Category: Blog Entries

The Moments That Matter blog entries are written, edited and posted by the Director of the Institute for Innovative Faith-Based Leadership at Belmont University, Dr. Jon Roebuck.

50 Yards – The Distance Between Life & Death

For the past two weeks, the news cycles have been dominated by the stories of the hurricanes.  Harvey and Irma have certainly left enough destruction in their wakes to alter life in the affected areas for decades to come.  There have been stories of great heroics and stories of great tragedy.  There have been images of rescues and images of destruction.  The contrasts in the story lines have been jarring… hope & despair, loving & looting, preparedness & surprize, relief & tension.  By the time both storms blew their way through middle Tennessee, they were only a fraction of the “sound and fury” that once hammered Texas and Florida.  And yet, all of us have been affected by the storms, if nothing else than by the images on the screen and the words of the reporters.

There is one story that I can’t seem to shake.  It’s the story of that nursing home down in Hollywood, Florida where 8 residents died because of the extreme heat.  You’ve heard the story and captured most of the details.  When the power grid went down, the nursing home lost important life-sustaining systems.  The air-conditioning failed along with the elevators from the second floor and so many residents were trapped in the extreme heat.  By the time the cries for help were heard, several had lost their lives.  Some of those who were transported to the nearest hospital had body temperatures above 105 degrees.  Gratefully, most of the residents survived the ordeal, but for 8 senior adults, it was a horrible end-of-life experience.

Here’s the one detail about that story that haunts me.  The closest hospital… the one that took in the most critically ill… the one that had the means to save lives… was only 50 yards away from the front door of the nursing home facility.  50 yards.  The hospital and nursing home share a parking lot.  There are so many unanswered questions and many are pointing blame in various directions.  City officials and the court systems will have to sort through all of that.  I am certainly not in any position to point blame or offer explanations.  I don’t know who, ultimately, was at fault, but I do know it’s a tragedy and many families are grieving.  It seems to me that the distance between life and death was only 50 yards.

Maybe the distance between those who die a little each day, and those with the ability to give life is just 50 yards, or maybe it’s 50 feet, or maybe it’s 50 bucks, or maybe it’s 50 minutes.  Let me explain.  All of us live in communities, neighborhoods, and cul-de-sacs.  And sure, we can never know all that takes place within the walls of someone’s home and within the relationships between those who live there, but you can bet the mortgage that there are people who live 50 yards away from you who are hurting, grieving, despairing, and maybe even dying a little on the inside.  What would it take for you to save that life?  It’s called practicing the art of neighboring and maybe you need to step down the street, start a conversation, and restore someone to life again with your words of friendship, grace, and understanding.

Or maybe the distance is just 50 feet.  Consider your co-workers for a moment.  Or the classmate.  Or the commuter who rides the same train you do.  Someone within that distance is feeling the intense heat of a broken relationship, or a failed marriage, or a financial hardship, or a life-robbing despair.  If you are willing to travel just 50 steps and become the authentic embodiment of the person of Jesus Christ, you can revive a life that is on life-support.  Or maybe the ability to sustain life is found in your wallet or purse.  Maybe someone needs a meal, a pair of shoes, or just a small amount to get them to the next payday.  There are more people living on the financial edge that you and I can possibly imagine.  Why are you blessed, if not to offer help to those in need?  Remember the stories of those Romanian orphans who had trouble sleeping even after they had been rescued from their terrible plight?  When health workers gave the children a piece of bread to hold while they drifted off to sleep, they discovered the children slept better with the tangible hope that there would be food in the morning, because they held it in their hands.  I’m not saying that $50 will solve anyone’s financial hardship, but it might be enough to get them through another day and may help to put a little food on the table of a struggling family.

Maybe what you need to offer is 50 minutes of your time.  A lot of life-sustaining ministry can occur by simply listening to someone’s plight.  A conversation gives hope, gives relationship, and maybe even gives wisdom.  Someone you know needs you to listen… today.  It might be your spouse, your child, or a neighbor.

It’s crazy, right?  Those who had the ability to save the lives of those nursing home folks were only 50 yards away.  How far do you need to travel today to save a life?

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

Watching The Darkness

Like most of America, I viewed the solar eclipse this week.  I watched it from the Campus of Belmont University here in Nashville, along with a crowd of about 6000.  Nashville was in the direct path of “totality” which means all of us got the full effect of the experience.  I have to admit that it was really something.  In fact, it was downright amazing.  The full eclipse was one of the most spellbinding images that I have seen a long time.  The picture that accompanies this article was taken by a friend who was standing next to me at the time of the total eclipse.  (Thanks, Steve, for the photo.)

There was a lot of excitement as the moon began to hide the sun.  At first, it was only a small piece of the sun that was covered.  And within a few minutes, almost half was gone.  And then… only the smallest, tiny sliver of the sun remained.  My friend told me to take a moment and look at the shadows on the ground.  (I hope that you were able to do that as well.)  The “serpent shadows” covered the pavement below my feet.  It appeared as though the surface of the ground was shimmering.  That, in and of itself, was pretty amazing.  But then, the moon completely blocked the sun.  Once we were told that it was safe to remove our viewing glasses, I looked up to see the image that my friend caught with his camera.  You could hear an audible gasp emerge from the crowd.  It was absolutely stunning.  As we stood in the near complete darkness of that moment, we realized that we were truly witnessing an extraordinary event.

As I was driving into town on the morning of the eclipse, I was listening to the car radio.  The radio disc-jockey was commenting on the impending event.  She said that she had failed to get a pair of the special viewing glasses.  She knew that looking directly at the sun would damage her vision and so she made this comment, “I guess I will just go outside and watch the darkness.”  Her words stuck in my mind.  She was just going to go outside and watch it get dark and then sunny again, which it did in a very brief two-minute span.

It seems to me that all of us are doing a little “darkness watching” these days.  As we gaze on the events that splash across our television and smart phone screens, from both here at home and across the globe, we get a real first-hand look at the darkness that surrounds us… the darkness of racism, the darkness of fear, the darkness of war and rumors of war, the darkness of hatred, the darkness of injustice, the darkness of poverty, the darkness of ignorance…  The list goes on and on.  At times, it appears that the depth of the darkness seems to all but extinguish the light of goodness and hope and joy that we crave and pray will overtake the planet.  The darkness invades our lives, perhaps our very souls.

But I learned something important from the total eclipse of the sun… that even in the darkest moments, the brilliance and beauty of the sun could not be hidden.  In fact, in that moment of “so called” total darkness, there was light on every horizon as though the sun was about to rise from every direction.  And even in the sky, the brilliance of the sun’s corona, was absolutely spectacular.

Let me simply remind you that when Jesus proclaims that He is the “light of world,” we should take notice.  As Gospel writer John suggests in his prologue, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  Though the darkness is deep and powerful and strong, it cannot and will not extinguish the light of Christ’s presence in our world. Greater is He who is in us, than the darkness that surrounds us.  The words of the great hymn come to mind… “When darkness seeks to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.  On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (The Solid Rock)

You can watch the darkness all you want and curse its presence in our world.  But let your hope be steadfast and your joy inextinguishable.  The Light of the World is with us still and that will never change.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Ministry of Prayer


Prayer is one of the great disciplines of the Christian faith.  In my view, it is as vital to our faith experience as anything else we do.  It is the spiritual air that the breath and the living water that quenches the deeper thirsts of our souls.  It is that which sustains us, heals us, and allows us to sometimes see the world with the perspective of the Father.  It is that connecting point that reminds us over and over again that we are forever joined to something greater than ourselves… we are joined to the Creator God of the universe and that alone should make the discipline thrilling and awe inspiring.

I don’t know when it first happened… maybe in college… but there was a moment in my own experience when the verbs I used to talk about prayer began to shift.  I went from an attitude that said, “I have to pray about so-and-so,” to a conviction that said, “I get to pray about so-and-so.”  See the difference?  It’s when your discipline goes from being an arduous task to a welcomed conversation.  I honestly think what brings that transitional moment is when you not only witness with certainty the answer to some of your heartfelt prayers, but when you begin to sense the change in your own life that prayer causes.  When you begin to find a peace that once eluded you, a calm that once escaped you, a perspective that once was foreign to you, then you will know that prayer is something different… something powerful, wonderful, scary, mystical, mysterious, and life-changing.  Maybe it’s just spiritual maturity when you finally realize that God is real and faith is important.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers to the questions that people have about prayer.  In fact, I probably understand even less as I grow older.  There is such mystery to it all.  I can’t tell you why some prayers are miraculously answered while others seem to never gain a response.  I can’t tell you why it is important to bring concerns to God, knowing that He knows our needs long before we ask.  I can’t explain why the Spirit sometimes prompts us to pray for people that we haven’t thought about in a million years.  I can’t tell you even the right formula to use that will match the problems you are facing.  In fact, I had a friend ask me the other day how to pray about a certain problem she was experiencing.  I gave her my best theological answer based on my seminary degrees and 32 years of pastoral experience but deep inside I wondered if my answer made any sense at all… to her or to me.

I take such great comfort in Romans 8:26, (Commit this to memory) “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  I am encouraged as I pray to know that even when I lack the words to use, or the wisdom to frame my thoughts, that God’s Spirit in my life is communicating clearly, exactly, and perfectly with the Father.  There is no wrong way to pray.  And so, I press on… I pray, not because I think those on my list will suffer if I don’t, but because I feel called to do so.  It is a privilege and not an obligation.  It sustains my life.  It is a ministry that all of us as believers are called to undertake.

Yesterday was one of those days.  It was one of those days when the Spirit prompted me to pray for a friend I know who is really struggling.  She’s not someone that I see very often.  We live in different cities.  I’m not even sure I can recall her last name as I write these words.  I just know that suddenly I was prompted to pray for her and I did.  I never know what’s happening in those moments… what “needs” are present and why sometimes out of the clear-blue-sky a name races to the forefront of our minds.  I just know that when the Lord brings someone to my mind in such a powerful way that I am supposed to drop everything for a moment and offer my petition.

Please don’t interpret these words as me trying to reveal to you how pious I’ve become.  I’m not looking to get a spiritual pat-on-the-back for my devotion to prayer.  It’s just the ministry to which I am called each day and I hope that I am faithful to that calling.  And not to worry, whenever the Lord brings you to mind, I will take a moment to mention your needs to our Father.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Prayer of Jabez Revisited

Most of us are familiar with the Prayer of Jabez, not because we stumbled across it in our devotional readings of 1 Chronicles 4, but because of the popularity of the short devotional book written by Bruce Wilkinson back in 2000.  It was an instant best seller.  It topped the New York Times best seller’s list and sold over 9 million copies.  Some critics panned the book saying that it promoted a “prosperity Gospel” mentality, but my take is that Wilkinson never intended for the book to be used that way.  It is my understanding that he wrote it as a way of challenging people to seek the Lord more fully and more completely.  Certainly, he struck a chord with many people.  9 million represents a lot of copies.

Let me remind you of the short, simple prayer that Jabez once offered.  “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers.  His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful.  He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, ‘Oh that you would bless me and expand my territory!  Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!’ And God granted him his request” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).  It was a simple request and promise of reliance upon God.  God heard Jabez and responded favorably, according to the text.  But today, I am intrigued, not so much by the prayer, but by this man’s name, “Jabez.”  It literally means, “pain,” and was given to him by his mother because of the pain she experienced in childbirth.  Although I can certainly understand the reasons for the name, I wonder, if later in life, when he turned from being a pain to becoming a blessing, if his mother ever regretted the name she had given him.  Did the name ever handicap him in any way?  Did he live with the stigma that he had once been a source of pain to his mother?

Sometimes we imprint characteristics and qualities into the psyche of our children at a very young age.  A little positive feedback and nurturing can go a long way.  Words of affirmation and encouragement seem to propel children into lives of healthy self-esteem and self-worth.  Unfortunately, a little abuse and negativity can also stay with a child for a very long time.  You can’t “un-ring” a bell.  If a child hears a destructive and abusive word, the impact can be long-lasting, maybe permanently damaging.

Years ago, while pastoring a church in central Kentucky, I met a woman who told me some of the hurtful things that had happened to her as a child.  She grew up in a very poor region in Appalachia.  Her parents actually sold her to another family where she was treated very much like a slave.  She was not allowed to attend school.  Her role was to clean the house, do the cooking, and wash the clothes.  There was no safety net for her in the community.  There was no government program to which her story of abuse could have been told.  The term “Human Trafficking” was not yet in existence.  It was an impoverished region where rules of society and culture were a bit different.  It was a very hard life for this young girl.

Whenever her “owners” were displeased, they would make comments like this, “You’re not worth the money we paid to get you!”  You can imagine the pain and abuse that she endured.  She was well into her 70’s when she told me her story.  By the grace of God and the love of Christ, her life had improved.  She had met a wonderful man who removed her from that life.  He literally rescued her from that situation as a teenager.  She raised a family of her own and was a sweet and kind person.  She was somehow able to step out of her abusive past and find a life of hope and joy.  It was truly a miracle of God that she survived and became the person I knew.  She was a faithful member of the church, respected and loved by all.  But even all those years later, when she talked about her childhood, her voice would crack and the tears would flood her eyes.  She continued to carry the abusive memories of her past like some old worn out suitcase that she could never set down for very long, filled with painful stories and destructive words.

So be careful what you say to your children.  Affirm them.  Love them.  Encourage them.  Bless them.  Sacrifice for them.  May the day come when they say of their childhood that they were blessed beyond measure.  As a parent, you will be a part of that narrative.  In fact, you will help to write that story.  Maybe Jabez isn’t the only one who needs to pray fervently each day.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

Global Warming and the Role of the Church


This article is not about what you think.  It’s not about climate change, the melting of the polar icecaps, the rise of the ocean levels, or extreme heating in certain regions around the world.  Certainly, climate change is an important topic, one that should not be tossed around like a political hot potato, but one that should capture the focus of every national leader as humans attempt to save themselves from a very dire set of circumstances should things go unchecked and uncorrected.  All of us need to lean into those conversations and do what we can to promote the environment.  But having said that, this article is about a different kind of global warming; one that the church has to take a leading role in solving.

I’m talking about the global warming of anger, violence, aggression, hatred, and prejudice.  In case you haven’t noticed, things are warming up.  Tensions are increasing.  Pressures are mounting.  Violence is rising.  Caustic words are spewing.  Hatred is growing.  Bitterness is spreading.  Certainly, it is happening on a global level, but it is also happening here… in our culture, in our communities, and God forbid, even in our sometimes-conflicted congregations. We have exchanged civility for the “rightness” of our opinions.  We have sacrificed respect on the altar of a “you-have-to-think-like-I-do-or-we-can’t-be-friends” mentality.  We once talked of tolerance, understanding, and neighborliness.  Now we live with intolerance, exclusion, and the silo-ization of thought.

There are several places where we can place the blame for this type of global warming.  We can blame the horrible political rhetoric of our day.  We can blame racially motivated violence.  We can blame the economic inequalities of our culture.  We can blame the extremists among us who turn a lack of understanding and hatred into violence.  We can blame any and every religious ideology.  We can blame “the system.”  We can blame the terrorists.  We can blame the news media.  Or maybe we can blame the church…

Jesus once did.  Remember the day He triumphantly entered Jerusalem?  He walked right up to the merchants in the Temple courts and called them to radical change.  He overturned the tables, spilled their ill-gotten gain, and chased them off with a whip.  He called them all a “bunch of robbers” (John 2:13-17).  The religious system of the day had become corrupt.  No longer did the Temple and those who managed it represent the God they claimed to worship.  Self-interest, greed, and selfishness overtook their hearts and minds.  Rather than lead people into the presence of God, they found ways to exploit them and even keep them at arms-length.

I have to ask, have we corrupted the Christian faith to the extent that it is no longer recognizable?  Have we bought into a religious system rather than a relational community?  Have we repelled more than we have attracted because of our judgmental viewpoints and our inconsistent offerings of grace?  Is everyone around us the neighbor to whom we are to extend hospitality and comfort or have we selected only a few as being worthy?  Do we spend more time ministering to the poor and hungry or more time fussin’ about what “they” are serving for family-night supper this week?  Do we preach messages of racial reconciliation, or decry the evils of injustice, or declare the authentic love of Jesus, or even dare to mention issues like healthcare, poverty, gun violence, or gender identification issues from our pulpits?  You see, if we are not being a part of the solution to the global warming of our culture, then we are part of the problem.  Jesus never intended for the Church to remain silent, uninvolved, or separated from the realities of life and culture.  The way I read it, even the Gates of Hell can’t resist the advancing-march of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The only thing that can stop the church is when those within its walls refuse to keep living like Jesus.

The Book of Revelation speaks a word of warning against the church at Ephesus.  The Spirit declares that “she had lost her first love,” and as a result, she was in danger of having her “lampstand” removed (Rev. 2:1-7).  Researchers predict that by the year 2030 (just 13 years from now) that 1/3 of all of the churches that currently exist here in America, will be gone.  Yes, there is a multiplicity of reasons for that stat, however, one factor has to be a loss of relevancy and authenticity.  Let us be committed to the Lordship of Christ.  Let’s proclaim the message of Salvation He offers.  Let’s live like He matters. May the world see Christ in us and in our acts of tender mercy and loving compassion.  It’s time to turn down the heat.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

How Patriotism Became A Bad Word

Things have gotten a little weird lately.  Whenever we bring up the topic of “God & Country,” I have to wince a little.  Being a “patriotic American” carries so much more baggage these days than it did when I was young.  Let me explain.  My love for this nation has never dimmed.  I am as committed to the well-being of America as I have ever been.  America is still the land of opportunity and freedom.  But let us not be naïve and deny that there are real, substantive issues that need to be addressed.  We can’t wrap ourselves in the flag and pretend that we live in some type of euphoric state where everyone shares in the prosperity of the land and that all are treated with equality and fairness.

First, a word about God and country.  For many years, patriotic, conservative Christians have been weaving a national narrative using the threads of religion and patriotism in a way that has led to a new branding of faith known as “Nationalism.”  We have so joined together the ideas of God and country that we often forget the order of those words and pledge allegiance to both as though they are inextricably intertwined, and somehow equally important.  We sometimes forget in our patriotic zeal that our commitment is first and foremost to a Kingdom not of this world.  We were placed on the planet to bring Him glory and to represent Him well in thought, attitude, and action.  Whenever we fill our sanctuaries with American flags and sing songs that pledge to make America great again, we have lost sight of the true object of our worship.  If we want America to be a “Christian nation,” then first and foremost, it will require that those of us who claim the Christian faith actually live the demands of the Gospel.  Our citizenship will have to reflect attributes like civility, respect, and authentic love for our neighbors… ALL of our neighbors, even those whose ethnicity, religious belief, sexuality, and politics don’t reflect our particular version of righteousness.  And by the way… if this nation does someday reflect the love, grace, forgiveness, and morality of our Lord, it will be a first.  We will not be returning to an earlier day when America was Christian in thought and attitude.  We will be leaning into a dream that has not yet been realized in our history.  Liberty and justice for all is an inclusive ideal and pursuit.  Until we all feel included, accepted, protected, and free, then our motto is still a dream and not a reality.

When I was young, growing up in the deep south, the Fourth of July was really something special.  Communities gathered in ways that no other holiday would allow.  There were city-wide picnics, parades, concerts and firework shows.  People laughed and prayed and celebrated the noble characteristics of our land.  For at least that single day, lines of division drawn by race, economics, and political party were all erased.  We were Americans and proud of the ideals that held us together.  We could wave the flag and sing patriotic songs without ever once blurring the lines of God and country, or drawing lines that excluded the immigrants, the minorities, or the poor.  We were all Americans.  But somewhere along the way we have altered the definition of patriotism.  We wave the flag with a prejudiced view of race, religion, and politics.  We act as though this is OUR America, not to be shared with anyone who doesn’t share every single value we hold.  We have become more divisive, more bigoted, more exclusionary, and dare I say, even more fearful of each other.  We live with injustice and do nothing about it.  We live in violence and think that more guns is the answer.  We live in fear of people who look different from ourselves and never extend a hand of friendship.  We live with prosperity but forget to gladly share with those who have so little.

Maybe the problem with America is not “those people.”  Maybe it’s us.  May God forgive our skewed version of patriotism and help us to truly carve out a nation where everyone is valued, welcomed, needed, and treated fairly.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

Reclaiming the Front Porch

There was a time, decades ago, when homes were built with large front porches.  It’s where family life and neighborhood conversation all convened.  You could drive up and down any street in any small town and find people sitting on the porch, maybe an iced tea on the table next to the chair in which they sat, a paper fan in their hands, a newspaper on their laps, and a smile on their faces.  Kids would drop their bikes in the front yard and sit on the front steps for a while to listen to the grown-ups talk.  Every car that passed down the street got a friendly wave, no matter if the occupants were known or not.  It’s how community was forged among neighbors.  It’s how life was shared among friends.  It’s how relationships deepened and life-long connections were made.

And then it happened… newer homes were designed in a different way.  People opted for patios and decks off the back of the house rather than in the front.  And the culture shifted.  Grills appeared on the deck along with fancy porch furniture, piped-in sound, and fire pits.  Landscaping gave privacy and families tended to cloister around themselves.  Streets that were once filled with neighbors talking and swapping stories, laughing, and even sharing home baked goodies, soon became barren.  Garage doors opened, cars slide inside, and quickly the door slammed shut again.  Life wasn’t bad on the back porch, mind you… it was just different… more privacy, less interference, and fewer relationships.  And interestingly enough, those neighbors who once stood in the front yard soon dissipated to backyards of their own.  The occasional invitation to join another family on the back porch was rare… good when it happened, but rare.

The same thing has happened in church life.  Churches once went to great lengths to have people join in the front-porch conversations.  Neighbors were welcomed to come.  People were warm, friendly, and engaging.  Needs were met.  Hearts were shared.  Lives were intertwined.  But somewhere along the way, the back porch became more important.  The “family” became a little too exclusive.  Those on the front porch were kept at arms-length and never really invited to the back porch.  Churches lost the vision of being in community with the people who lived all around them.  An insistence on doctrinal purity, Biblical correctness, church rules, and historically cemented mindsets kept new people, new thought, and new spirit away.  Oh, it’s nice on the back porch.  Everyone believes the same way, looks the same way, and judges others with the same contempt.  Closed groups and closed minds like the privacy that the well-protected back porch offers.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  By 2030, 1/3 of all the churches that now exist in America will be closed.  Neighbors will drive past the house and wonder where they will go to find community.

It’s not too late for the church.  But it does require a new mindset.  To be the neighbor on the front porch means churches will constantly remind themselves, “It’s not about what we want, but what they (outside world) need.”  It will require flexibility, a willingness to be Spirit led, tolerance, grace, and a willingness to act like Christ in words, attitudes, and action.  It will mean giving up the insistence of conformity so that a spirit of neighborliness takes root.  Churches don’t have to abandon Biblical principles, core values, or healthy traditions… they just have to abandon intolerance, judgment, and caustic attitudes.

I’m not planning on building or buying another house anytime soon… but if I do, I’m going insist on a front porch.  Community trumps privacy, neighbors are important, and life is too short to live exclusively on the back porch.

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Treasure Within

A few days ago, this painting sold at auction to a Japanese businessman for $110.5 million dollars.  It is by the American artist, Jean-Michael Basquiat who died at the age of 28 back in 1998.  He painted this work when he was 21 years-old.  The auction price was historic in two ways.  First, it was the highest price ever paid for a painting by an American artist.  And second, it was the highest price ever paid in history for an African-American artist.  The new owner, Yusaku Maczawa is going to exhibit the work around the world at various institutions and exhibitions until it is permanently housed in a museum to be built for such a purpose.

Such a large sum of money is a staggering amount.  Obviously, the painting is of enormous worth and value.  My mind started to consider how such a work of art could be safely transported.  It’s not the kind of thing you can run down to the local UPS store and ask them to ship.  I am certain that elaborate plans will be in place anytime that it is moved from one location to another.  Most assuredly, ground transportation will include an armored vehicle.  So, I did a little research into the cost of an armored truck… the kind the Brinks people use to haul around a lot of cash.  With thick plating, bullet-proof glass, and run-flat tires, an armored truck costs just north of $50,000.  Here’s my point.  A priceless masterpiece will, at some point, be placed in a vehicle that is worth less than 1/10th of 1% of the treasure it holds.  Crazy, right?  But when the treasure is contained within the truck, suddenly the value of the truck is elevated.  The treasure within, gives enormous worth to that which holds it.

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves’ (2 Cor. 4:7).  Paul was talking about the treasure of the Gospel.  Embedded within each of us as believers, is the truth of the Good News that Jesus brought.  We know what it takes to gain eternal life.  We have the answer to how anyone can live forever in the Kingdom of God.  What a curious thing… the greatest treasure of all time is carried about inside the hearts of flawed and fragile human beings.  God has “invested” the treasure in us.  We are the keepers… the guardians… the ambassadors.  And the more we tell others about the treasure, the more safely guarded it becomes as the treasure gets stored again and again the hearts of millions of “earthen vessels.”

Years ago, I had a pilot friend who flew corporate jets for the Humana Health Organization.  From time to time, he was sent to transport a heart from a donor to a recipient.  For example, once he flew to Atlanta and then back to Louisville to bring a heart from Georgia to someone awaiting as a recipient in Kentucky.  He was always a little dumbstruck by the way in which those human hearts were transported.  As soon as they were harvested, they were placed on ice in an Igloo cooler, just like the ones you buy at Walmart to keep your picnic sandwiches cool.  Something so critically important was carried around in a plastic cooler.

If you are feeling a little defeated today, or maybe a little undervalued at work, or just a little worn out and worthless… you need to take a moment to consider the treasure that you carry around in your heart and life.  The treasure within gives great worth and value to that which holds it.  So, to the best of your ability, carry it well.  Guard it carefully.  Represent the King.  Live unselfishly.  And tell folks along the way about the treasure you hold.

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director

The Hard Work of Being Christ-Like

Dr. Jon R. Roebuck, Exec. Director

If someone once told you that becoming a Christian would lead to an easy life, they lied.  To be sure, the access point of faith is simple… it takes belief and trust.  And then you begin to live the life.  That’s where things start to become a little more difficult.  It’s like standing on the bank of a rushing, white-water river.  Taking the plunge is easy.  You just step off the muddy bank and splash into the water.  But within seconds you are caught in the churning, twisting, relentless flow.  Faith is like that.  The invitation to walk with Jesus is not an invitation to an easy stroll.  It is a call to follow a Savior down a path that will radically alter your life, shift your priorities, make you see the world with different eyes, and give away your heart in ways you never dreamed possible.

The Gospel message makes its demands of us.  We are commanded to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, uplift the downtrodden, give sight to the blind, preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives.  It’s a call to see the world through the eyes of a compassionate Savior who cares about everyone, who values each life, who longs for brokenness to be mended, and who gives away His life so that we might know the joy of being included in God’s family.  It’s a call to turn the world upside down like the early disciples were once accused of doing (Acts 17:6).  It’s a call to be different, to be radical, to be unstained by our culture, yet fully immersed in it.  If you think you can follow Christ in the privacy of your prayer closest and never attempt to change the world around you, then you are sadly mistaken.  The Gospel demands that we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13).  The Gospel demands movement, involvement, investment, and sacrifice.  New Testament writer James went so far as to say that unless our faith produces results in the lives of others, it’s worthless (James 2:14-26).

Perhaps the hardest demand of the Gospel is that of forgiveness.  The world demands revenge, payback, an eye for an eye, whenever we have been wronged.  But in contrast, Jesus said, “Forgive.”  Forgiveness is not a denial of the pain and injury caused by someone’s anger or abuse… it is the offering of a gentle, healing grace even in the midst of such pain.  I told you earlier, the Christian life is not easy.  Jesus offered these words, “If you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).  We are called to forgive friends when they have betrayed us, spouses when they have angered us, children when they have disobeyed us, merchants when they have exploited us, leaders when they have disappointed us, co-workers when they have backstabbed us, strangers when they have harmed us.

I have often thought that our forgiveness should be expressed verbally.  As soon as someone says “I’m sorry,” we must respond by saying “You’re forgiven.”  That’s how we want God to respond when we confess ours sins to Him.  Why would He expect us to act any differently towards others?  Brokenness remains whenever our forgiveness goes unspoken.  Healing in relationships can only be completed when we verbally express our grace.  It is not always sufficient to forgive someone in our hearts and minds without letting them know of our willingness to move forward.  And by the way, if you are always waiting for someone to say “I’m sorry,” before you forgive them, you have missed part of the message of grace.  We must forgive, even when others have sought no forgiveness from us, nor verbalized their sinfulness against us.  It is the only way to live.  And it’s hard sometimes.

I want to close this thought with some song lyrics.  The song is called “Forgiveness,” and it is written and performed by Pat Terry and can be found on his album entitled, “Laugh for a Million Years.”  Here are the lyrics…

“In that dark, swift river called love, down on the bottom so deep and cold,

There lies a healing stone, worn smooth by the river’s flow.

It’s a beautiful thing to behold.  It took years for the river to make.

God even gave it a name… forgiveness.

If you swim that river of life, you’d better find it.

It will heal a lot of hurt along the way.  It can take a grievous wound and bind it.

It can dry your tears and soothe away your pain… forgiveness.”


And you thought this was going to be easy…


Angels & Demons

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director

Quick… tell me what comes to mind when you think of the word, “Angel.”  For most of us, the image is one of a beautiful, winged creature, dressed in white, that floats effortlessly in the sky like those who once appeared in Bethlehem to welcome the Savior’s birth.  Though most of us have never seen one, still most of us believe in their reality.  The Scriptures certainly mention them enough to get noticed.  Angels are mentioned over 200 times in the pages of the Bible.  There are even passages that give a nod to our notion of guardian angels.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:10 when speaking of children, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”  Notice the pronoun… “their,” as in the ones that are assigned to each child.

Let’s flip the coin.  Tell me what comes to mind when you think of the word, “demon.”  Maybe you think of little devils with pointed tails and pitchforks.  I have to admit that when I was growing up, we didn’t talk a lot about demons.  Maybe we were too scared to even bring up the topic.  Most of us used the “Exorcist” movie as a frame of reference when thinking about someone who was demon-possessed.  The mention of demons in the Bible is much less prevalent than that of angels.  In fact, demon-possession is only mentioned in the three Synoptic Gospel accounts.  There is no mention of demon-possession in the Old Testament, nor in John’s Gospel, nor in the writings of Paul.  Of course, the Book of Revelation has a lot of imagery concerning demonic forces.  And certainly, throughout the pages of Scriptures there is a very clear description of the force of evil upon the earth.  Paul reminds us that… “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:2). Jesus faced such evil in the wilderness, in the garden, and even in the words of His disciple Peter (Matthew 16:23).

Maybe it’s time to reframe both the imagery and definitions of angels and demons.  The word, “angel” actually is drawn from the Greek word, “angelos.”  It literally means, “messenger.”  Heavenly beings were referred to as angels because they always acted on behalf of God, bringing His “message” to the people who needed to hear it.  Pair that with this verse, “We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:20 NLT).  Here’s the point.  Whenever we, as the people of God, act on God’s behalf, speaking hope, comfort, redemption, and grace, have we not become as His angels?  Whenever we bring healing to that which is broken, whenever we affirm the value and worth of every person, whenever we demonstrate agape love and not divisive hatred, are we not numbered among the angels (messengers) of God?

Let’s define demonic as anything that destroys or refuses to affirm, the Image of God in every person. Demonic elements could refer to anything that is, dehumanizing and contrary to the work of God. When defined in such a context, it is easy to see that the demonic work of evil is very prevalent in our world.  There are many forces that seek the dehumanization of people.  Let’s take a look at several.

Think in terms of human trafficking.  There are more people enslaved around the world today than at any other time in human history.  Estimates range as high as 20-30 million world-wide.  Human trafficking is the 3rd largest international crime industry in the world behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking.  It reportedly generates $32 billion dollars in revenue each year.  Those trafficked are not viewed as individuals made in the image of God, but as commodities to be bought or sold.  Human trafficking is dehumanizing and contrary to the work of God.  It is demonic.

Want to take on the topic of pornography?  Here are some stats that should get your attention about the explosion of pornography in the United States.  Every second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet and every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.  40 million American people regularly visit porn sites.  35% of all internet downloads are related to pornography.  25% of all search engine queries are related to pornography, or about 68 million search queries a day.  Search engines get 116,000 queries every day related to child pornography.  Every 39 minutes a new pornography video is being created in the United States.  (Statistics drawn from  Both men and women are drawn into this web of darkness.  It exploits.  It tempts.  It distorts.  It victimizes.  It disrupts relationships.  Pornography is dehumanizing and contrary to the work of God.  (By the way, only 7% of all churches offer any programs in response to this epidemic.)

What about the subject of capital punishment?  Shane Claiborne, writer and human rights crusader, writes extensively about the ethical dilemma of “killing to show that killing is wrong.”  (His recent book, Executing Grace is all about this topic.) He is quick to point out that 85% of all death row executions happen in The Bible Belt.  He adds, “We don’t always execute the worst of the worst, but the poorest of the poor, who haven’t the means for adequate representation.” (Spoken at Q Conference – Nashville 2017)   I like his take on Jesus’ position on the death penalty when speaking about the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned to death… “The only One with the right to throw a stone has no desire to do it.”  I certainly understand that there is anger and well-articulated arguments on either side of this issue.  (I have a friend who is in his mid-20’s and who is on death row in Mississippi.)  But I have to ask, “Is it right to repay evil for evil?”  Does our practice of the use of capital punishment demonstrate that we have become a more “Christian Nation?”  Is it our place to enact revenge?  Have we dehumanized those on death row?

And what of the current debate around healthcare?  If we willfully deny coverage to the poor, to those with pre-existing conditions, and to those whose birth certificates may not have been stamped in the U.S., are we not dehumanizing such folks and declaring them to be of too little worth to have healthcare?  Are we not called to offer compassion and care to all?  Where is the Christ-ethic in our debate or have we become so segregated in our politics that we not only set party affiliation above country, but we also set our opinions over the authority of Scripture whose mandate has always been to “care for the least of these?”

Maybe the strongest indication of the evil around us can be found in the evil within us.  Look at what social media has done to us.  We spew out vitriolic venom at anyone who dares to disagree with our opinions and biases.  Facebook has become Disgracebook.  Twitter doesn’t just inform others and allow us to tell our stories, it gives us an immediate audience to which we can voice our rants.  And what of the 24-hour news cycles that populate our television channels and fill-up our internet news feeds?  Do they draw us together in common cause against the ills of our society, or do they divide us even further?

Angels and demons.  Both are real.  Both are present in our culture.  The only way the demons win out, is when the “messengers of God” refuse to proclaim His redemptive plan for humanity that wraps well-being, worth, and love into the same conversation.  In his opus magnum entitled, Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton writes, “The tragedy is not that things are broken.  The tragedy is that they are not mended again.”

Angels and demons… which Kingdom do you represent?