Cookie Monster said it best, didn't he?

I blame Sesame Street.

How many of you have ever been in line at the grocery store and you hear a conversation happening next to you? It goes something like this?

Mommy, can I have a candy bar?  No, dear, not this time.

Please mommy! Just one? No, dear, not this time.

But mommy, I’m hungry? I’ll get you a snack when we get home.

But mommy, I’m hungry now! You’ll have to wait sweetie.

BUT MOMMY!!!! [Screams and crying follow…]

I’ve seen moms react in a variety of ways. Some are embarrassed but I always like when they simple shrug, stand strong, and move on. To me, that teaches the child an important lesson about delayed gratification. But then, how many of us grew up with Cookie Monster demanding his cookie?

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I blame Cookie Monster

“Me want cookie”

That said…

How many of you have ever acted the way the child did but towards God? Think about it for a moment. Have you ever wanted something and thought He should give it to you at that exact moment? Have you ever wondered why He didn’t respond as you thought He would / should? Have you ever gotten… angry?

In continuing to walk through the Gospel of Matthew, the personal conviction I’ve felt in the Sermon on the Mount has been strong. Now, I’ll be quick to say, I’m not that bad. However, in the light of the Law (and the absolute perfection held only by God), I must admit to feeling like a whining baby when I don’t get my way.

The Christian journey and the process of sanctification (being made holy) calls us to accept the reality of our situation while also accepting the grace that has redeemed us. We must confess and press forward. It’s simple, yet oh so difficult…

Let’s jump into the particular text that called me to consider this more deeply.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7: 7-8

Jesus has promised us that we only need to ask. It’s just like the little child asking his parent for a candy bar. We are to ask, through prayer, for our Heavenly Father to give us what we need. His ear is inclined toward us. But, as I imagine you are already guessing, His response is not to give us something that will harm us.

There exists a difference between wants and needs.

Jesus is clear. When you pray, it’s ok to ask God to give you what you need. It’s ok to ask your Heavenly Father. He is your Abba, your daddy.

The act and discipline of prayer changes us. It takes us closer to God as we speak and listen to Him. It allows Him to work in our hearts and minds and change us to follow Him more closely. We may not like His response to our “asks” (Yes, No, or Not yet) but we know that our Father always wants what is best for us.

Jesus illustrates this when He then gives us the example of bread and fish:

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? Matthew 7: 9-10

A quick reminder. If we don’t have our sandals on, this can sound a bit peculiar. 2,000 years ago, bread and fish were common. Think of the miracle of the loaves and the fish. Everyone connected with the bread / stone or fish / serpent analogies.

And so, when Jesus gave that example, followed by what He said next, these words were streams of living water. They nourished and refreshed those who heard them. And then Jesus said:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

Again, keeping the words in context and culture, imagine how these would have felt. These were God’s chosen people. They had been living under the rule of the Romans. They had been praying for generations to be delivered and restored. And now, they are receiving hope and words of life.

And now we have what many people call the Golden Rule.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7: 12

What is the Law and the Prophets? Jesus summarized it later as the Greatest Commandments, but I believe the essence of it is right here. Love God and Love your neighbors. If you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them. If you want people to help you, help them.

Of course, the requirement we sometimes miss is that we need to do these things to them first. If we are cruel to others, then we shouldn’t expect them to be nice to us first. Act the way you want to be treated. Do the things for others that you want them to do to you.

Now, the last two verses deserve a bit more time. There is something a bit unpleasant that I’d like to discuss. This isn’t about any of you, but it is about all of us.

In the last several weeks, there have been two notable people in Christian circles that have stated that they are leaving the faith. I won’t say their names because that is not the important part. In fact, it’s the least important part.

One of the individuals is an author and former pastor. Over two decades ago, he wrote a book that became a best-seller. He went on to become a speaker and traveled around receiving all sorts of accolades. He pulled back from the spotlight a bit and then wrote more books and came right back into it.

And then he renounced his faith. He said that the terms that we would use to define Christians no longer applied to him.

The other person is a musician and song writer. He became a part of one of the most successful groups in Christian worship music today. Awards and all sorts of whatnot followed. He also has just come out and said that he has questions and would no longer consider himself to be a Christian.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to hear Jesus’ words sometimes. We want to think that everyone will go to Heaven. We don’t want to think of our loved ones not going. But Jesus said very clearly:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7: 13-14

Now, there are about three or four messages I could share from those two verses. Let’s keep it simple and to the point.

Two-thousand years ago, the gate imagery was in the forefront of people’s thinking. Jerusalem – like other cities at the time – was a walled city. They were north, by the Sea of Galilee, and to go to the Temple inside the walled City of Jerusalem, had to go through a gate. If you were riding a camel or hauling a cart, you had to go through a large gate. If you were walking by yourself, you could use the small, narrow one.

First point. The gate had to be unlocked. Our sin destroyed our relationship with God. There is no way for us to get through. But Jesus, through His death on the cross, paid the price and He opened the door for us to be restored. It is only through receiving Jesus as your Savior that you can enter.

Second. You go through alone. It’s a narrow gate. You can’t take your husband or wife, son or daughter, friend or neighbor. If they want to go through, they need to receive Him as well. You can’t do it for them.

Third. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy. I’m talking about life AFTER you walk through the gate. Life with Jesus isn’t easy. Why not? Because sin still happens. We do it and others do it. Sin has ramifications. Sometimes we cause those. Sometimes we feel them.

But life with Jesus – knowing that God is sovereign and, in the end, God wins, makes everything a lot easier. How? You simply learn to walk in trust. No matter what, God is good and He is always in control.

God will supply your needs. But that doesn’t mean He will supply your wants.

I’ve found that when God does not give me what I think I need, when I think He isn’t listening, then I have to check myself. Am I like that kid screaming for a candy bar? Am I stomping my feet and whining? That’s a pretty good sign that I’m focused on a want and not a need.

God is always faithful to provide for our needs. Trust in Him.

Radio Interview: Tosca Lee - A Single Light

FINALLY!!!!

For those who read Tosca Lee's The Line Between, we had a problem. The end was amazing, yet such a cliff-hanger! But now, the sequel is available 9/17/19. Tosca joined on recent Bott Radio Network to discuss the book and how 'prophetic' many aspects of it have been. Enjoy the conversation by clicking on the link below.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 13, 2019.

Radio Interview: James R Hannibal - The Gryphon Heist

Having written books for adults and youth in the American Booksellers Association (ABA), former stealth pilot, James R Hannibal is now seeing his first novel in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) realm come to life. Filled with intrigue, global espionage, and copious amounts of action, Hannibal’s new book, The Gryphon Heist, brings his experience and knowledge into this engaging novel that blends the basic element of greed and lust for power to a new, high-tech level.

James joined us on Bott Radio Network Encounter to share a bit of his story - including being with his wife as an armed terrorist attempted to chase them down on a windy, German road. Click on the link below to hear a bit about James, his novel, and how God brought him to this step in his journey.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 13, 2019.

Radio Interview: Angela Hunt - The King's Shadow

Over the years, we've been blessed many times to speak with Angela Hunt, novelist on Bott Radio Network (St. Louis). Her latest series, The Silent Years, has covered the 400-year time period between Malachi and Matthew.

The fourth and final book, The King's Shadow, delves deeply into Herod the Great through the eyes of his sister. If you didn't know about all the connections between Herod, Cleopatra, and others that greatly influenced that time period, GET THE BOOK! It's not only a very engaging novel, it will also equip your understanding of God's Word.

Please take a few minutes to listen to our conversation.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 6, 2019.


Radio Interview: Erin Bartels - The Words Between Us

Earlier this year, we were blessed to welcome Erin Bartels to the Bott Radio Network broadcast. Her book, We Hope for Better Things, was a beautifully written novel weaving together three generations living through turbulence. Her newest book, The Words Between Us, tells the story of a woman seeking to hide a dark secret from her past. Even though she believes she has managed to hide away in obscurity, events begin to boil that threaten her carefully guarded life.

Click on the link below to hear our conversation about her new book, her writing, and a bit of what’s happening through God’s calling!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 6, 2019.

HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME!?!? Or wait... Maybe you should

It’s been over five decades since the Manson family brutally murdered several people. It was not only a shocking crime but it rocked countless lives as both the brutality as well as the horrific nature of the acts came to light.

Did that sound “judgey” to you?

If it didn’t, then please read it again. What right do I have to state an opinion on things that happened at a different time, in a different state, involving people I’ve never met?

But then, why would I NOT be able to cast a judgement? Why would I not be able to offer my opinion based on what I have read, heard, and seen? Why should YOU not be able to do the same?

Well…

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Some people might cite Matthew 7:1-2: Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Those two verses have been used countless times to justify behavior – either our own or that of someone else. And yet, I think we would easily state that when it comes to ‘judging’ someone like Charles Mason, Adolph Hitler, or Genghis Khan, we are quick to convict. After all, we ‘know’ they are guilty. It’s not judging as much as it is simply stating a fact, right?

Well…

For those who follow the Way (Christians), we must remember the challenge of God’s living and active Word. In order to understand His Gift to us, we need to read it in context and culture. We must also never forget that God’s Word begins with “in the beginning…” It finishes with “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Between those opening words in Genesis and concluding with the final blessing in Revelation, we have a total of 66 books written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit using 40 people from shepherds to a doctor to everyone’s favorite IRS agent, Matthew.

The amazing thing – and one of the things that helps us to understand how the Holy Spirit was at work – is to see the connectivity of God’s Word. From a man named Moses who went from Pharaoh’s palace to become a shepherd in the wilderness to a man named David who went from being a shepherd in the wilderness to becoming king, we have threads. These threads connect together to form a picture of a Messiah Whom we know as Jesus.

We meet Him in the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and we then read of the beginning of the Church – not a building, but God’s people in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Galatia, and many other places. Then we read of a revelation, given to John, of Jesus’ return and the restoration of all things.

My point is simple. To understand God’s Truth – especially about something like judging another, we have to read all of it.

These verses come in what scholars have placed as the final third of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is telling His hearers of the difference between Law and Grace. As He attempts to drink more deeply from the living water, Jesus mentions judging.

For context, let’s remember that the Pharisees had added over 600 bonus laws to Scripture (the Old Testament). Even their prayers – often made in a loud voice so that others could hear – contained judgments of others (See Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:9-14). In other words, Jesus’ hearers knew what it was like to be judged.

And so, in light of that, Jesus speaks:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? If you choose to judge someone else, then expect others to judge you with the same filter and lens. If you criticize someone’s clothing, expect someone to judge yours. If you just someone’s appearance, expect the same. Whatever measure you use when looking at another person will be the same measure that points back at you.

We then have two different illustrations. The second one might be a bit odd to our ears, but still clear.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7: 6

Dogs were considered scavengers. You would see them wandering about, sniffing, and generally eating whatever they could find. It may sound a bit strange, but there is a bit of “disrespect” that we associate with our canine friends. They are beggars. We joke that our dog, Coco the Wonder Dorkie, doesn’t even taste food. She sucks it down – whatever it is.

So, when we are dealing with sacred things, we should give them to people who will not respect them. If I take two hours to talk with someone about faith, I don’t want them to disrespect that time by then going and laughing about it with their friends. Even if we disagree, there should be that level of “this is special to that person”.

Pigs were unclean animals. Jewish people did not eat them and, to remind us of how bad the prodigal son became, part of the giant scandal was the shock of him not only working with pigs but also wanting to eat their food. Pigs could also become quickly violent. If you threw them pearls, they would realize it was not food and turn on you.

It’s the first illustration, though, that I’d like to spend a few more minutes considering as well as some related texts.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7: 3-5

The illustration is clear. If you have a plank – a sin – in your own life, stop worrying about the sin in your brother’s life. Take care of your own sin first. Jesus uses the label “hypocrite” for this type of person. The word literally means “an actor”. If you dig around on the word origins, it points you to the two words that were put together: “interpreter” and “underneath”. That may not make much sense until you remember that Greek actors wore HUGE masks. They would speak or act behind those masks. The hypocrite holds up the mask and says, “I’m fine but you are not.”

Again, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls out a lot of people. He calls out those who give, who pray and who fast to get noticed. He calls out those who are living for money. He calls out those who worry and stress. He tells them – grace is better. Living in relationship with God is better.

And, if you are one of those people who has the spiritual gift of criticism and judging and ripping others down, SURPRISE! Those are actually not gifts. Worry about your own sins, your own struggles, your own issues. Deal with those first.

Now, what about when we CAN judge?

If we are trying to understand passages, as I said, we need to go to the immediate context. For this passage, it is within the Sermon on the Mount. We can also go to a larger context and, in this case, it would be within Matthew’s Gospel. We’d want to look for other passages that talk about the same or similar things. For example, we can look in Matthew 18.

In this chapter, we have the fourth block of Jesus’ teaching shared by Matthew. In the immediate context, someone comes to Jesus and asks who is the greatest. Jesus pulls a child to the front and says, if you want to be great, be like this child. Be humble. Be innocent. Be receptive to God’s teaching.

Then Jesus says, and don’t mess with the innocent. It would be better to be drown than to hurt one. He then illustrates going out to find the lost. If you have 100 sheep and one is missing, leave the 99 and go find the one. Restore it back.

Restoration.

What a wonderful word! We can think of a family home, a bit ‘broken and battered’ after the passage of time. And yet, after it is restored, it can be a gift to the next generation. HGTV has made program after program of people buying a dilapidated home, restoring it, and then flipping it to another person.

Jesus gives us beautiful images of restoration but we might miss the beauty in the next one because it follows…

Wait for it…

Yes, it follows “judging”.

 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18: 15-17

We believe there is a sin by our brother. We judge it. We go to him to try to correct the sin and restore the relationship. If it doesn’t work, we try with someone else. If that doesn’t work, we try the Body of Christ. If that doesn’t work, then – and I LOVE when Matthew says this, “treat him as a pagan or a tax collector”. Matthew knows!

But we are to judge if we believe there is sin by a brother in the church. We judge NOT with the goal of condemning but with the goal of restoration.

There is a lot more that could be said, but for the sake of time, let’s focus now on this aspect of judging in the church. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. His first letter addressed many things that were getting out of hand. He was clear:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 1st Corinthians 5:12-13

A long time ago, I heard a pastor say, “Why are we surprised when sinners sin?” That’s a pretty great question. Yes, we are all sinners. We all mess up. But the question was really directed to those outside the church.

If someone is not a believer, then don’t be surprised when they don’t act like one. They are going to shock and surprise us.

That said, go ahead and BE SURPRISED when someone who claims to be a Christian does NOT act like one. If you see them getting drunk, wonder what’s going on. If you hear them cursing worse than a sailor, wonder what’s going on. If you see them living a bad lifestyle, wonder what is going on.

And don’t be afraid to judge them.

But when you do, be sure to heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 7. Check out your own life first. Are you doing the same thing – OR WORSE?

If I criticize and judge someone for driving too fast, I’d better be driving slower. If I criticize someone for getting drunk, I’d better not be. If I criticize someone for gossiping, then I had better be controlling my own tongue. And, when you do judge, make sure your goal is restoration.

How do you know when to judge and when not to judge? What is the bottom-line? It’s tough, but let me give you some simple guidelines.

First, is it a sin? Does God’s Word clearly state that whatever it is that the person is doing is wrong? And when I say that, I don’t mean that we take things out of context. A ‘popular’ odd, “am I sinning” question follows an Old Testament prohibition against wearing clothing with mixed fibers. That’s a sin. Well, in culture and context, that was referencing a problem with the pagans. They did stuff with clothing that was wrong. Without going into details, let’s just say that God gave His children a prohibition against it. If you, as a parent, have ever wondered about something your son or daughter was wearing, it’s kind of the same thing. (But it is not a sin today to wear clothing of mixed fibers!)

If it is a sin, then is it your business? Here’s what I mean. If Bert goes to Ernie and tells him something that Big Bird did, it’s not yet Ernie’s problem. Bert needs to go to Big Bird first. Then, following Matthew 18, if it is a sin, then Bert and Ernie can go to Big Bird. What do we call it if someone just runs around blabbing? GOSSIP!

So, if it is a sin and it is your business, then go to the person in Christian love. Don’t be cruel. Be kind and loving. Don’t challenge them but ask them about it. See what’s going on. Love your neighbor.

From there, seek restoration. Seek to help the person move forward. Don’t seek to keep beating them over the head. Seek to heal and restore them.

Why does that matter? Because that is what Jesus did for you.

He didn’t sin. I did. I broke God’s Law and my relationship with Him.

Jesus is the one who, in love and mercy, came and did what was required to restore it. That’s what Law and Grace are all about.

Yours in Christ,

Marty

Radio Interview: Tracey Mitchell - Becoming Brave

According to the dictionary, one who is brave is ready to face danger or pain while showing courage. Tracey Mitchell, executive producer of "Life from DFW" and CEO of Winning Woman Consulting Group, joined us on Bott Radio Network KSIV to discuss her new book, Becoming Brave, from Thomas Nelson.

From her perspective, becoming brave begins when we think big, dream wildly, and live fear-free. Follow the link to here her words of wisdom and encouragement to take that next step forward!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 30, 2019.

Radio Interview: Courtney B Ellis - Uncluttered / Almost Holy Mama

Is your life feeling a bit cluttered? Is your spiritual life feeling the same?

Courtney Ellis - Author managed to clear off enough room on her schedule to join us recently on Bott Radio Network . This "Almost Holy Mama" discussed her new books, her life and ministry, and all sorts of fun whatnot to help us be "Uncluttered".

Please click on the link below to hear our conversation!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 30, 2019.

Quarterly Vexed but No Longer Stressed

Some 35+ years ago, our family home was robbed. A thief (or thieves) broke in a back door and took an assortment of things. I can’t remember any of them EXCEPT my collection of 1976 quarters. Depending on your age and life circumstances, you may or may not immediately grasp why that mattered.

The quarter coin had the same design for thirty-three years (1965-1998). George Washington’s portrait was on the front and an eagle was on the back. However, for one year, 1976, that changed. In recognition of the 200th anniversary of the beginning of our nation, the back of the coin featured a colonial drummer, thirteen stars, a flame, and the words “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one).

I thought they were very cool and started collecting each one I found. While I didn’t have a lot, it was a thrill to find another and add it to the collection.

And then they were gone.

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Just like that, my quarters were taken by a thief in the night. While other things mattered to the rest of the family, I was shocked that my quarters were gone. Someone took my stuff.

The Bible clearly states that stealing is wrong. Our culture affirms this as one of those universal truths. Professors force students to wrestle with the ethical quandaries of this through exercises like “Is it ok to steal food if your family is starving?” Bottom-line: Stealing is wrong.

So, if I want stuff and I don’t have stuff, what am I supposed to do? The simple answer is work hard and earn it, but let’s go beyond that for a moment. What exactly is “stuff” that we want and what exactly is “stuff” that we need?

To know what really matters, we need to turn to God’s Word. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in words that flowed like streams of living water:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6: 19-21

Jesus knew that people then, just as people still do today, like their stuff.

He went to illustrate this in a simple, clear, and easily understood way.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad (unhealthy), your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6: 22-23

This is one of those figurative passages that is clearly meant to be understood in the context of which it is given. Through the eye, we see “stuff”. That “stuff” flows into us and impacts everything about us. For example, if nothing but violence and dark images flows into my life through television, games, and activities, my body will be “filled” with that darkness. However, if I devote my time to studying the Word and praising God, my body will be full of light.

Jesus then says very clearly:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matthew 6: 24

The treasures (or masters) that should guide our steps are those things that bring glory to God. Micah 6:8 states it this way:

He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with the Lord your God. Micah 6:8

Money is not bad. The love of money is a sin. The love of money to get more stuff is sin. If you try to serve God and money, you will be disappointed. You can’t be driven to pile up stuff and also serve God.

When Dennis Rodman played in the NBA, he had a salary of $27 million PLUS endorsements. After he left the NBA, he couldn’t pay his bills and sustain the lifestyle pattern that he had created for himself. No more stuff.

Willie Nelson had a tax shelter that was illegal. As a result, he owed the IRS $16.7 million. His lawyer was able to get it down to $6 million, but he still couldn’t pay it. The IRS raided his home and took all of his stuff.

Major League baseball pitcher, Curt Schilling, earned over $114 million during his career. He went bankrupt when a video game company he helped start folded. He had to sell all of his stuff, including a very famous bloody sock.

Movie director Francis Ford Coppola filed for bankruptcy protection for the SECOND time when he had $52 million in the bank. Why? He owed $98 million. So much stuff lost to even more stuff.

You cannot serve both God and money. PICK YOUR TREASURE.

To help make that decision even easier, Jesus gives us a reason.  Immediately after one of those glorious “therefore” attention grabbers, we read:

Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27

Jesus isn’t saying we should be starving or allow others to starve. He is telling us so clearly that life is more than satisfying our stomachs. Focus on God.

And then I love the follow-up imagery of those who stress over clothing:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Matthew 6: 28-30

For the third time in less than 100 words, Jesus says Do not worry. He reminds us of the flowers of the field. They don’t do anything – and yet they are beautiful. They are arrayed in different colors with all sorts of shapes and sizes. And yet, when it was time to light the fire, you wouldn’t think twice about using what you once admired to take care of a need.

Once again, Jesus says ‘don’t worry’:

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6: 31-33

Our primary focus should be on one thing – God. We should pursue Him, seek Him, want more and more of Him each and every day.

The Sermon on the Mount keeps circling back to Law versus grace. Do you want to try to live perfectly or do you want to try to live in freedom? Do you want to live stressed and depressed or do you want to live in freedom and love?

There is a word I enjoy. It’s an old word that isn’t used much anymore – “VEX”. The dictionary defines it as to “cause distress or anger or frustration”. Does thinking about tomorrow ‘vex’ you?

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6: 34

This is the verse that loops us back to everything else. Focus on God. Don’t let tomorrow vex you. Don’t let it worry you. Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Although I feel like I’m stating the obvious, let’s be clear. This does NOT mean we shouldn’t plan. God’s Word is clear on that fact. BUT – God is in control. God is sovereign. God will take care of today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. And you know what else? He’ll even take care of the one after that one too. God was, is, and will always be sovereign.

None of the above means that there aren’t times when I fail. I worry. I make sure my doors are locked. But as I seek to take each step forward, it’s not so complicated to trust and remember that God has this. And that. And the other thing too.

Is anything vexing you right now? Is it money? Is it work? Is it the future? Kids? Family? Parents? Your car? Your house?

WHY is it vexing you?

If it is a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty, then let me encourage you to work on that more and more. Seek to truly, deeply, and passionately trust God. If I – or you – choose to give ourselves over to worry, then we are ignoring the love, and grace, and mercy that Jesus is offering. We are missing the blessing of the promise of His protection and security and peace.

The next time you are tempted to worry, I want to encourage you to do something. Stop and imagine Jesus sitting on the top of the mountain. Imagine Him smiling down at you. Imagine Him saying, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

And then, take a step forward in faith. Knowing that He is faithful. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to guide your steps.

Radio Interview: Niki Hardy - Breathe Again

Although I’ve known people with cancer, it hit home powerfully when my brother died in 2013. Since then, I’ve always tried to listen, explore, and attempt to help those who might also be walking the journey. That said…

Niki Hardy voice is much more compelling than mine. Not only did she lose her mother and sister to cancer, she was diagnosed herself. And her form of cancer was not exactly one that many people like to discuss. But in her fight, she found hope, joy, and yes, even laughter as she thrived during her struggle. (And no, it wasn't all easy, but God was and is still good!)
Please take a moment to listen to our conversation that was a part of Bott Radio Network KSIV Encounter. Niki shared her story and info on her book, Breathe Again. It’s a refreshing (and joy-filled) look at living well when life falls apart.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 23, 2019.

Radio Interview: Alex Kendrick - Overcomer movie

Overcomer, the new movie from The Kendrick Brothers releases in theaters TODAY!

Alex Kendrick, co-writer, director, and one of the main characters, joined Bott Radio Network Encounter for a conversation about the movie and his life. Click below to listen to the interview and GO SEE THE MOVIE!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 23, 2019.

Radio Interview: Steve Brown - Talk the Walk

It's been awhile since Key Life Network, author, pastor, and speaker, Steve Brown, joined us on Bott Radio Network Encounter, but he was recently back with us! Steve brought his clear and compelling message for sharing the Gospel in his newest book, Talk the Walk.
Described as an "attitude-altering book", Talk the Walk invites Christians to cultivate boldness and humility in communicating gospel truth. As always, Steve is unafraid to tackle issues of uncovering self-righteousness and spiritual arrogance to guide believers in ways to present the good news without watering it down. Listen to our conversation by using the link below.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 16, 2019.

Radio Interview: J Otis Ledbetter - Soul Hunger (visit #2)

When J Otis Ledbetter joined us on Bott Radio Network Encounter back in June, the clock ran out far too quickly. He was kind enough to come back and spend some more time with us to discuss his book, Soul Hunger.
The book presents Galatians 5 and a powerful contrast of the fruit of the spirit with the manifestations of the flesh. Easily readable and filled with wonderful examples brought forth from the Word and our world, you'll be blessed as you dig deeply into God's Truth and find powerful nourishment for your hungry soul!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 16, 2019.



Why you should NOT pray the "Our Father"...

I know. I know. I know.

Run me out of town on a rail. Have me drawn and quartered. Cover me in tar and feathers.

I’m sure those are a few of the ideas that barely scratching the surface of the minimum level of punishment you are thinking I deserve for suggesting such a thing. You might dislike me even more if I suggest that praying the Lord’s Prayer is a bit like being a telemarketer.

Before you seek my destruction, please bear with me for a moment. Allow me to explain when reciting the Lord’s Prayer is sometimes appropriate but usually, it is NOT the thing to do.

The context of the Lord’s Prayer as we see it in Matthew 6 is very important. We are in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just finished guiding those who are listening to a very simple – yet radical – concept.

Prayer is relational.

He admonishes those who pray in a way as to be seen by others.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. Matthew 6:5

For a simple image, picture a street preacher, standing on a box, and shouting out a message to anyone passing by. This act gives us a glimpse of what it was like 2,000 years ago as a person would stand and shout out their prayers (in ‘church’ or out of it).

But Jesus then tells us that prayer is to be relational. Read His words carefully:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6: 6-8

Again, if we go back in time, we must imagine the first century home. Unlike our homes today, it was a very open place. If you travel to the Middle East and view some of the ruins or recreated models, you can see how open they were. In fact, picture “making your bed” (that is, rolling up your mat), making breakfast, and then sitting at the table for breakfast. It’s quite possible you never changed rooms!

With that understanding, Jesus’ words to “go into your room and close the door” take on an even greater degree of relationship. Who is going to see you behind a closed door? No one. It’s you and God.

And, for those of us who have come to believe that we should spend HOURS in prayer, take another look. “Do not keep on babbling” is a clear command. Those who think that the number of words (i.e. time spent) is important, Jesus corrects that.

God already knows your heart!

WHY? Why did Jesus then continue and give us what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father)? Honestly, I think the answer is very simple. To teach us how to pray.

Wait. Didn’t I begin by suggesting we STOP praying the Lord’s Prayer?

Well…

Yes…

But…

Let’s get to the point. I do think it also helps if we bring Luke 11 into the conversation. This parallel text tells us that one day, Jesus’ disciples were watching Him pray. Seeing the Messiah pray had a powerful impact on them. They then did what disciples do. They went to their Rabbi and asked to learn. Specifically, they asked Him to teach them to pray like they do.

If you struggle to wrap your mind around that, imagine going to the greatest baseball player and asking them to teach you to play the game. Or going to the greatest concert pianist and seeking guidance. Or the greatest writer, or scientist, or…. Whoever is the greatest, most accomplished, most bestest (yes, I said that) at something and saying “PLEASE TEACH ME!

Jesus taught them. He said:

Go to the Father. Really, go to your Daddy. Your Abba. Go to the One who loves you fully and completely. Recognize Him for who He is. Praise Him.

Do you have anything you need to confess? Remember – He knows. He knows what you’ve done. Just like your earthly parents or teachers most likely know what you did (eyes in the back of their heads!), God knows. He still loves you.

The act of confessing is not about saying what God knows but it’s really about repenting of what you’ve done wrong. Yes, the movie did tell us that “love means never have to say you are sorry” but I believe that is a lie. Repenting is about TRULY feeling convicted that what you did was wrong.

So, we praise. We repent. And then we can ask. Remember, God already knows what is on your heart. God knows what you want – as well as what you NEED. Personally, I’ve found that asking God for things helps me in an important way. When it’s something I want versus something that I need, my heart changes a bit. When I ask, I often hear myself and realize how silly it is. I then change my ask to my yield.

Yielding is the process of saying: God, YOUR will be done.

It’s really not about me. It’s not about me having, or knowing, or doing everything. It’s about my yielding to God and allowing Him to direct my steps to what He knows I truly need. Whatever that might be, all I really need is Him. I need to be restored in my relationship with Him. Jesus, God the Son, did that when He gave His life on the cross. Because that is true, I now need to walk in faith with Him. I need to listen to the Holy Spirit as He leads me where I should go.

Can we circle back to the Lord’s Prayer as we finish?

Yes, you can pray the Lord’s Prayer. But if (when) you do, I would encourage you to do one primary thing. Say it as a corporate prayer. By that, I mean that you can pray it with others. There is community and relationship by praying with others and the Lord’s Prayer allows us to do that.

If you want to pray it by yourself, go ahead. But remember that it is a model of prayer – not a mandate. It’s not to be said over and over and over. Think of it this way:

Once upon a time, I had a job that caused most of the population to hate me.

I was a telemarketer.

I would call people during the dinner hour because “they needed” to have their carpets cleaned. I had a very clear and direct script which I was directed to follow exactly and monitored for saying it the way it was written. If a potential customer was interested, that person would be passed off to a manager. The manager would then try to close the sale.  

But I had my script.

The manager was the one to really talk with the person. Their job was to find common ground, build rapport, and “add-on” services. Granted, it wasn’t a real relationship, but it had all the markings of one.

Try to apply that to your relationship with God.

Do you follow a script or do you have a relationship?

Do you try to convince God to do what you want Him to do or do you seek to really build your relationship with Him? Do you seek true love and communication?

How then can you pray?

Praise God for who He is. Look around and praise Him for His creation, His beauty, His everything.

Repent of those things that you need to confess. He already knows what you’ve done wrong. But if there is a burden on your heart and mind, give it to Him.

Ask Him for what you need. But as you do so, remember that He knows the difference between your wants and your needs. So, as you pray…

Yield to Him. Trust Him to do what is best. Trust Him to guide your steps.

Yours in Christ,

Marty

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Radio Interview: Shawn Smucker - Light From Distant Stars

On Novel Friday, we were also joined by a novelist who was new to me - Shawn Smucker, Writer. His new book, Light from Distant Stars, from Revell, takes us into the life of a young man wrestling with his present circumstances as he considers aspects of his past that have shaped him. From the first pages of stepping over his father's body in the basement of the funeral home, you'll be drawn into the narrative while considering your own story as well.

I think you will enjoy hearing a bit of Shawn’s story. Just click on the audio below to listen!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 2, 2019.

Radio Interview: Robin Jones Gunn - Becoming Us

We were able to have another “Novel Friday” recently on Bott Radio Network KSIV. Our first interview featured the return of Robin Jones Gunn. Her Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen novels have been an incredible blessing for young ladies for more than 30 years. That blessing hasn't stopped as Robin has continued to write the 'next chapters' and introduce us to new characters. Her newest series is "Haven Makers" begins with the novel, Becoming Us. Open the audio below to listen to our conversation.

This interview aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 2, 2019.

Radio Interview: Kat Armstrong - No More Holding Back

When asked to describe her book, No More Holding Back, Kat Armstrong wrote the following:

In a day when our church culture has limited the terms of Jesus’ command to the perceived strengths of each gender, a woman trying to love the Lord beyond her heart and soul, with her strength and mind, can be thought of as crossing some line or unspoken boundary. But that is not what Scripture says.

I offer my thoughts on this important subject in an effort to help women find their answers to the question, “What am I doing here?” Perhaps more clearly, “Why am I allowing limitations on my pursuit of Jesus’ calling?”—not just as single, career-driven women or as wives and moms but as Christ followers focused on living their lives to love and serve God as their first and highest calling.

We had an interesting conversation as Kat presented her approach to helping women understand the role that Jesus is calling them to serve. Click on the link below to hear the Bott Radio Network Encounter KSIV 95.9/1320.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 9, 2019.

Radio Interview: Tim Riter - God, A Motorcycle, and the Open Road

So, there’s one topic I never thought we’d discuss on Bott Radio Network Encounter. And yet, we recently welcomed Tim Riter to discuss...

MOTORCYCLES!

What do we know about motorcycles? Absolutely nothing!!! But that’s ok. Tim does AND he also has a deep passion for God. Tim's new book, God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road, brings together 50 devotions and stories with God's Word. However, this special book adds a touch more as you seek to truly 'kick start' your response. (I guess I know enough to try to make at least one pun…)

Click below to hear the interview and see how this resource might equip you to walk (or ride!) forward in faith!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on August 9, 2019.

Harvest House Publishers

Happiness is a warm puppy... (And other thoughts about life)

Are you happy?

How would you answer that question - especially if you had to explain your answer?

Are you happy because you are healthy? Financially secure? Your kids are doing well? You have a job?

Happiness is a strange thing. In his book, Soul Hunger, Otis Ledbetter points out that the word is rooted in an old English term “hap” that meant “luck” or “chance”. If you consider some of the other words tied to it, “happenstance” (it just happened); “haphazard” (random or ‘it just happened’); or “haplessly” (unlucky),  you can see that meaning. Personally, I think that it would be easy to swap happy for ‘contentment’. However, when we go back to the root, the word ‘luck’ might be more accurate.

So then, why is it that we are so driven to pursue happiness?

Now, let’s be honest. You are thinking it, right? It sure beats the alternative! Who wants to be unhappy? As we normally think of it, I would not argue at all.

But these is another thing we must consider: What does GOD tell us about pursuing happiness?

As I attempted to surf through the pages of God’s Word, I kept circling back to the concept of “shalom” or peace. Jesus said in John 16:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18

And also to the Philippians:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4: 11b-13

While I don’t want to misinterpret Scripture, I do believe it is simple. Seeking “happiness” is really seeking peace. We want to be at a place where we are emotionally and spiritually at rest.

This all came up as I was studying Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6: 1

I believe that Jesus is calling us to do a bit of examination of our hearts.

Have you ever done something for another person? If so, WHY?

To be clear, there is an expectation that we will do good deeds (acts of righteousness). Jesus expects IT. It Is not so that we can earn our salvation. In the previous chapter, He has just finished giving the people a list of “you have heard it said” examples. Those lists went beyond the Law (Jewish rules for life - Mosaic Law). Jesus wanted people to know that keeping the Ten Commandments was good - but they didn’t really grasp how much more intense the Law truly was. For example: You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery” but even looking lustfully is the same thing.

So why then do we “do good stuff”? We should be doing them as a response to grace. We don’t have to earn our salvation! (We couldn’t if we tried.) Therefore, when we consider the depths and richness of the grace we have received, our hearts cry out for us to respond and reflect it.

Jesus then gives an example of what it means to do an act of faith or an act of grace. He says:

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. Matthew 6: 2

Do you get the simplicity of what Jesus is saying? If you’ve seen someone driving the bright red convertible sports car, top down in 40-degree weather, zipping in and out of traffic, then you’ve seen someone who announces themselves with trumpet blasts. It’s not literal but it is the same idea. The person wants to be seen.

The Pharisee exemplified this attitude. In Luke 18, we read of one who went into the Temple to pray and did so loudly. He wanted others to know that he was praying. He wanted people to know that he wasn’t like the “sinner” in the corner who was weeping over the depths of his sins. Some people give and do things so that others see it. That’s their reward.  

As He taught, Jesus was clear: WHEN you give, just give.

Too often, we have the attitude of the little girl given two dollars by her dad. He told her that one dollar was to give in the offering plate at church on Sunday. The other dollar was hers to spend. She ran to get candy but tripped on the curb. One dollar fell into the sewer. She looked up & said, “I’m sorry, God. There goes your dollar.”

But this is not just about money. Opening your wallet and handing over a dollar or two is NOT a bad thing to do. When you are blessed, it’s good to be a blessing and give. But again, it’s not just about money…

We cling so tightly to things that really aren’t ours. We are instructed in Scripture to support those in need. God’s Word is abundantly clear from beginning to end that we are to support others in need out of what we have. Do you have an abundance of clothing or shoes? Things you haven’t worn in a calendar year or two (or longer)? Clean out your closets and give it away. Do you have an extra hour? Can you volunteer to tutor? Your answer to “what can I give” is going to be unique to you. Regardless, the instruction is clear. WHEN you give.

Jesus’ illustration should make us smile. It sounds impossible, but it’s plain, simple, and clear.

When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matt. 6: 3-4

Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole. Giving – whatever it may be – should be almost reflexive. Don’t count pennies or have the attitude of “why am I always the one volunteering”. Don’t do it with expectations. Simply reflect generosity in who you are as a person.

Let me leave you with one final thought.

There is a website called “Where’s George?” You can enter the serial number off of a dollar bill and then receive updates as others enter it. I went on the web site and looked at one.

On October 14, 2013, it was entered when someone received it as change at a military academy in Virginia. The next time it was recorded was almost a year later in Paris. The person stated that they had cashed in euros at the airport and received it. Vermont, New York, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Canton, Missouri – north of the Hannibal area, and then last recorded on January 24 of this year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The person received it in a tip jar.

That one-dollar bill has traveled over 10,000 miles. People noted it in gas stations, Walmart, and casinos. It’s a very well used and well-traveled bill.

Here’s my point. Live generously - with everything.

Jesus Christ is God the Son. He left Heaven – a place of beauty, joy, and pure light – to live a life on Earth. This is a wonderful and beautiful planet that displays God’s incredible and creative hand. However, it’s also a world broken by sin.

We sweat when it’s hot. We get thirsty when we don’t have water. Our stomach grumbles when we are hungry. We get tired when we do too much. People hurt us. People die. There is great sorrow and struggle even in the midst of joy.

Jesus left Heaven to be born on this earth. He then gave His life on the cross for our sins. He didn’t die for what HE did wrong. He died for what you do wrong. He died for your sins.

That thought should overwhelm you when you consider what grace truly is.

The challenge is simple. What will you do with your faith. Jesus calls us respond to grace by living upside down – by living in a way that defies earthly logic.

Jim Elliott, the missionary who gave his life trying to share the Gospel, said:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

Your calling is to live a generous life. If you have time, give it. If you have treasure, give it. If you have talent, give it. Don’t hold back from any opportunity to reflect God’s grace.

Yours in Christ, Marty

Radio Interview: Lincee Ray - It's a Love Story

On a recent Bott Radio Network KSIV Encounter, we were able to spend a bit of time with Lincee Ray to discuss her book, It's a Love Story. Her journey to becoming an author was a bit... different. Beginning with www.IHateGreenBeans.com and blogging about a little television show called The Bachelor, she was then able to bring her faith and stories to a much broader audience.

Click on the link below to hear of the magic of green beans and God's Grand Story!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on July 26, 2019.