For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;

– 1 Timothy 4:4

I parked my van at a large parking near the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. As I usually did, I reviewed my backpack’s contents to ensure I had enough food and water for a five-hour hike. I had three liters of water or Gatorade, my Snickers bar, 2 BelVita cookie packages, and a well-filled peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Probably more than I needed, but more is better than not enough.

Then I ensured I had my emergency kit in case of an injury to myself or someone else. Next, I made sure I had my bear spray. Finally, I switched my phone to GPS mode to track where I was and the height of the climb in front of me. Switching to GPS mode also entails going to Airplane mode so the GPS doesn’t drain the battery.

Then I made my regular mental reminders. The first was to enjoy the hike and not treat it like a competition. This a helpful reminder to ensure I didn’t miss anything along the way, and this attitude also provides I drink and eat properly. There is always the tendency when you go too fast to give up the important water and snack breaks. Plus, you won’t take the time to experience the woods and views. For competitive people, it is important to remind ourselves it’s about the hike, not the speed.

My one last thing to do is say a prayer of thankfulness and protection. Usually, when Connie and I hiked, we did this just after we were on the trail. It always seems inappropriate to pray in the parking lot and feels much better when we are standing on the trail.

On this day, I crossed the street in front of the parking lot and spotted the three-by-six-inch white blaze on a tree that let me know I was on the Appalachian Trail. Up a few stairs by the blaze, and a quick right put me right on the trail. When I looked up after making the turn, I was suddenly hit with the sun shining precisely on the path of the trail. Almost as if the sun’s rays followed the path I was to take. Amazingly, the shadow of the trees outlined the path perfectly.

As I looked up, the sun was like a crown encasing the tops of the trees. At that moment, I knew where to say my prayer and to tell God I was thankful. There was a warmth to the sun, almost as if God was inviting me into God’s creation. But then, peace settled in, and while I knew the hike would be tough, I was thankful to be able to share in this place.

I stopped to take a picture to capture this unusual image. A photo I would later study many times. Not because I am a great photographer, I am not! But to see the miracle in my day. A perfectly outlined path. An unusual creation from God.

Later, a half-mile climb almost straight up had to be encountered. There were the cliffs, which required hand-over-hand climbing without hiking poles. There was the walk on an exposed path to a view of a valley some fifteen hundred feet below. There were rocks littering the tail and fallen trees to climb over. All reminders of what a normal hike on the Appalachian Trail looks like.

On my five-hour trek, I climbed two thousand feet. I had lunch at a wonderful picnic table far away from the road, making me wonder how it got there. As is usually the case met a few other hikers, whom you take the time to greet. We would talk about where we have been and where we are going. No formal script, just friendly reminders of how wonderful the hiking community can be. No judgment because everyone hikes their own hike.

On this day, the first step on the trail and into the sun, the warmth of God, was what I remember from this day. The grandeur of a simple scene of trees, a path, and golden sun. A reminder all that exists took billions of years to be just right for God to remind me to look and enjoy God’s world.

I am thankful!

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

– Philippians 2:3-4

Ten years ago, I was helping out at a large Methodist church in New Jersey. One Saturday morning, the church had a conference meeting to review its finances and administration with people from the local bishop’s headquarters. Folks were coming to meet with the minister and committee heads to review their operation.

As usual, I showed up early, worried about being late. As I waited, a car drove up, and a friendly man stepped out and opened his trunk. Immediately, I assumed he was there to attend the meeting, likely from the bishop’s headquarters. I went to the man and asked him if I could help him.

When I first approached him asking if I could help, he gave me a guarded stare and assessed what I was up to. His natural defensiveness resulted from growing up in a tough part of New Jersey, where scams abounded. After a few minutes of sizing me up, his face changed and contained a wry smile. He said, “Sure, and thanks for the help.”

We took his many boxes and bags into the church meeting room. Then we did the usual formalities of introducing ourselves. The man, John Cardillo, was the headquarters chief finance officer. He was there this Saturday to show the members and minister how to run their church financially.

Soon other people showed up, and the meeting started. As I watched John conduct the meeting, I became intrigued by his mannerisms and style. He talked patiently and with a smile. I watched how he easily explained church finances with grace and a smile. I thought to myself; this man knew how to communicate and win people over. He spoke humbly and answered questions thoroughly with a tone of respect. The more I observed John, I learned he was more interested in helping than promoting his agenda.

John was perfect; he wasn’t boring, which many finance people like myself can be. His delivery was clear and friendly. John seemed to know how to get people to like and listen to him. In a very subtle way, his humility emerged as he talked. There was no boasting or commands, just him trying to help other people—everything about John was friendly and thoughtful.

As I continued to help out at The United Methodist Church, I learned more about John. John drove almost an hour to the headquarters from Monday to Friday, arriving at five AM, well before everyone else. Most nights, he stayed well past five. On top of this, he would work Saturdays visiting churches to help them with their finances. In most churches, the committee heads were made up of people with jobs of their own, and Saturday was the only day they had free, making John have to visit them on Saturday.

John never complained about his burden; he kept his head down and worked. I learned to see John in the morning if I needed his help. I always went early because I liked to talk to John and knew he would have the time. He put his work aside when I entered his office and listened to my requests. His answers were always unhurried and correct.

As time wore on, I got to know this man better. Unfortunately, his favorite sports team was the New York Jets, who each Sunday seemed to lose-often in comical ways. But John stayed loyal to his team. He had Catholic roots and, in fact, had worked at Catholic Charities before accepting a head finance job with the United Methodist Church.

John had a large number of loyal friends, primarily because of his humbleness. John could have easily been more successful outside the church world. I am sure he would have risen the ranks quickly in private industry and been compensated far more than he was with the church. But Jesus put John to work in the church, and John knew this. Sure he expressed frustrations with the imbalance in his pay. But he continued steadfastly doing his job at a very high level.

My friend Pastor Lou called me last week to let me know John was close to his final journey. He was racked with liver cancer and in great pain. Lou and John’s family spent his last moments together. Then, finally and mercifully, in a quiet moment, he passed into our Lord’s hand.

I am sad John is gone, but happy for knowing him and knowing he is safe with our Lord. John didn’t lead a life of material wealth or extravagance. Instead, he led a simple life built on humble loyalty to his work, friends, family, and his Lord.

We don’t often read about humble people; they don’t make the news. But I know in Jesus’ eyes, John was a star. The Apostle Paul in Philippians describes how we should live and perfectly describes how John lived. Paul says; Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Be well John, until we meet again.


In memory of  John F. Cardillo 

July 18, 1956  –  December 30, 2022

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once, the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

– John 5:8-9

One of my favorite things to read is stories about people who overcome difficult life circumstances. These people choose to be Victors and not Victims despite the odds. The latest story I found was about former NFL all-pro Warwick Dunn.

On January 7th, 1993, in Baton Rouge, Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge police officer, was on a private police detail escorting a local merchant to make a late-night cash deposit. Two men approached her and the merchant. The men asked for the cash bag, and the merchant resisted, which resulted in gunfire. One of the bullets hit Betty, and she was killed.

Betty left behind six children; the oldest was the future All-Pro running back, Warrick Dunn. Warrick had just turned eighteen two days earlier and, as the oldest, was left in charge of his five siblings. Warrick was a gifted athlete, excelling as a high school football player and track star.

Warrick became head of his family and, with the help of his grandmother, raised the other five children. At the same time, Warrick attended Florida State, won a national championship, and was a three-time ACC selection. Warrick also ran track for Florida State and was an Associated Press All-American.

Warrick went on to play in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. A career where he gained over fifteen thousand all-purpose yards – the 14th best all time.

While Warrick had a remarkable NFL career, it was in his second life that he excelled as well. After he retired, he set up a  charity called Holidays For Homes to raise money to help single-parent families move into homes they could not afford – 150 families moved into new homes.

He also set up Warrick Dunn charities and was named the Walter Payton man of the year award, along with the Bart Starr Award. In other community services, Warrick worked with other professional athletes, such as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Mario Lemieux, and many others.

Because of his integrity and willingness to help others, Arthur Blank invited him to become a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. While Warrick and his siblings went on to prosper after their mother’s tragic death, his attitude of not being a victim set the course for his and their lives. He had chosen to become a victor.

His life reminds me of a story in the Gospel of John. In this story, Jesus approaches a man lying on the ground by the healing pool of Bethesda. The man had been coming to the pool for thirty-eight years and was never healed. One morning, Jesus sees the man at the pool and asks, “Do you want to get well?”

The man replies, “I have no one to help me in the water, and when I try, someone else gets in the way.

Sensing a state of victimhood, Jesus tells the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

The man understands the meaning behind Jesus’ request, realizing he has been playing the victim for thirty-eight years. Listening to Jesus, he gets up, takes control of his life, and walks. Not all of Jesus’ miracles are physical; in this case, it was sage advice. The man had a simple choice: continue floundering by the pool or walk. He chose to walk.

Not every miracle in life is physical; many times, they are by making brave choices. Jesus knew the man could walk on his own but had chosen not to walk. He was essentially trapped by the comfort of going to the same place for many years, despite it not being the most productive life. All Jesus did was tell him to change and walk a different life.

After finding out about his mother’s death, Warrick could have given up, like the man at the well. I am sure the burden of losing your mother and then having to raise five children was enormous. Yet, he chose the path of moving forward and not lying down as a victim. Warrick went on to raise the children with his grandmother. He became an NFL star, and most importantly, he reached out to others the help them pick up their mat and walk.

Life isn’t always easy. Jesus knows that. He simply asks for us to have faith and walk forward. He asks us every day, Do you want to get well? Sometimes it’s little things that get us down or, for others, really big events. Sometimes it is easier to use our obstacles as crutches than the task of overcoming our obstacles. Every day, we have the choice: to become a Victim or a Victor.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 

– John [1:14]


Over two thousand years ago, Jesus arrived on earth. As the Son of God, he was both human and divine. A simple gift from God for us in human form. In today’s verse, Jesus is called the Word. If we substitute Word with Jesus, it makes the verse clearer. In other words, “Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us.”

A wonderful gift from God to those of us here on earth. Jesus was the first gift from the first Christmas. The word Christmas comes from Middle English and means “Christ’s mass.” Simply translated to mean the anointed one was sent—a present for humankind from God.

Today, Christmas is celebrated throughout the world on December 25th. Although there are many traditions around Christmas, some parts of the world only celebrate Christmas on the twenty-fifth. At the same time, in other regions, Christmas lasts twelve days and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.

Presents are exchanged, and dinners are held. There are candlelight services and the final lighting of the advent candle. It is a time when families and friends gather and celebrate this momentous day.

It is also a busy time of preparation and shopping. Unfortunately, many of us get lost in getting everything right. While many have a wonderful holiday, others are left alone. Christmas can be a time of gifts but also a time of loneliness and despair.

Since a number of years ago, Christmas has meant something different to me. It occurred after an unusual act of kindness I had heard about.

A woman named Beth was homeless and near destitution. She was living in a shelter and working at a Dunkin Donuts. She had only two things: a car and a child. Her simple goal was to find housing for her and her daughter in the new year.

On Christmas eve, she had to work. She waited on customers, and this night, her boss asked her to scrap gum off the bottom of the tables. While upset about this request, she still complied for fear of losing her job.

As she scraped gum off the bottom of the tables, she noticed a solitary woman about her age crying and slumped over, sitting at a booth.

After an hour or so and close to closing, Beth saw the woman wasn’t emerging from her despair. So when she clocked out, she went to the woman and asked if she could help.

The woman told her she was broke, hungry, and had no place to go. It was raining very hard, and Beth noticed the woman was poorly dressed. Beth listened to her story and found her heart breaking. She took her outside and drove her to the shelter she was staying. She got her checked in and helped her get settled.

All the money Beth had on her that night was her tips and her food money. She was close to having enough saved in the bank to make the down payment on a new apartment. The money she had with her would allow her to make the deposit for a new home

In the morning, she asked the woman what she could do to help. The woman told her she wanted to go home to her parents and start over. To accomplish this, she needed a bus ticket. Beth took her to the bus station and bought her a ticket home. Then went across the street and bought her breakfast. The woman got on the bus to start her life over.

Beth later heard from the woman; she had reconciled with her parents and was now working. On a rainy evening, the woman had been visited by another woman, Beth, who had the spirit of giving – a spirit of Christmas. She gave her some of the money she was saving to use as a down payment to get an apartment. But, she explained to me later while she needed the money for herself and her daughter, she felt this woman needed it more.

The following week, Beth found a better job, and her new landlord, after hearing about why Beth didn’t have all the money she needed, allowed her to move into her new apartment.

Beth moved on to resolving the issues which had created her homelessness. Her new job helped her pay for her life. Her daughter started school, and she remembers the first morning her daughter got on a school bus. A grateful for time for her; she had a home and a job, and her daughter could now have a normal life.

When you ask her today, “What was your favorite Christmas?” She will tell you it was the night she could help someone else. A memory she uses to help her understand the meaning of Christmas.

God sent Jesus to help us. So that first Christmas, we not only got Jesus, our savior. But, we also received an example of the meaning of Christmas- giving to others.

“Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

– John [11:43]-44

Miraculously, Lazarus emerged from his death tomb, saved by Jesus. Many of those who witnessed this event turned to believing in the power of Jesus. But some did not and went back to Jerusalem to tell Caiaphas, the chief priest, and the other leaders what they had seen.

Immediately, Caiaphas and the other priests called a meeting of the Sanhedrin to discuss this latest feat performed by Jesus. The few who had gone to see the leaders were seeking favors from the leadership in Jerusalem. In turn, Caiaphas and the others were alarmed, seeing this as an event that could encourage the existing population to rise up against them.

During the meeting, they all agreed it was time to get rid of Jesus. For the past year, Jesus had been saving the blind, healing the lame, and speaking to huge crowds. Now Jesus had raised the dead! Because of this last event, Caiaphas and the other leaders now knew Jesus had become competition for the control of the masses.

Caiaphas was the chief priest, and head of the ruling Jewish body called the Sanhedrin. He was in the fifteenth year of his reign. His father-in-law, Annus, who had reigned for nine years, had appointed Caiaphas as his successor. Combined, they had held the chief priest position for almost a quarter of a century.

During his reign, Caiaphas solidified his power with the Jewish aristocrats and the Roman rulers. However, at the same time, he had made life for the average citizen very difficult. As Caiaphas grew in power, the people became poorer.

After deciding to get rid of Jesus, Jesus could no longer move about publicly. So instead, he went to Ephraim in Samaria. A place he would stay until his return to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

What amazes me is that instead of seeking Jesus out to find out more, instead, they chose to kill him. It would seem to me after such a powerful action of raising the dead, Caiaphas would want to learn more and perhaps see Jesus as who he was, the Lord.

So why didn’t Caiaphas and the others turn to Jesus and, at the very least, find out more? It seems they were stuck in their own narratives, and Jesus directly opposed the lives they were leading. Jesus was a change in the course of how Caiaphas thought.

Caiaphas had become so enamored with his life and power that there was no room for other viewpoints. Any different view, he squashed. Those around him had learned this and only told him want they thought he wanted to hear. Conversation amongst them had collapsed into making sure Caiaphas didn’t get angry.

Caiaphas and his group had lost the art of critical thinking. When differing points of view rose up, the individual would be shamed and discarded. Instead of hearing the person with a different opinion, their ideas were seen as extreme and threats. As a result, the person was usually ostracized.

Looking back at these events in the 21st century, we can clearly see the flaw. Jesus had saved a person from death, yet no one in power wanted to know more. We can all agree they lacked the skill of critical thinking.

Critical thinking in the dictionary is defined as: the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Simply, critical thinking allows events and statements to change our viewpoints and perhaps our behavior. A method of thinking that prevents our thoughts from getting stale and outdated.

What if Caiaphas had honestly sought out Jesus to learn more? We could assume he would have become a follower of Jesus as well. Instead, Caiaphas chose the path of denial and elimination.

By ignoring Jesus and seeking to destroy him, Caiaphas, in turn, lost everything.

A few months later, Caiaphas successfully had Jesus crucified on the cross. But the outcome for Caiaphas was bleak. When the Roman rulers learned about this event, Caiaphas was removed from power and forced to leave Jerusalem in 36AD.

Everything thing he had was gone. All because he denied the reality of Jesus.

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

– Romans [8:34]

While in Theological school, I took a course on Sunday worship. The professor, Dr. Heather Elkins, a kind and wise woman, was always a favorite professor. I enjoyed taking her classes and often saw if one would fit my schedule. She is a woman with a gleeful demeanor but has a high level of seriousness when talking about Jesus and all things Christian.

I admired Dr. Elkins because of her sincerity. What she said to us was always sincere and without agenda. She saw things through a lens of a very interesting life.

Many years earlier, she went to theological school when women weren’t ministers or even entered into the study of ministry. When she graduated, no assignment was given to her. So she went home to West Virginia and set up her own church at a truck stop.

There she would sit and minister to those who found her sitting in a booth in the back. This was a  foundational time in her life. At her booth, she would listen objectively to those who came to visit.

As women became more acceptable to the Methodist church, she re-entered life as both a minister and a college professor.

But her time as a truck stop minister had chiseled her. You knew you could talk with her because she actually listened. As she had to when sitting across from desperate people in a remote truck stop café. She had learned to avoid judgment and still deliver her message with kindness.

Jesus had caught her early in life, and he was her goal. And nothing was more important to her than his act on the cross to save humankind.

One day, she started class by saying, “Good Morning!” And we all replied, “Good Morning!”

Then she asked us, “Why is it a good morning?”

While we knew she never asked a question without a specific purpose, we still gave her halfhearted answers.

She then told us, “Be careful when you greet your congregation on Sunday morning with the phrase, ‘Good Morning.’, because not everyone will be having a good morning.”

I thought about her comment and knew she was right. Unfortunately, not everyone in church has a good morning on any given Sunday.

The previous Sunday, I was helping a church by running their audio system. I was sitting in an alcove, high above the congregation. I glanced down and saw a woman sitting alone in apparent stress. Her head was bowed, and she was crying. A solitary figure was sitting in a crowded church, yet alone in her life. She was not having a good morning.

Because of Dr. Elkins’ question, I thought about the solitary woman. After church, I  went to find her and try to help. Unfortunately, she was gone by the time I got down from the alcove. As I was completing my thoughts about the woman, Dr. Elkins spoke.

She told us instead of saying “Good Morning,” say, “It is a good day because Jesus rose.” This was the thought the solitary woman in the church needed to know; he arose for her and us!

Over the years, this comment has stuck with me, Jesus rose on the third day. No matter how dire things seemed in my life, I always have Jesus’ resurrection as a safe spot. Because Jesus rose, I became free from sin, forgiven, and redeemed through my faith. A mental place I could always use to lift my spirit. Dr. Elkins was right because he rose; every day is a good day.

No matter the difficulty of the day or period of our life, our belief in Jesus’ resurrection is our guarantee of salvation, redemption, and freedom.

When the human heart is tormented by turmoil, Jesus and the resurrection erase the need to worry. His singular act on the wonderful day we call Easter erased the need for all human anxiety.

As we go about our days, either filled with busyness or worry, it can be hard to remember Jesus’ gift for humankind that first Easter. But through our faith, it is always true, no matter our circumstances.


“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

– John [21:25]

I am frequently asked about the historical accuracy of the four Gospels. Over the years, skeptics have said they are not history but a legendary account to appease a group desiring it to be real. My research finds this assessment remarkably wrong.

From a 21st-century perspective, where writing is far more prolific than in the 1st century and many times with a specific agenda, it is not surprising some would be suspicious of the accuracy of the Gospels and other writings in the New Testament.

But we must be careful when we evaluate writings from the 1st century using our 21st-century state of mind. Doing this is called Presentism. And when we use Presentism, we can distort the truth.

Instead, we need to insert historical context into our evaluation. The 1st century was a different time, and writing history was less about agenda and more about getting the facts right. While all books, even from the 1st century, include agenda, but to a lesser degree than today in the 1st century.

Additionally, less than 5% of the population could read or write because of the low literacy rate. Thus significantly fewer writings occurred, and those that did were a serious undertaking. 1st-century authors like Ovid and the Apostle Paul, who did write books, had higher standards. Additionally, their efforts were hampered compared to the modern authors; no programs like Word or computers existed. There were no typewriters; writing each sentence required patient thought.

In our century, over one million books are written every year! In the first century, less than one hundred books exist for the entire hundred-year period. Most were written in Latin or Greek. The books in the New Testament, twenty-seven in total, represent a large portion of what was written in the first century. Half of these were written by the Apostle Paul or his students. Most of the New Testament was written by the start of the second century. Making Christian literature or history the most significant genre of the 1st century.

While certainly specific agendas existed, there is a high level of consistency in the New Testament books. All are centered on Jesus and his teachings. The consistency of thought and facts across all these books supports a high level of accuracy.

While some will point out the inconsistencies, most are explained by understanding the perspective of the individual writers, not that they disagree with another person’s account. Instead, they saw the events from a different lens. So, while we would all like one book to explain Jesus and his life fully, he was a rich and dynamic presence that affected everyone differently. As such, each writer, inspired by God, wrote from their viewpoint.

In the Gospel of John, we find an exciting verse that explains why so much has been written about Jesus. John [21:25] says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Thus when we read about Jesus, we can enjoy the many different perspectives of his life.

Another support for the accuracy of this story is there were over five hundred eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote about these witnesses in 1st Corinthians, published in 50 AD. (1st Corinthians 15:4-8) In his account, he also declared many were still alive seventeen years after the first Easter week.

Why is this important in proving accuracy? First is knowing Paul would not idly mention this fact unless it was real. Paul himself was a man who was well educated and zealously riveted on getting the facts right. Secondly, others widely read this letter, and the document could easily be checked.[1]

Paul’s letters were written around twenty years after the resurrection. When many who observed and knew about the events of Jesus were still alive, if Paul were incorrect or embellishing his facts, there would undoubtedly be disagreement. However, none exists from this period.

Additionally, the characters of the New Testament actually existed. Take Pontius Pilate; archeologists in 1961 discovered a small statue in the town of Caesarea.

The inscription on the statue written in Latin says, “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberium to the Caesareans.[1]

Another main character and Jesus’ primary foil during the Easter week is the high priest, Caiaphas, who also was a real person. Caiaphas presided over the religious trial of Jesus and was directly responsible for Jesus’ death. In 1990 his burial box with his bones was discovered in the old city section of Jerusalem.[2]

Paul, who either himself or his students wrote half of the books in the New Testament, was widely quoted by non-Biblical writers – authors such as Clement (95AD), Polycarp, Papias,  Irenaeus, and many others. From a non-Biblical basis, Paul and his writings were perhaps the most quoted by 1st and 2nd-century scholars/writers.[3]

Additionally, several writers from the late first and early second century have written accounts that validate the Gospels, scholars such as – Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Polycarp.

Polycarp, in particular, is important. He was a student of the Apostle John, and much of his writing emanates from his time with John. In many of his writings, he frequently refers to several books in the New Testament.[4]

The Polycarp writings are most important because we have a scholarly writer who had a close relationship with a first-hand eyewitness to Jesus and his life, the Apostle John. For me, this was an important and exciting revelation. In Polycarp, we have a person who spent a good deal of time with a direct eyewitness to Jesus and his ministry – a fantastic gift for us in the 21st century.

While little known amongst the general populace, Polycarp is well-known by Biblical scholars and frequently cited in articles.

Another clue in the authenticity of the Jesus story comes from a Roman historian and Senator, Tacitus. In 116 AD, in his final book called Annuals,  he confirms that Jesus was crucified and writes about early Christians in Rome.[5]

Tacitus is important because a non-Christian confirms the event. Many scholars have confirmed this writing to be authentic, and it is one of the earliest non-Christian accounts of the crucifixion and persecution of Christians.

Further proof is the cities mentioned in the Gospels existed precisely as mentioned, as did the buildings mentioned. Furthermore, the customs written about in the Gospels are also accurate. Particularly the traditions surrounding the Passover dinner that was Jesus’ last supper, including the details of the supper’s preparation.

While we have proof of the existence of many of the characters and well-respected authors, the New Testament is also a remarkably “stable” document in its consistency. Despite centuries of revisions and translations, a literary critique of the New Testament has a ninety percent score on consistency. A very high score for a document that has been so frequently revised and translated.

Some will say, “How can a document that has been revised still be accurate?” Yet well over five thousand scraps of ancient documents have been discovered, which all support the words of the modern New Testament.

While there is much evidence of the accuracy of the New Testament and the four Gospels, they are not enough to fully convince an individual of the New Testament’s accuracy. An easier path exists. Spending time reading the Bible will create a stronger belief in the words of the Bible and the New Testament.

One way to do this is to read a chapter starting with the first chapter in Matthew each morning. Pray after the reading. But when you pray, wait for quiet to come into your mind. Repeat this daily. After a while, doubt will start to be replaced with assurance.

[1] Webb, Demer, Explore the Story, , April 2016.

[2] Stewart, Don, The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible-Question 12.

[3] Ibid

[4] Oakes, John, Is There Any Clear Evidence Paul Existed., February 2nd,  2015.

[5] Policarpo (santo, vescovo di (2013-07-25). Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-922839-3.


[6] Tacitus, The Annals, book 15, chapter 44

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

In writing my new book, Gideon: God’s Mighty Man of Valor, I became intrigued with how continuously Gideon prayed and how connected he was with God. It wasn’t just how often Gideon prayed, also how he reacted after prayer. He had two behaviors that stood out after prayer. The first was Gideon stayed very alert in seeking how God answered him. The second was his immediate action after he received God’s answer.

In other words, Gideon didn’t just constantly pray. He watched and acted as well. As a result, Gideon built a robust partnership with God. The more he prayed, observed, and acted, the easier it became for him to understand God’s directions. Because of my observation of Gideon’s prayer life, I started to ask others about their prayer life.

The more I asked other people, the more varied the answers became. It was as if each person had their own process. For example, my friend Pastor Lou says his prayer life is staying in continuous conversation with God. Lou’s method is supported with the verse in Colossians 4:2, where it says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

Later, I asked another pastor, who told me she had a close friend who helped her observe what God told her. Others told me they had a very disciplined process in observation. They looked for three things; was the answer Biblical, was the answer consistent with sound Christian thinking, and was the answer logical.

I also researched what Billy Graham had to say about prayer. He said, “Prayer is more than a wish; it is the voice of faith directed to God.” Faith is a critical message in Billy Graham’s quote. The assuredness God will answer is essential, as it gives us confidence there will be an answer for us to act upon.

Another interesting aspect of prayer was the answers or responses people received from God. All told me the answers with unique. So unique they could only be an answer from God. Sometimes the answers were so startlingly on point; they wondered if it was just a coincidence.

Another critical point was that all the people I talked to told me their prayer life was persistent. And each person’s prayer life had the components of asking, observing, and acting.

In Matthew 7:7, I found a simple explanation from Jesus; “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” In Jesus’ statement, I found the three components. First, Jesus tells us to “Ask.” And not just ask, but ask with faith that the prayer will be answered.

Secondly, Jesus says, “Seek, and you will find.” This statement supports the importance of observing.

Finally, Jesus says, “Knock, and it will be opened to you.” A very active expression of our involvement in our relationship with God. A simple message of not being passive but acting when we hear our answers.

It is easy for most to ask, a little harder to observe, and a matter of faith when we act upon the answer we receive.

The people I know who have a great prayer life always have faith the answer to act upon will come. However, they also individually approach the process differently, uniquely individual by individual.

Even in the Bible, there are 63 verses about prayer. Each one is a little different, but all contain some form of asking, seeking, and acting. For each person, at least one of the 63 verses is used concerning their prayer life—another example of how our individual relationships and journeys with Jesus are very different.

And another example of how Jesus meets us where we are.

…encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 

1 Thessalonians [2:12] 

Around 50 AD, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church in Thessalonica that he had founded just three months earlier. The letter today is called 1st Thessalonians in the New Testament. The letter’s purpose was to instruct those in the church to not give up their Christian values, despite outside temptations and persecution.  

The church was under siege by external influences (and even some from within), attempting to get them to compromise their values. As a new church, there were growing pains. Paul’s letter encouraged the church members to stay their course and not let temptation affect their actions. While the tone of this letter was one of encouragement, it also included reminders to live lives worthy of God.  

Over the last few years, I have become friends with a man who has had some remarkable challenges in his life. After struggling for the first few years of his career, he recently found success. He is now earning significantly more than he had in the past and has been promoted twice in the last three years. He bought a home, and life was good.  

But when he first arrived at his new company, many encouraged him to take a few shortcuts. He was challenged to bend a few rules and was told not to worry about getting caught. He listened quietly, knowing it was the wrong approach, and silently refused to comply.  

This caused some ripples with his co-workers, but he held on to his beliefs. Sure, he missed a few sales because he didn’t mislead potential customers. But the customers he did land became loyal because of his honesty. Slowly, his sales numbers grew, and he was soon bringing in more business than those taking shortcuts. He was asked to help train new salespeople. Those he trained also started to do well. 

One of the senior vice-presidents noticed not only that his sales were great, but that those who had attended his training classes were exceeding their goals as well. He was called into his boss’s office and told he would be promoted—they were putting him in charge of training all the new salespeople.  

After his early years of struggling and trying to find the right job, it seemed my friend had found a perfect fit. The struggle to make ends meet became a distant memory. Simply being honorable and not giving in to temptation has paid off.  

I enjoy talking with my friend. I love hearing his low-key and humble approach to his work. He doesn’t brag about his accomplishments. Instead, he humbly gives credit to God for all he has accomplished. He doesn’t think he is remarkable. Yet he is: despite outside influences, he stays the course of honesty. His lesson to me is that being great at work is achieved simply by adhering to Christian values. This might seem boring, but living this way every day takes personal inner strength.   

This was Paul’s point to the Thessalonians: simply live lives worthy of God. However, some days it takes encouragement and endurance to continue living that kind of life. And Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is designed to remind us even today to stay the course in following Jesus.  

Today, I encourage you to read 1st Thessalonians and become uplifted. It will only take fifteen minutes to read, and the letter serves as a reminder that trials will always exist, but when we live lives worthy of God, we will endure.   

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 

2nd Corinthians [9:11] 

Through the amazing blessing of Zoom, I was able to talk with a close friend, Tracey, while she was serving the homeless in Atlantic City. Using her phone, she tied into my Zoom meeting to show me the help she and forty others provided to the homeless.  

Connie and I have become deeply attached to the church Tracey attends. It is a tiny church, and on a good Sunday, ten to fifteen people attend. But their story isn’t about attendance; it is about serving and giving.

Each year, Tracey and friends create 20,000 meals for those in need in their community. In addition, at least twice a month, they are asked to provide clothing and toys to the homeless or destitute in the area. Oftentimes they bring a thirty-foot truck filled to the brim with donations.

We might wonder how they find out who needs help. Here’s how. They might get a call from a local town or another church and are asked to help out. Sometimes the towns are close; other times they’re a longer drive. They have also gotten calls from Army base commanders to help temporarily-housed refugees. Even the head of the State Police has sometimes called to ask if they will go to a town struck by the economic impact of COVID.

Tracey and her congregation never know when they will get a call or what they will be asked to do. It just happens. As such, they are constantly given clothing from donors and sorting out the best garments from the rags. They even receive toys and pet food. When their next call for help comes, Tracey and crew take the bounty given to them and help make others’ lives better.

On this particular Saturday morning, Tracey was in Atlantic City. The purpose of my Zoom call was to serve as a digital journalist and to create a video to help her church receive more clothing and money for their work. I asked Tracey the typical five questions: what, where, how, when, and why.

As I asked each question, Tracey got more exuberant and animated. She answered so fast, I sometimes couldn’t ask follow-up questions. Passion was bursting forth from this wonderful, everyday person. I sat, enthralled, not just at what she was saying, but by her energy and enthusiasm.

When I asked Tracey, “Why?” she slowed and became emotional. She said, “I give because I am blessed.” She tried hard to hide them, but I could see that tears of joy were close to the surface. Tracey’s lower lip quivered, and she composed herself, fighting back the tears of joy.

Then she explained with a far more profound statement. She said, “The people who I help always say thank you and are respectful. And they always say, ‘Bless you.’ But I feel more blessed to be able to help.”

The joy Tracey was feeling isn’t uncommon. Tom Locke, the head of a very large mission organization, told me something about this joy years earlier. Tom is a good friend who has spent his whole life giving. When he asked others why they gave, he often witnessed tears of joy. I have thought about this phenomenon many times since Tom mentioned these experiences, and I’ve quizzed many other servant leaders about why these tears of joy happen.

Recently, I read 2nd Corinthians [9:11] and finally connected the dots. The verse says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

The statement, “Your generosity results in thanksgiving to God,” can’t be explained through human logic; rather, it is demonstrated through our faith. God is always compelling us to give—essentially assigning us a responsibility to serve. When we answer this profound request from God, we feel blessed. Then we give thanks to God, whether consciously or subconsciously. We know we have been touched by God and, in turn, experience joy. This joy is unique because it is from God.

In the past, I tried to understand this phenomenon through human logic and had always been unsuccessful though I’d seen it many times and knew it exists. In my counseling business, I always tell people that they will feel better when they give. Some don’t understand this statement at first, but when they take my advice, they, too, are filled with joy. God blesses us when we give. Or, as Tracey put it, “I feel more blessed when I give.”

This concept might sound illogical, but that is the point. It isn’t logical until our faith makes it so. Trust that when we demonstrate generosity, God is involved, and know that when we serve and give to others, it is far better than receiving.

In our moments of service to others, we are blessed with joy.