t get saved. Thankfully, he finally got his soul taken care of.

I also knew a man at Pensacola Christian College. “Jerry” led Bible clubs and probably led many kids to the Lord; he was also a prayer leader in the dorms and seemed like a very godly young man. But his senior year at PCC, he came forward and got saved. The next summer, when I was working at PCC to make money for the next semester’s tuition, I met Andrew and asked him about this. His story was similar to Don’s. Jerry told me he had known for years that he was lost. Performing Christian service at PCC was his way of trying to appease the Holy Spirit when it really tried to work on him. And, thank God, Andrew, like Don, finally heeded to the Holy Spirit and became a Christian before it was eternally too late.

Avoiding church – It’s possible that Satan knows when a lost person is ripe to receive Christ. To keep that person from attending church, Satan will tell that person that church is a boring place with boring music and boring messages. He’ll try to convince the lost person that church is a place of hypocrites. Maybe the person’s mind will be filled with the Christians who have fallen from grace, such as Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. How can these people, whose own lives are messes, tell you about how Jesus can clean up your own life? Satan might try to rationalize. Or maybe he’ll try to convince the person to hold off on church this week since there’s a good game on television, the weather’s ideal for fishing or golfing or there’s a chore around the house that has to be done. If this person feels that church is not important enough to attend, salvation can be put off for good.

And now, let’s talk to those who are Christians. Whether we’re saved or not, it seems so easy to endlessly shelf something, promising ourselves to do it “when we get around to it.” Before we know it, it’s far too late. I cringe to think of the countless people who will someday stand at the White Throne of Judgment. Some will, at that moment, possibly even drop to their knees to say the sinner’s prayer. Their prayer then might be answered by six words from Jesus: “I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

In October I reached my silver anniversary as a Christian. How the years go by! Then, I was an eight year-old praying the sinner’s prayer in Alvin, Texas. Now, I’m a 33 year-old writing this column in Arbela Township, Michigan. Over those 25 years, I’ve seen what happens when I procrastinate. When I lived in San Antonio, I often worked many hours and often put off attending church until “next Sunday.” Years ago, I had a problem with an unprofessional coworker. Instead of coming out and confronting the worker with their unacceptable behavior, I chose to endlessly procrastinate and live in denial. By the time I was ready to do what was right, I had lost the job. With money, I have learned the perils of putting off balancing the checkbook and not being careful over expenditures. There are questions I would’ve loved to have asked my grandfathers about their lives but kept putting it off. Grandpa George died in 1992 and Grandpa Paul died in 1994, and now I’ll have to wait until heaven to ask them.

For those of us who are Christians, there are many ways in which we procrastinate:

Devotions – It’s easy to put off reading God’s Word. Some complain about being bored with passages like First Chronicles, others say they’re not a morning person and need the extra rest; still others don’t have time because of a lack of time management skills. Some complain that the Bible is too hard to understand-even if a concordance is readily available and even if they’re reading a modern version with handy footnotes and reference materials. Soon, it becomes more difficult to remember Bible verses or to refute the simple claims made by those who believe in false religions. One former pastor of mine urged us not to try to talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons or atheists if we don’t know the Bible well. The more familiar you are with the Word of God, the less likely you are to be swayed by false doctrines or verses taken far out of context. Also you’ll be less likely of committing a terrible sin that can shatter your life and those of your family members.

Attending church – People often love to give reasons for avoiding church: you don’t have time, you don’t like driving in the rain, you have a project to finish in the yard, you don’t like the preaching or you don’t like to be around “hypocrites.” The hypocrite excuse is, to me, just that-an excuse. You don’t have to attend church to encounter hypocrites. They’re everywhere.

But yet, ironically, despite being able to tolerate hypocrites in other walks of life, some can’t handle it in a church setting. Folks, we live in a very imperfect world, one God never intended for us. The only perfect church we’ll have one day is the one Jesus sets up when we move on to New Jerusalem. People may wrong us in a church setting, but we-not they-are ultimately accountable to God for how we conduct ourselves as Christians. Attending church helps you to develop a deeper relationship with God and become an encourager to other Christians as well as other Christians becoming an encouragement to you. By not attending church, you are only cheating yourself. You’re also a terrible testimony to those who know you are a Christian or find out that you are a Christian.

Praying – Often it seems like we don’t really pray unless there is a catastrophe in our lives. Maybe it’s an auto repair that costs far more than we can afford. Maybe it’s a failed relationship or an illness. Sometimes it’s the loss of a job and the arduous task of getting a new one. Soon, after months of little more than quick prayers over meals (“dearlordblessthisfoodinjesus’nameamen”), we become ardent prayer warriors. And then, once the crisis passes, business slowly returns to normal. Praying, I have observed, helps us to become more in tune with God’s nature and His will. It also gives us a chance to talk with God and lift up those who have needs.

Witnessing – My style of witnessing is to live a life where the unsaved will get curious enough to ask what it is about me that’s so different. Once that question is asked, I then can tell them about Jesus. Perhaps some Christians feel more comfortable being point blank. Either way, the point is that when the Holy Spirit leads us to share out faith, now is the time to do it.

One pastor of mine told me how procrastination can turn tragic. When he was with this friend, he could feel the Holy Spirit prompting him to talk with him. Pastor kept putting it off, even though he knew his friend was probably lost. Later, his friend was killed when leaving a bar. Assuming his friend didn’t know the Lord, Pastor then was left to wonder if his friend’s eternal destination would’ve been different if he’d shared his faith with that friend.

Here’s the sad thing. A Christian at the end of their life will be filled with the heartache of all the wasted chances to live for the Lord, share their faith and make a difference in someone’s life. A lost person will have all eternity to remember all the countless times they had to become saved. And even if they live for 80 years and become a “been there, done that” person, all the fun they had will be a brief, almost unnoticeable flash in their minds compared to the fiery, unending agony of the lake of fire.

No matter how inviting it might seem, the eighth deadly sin of procrastination can lead to disaster. If you’re a Christian prone to putting things off, get involved in a church or find a godly Christian who’s willing to be an accountability partner. If you’re not a Christian and find yourself putting off a decision for the Lord, contact this publication immediately or e-mail me at mytwoshekels@gmail.com or simply post a comment on this blog.

Twenty-Five Years as a Christian

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com in 2006, 25 years after I became a Christian.

As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this column, I became a Christian 25 years ago. In October 1981 in Alvin, Texas, our pastor came to our home and led me and my father to the Lord. A week or so earlier, a minister preaching on how Jesus was the only way to God had shaken me out of my cocoon of innocence; children normally are considered “safe” until they reach the age of accountability, and I was starting to realize that I had an eternal choice to make. I thank God that I made the right choice.

How time flies! It seems like only yesterday that I was a young lad, taking my navy blue paper-bound King James Bible to church and learning about Bible characters in both the Old and New Testaments. Now, I’m an adult who takes a hard-cover Zondervan King James Study Bible to church and still tries to learn about Bible characters along with doctrines. Back then, I went to Children’s Church. Now, my wife Jennifer and I teach Children’s Church and assist in Awana. Life’s full circle is indeed funny.

In my two-and-a-half decades, I’ve had many spiritual ups and downs. For several years after getting saved, my attendance at church was off-and-on. I can remember returning to church at 16 after several months of spiritual inactivity, my life changed by a youth conference I’d attended that summer. I stayed on fire after that, attending church and trying to serve God however I could. I kept up my walk with the Lord at Pensacola Christian College and in the military, where I made it a point to attend chapel even during basic training.

Because I’m not really a morning person, the battle for 30 more minutes of sleep versus having devotions is one I fight daily. After I left the service and would sometimes work three jobs to make ends meet, I spent almost three years completely out of church. My pathetic excuse: working more than 60 hours per week didn’t leave me with time to worship God. Finally, I wised up and got back into church. I realized that I was cheating myself out of a relationship with God, and when you consider that people die and go to hell every day and that there are countless Christians who need encouragement and growth, excuses are worth as much as a bounced check. If there’s one thing about heaven that I’m absolutely certain about, it’s that no excuses will work-whether used by Christians at the Judgment Seat of Christ or especially by non-Christians at the White Throne Judgment.

Christians who share their faith get opportunities to lead someone to the Lord or to help be a blessing to someone. I’ve had the privilege of leading people to the Lord, and occasionally I receive an e-mail from someone telling me how much they enjoyed reading one of my columns. One of the reasons that I write My Two Shekels is to serve the Lord by trying to share Biblical truths with the saved and unsaved alike.

Over the years, I’ve seen God work in incredible ways:
* A man who was a self-described alcoholic getting saved and completely turning his back on alcohol. He later became related to me by marriage and is now a well-respected businessman.

* Bringing my wife Jennifer into my life.

* Bringing me back from depression, where I dwelt for a few weeks many years ago and came close to making a terrible decision.

* Providing for us countless times when we had only a few dollars-and sometimes only change-in our bank account.

* Allowing us to move up to Michigan despite our shoestring budget.

* Bringing Jennifer back to full health. Earlier this year, Jennifer had an ovarian abscess that burst, resulting in a near-fatal strep infection that sent her into septic shock and a high fever. She ended up getting an emergency hysterectomy and spent weeks in a hospital intensive care unit in very critical condition. One doctor told us that Jenn was as sick as a person could get without dying.

* Allowing the Bible to become clearer the more I read it.

And after 25 years, it goes without saying that there are plenty of things I’ve learned:

* The more resolved you are to live for the Lord, the harder Satan will work to thwart your efforts. If you find many obstacles in your path to serve God, although you attend church and have devotions, keep one thing in mind: Satan doesn’t bother the dormant, complacent Christians. If you’re having troubles, you must be on to something that terrifies the Father of Lies.

* Regret is something you should do only enough to learn from a mistake, and I’ve made plenty. One of my biggest regrets is that my lack of interpersonal skills has led me to miss plenty of opportunities to be a more effective witness for Christ.

* Be careful not to be judgmental over a visitor or even a fellow Christian who acts differently or doesn’t seem to dress correctly (at least not by your standards). Jesus spent much of His earthly ministry associating with the undesirables of his culture. Besides, you never know if you’re dealing with the next C.S. Lewis, Steven Curtis Chapman or Dr. Chuck Swindoll.

* Life is far too short to be wasted on the minor, insignificant issues. If the Bible gives no clear principle for an issue, whether directly or indirectly, then the best thing to do when encountering someone of a different opinion is to agree to disagree and move on.

* Fewer things are more destructive in a church than when Person A has an issue with Person B, but instead of talking to Person B, they choose to tell everyone else in the church.

* Two verses in the Bible that should be used when dealing with people: Proverbs 18:19: “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” and Jude 22: “And of some have compassion, making a difference…”

* Faith is something I’m still learning on a daily basis, and I expect to be doing so for a very long time.

* I still have a lot to learn about life, people, women, theology, apologetics, church history and-most important of all-the Bible.

From here, I move on from my silver anniversary in Christ and work toward my golden anniversary in 2031, when I’ll be 58. Assuming I’m alive and that the rapture hasn’t taken place, I hope to be able to have fewer regrets and much wisdom to impart. Time will tell.

Time will tell for us all.

Misadventures in Dating

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com.

The teen years are a wonderful, yet innocent time in life. Those are the days that you know you know all there is to know about life, blissfully unaware that the opposite is true. Not only do you not know, but you don’t know that you don’t know. This is how I saw life as a teenager growing up in the eighties and early nineties, and this is how my three sons will probably see life as they hit their teen years.

Back when I was 18, almost 18 years ago as of the posting of this column in 2009, I had my love life completely planned. In retrospect it was one of the most ironic things I have ever done, considering that I had yet to have my first date. After 12 years in a public school and two unsuccessful attempts at dating, I set my eyes on Pensacola Christian College, believing if there was ever a proper place to find a wife, it would be at a Christian school.

As I headed off to PCC, here was my plan: 1) Spend the first year or two dating different girls; 2) Either late in my sophomore year or early my junior year, pick a girl and start dating her exclusively; 3) In the summer going into my senior year, visit my “girlfriend” at her home and surprise her with an engagement ring; 4) In the summer or fall after graduation, get married; and 5) Live happily ever after.

Sounds like a fool-proof plan, huh? Well, it’s hard for a plan to be fool-proof when it was a fool who planned it.

What really happened to me when it came to dating? Well, I did get married, but to a young lady who didn’t even attend PCC. My wife and I met through pen-pal correspondence, and I didn’t meet her in person for the first time until almost a year after finishing college. At college, there were two girls that I dated off-and-on. One was a blond nursing student from Nebraska that I went out with for a few months my freshman year, but nothing came of it. The other was a good friend who’s now a missionary in South America. I asked her to go steady a few times, but she politely declined. God, as it turned out, had other plans for her on the mission field.

More times than I can count and care to admit, I’d ask out girls and get the standard response: “Richard, you’re a nice guy, but I just want to be friends.” This was an unpleasant pattern: I’d get to be “friends” with a girl I liked, and when she made it clear she wasn’t interested in anything beyond a friendship, I’d move on.

And then there was this girl I met my sophomore year. “Monica” was a very beautiful girl, easily the prettiest I ever met at college. From what I remember, she had blond, curly hair and was an education major from the eastern United States. We worked together in food service and had an English class together. Soon, I found myself smitten by her, without bothering to really get to know her. After striking up a few casual conversations I asked her out on a date-only to discover she liked someone else. Two years later, though, in the spring semester of my senior year, surprise, surprise, Monica was once again single. I asked her out, and much to my very pleasant surprise, she agreed.

It was, for me, a very nervous date. We went out to church, and I suspected that after spending most of the evening initiating conversation that there probably wouldn’t be a second date. I was disappointed that things didn’t work out with Monica, but as I pondered, it finally came to me. After four years of college, I had the completely wrong approach about dating. What might work magically on the silver screen usually fails miserably in real life.

What is the correct approach? For starters, it begins with your relationship with the opposite sex. A lot of guys have this impression that you see a pretty girl, turn on the charm, act friendly with her and try to see if you can ask her out. However, in my observation, the best way to go about it is to be friends with girls-unconditionally, with no strings attached, whether you’re interested in her or not. Ask her how she’s doing, what her interests are, what she thinks about life, what burdens she has, and what things she prays about. How ironic it is that some men will base their interest on physical attraction, when the real thing to do is to get to know her. I have to think that women can see right through men who become friendly for all the wrong reasons, and that must irk women (especially if they’re godly women not driven by egos) who get excessive attention merely because of how they look.

In my observation, the more a young man makes it a point of developing healthy, no-strings-attached social relationships with women, the easier it is for him to be able to be friends with a woman instead of treating them as sex objects.

Several months after I graduated from college without a girlfriend, I resolved to quit trying actively to date. Instead, I told God, I would simply relax and be friends with girls and let Him bring my future wife into my life when I was ready. And a few weeks after deciding this, a lady named Brenda came up to me. She had a daughter up in Michigan, a single mother, who was a Christian and needed some encouragement in her walk. She asked if I would I like to write to her.

We wrote letters, and before long I could sense something very special about this girl named Jennifer. On June 30, 2007, we will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. As much as I love my wife and think she’s absolutely gorgeous, what helps us to have a great relationship is that we were friends before we started dating. This simple principle is something I really hope to emphasize to my sons. A relationship that’s not built on a friendship, even if both of you are Christians, is likely to fail.

Being friends unconditionally with women and letting God take the lead is a simple principle I wish I’d known before going to college. If you’re a young man, whether a teenager or young adult, I strongly suggest this principle for you also. Though as funny as they can be, misadventures in dating can lead to much regret.