The First Commandment With a Promise

Mine and Space’s firstborn son, Forest, is seeking to transfer schools next year, so that he can dive more deeply into the subject of study that he is most passionate about, Theology, which means nothing more or less than the “Study of God.”  He just submitted his application to Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL, and he sent Space and I a part of his application, which is a paper on his “Christian experience.”  Being limited to only two pages, our son decided to write in such a way that brought tears to his parent’s eyes.

The first of the Ten Commandments that deals with our relationships to other humans is the 5th commandment, and it is the first commandment that has a promise connected to it.  It says, “Honor your father and mother, so that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.”  Well, Forest has sure set himself up for a long life of deep and plentiful blessings!  When I read what he wrote to RBC to describe his walk with the Lord, I thought to myself, “Is it possible for any child to honor their parents any more than this?”  And then I thought, “If I die right now, I will die as having been the richest man to ever live on earth.”  If you’ve known me for a while you have probably heard me say that I feel like I just might be the most blessed man in the world.  Well, these words from my son made me even more confident that it just might be so.  I can’t believe that I get to be this amazing young man’s father.  It truly is amazing to consider.  May God get all the glory and honor for what you are about to read, penned by our dear firstborn son, Forest:

 

It is beautiful to me to think about my first “profession of faith” and to be able to say that I do not remember it. On September 4, 2000 I was two years old, and my first brother, Eli, had been born the day before. Sitting in our motorhome, I was in the main living area with a family-friend whom I called Uncle Hans, while my Mama and Daddy lay on their lofted bed with my new baby brother. “See that light, Hans?” I said. “No, buddy, I don’t.” Again, I asked, “See that light?” And again, he responded in the negative. So I moved on. “Pray with me, Hans.” So he started to pray a prayer which most any of us would have expected in such circumstances: “Thank you, God, for the Welch family—for Eli, and for Forest, and for Smiles and Space…” Uncle Hans finished praying; Mama and Daddy listened, holding my precious little brother; but what came next was nothing less than a miracle: God utterly destroyed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh. “Aim-aim God,” I professed, for I could not yet form the word “amen”. “Aim-aim God. Forest be saved. Aim-aim God.”

It is beautiful to think that the entirety of this memory is not a personal memory—a memory of my own experience—but that of a story, taught to me by my parents, passed on to me as if it were some sort of history. In fact, it is a sort of history: one which has formed the basis of my reality. God, in His sovereign grace, chose to set apart a little child and bring this little child under His lordship. This little child, then, by the Lord’s sovereign will, received Him as King over his life for the rest of eternity. And it just so happens that this little child was me. How blessed I am to know such a beautiful picture, and how blessed I am that I cannot in the least take credit for it, as it is nothing less than the redeeming, sovereign work of God.

As for my subsequent spiritual growth, I have too little space on these two short pages to explore every last detail, so I will simply repeat the words of my father that will ring in my ears the rest of my life: “Boys, there’s one option.” He would say this especially when my brothers and I would argue, or when we would disrespect our dear mother. “Boys, there’s one option.” And of course, we knew the answer before he even finished saying “boys”. We would say it in unison: “Love.” This is indeed the only option we have in Christ, as we see, in fact, in Matthew 22:34-40. So this is the only option that my father gave to me and my brothers.

From this one option stemmed all else. I was only given the option to love, and because I had to make that choice, I then came to enjoy the act of loving, as I was taught. Many people think that love is nothing more than a “feeling”. This could not be further from the truth. It is a choice that we all must make, and from it stems the desire to continue loving. I wanted more and more to love. I wanted to love my brothers. More than that, I wanted to love my mother. Most of all, and most importantly, I wanted to love my God and His holy Scriptures. And this desire is a far greater joy than that of the “feeling” mentioned above.

As opposed to the general level mentioned above, governing whole areas of life, this love also functions on the specific level, governing every moment of life. I was taught to be diligent in my studies. I was taught to share my belongings, as they ultimately do not belong to me. I was taught to work hard physically (I even credit Eli in teaching me this lesson). I was taught to respect those around me, especially women. And again most importantly, I was taught to love the Word of God and the truth that it proclaims. In all of this, I was taught to practice this love joyfully. This all is the basis of biblical manhood, the pursuit of which I am very passionate about: to love, and to want to love always more, not because it gives us happiness—though it brings us great joy, which is far better—but because we belong to Christ, and it is His love that will overflow in us if we continue to pour it out.

Now I am applying to RBC, because this love that I have been so graciously taught to enjoy and to give is indeed the foundation of who I am. And it is far from independent of truth. Rather, truth, being defined entirely by the holy Word of God, is the foundation of all love. It saddens me greatly to see so many who call themselves Christians, but allow their neighbors to believe lies, such as the idea that Jesus is not the only way to the Father. That is not love. That is hate. Truth is indeed the foundation of love, and truth is also not independent from love. It saddens me as well when I see others who also call themselves Christians hating those who practice any certain sin in the name of truth. This also is not love. And it is not even truthful, for in doing so they both ignore the grace of God and forget the depravity of their own sin. I desire to be equipped, therefore, to share the truth that I know in love, that all might come to believe in Him and overflow with the same love toward others.

Lord, may this be true in me. May I love You always in all that I do, having not a hint of desire for anything else, and may Your truth produce that love in me. May I have a passion for that truth, and may I practice fervently this love and this truth together. Lord, glorify Yourself in me, expressing always Your abundant love and truth in me, Your blessed servant and child.

Forest Welch;  April, 2018

 

What more could a father ask for than this?  Simply amazing.  Thank you, Lord.  You have indeed done well with my son.  I’m glad to be encouraged that Space and I have done well with him, because really, he is Your son.  May his life be filled with all of Your true blessings, all the days of his life.  Amen.

Smiles Welch; 4-12-2018; Athens, Ohio

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Broken Wing

At the Fur Peace Ranch there is music everywhere, and today was no exception, even though I was the only person there this afternoon while I was working.  My back needed a break from work for a few minutes, so I took a brief moment and walked about ten feet into the woods, just to stretch and enjoy the beauty of the world around me.  Little did I know of the blessing that God had in store for me in that moment of rest.

As soon as I got to my spot in the woods, and was overlooking the valley filled with thousands of gorgeous, wintery trees (which was roaring with floodwaters just two days prior), I heard something in the leaves just a few yards away from me.  It was a little red-breast robin, and it had a broken wing… but it was singing! And this wasn’t a cry of distress either.  It was just a sweet and beautiful song,  like one you would hear if any other happy bird was singing on a nice Spring day.

It was a moment that really spoke deeply to me, as if it was a message straight from the Lord, who intimately knows my heart, and who loves me the same.  It meant so much to me that I came home and wrote a song about it.  I want to share the lyrics with you, but first let me give you a brief background as to why this broken-winged bird and it’s song meant so much to me:

I’ve been noticing in myself over the last few months that I have begun to enter into a season that many call a “mid-life crisis.”  I don’t call it that, because God’s grace gives me much reason and strength to press through this season with a very real and abundant conquering joy, so I am deciding to call it merely a mid-life funk.  It’s not a crisis for me at all.  It’s just a normal process of life, and although it’s not completely easy, it is indeed a very good thing.  For me, being just a few months shy of turning forty, the resounding question that has been of concern in my mind lately is, “Have I wasted my life… my one and only short time here on earth?”  I think that this is the question that most of us deal with during this season of life, and because it is a normal part of the human experience, I am no exception.  I’m just thankful that although this question does weigh on me, God’s grace does not allow it to conquer me.

So, this bird.  It inspired me today, in light of what I just shared about myself.  And since this season of life is something that most everyone experiences, I wanted to share what I wrote about this special moment that I had with one of the Lord’s precious little creatures in the woods today.  Maybe this little bird, his broken wing, and his big song will help lift some of you up, as well.  I wish I could share the music with it, but for now, here are the words.  The song is called, “Broken Wing.”

 

BROKEN WING – By: Smiles Welch; 2-27-18; Athens, Ohio

 

I walked down in the forest, was lookin’ at the trees.

I heard a little rustlin’ down nearby my feet.

It was a little robin,

and it had a little broken wing.

 

And then it started singin’.  It sang a song so sweet.

It was like it was doubtful that it had a broken wing.

Might have been a little bird-brained,

but it seemed to have a heart to dream.

 

                     Then I started wonderin’ what happened

to the song that I would always sing.

Have I become a distant echo

of a man that once pursued his dreams,

                     but was grounded by a broken wing?

 

What happened to this birdy that condemned him to his feet

I will never know, but I could tell it didn’t have him beat.

Although it kept him walkin’,

he would rise up with a song to sing.

 

                     That once was me, though I always

had a hindrance, I would chase a dream,

but as the time has flown right by

I wonder if my song has meant a thing

                     to my fellow birds with broken wings.

 

Perhaps it doesn’t matter.  That bird would still be singin’

if I hadn’t ever walked into the trees.

With broken wing he’d still be singin’

even if it never was for me.

“What Keeps YOU Up At Night?” He Asked.

This morning at work, a guy that I work with (whom I love a lot) knowing that neither of us sleep very much at night, asked me a seemingly very simple question.  “What keeps YOU up at night?” he asked.  He was wondering if it was the same kinds of things that keep him up at night.  Simple enough question.  Well, so I thought when he first asked me.  Little did he know how deeply I would ponder the question, and little did I know how much the question would cause me to literally sing out loud at work (while running a table saw all day), in gratitude for all that God has accomplished in my life.

Immediately upon asking me the question, I answered by letting him know about the things that I am usually doing when I’m up late at night, either for my family of for someone else that God has put in my life to serve.  It was an honest, practical answer, but after I walked away and started thinking about it, I started thinking about how self-righteous that answer probably sounded.  So, whenever I needed to fill my water glass, I went back to the kitchen (where he works) and I told him about how and why my answer to his question bothered me, even though it was true that I do such things at night.  He and another co-worker laughed at me when I said I sounded self-righteous, and then I took just a moment to tell them about some of the things I wrestle with about myself, oftentimes upon my bed at night… True thoughts about myself… Things that bother me about me, like how often I choose cowardice instead of courage, and how concerned I regularly am about whether or not I’m making the most of my short life, as opposed to wasting it.  And when I said those things, I noticed that he could resonate with those same feelings, as he nodded and his countenance drew a little more somber.  My water glass was full, and so it was time for me to get back to work and think about this some more.

No more than two minutes went by, and I said to myself, jokingly, “This is how Martin Luther felt!”  I recalled how he would go and confess his sins to his Catholic priest, only to leave and realize that he had to go back and confess some more, and in a more transparent way.  And that would happen over and over again.  (In fact, this hopeless routine is one of the big things that God used to teach Luther that there was literally nothing that he could do to make himself clean and righteous before God, which eventually lead him into a complete dependence upon God for his salvation.)  I realized at that point that I needed to just do my work, think and write about it later.  I told my co-worker what his question did to my brain, and that I would be writing out my thoughts tonight.  So here it is, 11:30pm, and I’ve only written the intro to what I am about to say, which are the thoughts that moved me to sing while I sawed a bunch of oak boards today.  The rest of what I write will be written as if I am speaking directly to the guy who asked me what keeps me up at night.  Hopefully, if you are someone else who is reading this, you don’t feel that you wasted your time doing so…

My friend, as I mentioned briefly just before you left work, your question, “What keeps me up at night?” really needs to be broken up into at least four questions (which all give rise to other important questions, which I will not touch at all in this response):  (1) What keeps me up at night when I am staying up on purpose?  (2) Why are those things worth losing precious sleep over?  (3) What keeps me up at night when I am laying in bed wishing I could sleep?  (4) How am I able to find enough peace to triumph over the things that are keeping me awake, so that I can fall asleep soundly despite these things?  All of these are important questions to consider.  I might tackle them in order, maybe not.  We’ll see.

As to the first question, regarding why I stay up so late pretty much every night on purpose…  Well, I’m doing it right now.  I’m just doing something that God has given me to do, simply put.   (In fact, this time it is an answer to prayer.  Like I mentioned earlier today at work, I spent a lot of time praying specifically for you over the weekend.  What I didn’t mention is anything about those prayers.  What I will say now, though, is that my biggest bother and burden in those times of prayer is the fact that I have had so many opportunities to be a more loving friend to you, yet because of various irrational fears, I have chosen cowardice and silence in times when I should have courageously and lovingly shared truth with you instead.  And so I prayed a lot this past weekend for courage to increase in my life, especially in regard to my relationship with you and one other particular person.  So, you didn’t know it when you asked, but your question to me this morning is God’s wise and loving way of giving me an opportunity to exercise courage in loving you with His truth.  So, thank you for challenging me, even though you weren’t trying!)

Alright, back to that first question.  I don’t really want to say much more than I already have, but the truth is, as I spoke earlier, this life is short, and I want to give it away as much as possible.  See, as a Christian I hold to the perspective that my life is not my life at all, but that it belongs to the One who made me and gave the fullness of His life as a ransom for me, so that I might no longer be enslaved to foolishly living as if my life belonged to myself.  This is how I breathed my every breathe and took my every step before I learned and surrendered to the truth that this life is a gift, and since it was given to me, it’s not really my life to live, but instead, it belongs to the One that I am completely reliant upon for my every breath.  If it weren’t for the Lord giving me breath, I would have no words to speak.  If it weren’t for Him giving me strength in my body, I would have no work to do.  Therefore, since He keeps on giving me breath and strength, I owe these things to him… my heart, my mind, my soul, my strength… for they aren’t gifts that He gave me to keep, but to give away to loved ones, like you, even if it causes me to loses hours of sleep on a regular basis.  Listen, I have eternal and infinite rest always at my disposal.  Now, however, is my opportunity to labor and give myself away, as it says in the book of Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary in doing good.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”  It is this striving toward aligning my life with this honorable calling, that makes it so that I often find myself up late at night.  And although, I won’t lie, there is a measure of burden that comes along with living life this way (for example, when you see me in the mornings at work, I am usually exhausted before I have even done my work for the day), this burden is incredibly light compared to the burden I once knew and could not escape during my first 19 years, when I was living my life as if it belonged to me, instead of to the God who made me and purchased me at the cost of His own life.

Ok, but what about those times that you related to this morning… those times when I am laying there, wishing I could fall asleep, but am unable to because of certain truths about myself that I do not like, but that I can’t deny while being honest at the same time?  What about those things, because those are the things that actually keep me up, as opposed to those other things which I keep myself up for?  This is important, and ought to not be ignored as I consider your question, because these are the things that actually rob the sleep from me that God wants for me to be blessed with.

Truth be told, if I dare risk being honest, I’m actually pretty darn pathetic.  Now, before you think I am being too hard on myself, know this about me:  I strive to not waste my time comparing myself to the people around me, for their lives are not the standard to which I am to live by.  When I say such hard things about myself, I am comparing myself to the standard that I am called to, the standard of pure righteousness, holiness and love, which has been perfectly exemplified for all of us in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is His example that I am to measure my life with, and as I do this, I am blessed to be able to see myself in light of the Truth, instead of being deceived by comparing myself to anyone else that is around me.  This perspective humbles me, as it daily reminds me that I am no better than the people that disgust me the most, nor am I any worse than those whom I respect the most.  In fact, it even drives me toward growing into a genuine love for those whom I have a hard time loving, and for myself even, when I have a hard time loving the person who God made me to be.

So, sometimes I lay there unable to fall asleep because I regret how I spent my day, and I know that I can’t take the time back, in order to do things differently.  I didn’t make the most of my time, usually in lots of ways every day, and it bothers me and keeps me awake… until…

There didn’t used to be an “until” for me.  Years ago I was a full-on insomniac, having no place to lay my burdens, and therefore having no means of attaining enough peace to just fall asleep.  I would oftentimes (yes, without drugs) go for weeks on end with one or two hours of restless sleep a night, all because I was trying to figure out everything on my own, and fix my own life, and knowing that the harder I tried, the bigger the mess I would make out of my life.  But one day the “until” showed up, and it made it so that now, whenever I need to sleep, I pretty much always sleep like a rock, which I am so thankful for.

This leads me to another one of those questions that I mentioned must be considered in light of your question:  What peace have I found that enables me to sleep, even when I am filled regret about certain things regarding who I know that I am or regarding how I’ve wasted my time.  Let me tell you what gives me peace… it’s the countless and unfathomable triumphant mercies that God has spoken to me in His word.  Things like this: “Even if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (1 Timothy 2:13).  “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose… If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8).

I could go on and on and on with Scriptures like these, but I will just give you one more Bible verse that gives me incredible rest, because it reminds me that in Christ, none of my countless failures go to waste, but instead are always put to good use by Him in ways that I could never even imagine.  It says, “He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

These truths and others from the Scripture conquer literally all of my fears and regrets, every time such things rise to conquer me, which is many times daily.  These truths have not only allowed me to fall asleep in the midst of regret, but they have literally kept me alive in times when I would have rather my life be over.  They have kept my marriage alive a thousand times when Space and I couldn’t hold it together ourselves.  These are the truths that have raised my sons up to be the incredible young men that they are.  These are living and active truths, more powerful than any manmade religion, and sharper than any sword.  Do not be deceived, my friend, these aren’t dead words in an old, irrelevant book.  These are living words that will never die, because they have been spoken by the living God who loves the ones whom He spoke to, with a love so ferocious and faithful that it makes our love for our children seem so teeny tiny and pathetic… which is exactly why we need to press into and rest in His grace, because where our faith rests is not a matter that merely affects us, but also those around us… even the generations that are coming after us are affected drastically by our response to the gracious call of Christ upon our lives… the call to trust Him in all things, and walk with Him in all ways, so that we and those around us can be set free from all the burdens that keep us up at night.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28).  Rest… for your souls… why are we so foolish, to be so slow at receiving such an invitation?  It makes no sense at all.  The only thing that does make sense is to come to Him who first came to us, so that we can enter into His rest, even while we are in the midst of such a chaotic existence.

Last, question… Is it worth it?  Well, I will say this… If I wasn’t writing this right now out of my great love for you, which has been given to me from your Maker and mine, I would be sound asleep.  Why?  Because I am exhausted.  But which is a greater gift… to get a few more hours of sleep, or to lose a little sleep for the sake of telling you how much you are loved, and how you can find the rest that I and millions of other broken people throughout history have found in the same source… in the origin of life Himself… in the only One who has truly carried our burdens, so that we can have His rest… in the Giver of Hope… in the Prince of Peace… in Christ, who has been pursuing you with His relentless love for all the days of your life?  I say without even having to think about it, that loving you with these words of grace and truth is a quadrillion times more valuable than a few short hours of precious sleep.  Why, because that’s what true love does… it dies for a friend, and it does so with great joy.  And because I strive to live my life choosing to demonstrate and speak of the love of Christ toward my fellow man, I have a rest deep within my soul that no amount of sleep can provide.

So, my friend, there you go… a real long answer to a short and simple question.  Thank you for asking me.  It was something that I needed to think about, and something that I needed to share with you.  My prayer for you, is that you are able to see the value of the life that I strive to be faithful to live (even though I fall so short, so many times), and that you would see the pursuit of Christ as being a pursuit that makes all other pursuits appear worthless in comparison, so much so, that you would have the courage to abandon any worthless pursuits that you have known, and embrace the high calling of walking in the freedom and rest of the Lord who keeps calling you to Himself in love, even though you have denied Him your love in return.

Goodnight, my friend.  It’s 1:30am.  I better end this because I still have a couple of things that I have to package up, so that they can go out in the mail in the morning.  And then I will lay down and sleep like a rock, knowing that these last few hours of my day were not wasted, but invested in the life of someone that I so deeply love.

Smiles Welch; 2-13-18; Athens, Ohio

Questions That None Of Us Want To Deal With

My beloved Space and I were laying in bed last night (the first night of the year), quoting Scriptures to one another, as we both reflected on God’s work in our midst during the last year, and looked ahead to His faithfulness in 2018.  Space, as she is famous for doing, asked me a question that caught me way off guard.  She asked, “What’s your favorite chapter in the Bible?”  Now, if you are someone who loves the Scriptures, you know that this question is no easy one to answer.  But after a few seconds of thinking about it, I realized that one of my very favorite chapters in the whole Bible is what was coming up in my next regular morning reading time… Matthew 27, which is the chapter that details Jesus’ unjust sentencing to crucifixion, and the events of the scandal itself.  It is a very hard and heavy chapter to read, but only because of the fact that the cross is the place where Christ life turned into death, and the same place where my death turned into life.  This, however, is very possibly what makes this my very favorite chapter of the entire Bible.

So, this morning I got up and read from Matthew 27, but I was so captivated by just a small portion of it, that I couldn’t read the chapter all the way through.  The passage that my mind couldn’t help but zero in on as I read was verses 11-26, where Jesus was brought before Pontious Pilate, the Roman Governor of the land at the time.  This is the passage that tells us how Jesus was sentenced, not by the governing authorities, but by the popular opinion and demands of the multitudes of the people, to be nailed to a cross and hung up to die… even though they could not answer the one question that Pilate asked of them, which would determine whether or not His crucifixion would be an act of justice or an act of terrorism.

Pilate asked the people three questions, and all three of them can (and must, if we are to be totally honest with ourselves) be asked of each of us today.  Upon asking these questions to myself this morning, I was startled to see just how much the world has not changed at all, when it comes down to the things that really matter… such as what we, as individuals and as a society, are determined to do with this man Jesus, who is called Christ.

(At this point, I would recommend that each of you grab a Bible and read Matthew 27:11-26, before you continue reading.  If you don’t have a Bible, then you can read the passage on websites such as biblegateway.com, by simply writing “Matthew 27:11-26” in the search bar.  It will ask you for a translation to choose from, and you can choose any, but I most highly recommend the NASB for both readableness and accuracy.)

Now, what was taking place here in having one prisoner be released (at the request of the popular opinion of the people) was merely the keeping of a cultural custom (vs. 15), and not anything that had to be done by law.  Jesus was only part of this event because He had just been brought before Pilate by the people for questioning over the issue of Jesus’ reputation of being called the Messiah and King of the Jews.  It was during this questioning by Pilate that Jesus stunned him with His responses to his questions, so much that Pilate’s only response was to stand amazed at this Jesus who was standing before him (vs. 11-14).  It is at this point where Pilate turned his questions toward the people who brought Jesus to him, to be condemned to death.  And it is these questions that I believe we must all ask ourselves today.  Actually, I believe we each have already given answers to these questions, without even knowing that we have been asked them a million times in a million ways, so it’s time we consider these questions and our answers once more, with honesty and humility.

Question 1: “Whom do you want me to release for you?  Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (vs. 17, 21)

We have a man named Barabbas, who is a prisoner of notorious reputation (vs. 16), and Jesus, who’s only reputation has caused many to refer to Him as “the Christ,” which means “the Messiah,” “the Annointed One,” and “the Chosen One.” (The word “Jesus,” by the way, means “Savior”).  The release of one of these two men is going to determine the condition of the hearts of the people, as to whether or not they love evil or righeousness more than the other.  Pilate’s question to them, in other words, was, “Which would you rather have living among you and be a part of your lives, the wicked man, who has proven to seek after your harm, or the righteous Man (vs. 19), who has proven to seek the release of your imprisoned souls?”

Then there was the response of the people (vs. 21).  They cried out, “Barabbas!”  In other words, “We want the wicked man, not the righteous Man!  We choose for mankind’s evil to reign in our midst, not God’s goodness!  We would rather be harmed by Barabbas than helped by Jesus!  We choose our very destruction over our very salvation!”  Yes, this is indeed what the people were saying through their choice of Barabbas being released instead of Jesus.  And we need to realize that each one of us are regularly faced with the same choice, and every time we face the decision, we give an answer, whether we know it or not.  What is your demand in response to the question?  Who (or what) is your “Barabbas,” that always proves to cause you hinderance and even hurt, yet you are still so quick to seek his release into your life?  You do have another choice in the matter.  The question Pilate asked gave the people an option.  He didn’t just ask if they wanted Barabbas, but He also offered them their Savior.  They had a choice.  If you are choosing Barabbas, then you are doing so consciously and willingly, and you are also consciously choosing to do something else with Jesus Christ… which leads us to the next question that Pilate asked the people.

Question 2:  “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (vs. 22)

Pilate knew that the people’s willful choice of Barabbas required a willful choice as to what they want done with Jesus.  So he asked them what their choice would be, which was to demand that Pilate would sentence Jesus to the most torturous, painful and humiliating form of death that was known to man, arguably even to this day even, the Roman cross.  Without hesitation, they all cried out with the answer that they had all agreed upon, even before they brought Jesus before Pilate.  They said, “Let Him be crucified!” (vs. 22).

If we are to be honest with ourselves, we know deep down inside that our hearts, when we have chosen to embrace wickedness, we have also chosen to condemn righteousness.  There was an active voice on both ends, and although some of us are willing to admit that we have chosen for much evil to reign in our lives, we find it much harder to admit that in doing so, we have also deliberately chosen to condemn all righteousness, that it would be dead and completely separated from who we really are.  We are quick to admit that we have done much wrong, but we are slow to be honest about the fact that we have done absolutely no true good at all in the world, so long as our deeds have been rooted in our rejection and condemnation of Jesus, as being the Christ that He claimed and demonstrated Himself to be.  We are willing to die, having rejected Christ’s salvation unto the bitter end, so long as people will stand up at our funerals and proclaim to the world what good people we were.  In those moments where we can’t escape the reality, we are willing to be honest about our inner wickedness (for our conscience doesn’t let us forget about it), but we don’t want to be honest about our complete lack of righteousness, and with the fact that we, too, would have proudly stood with the multitudes in that day, demanding that our very Savior would be condemned to death.  Yes, that would be us in the story, as we have all chosen to have Barabbas in our lives over Christ.

The questioning, however, could not stop here, due to the legal responsibility that the people’s demand carried with it.  In dealing with Pilate, the people were dealing with the legal justice system, which meant that in order for someone to be ordered to be put to death, they must first be guilty of a wrongdoing that is worthy of death, according to the law.  So, this begs the third question of Pilate for the people.

Question 3:  “Why, what evil has He done?” (vs. 23)

Now of the three questions that Pilate asked, I believe that this one is by far the most difficult one for us to face.  You see, it’s one thing to admit that we want our sins more than we want salvation from our sins (our response to question  number one).  And it’s another thing to admit that in choosing sin’s authority over our lives, over Christ’s reign over our sin, we are also condemning all righteousness when we make such a decision (our response to question number two).  But this last question forces us to come face to face with something that all of us want to be especially dishonest about, because in being honest, we accomplish the very opposite what we put so much of our daily energies into striving to achieve, which is the effort to make ourselves look good in the eyes of our fellow human, so that they aren’t able to see the wickness that constantly ravages deep within our hearts and minds.  It exposes everything we want to hide about ourselves, and it completely obliterates that which we work so hard to make everyone believe is the truth about who we are.

Notice the people’s response to the question.  Oh wait, there was no response!  They completely ignored the question altogether, and just kept demanding that Jesus be crucified… for no other reason than the fact that they were demanding it! (vs. 23).  This speaks volumes about the foolishness of their choice of Barabbas to live among them, and for Jesus to be put to death.  By ignoring the question altogether, they are passively admitting that they have absolutely nothing against Jesus that would justify their decisions, or even cause their decisions to stand up to any sensible thinking at all.  The asking of this question by Pilate was the people’s big opportunity to put Jesus to open shame, but they could not do so, because there was nothing about Him that would even suggest that anyone (or anything) else is worthy of being chosen above Him.  This is huge!  This is the question that reveals the scandal of it all, and also the foolishness within each of us when we choose to embrace anything or anyone at the cost of rejecting the loving embrace of Christ.

There is nothing about this that makes sense, at the legal level, or even at the logical, reasonable or sensible levels, and we (just like the multitudes who ignored the question) prove the foolishness of our own decision of embracing our sin over God’s salvation every day that we go through life refusing to give an honest answer to this question.  We refuse to answer it, because to do so forces us to humble ourselves before Jesus, which is the exact opposite of what we put all our energies toward.  We want to bow before the false authority of our own words and chosen evils, but this question, if honestly faced, crushes all such deception, which is not what our deceived hearts want for our lives, so instead, we run from the question altogether, and with our fingers shoved deep into our ears, we keep shouting, “We want Barabbas!  Crucify the Christ!”  Meanwhile as we are doing this, we, just like the people of that day, don’t see how foolishness we are, and we are even willing to accept the consequences of our condemnation of Jesus Christ, not only upon ourselves, but also upon our children (vs. 25), who are all suffering greatly because our intense foolishness has been passed down to them, not by others, but directly through us.

 

I know that this blog post can be a very hard read, mostly because it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves (which we all desire), and because it doesn’t end with good news.  But, you see, sometimes this is the difficult work that God’s word desires to do in our hearts before we are challenged to embrace the good news of Christ’s salvation.  It’s the embracing of this bad news about ourselves, actually, that produces within us a longing for the good news of God, which is called the gospel.  In fact, no heart has ever began to long for the grace and mercy God until it has first come to honest grips with this hard reality about our own condition of wickedness, and of our slavery to our sins.  And even once we have been set free from our sins by receiving Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, there is nothing that causes the believer to rejoice in their salvation more than a fresh acknowledgement of the depravity and destruction that we have been saved from by Christ’s willful work on the cross.

These are the things that make literally everything about Jesus’ birth, life, condemnation, death and resurrection an immeasureable and inconceivable gift of God’s grace toward us… which all of us have been so foolish to reject, and yet still remain alive (by His grace), so that we still have the opportunity to be wise and receive His salvation.

Let’s be a people that goes against the flow of society.  Let’s choose to have Christ daily roam free in our lives, instead of Barabbas.  Let’s choose to daily condemn evil to death in our lives.  And lets choose to daily boast, not in ourselves, but in the countless glories of the one and only Christ who same to set us free from the bondage that we have all chosen to let enslave us and hinder us from accomplishing our common purpose on this earth.  May this daily happen in my life and in yours this coming year, and in however many years there may be left to come.

Smiles Welch; Athens, Ohio; 1-2-18

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Sometime between 1527 and 1529 a brother of mine named Martin Luther penned some words that ended up becoming a song that to this day thousands and thousands of people sing on a regular basis.  Martin wrote these words almost 500 years ago, but the truth is that whether they were originally penned just days after the earth was formed or on the last day of it’s existence as we know it, his words would be just as relevant and true for those days than in the day they were written.  The reason is because, although we live our lives with the image and perception that things are changing rapidly, it is a far deeper truth that things on earth are exactly as they have been since humanity fell, and they are exactly the way they will be until the fullness of Christ’s redemption is realized when He shows back up on the scene again, as He has promised.  Nothing has changed at all, except for the many super-temporal matters that pass us by in this fleeting life.  As far as the things that are lasting throughout history, though… Our fallen and broken nature, the chaos that we all have do deal with in life, the trials and sufferings, the timeless lessons needed to be learned, etc… things things just repeat themselves throughout the generations, and in everyone’s life on earth.

Above all these things, however… above all the wars without and wars within, above all the things that cycle back around over and over again throughout history… there is one unchanging truth that, although many have denied, no one has been able to prove to be unfailing, and that is the forever unchanging good and righteous character, and the almighty and all-triumphant power of the Creator God.  This is the one truth that is not bound by time.  All other truths are bound by time.  There was a beginning to the cycles of history, whenever that day was, and there will one day be an end to these cycles that we all have to endure, whenever that day may be, but this truth… the truth that the eternal Creator God has always been faithful to demonstrate His unlimited power and unfailing goodness.  This is the eternal truth that He has been proclaiming from before His creation existed, and He will continue to do so forever, after His creation is purified and made new.

If there is one thing that is worth entrusting ourselves and our lives to, it’s the unfailing and unchanging hand of this one and only good and almighty God, the Mighty Fortress who always has and always will reign triumphant, no matter what evils may come against Him or His will.  That’s why millions of us have been singing this song for almost 500 years, and will be for years to come, for they have discovered that this is an undeniable, timeless truth.

Smiles Welch; 5-3-17; Athens, Ohio

A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Martin Luther

  1. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
    Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
    For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
    His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
    On earth is not his equal.
  2. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
    Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
    Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
    Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
    And He must win the battle.
  3. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
    We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
    The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
    His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
    One little word shall fell him.
  4. That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
    The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
    Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
    The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
    His kingdom is forever.

 

Spring Cleaning

‘Tis the season where many of us have finally been able to climb out of our Wintertime “hunker down” mentality, and start being more active in our homes, in our yards, and hopefully in our communities (in the service of the lives of the people around us).  Now that Spring is in full swing, once again, it seems that when I run into folks and ask them what they’ve been up to, I keep hearing them talk about how they’ve been doing a lot Spring cleaning at home.  It seems that pretty much all of us here in the culture that I live in are perplexed by the mystery of how it is that we seem to gather so much stuff in such a short amount of time, and why it is that we can’t seem to rid our lives of enough stuff that really has little to no value in our lives.  And it’s this mystery that has me thinking about what principles ought to guide my approach to dealing with this struggle that my own household deals with as much as any of my neighbors have to deal with it.

This afternoon I picked up an old book that I’ve read once before, and started reading some of the things that I had underlined in it.  And when I say “old,” I mean old!  It’s a book called “The Reformed Pastor,” written by Richard Baxter (one of my very favorites) in the 1600’s.  On the pages that I was reading today, where Baxter was talking about how we approach the matter of stewardship of the things we have, he wrote a sentence that I had once underlined, which struck me again as I was reading it today, specifically as it relates to this topic of Spring cleaning that so many of us are currently engaged in.  He wrote, “We must have nothing, but what we have for God.”  This is a simple yet profound way of thinking about not only our material belongings, but also our relationships, but for now I don’t want to go into the whole relational dynamic of this statement, so I will just deal with the material application of it here, although our relationships are certainly far more important than our things.  “We must have nothing, but what we have for God,” Baxter says.

All things exist to bring honor and glory to the Creator of all things, for sure, but it is also for sure that no one among us, if we were to have all things in our possession and stewardship, would have the ability to steward all of those things in such a way that they are effectively put into service, to the end that God would be honored through their existence and use.  On the contrary, each of us can only manage so much stuff well, and once that capacity (which differs from person to person) is maximized, anything more starts to just become clutter in our lives, as it is no longer accomplishing it’s purpose for being made.  And that’s when, regardless of the season of the earth, it’s time to let go of some things, so that they can go to better use, and also so that they will stop hindering us from using what we do have in such a way that love is being accomplished through them… love for God, our neighbors, and dare I say ourselves… for this love is our very purpose and highest responsibility of having been given life on this beautiful planet.

So this is my encouragement to all of you who are currently in the midst of Spring cleaning or who are about to embark on such a journey… to ask yourselves questions about each thing that you have.  Questions that directly relate to the issue of whether or not each thing is either hindering you or helping you accomplish your God-given purpose of living a life that brings honor and glory unto Him through love.

Although this task can be large and time consuming, it is simple.  All you have to do is look at the things that you have and ask yourself, “Is this something that I effectively use to show love toward God and my neighbor?  Is this something that moves my heart toward gratitude and awe of the Lord’s goodness towards me?  Is this something that someone I know could use more than I use it?  Am I saving this for a sensible reason, and is that reason truly sensible or am I just not wanting to let go of it simply because I like it too much and don’t want to not have it?”  Ask yourself questions like this as you are going about your home this Spring, and be honest with yourself as you ask.  And remember, even though something might be a good and useful thing in and of itself, it might not be best or most useful for that thing to remain in your care any longer.  And when that’s the case, the best thing we can do is to joyfully let go of it.

I’ve seen and experienced that oftentimes when we have things that we ought to be letting go of, but insist on hanging onto for whatever reason, it no longer is the case that we have those things, but rather, that those things end up having us.  And that, my friend, does nothing other than result in a strange form of willfully-embraced slavery to things that we ought to not let rule our lives.  Things can have this deceitful lure about them, where they promise some sort of freedom, but only result in bondage, and since a life of bondage is not what we are called to live, we need to rid ourselves of this kind of clutter, no matter how alluring the clutter may be.

So go around asking yourself if what you have is being used to honor God, and if it’s not, my encouragement to you is either start using it to honor God, or to just simply get rid of it.  I believe if we all do this, then it would greatly help us all… not only in our homes, but even deep within our souls, which is what really matters.  “We must have nothing, but what we have for God.”

Happy Spring cleaning!  May His blessing be upon your efforts, as your efforts seek to bless Him and the folks that He has called you to love with your things.

Smiles Welch; 4-23-17; @ Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio

Changed

This week my family is spending our time in Scottsdale, Arizona at my wonderful father-in-law’s house.  This is my first time coming out here in 4 1/2 years, although my wife and sons have been coming out at least annually during the time that I have chosen to stay at home.  I have been abundantly invited to come out each year, but I have chosen to stay home in Ohio on purpose.  But this year I knew it was time for me to come out, and I’d like to share a little bit of why I have chosen to stay home, and why I chose to come out this time.

(Before I go on, to any of you “bad guys” out there who might be thinking that this is your perfect opportunity to take advantage of us being gone from home… I will just say that you better think again, as our farm is being well taken care of and looked after by a dear loved one who just ain’t gonna let you or anyone else get away with anything that you might be thinking about, to put it very gently.  I will just leave it at that.  On with my blog…)

You see, I grew up in what many would call a poor household.  Places like food pantries, the Salvation Army and local second hand stores were the places I remember frequenting growing up.  In order to make ends meet, my mom had to raise me and my sisters in my grandparent’s home, work three jobs, and still spend hours of her “spare time” clipping coupons from the Sunday paper in order to be able to buy enough food to feed herself and us kids.  I was the kid who sometimes couldn’t play the sport that I wanted to play because we couldn’t afford the registration cost and basic equipment needed in order to participate on the team.  I didn’t see all of these things as amounting to the fact that we were very poor when I was a kid, but looking back, I can see it for what it was… poverty.  Certainly, it could have been a million times worse, but nevertheless we were poor.  It was our reality, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I can look back and see how it greatly shaped me into who I would become as a man, speaking of both my strengths and weaknesses.

Now here I sit in Scottsdale, Arizona, in one of the most wealthy neighborhoods of a city that really doesn’t have any poor neighborhoods in it at all.  I’m in a 6 million dollar house with 20 foot high ceilings and every possible luxury that I can think of.  I’m in a gated community where every house seems to be pretty much exactly the same to me, and where a man greets you at the gate, making sure you are a legitimate guest before he lets you enter.  Everything here has the appearance of perfection, and in those tiny little areas where is doesn’t appear that way, you can see that millions of dollars are being spent to fix that “problem” as fast as possible.  That’s just how it is here.  It’s not how my wife grew up, thankfully, but it’s the current reality of where her dad has lived for the last decade or so.  This is one of those small little pockets in our Country where it seems that the American Dream is no longer a dream, but a reality.

So why would an Appalachian country boy like me, who is always having to work his butt off to try to just keep my family afloat, have such a hesitation in coming out here for just one week out of the year and just bask in all the luxury that a man can have lathered upon himself?  I mean, why would anyone hesitate to enjoy such luxury, especially when all of it is being provided at someone else’s expense?  Doesn’t it just seem stupid to reject such an offer, and not only once, but time and time again?!  Well, not when that person is me, with both the strengths and weaknesses that make up the fullness of who I am.  Let me explain…

You see, years ago when I would come out here with my family, I couldn’t help but find myself very uncomfortable, not because of Space’s family members who lived here, because they are absolutely wonderful people, but because of a lot of other things that I couldn’t escape that existed within myself.  Being in this atmosphere never failed to result in me being depressed and frustrated, and no matter how hard I tried to keep it to myself, I just couldn’t, which resulted in me bringing those around me down as well, and what was intended to be a very restful and enjoyable time, consistently resulted in being a difficult time for not only myself, but also for those around me.  So, I decided to start staying home, where I loved to be more than anywhere, and doing what I love to do, which is to go to work and come home, where there was always more work to be done.  Sounds crazy, I know, and maybe it is crazy, but it’s what I needed to do, not only for my own well-being, but also for my beloved family’s well-being.

But I came out here this year, knowing that I was ready, and knowing that I would have a good time, as well as be an enjoyment for others to be around.  And, thank God, it’s happening.  It has been a truly beautiful time so far, and I foresee the rest of our time here being just as delightful.  But still, what changed?  That’s what I want to know, and if you are reading this, that’s what you want to know.  What changed in me between the last time I was willing to come out here, and this time?  Well, a few things… all of which I am extremely thankful for.

One of the things is that I had to spend a lot of time seeking the Lord to help me not be judgmental of those who are so rich with earthly things.  I had to become okay with the fact that it’s totally okay to live in such extremely luxury, even in God’s own eyes, so long as you live a life in which you seek to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  I just had to become okay with that.  I had to stop looking around at all this luxury and thinking of it as material that is being wasted on pleasure, when so much of it could be going towards things like providing some very basic needs for the poor and needy.  I realize that this could still be the case (and oftentimes is), but I have also come to realize that sometimes it’s just God wanting to bless some of these people with the wealth that they have.  Basically, I’m learning to see these vacations as opportunities to remind myself that I am no one’s judge in any matter, and that whenever I act like I am in my heart and mind, I don’t accomplish anything other than hurt and harm.  If there has been any unrighteous attitude in me that I have realized, which was keeping me in that dreadful place every time I came out here, it was that… the fact that I only saw waste when I looked at the luxury, and not God’s blessing, which was leading me to judge others in my own sinful self-righteousness.  And thankfully God showed me this during the last handful of years as I have been seeking Him regarding my relationship with Scottsdale.  And not only was He gracious to reveal this to me, but He was also faithful to change me, and replace my judgement with His unconditional love.

The other thing, though, regarding my coming out here, is something that hasn’t changed in me.  It’s something beautiful.  It is something that was in me before I stopped coming out here, but that I couldn’t enjoy because of the sin that was in my heart, which kind of hid this joy from me.  Now, however, I am able to enjoy it.  It’s the ever-present realization that this extremely luxurious lifestyle is not in the least bit what I long for in my life.  This is not the dream that I am chasing after, and therefore none of this “stuff” matters to me much at all.

Tonight, after everyone had fallen asleep, I went outside in the neighborhood courtyard, and as I was looking around all I could see was stuff that I had no desire for.  I was surrounded by a circle of about 15 mansions, in the middle of a perfectly weed-free lawn with beautiful landscaping, and you name it… if it was part of the American Dream, I was smack dab in the middle of it… and none of it had any value to me whatsoever!  I was praying to the Lord about it, and He reminded me of Abraham, the so-called “father” of my Christian faith, and how he learned to see all earthy riches as holding no value in comparison to the heavenly reward that would be his if he simply lived his life for the glory and eternal riches of knowing God Himself.  I recalled what the writer of Hebrews said about him, when it was written that, “By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:9-10).  I was reminded that I, too, was not chasing after a wealth that could be taken away by anything, unlike what my eyes were seeing, but that I was chasing after an eternal inheritance… the inheritance which is promised to all of the saints, the children of Abraham’s faith in God.  And I can not tell you how blessed I felt to be looking around at all of these mansions, and to be able to honestly say to myself that the inheritance of Christ is of such worth to me, that all of the wealth of the world amounts to nothing in my eyes.  It was such a moment of deep abiding joy… the kind that no one or no circumstance can take away, and it inspired me to come write this blog post.  

So I have been changed a little more into who God wants me to be, namely one who loves more and leaves the judgment up to Him, and I have also been reminded of who He made me to be when He saved my soul, namely one who seeks the true treasure, Christ, instead of the countless fading pleasures that this world has to offer me, which are all insufficient in providing the Joy that my heart craves, which is only satisfied when I turn my eyes upon Jesus and look full into His wonderful face.  When I do so, the things of earth become strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

I am so thankful to be able to come back here as a changed man, so that I can not only enjoy this time and the people around me, but even be a means of joy for others while I’m out here.  I think I will be coming back next time with my family, and although I will probably still miss home and the people back there, I will be at rest in my soul out here in this beautiful desert.

Thank you, Lord.  Thank you so much for doing your faithful work of grace in me.  May I steward this amazing grace in such a way that it brings you joy and glory.  You are great beyond my imagination, and I can never be grateful enough for your steadfast love.  Amen.

Smiles Welch; 1-6-17; Scottsdale, AZ