Diet, Exercise, and Rest
Diet, exercise, and rest; those words are becoming a part of my vocabulary now more than they have ever been. As we have experienced the first month of a new year, many people have become focused on those three areas with a renewed vigor. The enjoyment of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons is still present and makes itself known in ways that we often wish it didn’t. Therefore, we are forced to begin to take steps, hundreds of them every day, that we probably should have been taking all along.
Even a visit to our friendly neighborhood medical caregiver results in pretty much the same directives. We are told to “eat better, exercise more, and get adequate rest.” The benefits of following this prescription will show up in a number of different ways. From losing weight, to controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, to aiding in proper cardiac health, to encouraging good sleep habits, to assisting in mental health the list truly does go on and on when we begin to adjust our lives according to the words “eat better, exercise more, and get adequate rest.”
Without fail this is the advice that we hear every year from various sources. Therefore, as I pastor, I don’t want to do any differently. I want to encourage you to think about those same three words; but perhaps in a manner that you have not thought of them. What we eat spiritually is of vital importance. I am convinced today more than ever that for far too long we have existed on only milk instead of the meat of The Word. As a result, we are spiritually anemic and weak; again, in ways that we often do not see.
We must all begin to change our eating habits so that we can grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps there are habits or cravings that are affecting us in a negative way spiritually. Maybe we “consume” some items that we believe are harmless while in fact they are dramatically stunting our growth. Furthermore, it could very well be that many of us have eaten “spiritual fast-food” for far too long that we don’t know what we are missing from sitting down to taste and see that the Lord is good. God promises to satisfy our mouths with good things as we come to His table of grace. He gives us nourishment that will strengthen us and equip us for both the labor and the battles that lay ahead.
But in addition to eating healthy spiritually, we must also learn to exercise spiritually. As simply as I know how to state it, we must walk with the Lord daily. I am continually amazed at the times in The Word of God where It talks about those that walked with the Lord. On numerous occasions we find it either expressly mentioned or at the very least strongly implied that the individual in question has learned, or is learning, the tremendous benefit of walking with the Lord. Only after we have learned to walk properly can we begin to run the race in the manner that God wants us to run. Yet, all of the spiritual calisthenics that we do must start with deep knee bends. We must reactivate our prayer life; for it is the lifeline for every believer in all that they do.
Finally, we all must learn to rest in the Lord. As I write these words to you, I acknowledge that I need help in each of these areas, but perhaps in this one most of all. After we have done whatever it is that God has led us to do, we must commit the results into His hands. We must see that He has called us to plant and water the seed, but He is the One that gives the increase. And while there are most certainly actions for us to be doing, we must leave the outcome to Him. I am learning more and more the importance of doing this very thing. In what will be a thought for yet another day, I find that after extensive ministry output that Elijah, being wearied physically, emotionally, and spiritually was instructed by the Lord to eat and rest. Only afterward was he empowered to continue in his calling effectively.
It is truly my prayer that we all take to heart what we should do concerning our spiritual diet, exercise, and rest. God wants not only for His house to be filled, but for it to also operate with healthy workers for the harvest. May He grant to us the ability to eat, exercise, and rest in a way that gives glory to Him.
“YE HAVE NOT PASSED THIS WAYHERETOFORE” – Joshua 3:4
In Joshua 3, as Joshua and the people of Israel stood on the brink of Jordan, they faced a new beginning. The generation of their fore-fathers who had died in the wilderness because of disobedience was now gone. God had taken Moses to the top of Mt. Nebo, allowing him to look over into the Promised Land. Yet because of his disobedience on a matter earlier, he does not get to go in either. God conducts a private funeral service for Moses and buries him on the mountain. Now, the new leader for the nation, Joshua, stands ready to lead the nation of Israel into the Promised Land.
He challenges his countrymen to do as he had stated forty years earlier. He challenges them to go in and possess the land. Joshua prophetically explains that God will indeed perform many great and wonderful miracles for the people. Even the words, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore,” are meant to encourage the hearts of his countrymen so that they might boldly step out in faith and into the new territory. There will be vast uncharted waters ahead. There will be many new and unexplored paths to walk. There will be risks to be faced and challenges to be confronted in the new land.
As a church, we stand at the starting line of a new race as it would be. In doing such we hear a call from the Lord to serve Him in a New Year. He has issued the call time and again, but here it is once more and we have the opportunity to serve Him like never before. Think of it this way, we can enter into a New Year, “forgetting those things which are behind and press forward for the high calling of God;” the high calling of facing the future with faith instead of fear. In 2020, we will most certainly have many opportunities to serve the Lord. And these opportunities should center upon our service in His Church.
In 2020, there will be times to simply say, “Wherever the Lord can best use me, that’s where I want to be!” Not necessarily where the burden is the lightest, or where the task is the easiest, or where the struggle is the least. Nor even the place or the position that is the most prominent; but wherever the Lord can best use me.
Unfortunately, the new year may bring some intense sorrows and heavy losses to some of us. We may be called upon to walk through some very dark, very painful valleys. We may experience times of feeling as if the deep waters through which we are going are about to drown us. But God never leads us into deep waters to drown us; He does such to cleanse us. And even when we feel as if we are all alone in some satanic snare, we must remember that He will never leave us, nor forsake us.
And because of that we need to also realize that this could be the year that Christ returns. The signs of the times are very clear. The world in which we live in is becoming more and more wicked and ungodly with each passing day. Yet our hope should be the same that Paul wrote of, Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; - Titus 2:13 We should live daily with the understanding that He could come back today!
What will this year mean to you? We each have a clean slate. No one else can write our life story for the New Year upon it. The pen of life is in our own hand. We can soil it, mar it, and waste it. Or, we can write a story that will be pleasing to both God and ourselves. This truly is the day, the year that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
“My, how you’ve changed!”
“Why, you haven’t changed a bit.” Recently I heard those words spoken to both me and my wife as we saw a group of people where I once pastored. Several years had passed since we last were together for any type of church service. Certainly, changes had occurred with our children, and with theirs. One of Jonathan’s friends in that church was also now in college. Although I think he had lost his razor. Some of the older members had grown a little grayer, some had less hair, and sadly, some were no longer here. As we talked and laughed with those we hadn’t seen in quite some time the phrase continue to roll around in my mind –“You haven’t changed a bit.”
It began me thinking about all that is implied with such a statement. And while I truly believe that it was, and is, meant as a complaint most of the time; it can also speak to places where we haven’t changed for the better. Usually when someone utters those words they are remarking that we haven’t gained weight or haven’t lost it either, perhaps we still have the same hairstyle or wardrobe, maybe it is our sense of humor or the words and phrases that we repeatedly use. Either way, it is meant to convey that we are exactly the way that they remembered us.
There is something to be said about consistency in a person’s life. It is comforting to know that year after year an individual is as steady as a rock. They are not prone to changing who and what they are simply because the pages of the calendar have been turned. Even the normal changes that affect families over time do not cause them to be driven to wild flights of fancy. The highs are not so high, nor the lows too low, that they alter the personality or purpose of the person we know. They still have the same convictions, the same positions, the same preferences in areas that are important to them. Their having not changed is a calming presence that is truly appreciated.
But what of the other side of that spectrum? What of those times and places where an individual would look at us and say, “You haven’t changed a bit.” and in uttering those words to us it is a criticism or a rebuke? We have all met people that needed to allow time and life to change them. Whether it is that they heed the words about putting away childish things when they become an adult or letting the Lord, through the person and power of the Holy Spirit change them from what they were into what they should be; the lesson is clear, changes often do need to occur. And as easy as it is to look at someone else and see the places where we believe they should change; it becomes increasingly more difficult to look into the mirror and acknowledge that real adjustments must be made in our lives.
The Word of God has much to say about changes that should be taking place within us. When we come to Christ and trust Him as our Savior there are tremendous changes that occur. Our eternal destiny is changed. We are now headed for Heaven instead of Hell. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts and begins the process of an extreme makeover project from the inside out. And while there may not be an immediate transformation to our exterior, in time changes become evident there as well. Frowns are replaced with smiles. Dark and disillusioned eyes have a brightness to them. And there is a joy in the words that are spoken.
I have come to believe that in all of us there are places where we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us before He will ever be able to work through us. We must let Him change our appetites, our affections, and our attitudes so that others will be able to take notice that we have been with Jesus. II Corinthians 5:17 reminds us, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new ” Let us all commit to the task of changing what needs to be changed so that the rest of the world can be changed as well.
Praying for the Lord’s Rain (Reign)
I Kings 17 we are introduced to a mighty man of God named Elijah. He arrives on the scene and announces to Ahab that Israel will experience a great drought. For the next three years, there will not be rain or dew in the land except by his word. This will happen as a result of the sin and rebellion of the people. They have refused to serve God and have chosen instead to worship false gods and brazen images.
In due time the drought comes upon the land. It is a period unlike any that Israel has ever experienced. Animals are suffering, crops have withered away, and the people are miserable. I am sure that during those years’ children would hear their parents talk about how long it had been since it had rained. Perhaps some children looked at their parents and asked, “Mommy, what is rain? Daddy, what is rain?” Maybe they would say, “I have never seen it rain. I sure would like to watch it rain someday”.
In the same context, we see a glaring picture; a sharp contrast between what Israel is experiencing and the shape and state of the church of today. In the world in which you and I live there are churches and Christian organizations on almost every street corner and in almost every town of America. Bibles are more readily available now than they have ever been in the history of humanity. The television and radio airwaves broadcast Christian programming to millions of people around the world every single day. And yet, we are in the midst of a spiritual drought. It is a drought that has been brought on by our cold, careless, and complacent approach to our relationship with the Lord.
In I Kings 18 we learn that rain is a symbol of Revival; a symbol of refreshing coming upon a dry and thirsty land. There are other passages of Scripture that bear this out as well. Psalm 42:1 states, As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. And in Psalm 63:1-2 we read, O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
To say that we are in need of Revival would be a monumental understatement. It has been years since this nation has seen a true moving of the Spirit of God in a way that can genuinely be called Revival. We have studied about it, we have talked about it, but we have not experienced it in such a long time. Even the teens and young adults are now asking us, “What is real Revival?” Sadly, we try to tell them about Revival, we try to explain it to them. But we all know that Revival is not something that can be explained, it is something that must be experienced.
I sat recently and watched as the rain fell at the parsonage. It was almost as if you could hear the ground give off a sound of relief as the rain soaked in to the earth. In the exact same way that the ground needed refreshment, so too do we need it. We need for the rains of Revival to fall upon our land once more. We need for them to soak into our homes and our hearts and houses of worship as they once did.
Our thinking on this topic moves us to ask a question. Why are we not experiencing Revival as we once did? Why has been years since Spirit of God swept through a place and changed hearts and homes and lives? It is not because God has changed, because He has never changed. He is still the same as He was when He sent Revival years ago. He never changes! So, the answer must lie somewhere else.
I am convinced today more than ever that we have forgotten what Revival looks like. In our modern form of Christianity, we believe that Revival arrives on Monday and leaves on Friday. We believe that Revival is planned, organized, and programmed. And in our believing in that way, we have failed to Recognize true Revival.
The rain cloud that the servant finally saw that day was not large. The Bible says that the servant referred to is as “a little cloud”. Revival is much the same way. At times it is the smallest thing that sparks true Revival. It could be a sermon, a song, a prayer, or a testimony that marks the beginning of real Revival.
Will you pray with me that God will send a real, genuine, lasting, Holy Spirit led Revival to our land? Will you be the person that says, “God, I know that America needs Revival. I know that my church needs Revival. But God, I need Revival. So, will you start it with me?”
Elijah only needed a small sign to confirm within his heart that rain was on the way. His servant tells him that he sees a little cloud, like a man’s hand. Elijah then says that he hears the sound of an abundance of rain. Oh how I pray that we will see the need, pray believing, and recognize the signs as God desires to send Revival our way. Let us earnestly pray for The Lord’s Rain!
Freedom is Never Free!
Every July 4th we celebrate our Independence with parades and picnics, ballgames and backyard cookouts. Yet as we sit in comfort and safety, we must remember that it wasn’t that way in the beginning. In 1776 life was much, much different; and I am not just talking about the modern conveniences that we take for granted. I am talking about something far more important and of a greater cost.
243 years ago, our nation shook off the chains of tyranny and became a free and independent country. The Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to secure what we have today. Many words and phrases were used then, and are still used now, to describe what we have as Americans. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all-important positions for the citizens of the United States; but at the heart of all of them is the word Freedom. One of the first actions of our newly formed government was to announce a set of Freedoms that Americans could enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to petition the government. As you can see, the concept of freedom is multifaceted and is all encompassing.
In Romans 6 the Apostle Paul writes extensively about the Freedom that can be enjoyed by those who place their trust in Christ. These are concepts that were woven into the fabric of the American experience as well. As one looks at the founding of our nation you cannot help but be impressed with the intelligence and fortitude of men such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as they wrote the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. As citizens of this nation we owe a great debt to the men who authored such hopeful and enriching words. These were concepts that were, and are, intended to left men up from poverty, to remove them from the yoke of tyranny, and to give them a promise of prosperity in a land of opportunity.
But as wonderful and as exciting as those words are that were penned by Jefferson and Madison that have led to freedom as Americans, Paul speaks extensively about the true Author of real Freedom. In Romans 6:17 he acknowledges that God is the One that should be thanked for the true Freedom that we have in Christ. God is the One that makes real Freedom possible. He is the One that has forgiven us of our sins, adopted us into His family, and raised us up to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Furthermore, we learn that we are not to yield our members, our flesh, to live unclean, impure, sinful lives. We are to live and walk in righteousness and after the new man, which has been made Free because of our relationship with Christ. And while there are many today that believe that as a Christian, I can live my life however I choose because of the liberty that I now enjoy; the reality of the situation is that liberty is never a license to live in sin!
Along with those truths is the knowledge is that there will always be enemies to Freedom. Whether we speak of it in terms of national or international Freedom, or of personal Freedoms. Yet what these enemies have in common is that they seek to enslave us by forging chains that bind us. And that is exactly what sin does in the life of the believer. It is a chain that Satan uses to continue to keep us in his prison of defeat and ineffectiveness. Yet we are more than conquerors through Christ which lives in us. We must always remember that while sin is present in the world and while it will always attack the life and testimony of the Christian; greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.
From the founding of our nation Americans have been committed to seeing others enjoy the fruits of Freedom that we have. We have been a driving force in making peace and liberty possible for Freedom loving people everywhere. And the same should ring true in the life of the Christian. The way we advance Freedom as a believer in Jesus is to live a holy and a godly life before others. Godly living may not appear to be popular today, but it has never gone out of style in the eyes of God.
According to The Word of God, the foundation of freedom is truth; for the only way to experience real freedom is to know the truth! And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. – John 8:32. So here is some truth to consider. God loves you with an everlasting love. He sent His Son to die in your place. And He invites all that will come by way of the Cross of Christ to have their sins forgiven and to enjoy eternity in Heaven. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. – John 8:36
Oh, how thankful I am for the Freedoms that we have today. But the greatest Freedom that anyone can, or will ever enjoy, is the Freedom found in Christ as He sets us Free from the power of sin and sets us on a path of service in His kingdom.
“No Thanks. I’ll Do It Myself”
There are many things in life that give joy as a parent. Watching your children grow and mature, moving from childhood to young adulthood is both exhilarating and excruciating. Yet whether it is when they are very young or even when they are older there is one phrase that is equally freeing and frightening. It is, “No thanks, I’ll do it myself.”
On one hand we are excited when our child decides to take those first few steps into a region unknown to them and to venture out on their own. While at the same time we hold our breath wondering whether they will make it or not. Will they get hurt? Will they succeed? Will they survive? Will I? My oldest son was not even three when I heard him say, “I do it myself Daddy!” It wasn’t anything major that he was attempting, but still it signaled a change. And with the years those choices and decisions and directions of doing things on his own grow just as he does.
But then another chapter begins to unfold. It is also one that brings its own set of emotions. It is when our children, growing or grown, look back at us and say, “Can you help me here? I can’t do this by myself?” It is in those moments that even the parent/teacher learns yet another lesson. Our children still need us. In the early morning hours, on the sunny afternoons, during the stormy nights and when there is no one else around, children still need help. Often they need someone to step in and give affirmation and assurance. Occasionally they need a push in the right direction or a pull back from the precipice. But constantly and consistently and compassionately they need help.
The saddest of all situations however is when the child, or the parent, doesn’t ask for or offer assistance when it is so desperately needed. When the infant, the teen, or the adult runs head long into the darkness and the danger that could have simply been avoided had they sought counsel or listened correctly. The ocean floor of life is strewn with countless shipwrecked souls who defiantly shouted, “I’ll do it myself!”
This is the tragedy from which God is attempting to spare us. In James 4:13-17 the human penman speaks with unashamed boldness about the destruction that awaits those choose to act in self-sufficiency and leave God out of the equation of their life. While few people would openly admit it, humanity, and even a great many Christians, has become rather adept at compartmentalizing God. We will “allow” Him to be in control of religious affairs and international conflicts, but as far as the day to day matters are concerned, we’ve got those well in hand. We may open the door of our heart to Him, but we’ll take care of our relationships, our finances, and our mundane daily grind. Perhaps this explains why we are in the mess we are in today. We have, for far too long, operated in a delusion of self-sufficiency.
Man is ever so frail, so feeble, and so fallible. We are subject to a multitude of maladies that can affect us in an instant. From accidents and attacks, from disease to death, we exist in a world where everything can change in the blink of an eye. Yet despite all of our uncertainty and potential calamity, we stroll through life believing that we are the masters of our own destiny, the directors of our own drama.
Yet the Scriptures repeatedly remind us that such a belief is folly. Worse than folly, it is not self-sufficiency; it is self-annihilation. Oh, for a true and genuine return to the place where we echo the words of Scripture and song that lovingly remind us,
“I need Thee every hour. Most gracious Lord. No tender voice like Thine can peace afford. I need Thee every hour. Stay Thou nearby. Temptations lose their power, when Thou art nigh. I need Thee oh I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. Oh, bless me now my Savior, I come to Thee.”
Just Another Day?
In just a few short days Christians from all over the world will be celebrating the day that sets our belief apart from all others. In cities and towns, in villages and small communities from literally all over the world, believers will gather together for Easter. It is a day unlike any other; for no other religion marks an event in the way that we do this one.
In fairness, many religions remember the birthdate of their founder. The followers of such systems may meet for the purpose of recalling a time or place when they began to worship. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and multitudes more may spend time focusing even on the death of those individuals that were instrumental in starting their specific belief system. But Christianity is decidedly different.
Every Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Baby in Bethlehem. Our homes and hearts are warmed by the glow of candles and lights on a tree, that cause us to remember the star that appeared in the sky, guiding the wise men. Scenes of shepherds and angels are visible during the Christmas season. Even the giving and receiving of gifts reminds us of The Greatest Gift that was ever given. But it is not just Christmas that makes Christianity unique.
The longer I live and the more that I watch the world spin out of control, the more I am drawn to the indisputable truth of the Resurrection. As believers, we must never forget the foundational and fundamental difference between Christianity and all other beliefs. Ours in the only one that not only remembers the birth of our Founder, His ministry and teachings, and even His death; but most importantly we remember that He, Jesus, came back from the dead after having given His life for the sins of the world.
In shouts of victory that echo across the centuries, we proclaim that Jesus is alive! He conquered death, hell, and the grave to give us a new life in Him. As a result, Christianity is not an organization; it is a living organism! The life that we have because of Christ should be evident to a world that is still dead “in trespasses and sins.” And it is a life that should continue growing. As we grow in Christ, and as His influence grows in the world, more can experience the truth of the Resurrection in their own life.
Easter is about far more than just the arrival of spring. It is about the Resurrection of our King! Wondrously, God gives all of creation a powerful reminder of the Resurrection every spring. As life begins to return to a landscape that has been dead throughout winter, it should reawaken us to the glorious news that “life is worth the living just because He lives!” It is my prayer that every Easter, every Sunday, and every day for that matter, would invigorate our hearts with joy. Jesus is alive! Why not share it with someone today? Not only is it news too good to keep to ourselves, it is too good to share only once a year!
Jesus – The Champion of Love
The word “Champion” has the following definition: 1. A person who has defeated all opponents in a competition, so as to hold first place. 2. A person who fights for or defends any person or cause. 3. A fighter or warrior.
In our world we speak often of champions. We have World Series Champions, NCAA Champions, and Heavy Weight Champions. We have political champions who win a hard-fought contest to become governor, senator, or president. We have military champions who conquer or liberate a country or group of people. In every incident, a champion is someone who fought, battled, struggled, or was engaged in some type of conflict in order to be “crowned” as “The Champion.”
But when we look at Jesus we learn that He was crowned twice in becoming The Champion of Love. He was first “crowned” with thorns by an angry mob that was filled with cruelty and hatred for One who had done nothing but love them, teach them, and heal them. He, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He willingly came and died in our place so that we could spend eternity in Heaven. No one has ever loved us the way that Jesus has and does. And no one ever will!
When we speak of Him having been engaged in a struggle or a conflict, we must understand that a battle was raging for the souls of humanity. If Jesus were defeated in His quest. then men and women, boys and girls would forever be lost in their sins with no hope of making Heaven their home. If Jesus were not victorious there would be no salvation, no peace, and no comfort. If Jesus did not win the ultimate battle, Satan would continue to march throughout the world, enslaving humanity for time and for eternity.
But Jesus did win! He conquered! He became The Champion of Love and no one will ever take that title from Him! Listen at the way the Apostle Peter describes Jesus’ position only a few short weeks after the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. – Acts 2:22-24
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. – Acts 2:36
I am sure that many of Jesus’ followers thought that they had seen and heard from Him the last time when He bowed His head and died on Calvary. In their hearts they believed that there was no victory that could come from such a place. The fog of fear and doubt had set in; and in their minds Jesus had been defeated.
On June 18, 1815 British General Arthur Wellington faced Napoleon in the decisive battle of Waterloo, which would determine the future of England. To communicate the outcome of the battle, some of the towns from Belgium devised a system of communication by flashing lights from one church tower to another across the country until it was to go across the English Channel. When the battle was over, England had indeed proved victorious, and the joyous message was sent: “Wellington defeated Napoleon.”
But as the message was received and sent by each church, the fog began to rise. By the time the message was to go to Britain, the fog blocked the final part of the message so that it only read “Wellington defeated,” leaving people with the erroneous belief that England was doomed. For hours, the nation feared the battle was lost and any hope for the future was gone - until the fog lifted and they had the complete message: “Wellington Defeated Napoleon.”
On the day Christ was crucified, the early Christians were like those in England believing an erroneous message: “Jesus Defeated.” But when the fog lifted on Sunday morning, they saw the complete message: “Jesus Defeated Death.”
It has been said that a person does not make Jesus Lord; He is that already. What you do is make Him Lord of your life when you accept Him as your Savior and as your only way to go to Heaven. We do not make Jesus The Champion of Love; He is that already. But you must make Him the Champion of your heart if you want to make Heaven your home. The kingly crown was already Jesus’ long before He came to earth. He was, is, and always will be the King of kings and Lord of lords. But He laid aside that crown and chose to wear this one so that you and I could come into His family.
As we think again of what a Champion is: 1. A person who has defeated all opponents in a competition, so as to hold first place. 2. A person who fights for or defends any person or cause. 3. A fighter or warrior. Know that Jesus is all of this and so much more. He wants to be The Champion of your heart. Will you crown Him as such today?
I recently read an article entitled “The Unspoken Promises of Leadership” where the author spoke of the difficulties and the pitfalls that inevitably come whenever one attempts to lead others; but especially in a church setting. In the piece, it was stated that the three “Unspoken Promises of Leadership” are:
1. If you follow me, I will make your life better. 2. If you follow me, I will care about you. 3. If you follow me, I will take you where you cannot go on your own.
Every pastor, every leader of any size group, needs to recognize and understand that in one way or another this is what the people who look to you are expecting from you. Yet if you do not meet your contractual end of the agreement they are likely to be hurt and/or leave. As I am often prone to say, “These are the sorts of things they did not teach you in Bible College.” Rarely did we ever discuss the real interpersonal dynamics of truly dealing with people where they are and how leaders are to cope with that fact.
But for that matter, rarely do we do that today in any setting. In my years of serving as a pastor I have seen my share of people becoming offended and leaving a ministry because of a perceived wrong that was done to them or a member of their family. Sometimes it was my fault, an error that I made, a place where I should have been more sensitive and more compassionate. But on other occasions it was simply that the person was looking for a reason to leave and seek the fulfillment of these unspoken promises somewhere else.
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the cold hard truth is that sooner or later everyone gets disappointed somewhere. At some time or another everyone will break a promise, will fail to do something we expected them to do (whether they realized that they were to do it or not), or will not live up our expectations of who or what we needed them to be. When that happens we have a myriad of choices and emotions with which to deal. We can become angry and bitter and believe that it was totally the other person’s fault; or we can attempt to come to grips with it in our own lives and realize that the same has been true of us at some time.
No one likes to be told that they have failed. There is never a time when we enjoy hearing criticism concerning our leadership or our relationships. But hopefully, prayerfully, there will come a time when we are willing to listen and learn and then take the steps necessary to make real positive changes in our lives. Let us remember that as leaders, people are looking to us to do the right thing. And everyone is a leader somewhere. It could be at work, at school, at church, or at home; but leadership is present in various forms and in a multitude of places.
What type of leader do you want to be? Do you want to be known as the type that leads by intimidation; thinking that you never make a mistake or are never to be questioned about any decision that you have made and why you have made it? Or do you want to be open and honest and genuine enough to say, “I am human. I make mistakes. I do not always get it right. But with your prayers and with God’s help, I’ll do better next time.” I am convinced that one of the great needs in regards to leadership today is transparency to the point that we are willing to let people see that we are just like they are. We have our own sets of problems, and fears, and disappointments, with which we deal.
Promises are often broken. Hearts are damaged and feelings are hurt on a daily basis. But it doesn’t have to keep going like this where we are concerned. We can commit to being better leaders and better friends to those that need friends and leaders. After all, we need them too.
Often, we feel as if time is almost standing still. The events and circumstances that are important to us seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. It could be the arrival of a child, the prospect of a new job, or even the coming of Christmas. For children especially, Christmas seems as if it will never get here. The days and weeks seem to drag on and on. Mom and Dad have taken care of the tree, gifts have been purchased and packages have been wrapped, the hours seem like days, and still Christmas is not here!
But then, after many weeks or even months of waiting, Christmas Day comes. It has finally happened! The day that you have been waiting for since December 26 of last year is here! The morning is filled with tons of excitement and activity. Bows and boxes now cover the living room floor as presents have been torn into by eager recipients. Gifts are exchanged and a happiness that should have been present all year long fills the heart.
I have often wondered what it must have been like for those individuals who lived in the years prior to the birth of Christ; especially after the Old Testament was completed. For four hundred years there is no word from Heaven. Perhaps some began to wonder if the prophesies that had been given were ever going to come to pass.
But when the fullness of time had come, there begins to be a whirlwind of activity. Angels start appearing to the inhabitants of the earth, announcing to them that something wonderful was about to take place. A woman named Elizabeth hears that she will give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah. Zacharias, Elizabeth’s husband, is even told what to name the child.
And then a carpenter from Nazareth and his fiancée are visited by angels. It was to Mary that the news first came. She is told that she had found favor with God and was going to give birth to the Messiah. But this news was troubling to her. She was a virgin. How could she be with child? Joseph, her espoused husband, was also visited by an angel. He too is confused, but is instructed to take Mary as his wife for she is with child of the Holy Ghost.
What times these must have been for these people. Aside from the appearance from the angels and the miraculous news that each was told, there is something else that these individuals have in common. Upon the arrival of the angel, each person became overcome with fear. Think about this for a minute. The very people who had waited for so long for the coming of the Messiah were now gripped with extreme fear.
But to each person, there is a common response. For when they were afraid, they are told - “fear not.” Even the shepherds were fearful at first. The words “fear not” are also spoken to them, assuring them that they need not be afraid of this wonderful event that was taking place.
So often we are just like these people. We pray, we long for, and even try our best to cause something to take place; and when it does we are suddenly afraid of what the future will hold. Gripped with fear, we run frantically to and fro, searching for answers and assurance, when God has already given them to us in His Word.
God wants to take away all of the fears with which you daily wrestle. These fears may be areas where you have been struggling for years, but only God can tear down the strong holds that plague your life. If Satan can cause us to live in a continual state of fear and anxiety, he will have us living a defeated Christian life. Because a fearful Christian will not be a faith filled Christian. Whatever your situation may be, bring your fears to the only One that can give you peace.
It is my prayer that the Baby from Bethlehem will become the King of your heart. Not only for this Christmas, but for every day of the year.
Pass the Test?
I remember very clearly, graduating from college and thinking in my mind how wonderful it was going to be to never have to take another test again! In my mind I was convinced that since the exams and certifications were over, that I would never again be plagued with a test. Oh, how little did I know!
In this journey that we call faith, there are never any dull moments. From one day to the next, from one moment to the next, we will be stretched in our walk with the Lord. As I remarked recently, “If we are not being challenged, we are not being changed as we should be.” Often the challenges are in regards to our foundation and to the fundamentals of what we believe and why we believe it. Sometimes the challenges present themselves in ways that address our fellowship and our “follow-ship.” I have learned, and am continuing to learn more every day, that if we are not following the Lord as we should, we will not be in fellowship as we should with Him or with others. And still more challenges come in our lives. Yet they all affect our faith.
One of my favorite authors has stated that “A faith that cannot be tested, is a faith that cannot be trusted.” The reality of that truth rings throughout my soul again today. The reason why we can trust the Lord, and His Word, is because our faith has been put to the test time and again; and has always proven to be true. While the majority of the world is scrambling around, frantically searching for something in which to believe, we can rest assured in the reliability of a God that never fails.
And still our faith is put to the test. We may be tried concerning our family, our friends, our finances, and our future. We may suffer failures and falls that threaten to fracture our lives. We could even feel forsaken from time to time. But through it all we can, and do, trust in a Father that loves us more than we can fathom.
So how are you doing in the “School of Faith?” The length, the depth, and obviously the difficulty of the tests through which we will go will vary; but they all have the same objective. God is daily molding and making us more into the image of His Son Jesus. Oh, for the day when He will present us to Himself as a glorious church without spot or blemish.
As we progress let us never lose sight of the importance of not only a right position, but also a right disposition. In other words, attitude is as important as action; for we are graded on each. For you see, our outer behavior may appear correct, but if our hearts are not in tune to the Lord as they need be, we are still failing. Let us remember that God sees our hearts and is able to change them from what they are, into what He desires.
Yes, my fellow student, the tests may at time seem hard. They may not be announced. They may involve a group project or it could be an individual exam. But the result, oh the result, is worth it!
When Silence Is Heard
As a parent I have learned one of the greatest lessons in regards to attempting to raise children. When you can still hear voices raised in laughter, argument, and even in the worst cases crying, you are still relatively assured that all is well. It is when no sound is heard that you begin to become concerned. While silence is, on many occasions, a blessing, it can also become a curse. As convinced as I am of this truth as a caring parent, I am even more so as a Christian patriot and as a church pastor.
An American poet once wrote, “To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.” Those words were penned more than one hundred years ago, yet they are as relevant and as important today as ever. As one looks around at the shape and state of our world, our nation, our churches, and our families, it is painfully apparent that on a great many issues we have been silent for far too long. Voices that should have spoken out in either opposition of wrong or in support of right have been quiet.
This travesty is taking place in various arenas. Politically, academically, and vocationally, the fear of how we will be received or perceived is keeping a Christian position unheard and therefore unheeded. It has carefully crept into our homes and our hearts; and is affecting how we act and react in this present world. Yet silence has rarely, if ever, accomplished anything of lasting substance. Both history and conscience teaches us that when we see wrong being done or perpetuated that we have an obligation to speak out against it. As believers we can look to heroes of our faith that did such and their example encourages us to do the same.
Moses’ parents saw the oppression of their people by the Egyptians and chose to hide Moses instead of seeing him put to death as an infant. Daniel dared to defy a royal decree to stand for what he knew what right. Esther risked her life to intercede for the Jews as Haman plotted their destruction. Truly the list goes on and on as people of faith in every generation have faced dire straits; yet they have chosen to follow divine direction.
Should we do any less? Should believers in the 21stcentury succumb to the path of least resistance simply because it is more comfortable and more socially acceptable? Or should we be as men and women of old and stand firm and strong on what we know is right? We are compelled in Scripture to “go, stand, and speak” even if, and most certainly when, we know that there will be consequences to those actions. The Word of God is also careful to tell us that there is a time to every purpose under Heaven. Therefore it would stand to reason that there is a time to speak and there is a time to be silent. It is the wise person that knows not only the difference between the two, but also the manner in which to exercise the difference.
It is my continued prayer that we as Bible believing Christians would reclaim the boldness of our ancestors and let our voices again be lifted in a mighty chorus. As silence is broken, let it begin by speaking to our Father in Heaven about the actions that break His heart more than then break ours. Let us offer words of praise and thanksgiving for His abundant mercies and blessings upon our lives. Let us render words of repentance for our failure to acknowledge His goodness, His guidance, and His grace. And then let us vow to be silent no longer.
Yes, sometimes silence is golden. But at other times it is just yellow.
On Our Terms
Am I the only one that finds it interesting, almost amusing, the way people act toward certain events? Take the weather for example. I know many people who love watching it snow. They state to their friends and their family that they just love the beauty of a winters’ morning with the lovely blanket of white covering everything in sight. They even claim that they would love for it to “snow a foot.” But then, it snows and often they are the first ones to begin complaining.
What they said they wanted has now become an inconvenience to them. It is too cold. It is too messy. It is too . . . you fill in the blank. Many people want it to snow a foot one day and then be back to 75 degrees the next with no down time in between. They want winter weather on their terms. But, as we all know, it just doesn’t work that way. If we want the beauty of the snow, we have to take the mess of the mud.
Leaving the weather, what about our Christian lives? I have found the same type of scenario that I just described to be true in regards to our walk with Christ. We talk about wanting His presence to be real in our lives. We tell others we want Him in control of our family, our finances, and our future. We even sing and pray at church in such a manner that would almost convince others that we truly long for spiritual renewal.
But then when it comes time to genuinely take the steps to see it take place, we freeze. “Can’t we just talk about how spiritual we want to be? Isn’t that enough?” The problem, as I see it, is that we have once again tried to have Christianity “On Our Terms.” We want enough of Him to get us to Heaven, but we will take care of ourselves until then. Or so it appears by our actions and activities.
And yet, let there be a crisis; a difficulty, a disease, or a death come our way that we aren’t able to handle on our own and then we seem to want God to miraculously and marvelously swoop in and make it all better. But our walk with Christ should never be “On Our Terms.” He is the Leader; we are to be the follower. He is the Teacher; we are to be the student. He is the God-man in need of nothing; we are the godless in need of everything.
It isn’t as if His terms are complicated. His terms are really very simple. We are to trust Him for everything and acknowledge Him in all that we do. The reality of the Christian life is that it is all about Him. May God give us the strength to reject our approach and willingly embrace His. Let’s stop doing things “On Our Terms.”
The Light Show
Not many days ago I sat on the front porch of the parsonage and enjoyed one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. It was a Friday night and the forecast for severe storms had already been given. That night there were warnings for flash floods and possible tornado activity in East Tennessee. And while there is always concern for safety and for the destruction that often occurs, I saw something that night that has left me awe struck.
As the storm arrived the night sky became a canvas for God’s Light Show. Streaks of lightning would dart across the horizon; first on one side and then on the other. Sometimes it would appear that these flashes were touching the ground in the distance, but more times than not they were confined to the air above. For several minutes that night I watch in amazement as the darkness was illuminated in a powerful display of God’s handiwork.
As one might imagine, following every spark of lightning there was an audible sound. It began many miles away, rather soft at first. But as the Light Show continued the sound department soon became more and more involved. From time to time the thunder would roll as if it were nothing but a secondary player in the drama. At other times it was as if the thunder and the lightning were competing with one another for the attention of the midnight audience. The visual seemed to always be answered by the auditory.
The beauty and majesty, the power and the fury of the storm that I watched that night got me to
thinking. God has always used such events as signs and warnings and displays of His strength. He has spoken through storms and wind and even still small voices. But what was impressed upon me that night was how the light would dance across the darkened sky and then I would hear the thunder; low and unassuming at times, loud and dramatic at others. This is the way God has always worked. He shines the light of the Gospel into the hearts and lives of sin darkened men and women. He causes flashes of grace and mercy to illuminate our intellect and confront our will. And then, when He has demonstrated His power He listens for our response.
On numerous occasions throughout the Scriptures we read of a vast contrast between light and darkness. Whether at creation, or in regards to our sin, the truth is clearly seen; God is Light and man is in darkness without Him. Were it not for God intersecting humanity with salvation, we would have been confined and condemned to spend eternity in darkness. But as the Apostle Peter has stated, God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Now being no more in darkness we should walk in the light of Christ.
As I continued watching it dawned on me how that we should be like the thunder that I heard that night. When the lightning speaks, we should answer. When God brightens up the bleakness of our lives, we should respond. May the light show be followed by sound as we “sound forth the praises” of the One that is, and that always will be, The Light.
I recently witnessed something that made my heart swell with joy. Not long ago I was having supper in a local restaurant when I saw the most wonderful experience take place. At booths on either side of me, there were two sets of young ladies eating their meals with one another. All four of them appeared to be in their early twenties. They were laughing and talking as they enjoyed their chicken sandwiches, waffle fries and lemonades. But what made my day was what was also sitting on the table that evening. For among the physical nourishment was spiritual food; as they each had a Bible in front of them.
I listened carefully for several minutes as they talked with one another about sin, salvation, and the Savior. And I must hand it to them; they didn’t pull any punches or dance around the issues. They were as pointed and as practical as any sermon I have heard on those matters that they were discussing. I sat as long as I could before I spoke to each table respectively. I explained that I loved seeing what was happening as real one-on-one discipleship was taking place. They all smiled and thanked me for the encouragement.
But the truth being known, they were the ones that had encouraged me. So often we are prone to seeing only what is sinful and wicked and ungodly around us. Do not get me wrong, there is certainly more than enough of that going on in our world. But not every “twenty-something” is following the call of the wild. Not every teen, or college student, or young couple is only interested in this life and what they can get out of it. We must always remember that in every age, on every continent, among every people group, there are men and women, and boys and girls that are striving to serve the Savior every day!
As I look back on the event, I find myself also thankful for the freedom that these young ladies had to do what they were doing. Thankfully no one was protesting them sharing their faith as they ate their food. Happily there were no prohibitions from the eating establishment telling them that they could not discuss Christ and a relationship with Him. That night I was proud to be both a Christian and an American. And I believe that this type of occurrence is what was in the hearts and minds of the Founding Fathers when they purposed to give us a nation “conceived in liberty” where everyone could “worship their Creator according to the dictates of their own hearts.”
During the month of July, as we celebrate America’s Independence, let us rejoice in the freedom we have in Christ and the freedom we have as citizens of this nation. Let us remember, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
School is out, the sun is shining, and the mercury is going up. It must be summertime in Loudon County. There always seems to be something going on in our lives during the weeks off from school. Vacations, cookouts, family reunions, are just some of the events that are scheduled. And it is no different at church, as the next few weeks are certainly going to be very busy.
June will be jam-packed, as we will find ourselves involved in some wonderful activities. Our Vacation Bible School is scheduled for June 10-14 from 6:00-8:30 each evening. There will be many children that will attend VBS, and as always we pray that the Lord will speak to their hearts. Only eternity will tell the impact that will be made during these days of teaching. Please pray that the Lord will equip the teachers and that this year’s VBS will see seeds sown that will lead to salvation. No greater joy could come than in seeing a child who has never heard the Gospel come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There are also other exciting events scheduled during this month. The Men’s Prayer Breakfast will be on Saturday, June 16 at 8am; and the teens and young adults will continue to have regular “Party at the Pastors” events throughout the summer. As you can see, June is going to be one busy month. But however busy it may be, we must all remember to keep our focus on the Savior. He is the One that enables us to serve Him; and I pray that we all serve with honor and distinction. No matter how hectic the calendar may get, we must always keep Christ, His Word, and His will for our lives as the center of who we are and what we do.
My prayer is that the Lord will continue to speak to our hearts and keep moving us forward in a positive direction. I firmly believe that we are living in days that are both perilous and exciting as the events that are unfolding around us let us know that Christ is coming soon. With that in mind we should be more diligent, more devoted, and more determined than ever. I for one am encouraged by what I believe will be a turning point in the direction of the ministries of Calvary Baptist Church. Thanks again for your prayers and support for my family and me. I look forward to what God does in and through us in the days that lay ahead. May God continue to bless you and your family.
National Day of Prayer
Thursday, May 3, is a special day in our nation. It is a day when Americans all over this great land will gather together to pray for our country. We will pray for various people and organizations; asking that God would guide, protect, and bless each of them in accordance with His will. Let us be reminded that it honors God when His people lift up their voices in prayer to Him.
Our Founding Fathers had strong and firm convictions concerning prayer. They believed that it was God Himself who had allowed them to start out on this journey of establishing a nation that would be built on the basis of freedom and on the foundation of The Word of God. But America has come a long way since George Washington said, “it is impossible to rightly govern a people without God and the Bible.” Our country certainly needs our prayers for it today. To that end, I believe that we should pray three specific prayers.
We should pray is a prayer of thankfulness. We have truly been blessed in this great land of ours. America is the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth. We have come a long way from immigrants with nothing but the clothes on our backs and we have carved out of the wilderness this great nation of ours. We have freedom to peaceably gather, freedom of speech, and freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own hearts.
When we stop to realize that there are millions of people all over the world that would give all that they have just to enjoy a portion of the many blessings we receive on a daily basis, we should pray a prayer of thankfulness.
We should also pray a prayer asking for forgiveness. Proverbs 14:34 tells us that Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. – Proverbs 14:34. The shape and state of our nation, in many ways, is very sad today.
Every day 4,000 unborn children are murdered in our country through the act of abortion. Drug and alcohol abuse continue to skyrocket while we sit back and call them diseases. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults from ages 13-24. 25% of America’s children go to bed hungry every night. Yet we are often too busy or too distracted to give the time, attention, and love that our children desperately need from us.
These and countless other factors should move us to fall on our knees and pray that God would forgive such cold, careless, and compassionless actions.
We must also pray for the salvation of the lost. Those who know Christ as Savior should lift voices in prayer to the God of Heaven and ask Him to save those that are headed to hell. In praying this prayer, we must be ready to share the way to be saved. The Bible says, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. – Romans 10:9-10. Furthermore Scripture is clear to declare, For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Romans 10:13
With these thoughts in mind, will you join with me as we pray for the Lord to bring healing and unity to our land?
As I sit writing to you I am watching out my window as it snows ever so beautifully. I have been a fan of this wonderful type of weather since I was a kid. There was always something magical about it, something that captivated me with both its mystery and peacefulness. As a child however I never seemed to think about the dangers that come with wintry mixes; car accidents, fallen trees, and power outages. All I could see was the calm and serenity that it brought.
I can remember how much I looked forward to wintertime and watching it snow. There was and is just something captivating and beautiful about the majesty of falling snow. At our home there was a large hill behind our house that seemed to always be covered with the red clay that is so prevalent in North Carolina. It always looked so dirty and unsightly - until it snowed. Suddenly, in just a matter of moments, what had been so ugly was now covered with a beautiful layer of bright White snow. And the sun reflecting off of the snow was so bright it would hurt my eyes.
I have grown older, but I am still a huge fan of snow. Yes, I am still a big kid at heart, but I now look at it differently. Gazing out on the blanket of white causes me to have a much deeper appreciation for the blessings of salvation that God brings into the life of a believing sinner. In the words of Isaiah, "though our sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow."
The Psalmist David even weighs in on this precipitous discussion when he states, "wash me and I shall be whiter than snow." I am continually enraptured by the fact that a new fallen snow is a powerful visual reminder of how God turns the ugliness of our world into a dazzling and sparkling canvas; for He promises that He will do the same in our lives as well. He desires to paint a masterpiece of love and grace, mercy and tenderness on the canvas of our lives. "Let your heart, be His work of art!"
It is difficult to believe that we are already gearing up for the third month of 2018. March is soon to be upon us and with its arrival we will see the coming of spring. Even now as we look outside we see that some trees are beginning to bud and even a few flowers are starting to bloom. It is a reminder that the earth is waking out of the winter season; and that life and growth will occur once again.
But March also brings with it the possibility for some pretty severe weather. Few of us will soon forget the blizzard that hit East Tennessee and Western North Carolina in March of 1993. It is hard to believe that it was 25 years ago. Yet I remember it clearly. I was at home from college for Spring Break when it started snowing on Friday morning. While many news agencies had issued warnings for a potential “serious snow event” many people were unprepared and were without heat and power for several days.
At our house we were fortunate. We had always heated with wood; and the fireplaces and stoves were all in proper working order. However, there was one vital piece of the equation that was rather limited. We were soon going to run out of wood for the fire. It was apparent by Friday afternoon that we were in for more than just a light dusting of snow. There were only two obvious options; wait for the snow to stop and then attempt to find that wood needed to keep warm, or work while it was still snowing.
We chose the latter of the two options. I can remember how cold and tired I was when we finally finished stacking the last load of wood under the carport. By this time we had almost a foot of snow around our house and it was still coming down. But we had used our time wisely. We were now better prepared for the rest of the storm and the many more inches of snow that would accumulate. The snow continued to fall and by the time it was over we could measure thirty-six inches of snow that had fallen. But the fire inside felt so warm and we knew that we had done what was right. We had used our time wisely.
The same needs to be true of the Church in the world today. We need to use the time that God has given us, being good stewards of it. We don’t need to wait for when the storm is upon us to prepare for it. We need to make ready now. A great part of making ready and being ready is to stay in fellowship with our Lord by reading His Word and by spending time in prayer. Furthermore, we should also be in proper fellowship with one another, while at the same time making an effort to reach those who are without Christ. We can no longer afford to waste the precious time that the Lord has given us.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I want to encourage every member of Calvary Baptist Church to invite someone to come to church with them on March 25, 2018. We have set aside this day as “Family and Friend Sunday.” It is my prayer that we will see God’s House filled on that day as we get reacquainted with friends, neighbors, and family members that need the warmth and comfort of a loving, praying, giving church home. Let’s redeem the time by taking the time to tell others about Christ and the difference that He can make in their lives.
Once again, my family and I want to thank you for your kindness and compassion. Thank you for being so gracious and patient with us; and for loving on our family. We love and pray for you all. May God continue to bless you as we serve Him together.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. - I John 3:14
Almost universally, the month of February is recognized as the month of Love. Shortly after the Christmas rush is over and after the holiday sales have concluded, stores begin to stock their shelves with all sorts of Valentine items. From chocolate and flowers to heart-shaped cards and cute, red and white stuffed animals, the options of what to purchase are almost endless. And every year the prices seem to rise to an unbelievable level. There are even the extremely costly gifts for the most demanding of love struck individuals. All of this effort and attention to just say three little words. “I Love You!”
While millions of men and women, boys and girls will be making an all out attempt to express their emotions, God has already given us the ultimate example. When one thinks on the concept of love and of giving as a result of that love, one cannot overlook the cross, and the gift that God gave. John 3:16, perhaps the greatest verse in Scripture, explains to us the depth of God’s love for mankind. His love for the world did not stop in His creation of it, nor did it cease with His choice of Israel as His people; it has continued on so that the whole world can experience the benefits of His love.
But the demonstration of His love was extremely costly. He had to give His own Son in order to purchase our pardon. What a day that must have been for God as His only Son hung on a cross between Heaven and earth as the proof and payment of His love. He could not bear to watch as the sin of all of humanity was heaped upon Christ, but neither would He allow mankind to view His Son during this time either. Mere words will never do justice to what Christ did that day on Calvary as He died for our sins.
Still, God was not finished showing His love for the people He had created. Three days later, Christ was gloriously raised from the dead; again showing and proclaiming to the world that the love of the Father conquers all. John understood when he wrote those words concerning God’s love for the whole world that God sent His Son to die in our place. He further knew what it meant for us to obtain that priceless gift. It means giving up all our futile attempts to obtain salvation on our own and accepting God’s only way.
And the plan for showing His love goes on. Today that love is shown by His church loving each other and by loving the lost. We here at Calvary Baptist Church want to do both! We desire to have the world know that we have passed from death unto life by the love that we demonstrate to one another. Furthermore, we want the lost to understand that we love them and that more importantly, Christ loves them and died for them. During this “month of love” let us all demonstrate the love that God has for us by actively “showing” others that same type of love.
When Ministry becomes Misery
Of late I have been doing a great amount of reflecting on Paul’s words in Galatians 6 when he stated, “And let us not be weary in well doing:” - Galatians 6:9a. From the text it would certainly seem that there is an inherent danger of “Ministry becoming Misery.” The verse follows those that the Holy Spirit has given Paul on the topic of sowing and reaping. We often visit these when we discuss actions and consequences in our walk with Christ or our tendency to give in to the flesh. There is a strong admonition for us to hear and heed. We must be careful what we plant for one day it will come to fruition. But interestingly enough, the Holy Spirit also has Paul deal with the issue of being “weary in well doing.” This is the thought that has consumed me of late. And I’m very well aware that it can and does occur.
Let me be quick to say that I’m not there right now. I’m currently enjoying the ministry that God has been gracious in allowing me to do more than ever. I’m experiencing more joy than I have ever known in being a part of a loving, growing, praying church family. I still don’t understand why God has chosen to bless me in such a way. He has, and is, pouring out His goodness on my family in so many ways. He has given us friends and family, laughter and love, and has breathed life back into my soul in ways that I can’t describe.
But it hasn’t always been that way. I have walked through some places and tasted some pains that I wish I’d never known. There have been those times when, as the old Gospel song puts it, I was “tempted and tried and oft made to wonder.” Valley experiences seemed to last for months, sometimes years. And more times than not, I failed the tests that God put before me.
It was in those places that Ministry was Misery. I was reading, praying, studying, preaching, teaching, etc. but I was miserable. There was no real joy, no genuine lasting happiness. What’s more, there didn’t seem to be any relief. The days, weeks, and months of this type of existence continued to drag on like a brutal storm that would never end. Trust me, there were a multitude of lessons that I needed (and still need) to learn. But I had allowed the storm and the situations to turn the soil of my soul into less than productive ground.
Ever been there? Have you ever wondered when the wind would stop blowing and the waves would stop beating against your ship? I mean you are doing all the things you are supposed to do. You’re being faithful to Christ, faithful to your family, faithful to church and to your employer; but everything is still falling apart. Your motives are questioned. Your actions are scrutinized. Your words are misunderstood. Your “friends”, yes even the Christian ones, turn and walk away. You feel like giving up. “Because”, you say to yourself, “if this is how it is going to be, I don’t want it anymore!”
If you have been serving God for any period of time you have more than likely endured some of what I have just mentioned. Your ministry, whatever it may be, has become difficult. You too have become weary in well doing. You didn’t mean for it to happen. You didn’t set out for it to occur. You tried to guard as best you could. But still here you are experiencing difficulty when you should be enjoying delight in serving the Lord.
This is a good place for me to stop and explain that we all have a ministry. Whether you are a pastor, a teacher, a nurse, a Walmart associate, an engineer, a stay-at-home mom, or a retiree; we all have a ministry. Sometimes it could be to several hundred or even thousands. Sometimes it could be to those that sit at your table for supper. But whenever, wherever, and however it is, God has given you a place of service. In that place we are to serve with gladness. We are to be His ministers of grace in that place.
And we are to be singing instead of sighing as we do!
Again I’m thankful for the ways in which God works with us and in us during these times when the daily grind has us down. He doesn’t leave us comfortless. He feeds us through His living Word. He provides those rare and wonderful, true Christ-like friends that pick us up when we are down and walk with us through the valley when we are low. And He gives us the ultimate example and formula for how we are to approach Ministry.
In Hebrews 12:2 we are reminded to “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” If anyone understood “Misery in Ministry” it was Christ. Remember He was rejected by His own people, mocked by the religious, deserted and denied by His disciples, and crucified by those He came to save. Yet He knew that there was joy that would come. He knew that on the other side of agony there was overwhelming joy. And so, He endured. And so too should we. Let us never forget that the enjoyment of the mountaintop will only be made greater by the depth and length of the valley through which we had to go to get there.
So, “Press on weary pilgrim. Press on.” In my favorite book of the New Testament, Paul summed up what should be our prayer during such times, “. . . forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13b-14. This does not mean that we do not learn from the past, but we don’t have to let it define us. Neither do we let it direct us for the future.
Ministry doesn’t have to turn into misery. We can make the choice today to let God sustain us through both the good and the bad times that will most certainly come. Whether we are enjoying the years of abundance or enduring the years of lean, God is still God and He still has something for us to do for His glory. “. . . for in due season we will reap in we faint not.” – Galatians 6:9b.
Often we feel as if time is almost standing still. Events and circumstances that are important to us are moving at a snails pace. It could be the arrival of a child, the prospect of a new job, or even the coming of Christmas. For children especially, Christmas seems as if it will never get here. The days and weeks seem to drag on and on. Mom and Dad have taken care of the tree, gifts have been purchased and packages have been wrapped, the hours seem like days; but still Christmas is not here! But then, after many weeks or even months of waiting, Christmas Day comes. It has finally happened! The day that you have been waiting for since December 26 of last year is here! The morning is filled with tons of excitement and activity. Bows and boxes now cover the living room floor as presents have been torn into by eager recipients. Gifts are exchanged and a happiness that should have been present all year long fills the heart.
I have often wondered what it must have been like for those individuals who lived in the years prior to the birth of Christ; especially after the Old Testament was completed. For four hundred years there is no word from Heaven. Perhaps some began to wonder if the prophecies that had been given were ever going to come to pass. But when the fullness of time had come, there begins to be a whirlwind of angelic activity. Angels start appearing to the inhabitants of the earth, announcing to them that something wonderful was about to take place. A woman named Elizabeth hears that she will give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah. Zacharias, Elizabeth’s husband, is even told what to name the child.
Angels also visit a carpenter from Nazareth and his fiancée. It was to Mary that the news first came. She is told that she had found favor with God and was going to give birth to the Messiah. This news was troubling to her. She was a virgin. How could she be with child? Joseph, confused and concerned, is instructed to take Mary as his wife for she is with child of the Holy Ghost. What an unusual time this must have been for these people. Aside from the appearance from the angels and the miraculous news that each was told; there is something else that these individuals have in common. Upon the arrival of the angel, each person became overcome with fear. Think about this for a minute. The very people who had waited for so long for the coming of the Messiah were now gripped with extreme fear. To each person, there is a common response. For when they were afraid, they are told - “Fear Not.” Even the shepherds were fearful at first. The words “Fear Not” are also spoken to them, assuring them that they need not be afraid of this wonderful event that was taking place.
So often we are just like these people. We pray, we long for, and even try our best to cause something to take place; and when it does we are suddenly afraid of what the future will hold. Gripped with fear we run frantically to and fro searching for answers and assurance, when God has already given them to us in His Word. The New Year, and the remainder of this one for that matter, may bring with it cares and concerns, worries and woes. At times anxiety may capture our attention and consume our thoughts. But for the Child of God, for the believer in the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God, our hearts can be set at rest and be comforted with the knowledge that God is in control of it all. Nothing has ever, or will ever, escape Him. The very One that made the heart can speak peace to the heart even in the midst of a fearful storm. In 2018, and every day, Fear Not!
The air is becoming colder, the stores are stocking their shelves, and in the eyes of every little boy and girl there is a light that seems to come only at this time of the year. It is the beginning of the holiday season for us all. Soon our homes will be filled with friends and family as we spend time with those we love. Gifts will be exchanged, food will be eaten and stories will be told of how it was “way back then.” And our hearts will be moved as we hear the old, old story of that first Christmas night when Christ came to the earth.
It was the night that changed the course of the world. It was a night of shepherds and angels. It was the night when the prophecies were fulfilled and promises were made alive. It was the night that the Creator of Heaven and earth became flesh. It was the night of the birth of our Savior.
But so much has changed since that first Christmas night. Now the attention of the world is focused upon materialism instead of the manger. The accumulation of things is what seems to drive us today. Seldom do we look at Christmas through the eyes of salvation. As we gaze upon the lights that adorn houses and streets, let us recall the Light of World who died for the sins of humanity. As we look at our beautiful Christmas trees this year, let us remember the tree that God erected on a hill called Calvary. As we see gifts placed around the tree, let us never forget that God placed His gift to us on a tree.
While the attention of many people is directed to presents and packages and while even many Christians look solely at the manger; let us look past the night that Christ was born and see the day that He died for our sins. But even more than that, let us view an empty tomb, a living Savior, and soon coming King.
As the pages of this year’s calendar are turned and as we enter into a new one, our hearts are filled with the excitement of knowing that Christ’s return could be any day. Let us live in the light of knowing that we soon will be leaving this earth to spend eternity with our Savior and Lord.
My family and I pray that each and every one of you will have a glorious and Christ-filled Christmas. Thanks again for all your love, prayers, and support. God Bless you all.
Navigating the “FOG”
Several years ago, in another ministry field, I had been working through a study of II Timothy 3:1-7. Now, just as was the case then, I see these verses being fulfilled before my eyes. I watch, heartbroken and burdened, as modern Christianity careens toward an abyss. I truly believe that we are living in the last days, days much like those of Lot and Noah. In many ways humanity as a whole and even a great many houses of worship have become “increased in goods and in need of nothing.” Yet we have failed to see how utterly destitute we really are in what matters most.
As I finished the notes on the passage from II Timothy, I attempted to save the file on my computer with the title I was using, the words “A Form of Godliness,” from II Timothy 3:5. However, and this is showing exactly how long ago it was, I was unable to enter that long of a title for a file name. It had to be shortened. I decided that I would simply use the first letter of each word. As I typed the letters on the keyboard I sat back in amazement. It was as if a light bulb had switched on in my brain.
I stared at the screen in disbelief as I realized something – A FOG – that is what “A Form of Godliness” is. It is a fog, a smokescreen, an atmospheric anomaly that obscures what is really present. A fog masks the truth. It hides certain items from view. At times it can be low lying and sparse. Yet it can also reach great heights and can be thick regardless of its elevation. Visibility is significantly impacted by it. And too often, it is dangerous and deadly. That is what a fog does physically and what “A Form of Godliness” does to our lives spiritually.
While there is so much more that needs to be said here I will fast forward to a second chapter in the fog saga. A few years later, while driving early one fall morning, I encountered some heavy “Smoky Mountain” fog. Turning on the radio I listened as the meteorologist announced that the fog would linger for several hours; that is, until the sun came out and burned it off. Again there was another epiphany. This is what is needed for us when “A Form of Godliness” has settled into our lives. We need the Son to come burn away what is obscuring the truth. We need The Light of the World to shine in our hearts and transform us from what we are into what we should be for His glory. We need the refiners fire to burn bright and hot and purge the impurities from our lives.
Are you lost in “the FOG?” Does the “form of godliness” that you are practicing continually leave you empty and longing for something more, something better, something real? Could it be that for far too long far too many of us have been wandering around aimlessly? If that is indeed the case may God grant us the wisdom to “Navigate the FOG” and emerge on the other side in a place of clarity and renewed vision.
I wept yesterday. I mean really cried. I can’t tell you what specifically caused it. I know that men, so we have been told, are not supposed to cry. “It is a sign of weakness.” someone once attempted to explain. At the very least after you have reached a certain age or have arrived at a designated station in life, you are to have long ago exorcised your emotional demons. “Never let them see you cry!” has been the mantra for decades, perhaps centuries.
But whoever this self proclaimed paragon of wisdom and expert on human emotions was, I am afraid they sold us a bill of goods that not only is untrue but also damages those of us who buy into it. We have allowed ourselves to accept a lie and our embracing of this soulless fiction has left us bitter and scared. And yet we still keep our tears and our dreams and our anxieties carefully bottled up inside.
For some of us it has indeed been far too long since rivers flowed from the windows to our souls. A myriad of hollow excuses are offered as to why we no longer engage in an action that is as cleansing for the heart as it is for the eyes. Yet interestingly enough, the most trained physicians have assured us that it is healthy to cry from time to time; if for no other reason than the benefits that are brought to our eyes. From washing out the dust and debris that occasionally find their way into them to helping give clarity of vision; the list of advantages goes on and on.
But wait, do those same things not occur within our hearts when we open up and weep? Do our tears not help make us cope with the destruction that has been left in the wake of tragedy and turmoil? Do they not wash away many of those things that have been strewn recklessly across the landscape of our lives? Do the tears of our hearts, when directed Heavenward, not give way to a clearer vision of God’s plan for our lives? Yes, yes I believe they do!
Sitting here even now I find myself starting to shed tears once again. I do such because of the years I have wasted that should have been spent in more genuine service to my Savior. I weep because of the times that I have responded in a way that does not reflect His love to those around me. I cry because of the intense inner evaluation that has been taking place of late; for I see so many places where I have failed as a husband, as a father, and as a pastor. I call out for mercy and for forgiveness. I plead for grace and restoration. And I cry tears of joy knowing that all that I seek will come from the hand of a Heavenly Father that is moved by the burdens on my aching heart.
What a peace there is when we accept these wonderful gifts from a gracious God! What release there is in crying out with our whole heart knowing that He hears, He understands, and that He, only He, can wipe away all tears from our eyes.
It is my prayer that the Lord will continue to soften our hearts and moisten our eyes. May we always be found faithful to the Lord in what He calls us to be and to do. And may God continue to bless us as we serve Him together.
Often, as I sit and begin to write to you every month, I have a great difficulty knowing exactly where to begin. So much has taken place over the last few weeks that it seems impossible to categorize all of the events in a few short lines. And then when I stop long enough to take a quick look at the calendar, I find that in just a few days school will be starting.
Soon buses will be traveling up and down the roads of our county and children will be running through the halls of our schools. Everywhere one looks there are signs that it is “Back to School” time. Stores stock their shelves and advertise the sale that they are having on those much needed items; and moms and dads are busy making sure their children are prepared for another year of proper instruction.
All of this has caused me to give some serious thought to how these matters apply to our lives on a spiritual level. Paul told Timothy to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;”. Obviously, the act of acquiring knowledge in areas that pertain to our walk with Christ should be of great importance to the Christian. We are given various mandates in Scripture and are also told that we are to pass on these lessons that we have learned to “faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
But just what have we learned? Have we learned to trust Christ in the ways that He has told us to in His Word? Do we trust Him to take care of our finances, our families, and our future? Are we walking with Him by faith or by sight? Are we too busy with the hectic schedules that we keep to spend time as Mary did at the feet of the Master? Are we listening to His every Word, and by doing such learning what is needed in order to make us into the faithful servants that we should be?
All of these questions are ones that must be answered by each individual Christian. What are your answers? In thinking of these issues, we must also be careful that we not approach the act of gleaning information from the position of feeling that we have already arrived and have nothing more to learn. There are still mountains of lessons that must be learned in order to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
So as our children head back to school and hit the books, I pray that we will hit our knees and put our noses in The Book; praying that God will give us what we need as we serve Him.
“All set?” I can’t tell you the number of times I heard that phrase while in Maine several years ago. “All set?” seems to be the universal question asked by Mainers to those who frequent their shops and restaurants. It is a statement that inquires as to whether or not a person is ready to have their check brought to their table or if they are ready to pay for the items that they have decided to purchase. In essence, it asks, “Are you ready?”
As I pondered on this unique way of speech, I could not help but apply it to matters of a spiritual nature (After all, everything is a sermon illustration to a preacher). If this question were posed to us in regards to our spiritual condition, I wonder what would be our response? Are we indeed “All Set?” Are the essentials and details of our lives in tune with what God commands from His Holy Word? If today were the day that we checked out of life here on planet earth and stood before God, how would we stand before Him?
It is certainly a question that demands our consideration. And not just for those who are uncertain about where they will spend eternity; for it also applies to the child of God. If you are lost, and have never seen your need for Christ, then you are not “All Set”. Your affairs are not in order and were you to stand before God today you would still be in your sins. But even the Christian needs to give serious thought to this question. We must all be diligent and sensitive to the leading of the Spirit of God in our lives. We must be willing to go where He directs and do what He commands. Anything less than this, is failure on our part, does not please God, and is thereby sin.
Oh, how desperately we need to be listening to His voice in this present hour. The lost, those in Lenoir City and the world, need to hear about Jesus. They need to hear that Christ came and gave His life for them. And the saved need to hear about the growth that should be taking place in their lives as they seek to serve the Lord faithfully.
The next few days and weeks will be filled with various opportunities for us to minister to the hearts of hurting people and to point them to the only one that can heal their broken hearts. I want to encourage every member of Calvary Baptist Church to be faithful in their attendance to the house of God and to consistently be used as instruments of light and salt in the lives of the people the Lord brings our way. Perhaps our speaking His words and our obedience to Him, will cause these individuals to make sure that they are “All Set”. In closing, I trust that you will continue to walk with the King as we anticipate His soon return.
“Where am I going? Why am I here? What up ahead will I find?” Of late I have been haunted by these words I heard so many years ago as a young Christian. They were part of a study done in connection with Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress and I have found myself drawn to them time and again throughout my life; but especially more so in the last few months. They echo through my soul. They cause me to look deep within and examine areas of my life that often I would rather leave alone. They speak to issues of faith and future and of following the One who should be more important than anything or anyone else. And yet this inspection sends me gazing into an abyss; a dark chasm that I do not like seeing, much less admitting that it truly exists within me.
We are all so prone to listen to the voices of confusion and chaos that shout from without and whisper from within; the seemingly never ending cacophony of misdirection and misinformation. Where is the clarity? Where is the calm in a storm tossed sea of fear and anxiety? Why does that place of placidness elude us so? Could it be that we have forgotten how “to be still and know that He is God”?
I truly believe that this is a lesson that the Father is trying to teach me at this point in my life. Even in my remembering those words from my youth, God is attempting to get me refocused on Him and on His plan for my life. Honest, real, genuine self evaluation must take place from time to time in the heart and life of the Christian or we will find ourselves too comfortable, too complacent, too conveniently floating along with only this life in view while eternity gets brushed aside.
So I return to my original query - “Where am I going?”; ultimately Heaven is my destination, my home, my real place of rest. I must always remember that as I follower of Christ I am still just a pilgrim and a stranger in a foreign land; one that is becoming more and more alien to me with each passing day. Do not be alarmed by these thoughts. This is not some form of self imposed depression or despondency. It is just a powerful reminder that “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My home is laid up for me, somewhere beyond the blue.”
“Why am I here?” The simple answer to that question lies in the fact that I am a Christian, am ambassador for the cause of Christ in a dark, tasteless world. I must view this as a calling from Him, no one else. If I seek to walk this path because of or for some other, I will find only heartache and heaviness of soul. But His burden is easy and His yoke is always light. He gives the strength to see the race to its end. And only when I remember to cast all of my care upon Him will I find that He gives me the lighter end of the load.
“What up ahead will I find?” - in short order, I will find Him. If the journey that I take is the one that He has directed, I will find Him at each mile post and at every step along the way, giving encouragement and nourishment that only He can provide. And yet, even if I stray from what He most desires for me, I still will find Him. Gently, patiently, He will call to me to return to Him; to follow His guidance and direction that will lead me safely home.
So what of you my friend? “Where are you going? Why are you here? What up ahead will you find?” I urge you to listen to His voice, to follow His plan, and to trust in His ways; for no one, no thing, will bring peace and strength to you. Only Him!
I am forty-five years old now, and I realize that there are many things I may never accomplish in this life. I may never write a great American novel, climb Mt. Everest, pastor a church with several thousand members, and I probably will never be elected to an important position in my denomination. At the end of my life, my name will probably not even be remembered or honored around the world.
There was a time however when all of that was important to me; but not anymore! I still want to be the very best that I can be in everything I do, but I am no longer driven by outward symbols of perceived success. Accomplishments of that type are meaningless when compared to the true achievements of life, the shaping of the lives and inner character of my children.
I firmly believe that the day will come when we stand before God and will give an account for all we have done in this life. At that time I do not believe He will ask what kind of car I drove, the square footage of my house, or the size of my financial portfolio. God will not be impressed by the degrees I earned or the honors I was given. But I do believe He will ask what impact I made on the lives of my children.
That is a very sobering and alarming reality! It causes me to see that the greatest reward I can ever hope to receive, this side of Heaven, is to see my children walking in the truth. And yet this will not occur on its own. It will not take place by means of osmosis. I have been entrusted by a sovereign God to bring up my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I must train them up in the way that they should go, a way that will see their hearts turn to and follow the Lord with all their heart.
May God grant me, may He grant all of us, the wisdom and boldness to do what must be done so that future generations of faith do not perish from the earth.
Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work. – Nehemiah 2:18
In the verses preceding the passage above we find that Nehemiah’s heart had been burdened for his homeland. While a stranger in another country, Nehemiah had heard of the condition of the city of Jerusalem. The news had so affected his heart that it caused his countenance to be affected as well. While serving in the court of the king, it became so apparent that something was weighing heavy upon his heart that the king inquired as to the nature of the problem.
When Nehemiah explained his burden to the king, something wonderful happened. The king granted Nehemiah not only permission but also provisions to return and do a wonderful work in the holy city. Nehemiah’s burden and subsequent excitement became contagious. His fellow countrymen were soon encouraged to the place that they too were willing to rise up and do something for the glory of God. The last phrase of Nehemiah 2:18 then states that “they strengthened their hands for this good work.”
In many ways I feel much like Nehemiah. I am burdened greatly by what I see going on in our country, in our cities, and in our communities. It is as if Satan has opened up the very pits of hell and has unleashed an all out assault on the institutions and ideals that are to be the foundations and pillars of a godly nation. The heart, the home, and even our houses of worship are all under such attack that it often appears as if the enemy is going to win. But in the midst of great opposition, there are greater opportunities! And we must always remember that greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.
These are truly exciting days in which to live. The events that are transpiring globally in nations such as Israel, Iraq, North Korea, and even here in America should cause all of us to realize that the return of the Lord is drawing very near. Therefore, we must be about our Father’s business and we must make good use of the time that we have been given. We are doing just that here at Calvary Baptist Church. It is my prayer that every effort, every attempt, every ministry opportunity that we are given will be used to reach the lost, reclaim the wayward, and refocus the faithful into areas of service that are truly pleasing to the heart of our Savior.
Oh that we would do just as the people did in Nehemiah’s day; that we will strengthen our hands together for this good work. I firmly believe that together we can accomplish great things for the Lord. Furthermore, I want to encourage everyone to become involved in what God is doing. Only eternity will tell of the number of lives that will be rescued and restored, as we are faithful vessels dedicated for the Master’s use.
I want to personally invite every member of the Calvary church family to be present at the many events that are scheduled during the month of April. Come out, get connected, and enjoy some wonderful moments of fun and fellowship. May God continue to bless you as we serve Him together.
“What school did you attend? What was the highest degree you have earned? Do you have your MBA or PHD yet? Are you taking any CE classes?” From friends to family to the forms we fill out in various offices, the questions seem to come almost continuously, and they all appear to be geared in the same direction; what is your “Higher Education?’ Before anyone misunderstands me, or the motive behind what I am saying, hear me out. I am a strong advocate of college, graduate school and doing whatever is necessary to be an informed, well-educated professional in the career area where you have been led. We have far too many in our world today that are not listening, not learning, and thereby not leading, as they should in the place of influence in which God has them. As was said to me several years ago, “If you want to be a leader, you must be a reader.” Therefore, we should take every opportunity available to us to be growing and relevant in our present world.
But at what cost? For if our education our intellect, our acquired abilities are at the expense of effectiveness in our service and our ability to relate to those around us, what has been gained? If we exude an intellectual superiority that turns people off and away from the message that we should be delivering to them, we have made a grave error. Oh how often I have seen good men and women passed over for opportunities of service simply because they didn’t attend the preferred college or seminary.
We all have an audience, whether it is family, or friends, fellow laborers, or even our foes. People around us listen and learn from and about us. That is why the message or even the means that we use to deliver it should never be wrapped up in us, or in the degrees we have earned.
As we look into the Scriptures, we see that God used men and women from varied backgrounds and professions to deliver His Word and His warnings. From the classically trained to the cultural outcasts, God empowered His people with His message. In the New Testament alone, we see a stark contrast between the human leaders of the early church— Peter and Paul. Of Peter, and John, it was said, that they were “… unlearned and ignorant men.” Obviously they had not attended the “right” schools to be able to stand in front of such a diverse crowd on the day of Pentecost. Yet those that heard them “...marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” Herein lies the most important of all educational qualifications: “They had been with Jesus.”
But what of Paul? There is perhaps no keener mind in the New Testament than the former persecutor of Christians. He had been trained in the best schools Israel had to offer. Had sat at the feet of those who were so well versed in the Old Testament that one could now quote the Pentateuch. He became the human penman of almost half of the New Testament and was comfortable sharing the Gospel in the presence of royalty. Yet, there seems to be a downward progression in the life of Paul as we follow him in the New Testament. From “a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” to “the least of the Apostles,” to his acknowledgement that he was “the chiefest of sinners.”
Years ago I was admonished that “God keeps His best gifts on the lower shelves.” The sentiment that was being conveyed in those words was that as we humble ourselves and lower ourselves by our standards, and by the world’s estimates as well, that God pours out blessings that would have never been ours had we kept thinking too highly of ourselves. Numerous passages in the Scriptures bear this out—Matthew 15:27-28, II Corinthians 12:10, I Peter 5:6, etc.
Therefore, let us not be so caught up or impressed with the “higher education” of some when what we truly need is more “lower education” as we realize that we are nothing more than a tool in the hand of the Master Teacher.
A Fixed Heart – Psalm 108:1
February being heart month, it stands to reason that we should spend some time on matters that pertain to the heart. What a blessing it is to know that as we open the Bible, we have a book that has been written as a love letter from the heart of God to the heart of man. Here within the pages of the Scriptures we find the heart of God the Father revealed as He sent His only begotten Son to pay for the sins of mankind. We also find that the heart of Christ is burdened for the souls of lost men and women, boys and girls.
Psalm 108 was penned by the one referred to as being a man after God’s own heart. When we think of this person we are reminded that he was a shepherd, a poet, a mighty warrior, and an ancestor of Christ. In short, he is one of the greatest men in The Word of God. But alongside those memories stand others; for he was also a betrayer, a liar, an adulterer, and a murderer. His strengths are those that we all wish we would possess. His weaknesses could very well be present in any of us were it not for the grace of God. The Bible makes no effort to hide this man’s failures; he often writes of them himself. Yet he is remembered and respected for his heart for God.
Psalm 108 gives us great insight into David’s heart. In it he explains various aspects of what has, what is, and what should be taking place within the hearts of those who have placed their trust in The Lord. In examining this Psalm two things can be seen. We learn first that the heart needs fixing. The Word of God speaks to this point on several occasions. We are told that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked, that our hearts can be turned from what we know is right, and that we should be careful to whom we share the secrets of our hearts. David certainly knows all of this all too well.
But this Psalm also reveals to us a glorious fact. In seeing that our hearts need fixing we are also shown through the language of this Psalm that there is only One that can properly fix it; it is the One who has made it. Knowing every part of our being, God is able to perform a miraculous spiritual procedure on the hearts of those who truly want to serve Him.
He can fix our Hearts. And when God does a work within our hearts there are some wonderful results that are evident.
The word fixed that is used in Psalm 108:1 carries with it the idea of being steadfast or immovable. But I also believe that there is something being said to us by David stating that his heart is now fixed. We were all born with a heart that has been searching for something to fill the emptiness that is inside it. In truth, our hearts have been damaged and are defective because of sin. We have a God-shaped hole in our heart and He is the only One that can fill it. He is the only One that can fix it. And when we come to Christ and receive Him as our Savior, He fills up the emptiness and loneliness with peace, joy, and a love for both Him and others.
So whether we speak of our heart as having been broken or the fact that it is now steadfast and immovable, it is plain to see that God is the One who has fixed our hearts. Only He could put the pieces back together again and only He can make our hearts strong and immovable.
May this month and this year be one where our hearts are turned back to the One that loves us with all His heart. Thank you once again for your faithfulness and your heart for the Lord and for others.
Ecclesiastes has been called by some, The Book of Ancient Wisdom For Modern Man. In this book we find that Solomon has gathered all the people of Israel together and preaches to them this sermon dealing with his backsliding. The very scope of this book is to expose the vanity of all worldly enjoyments; to show that man’s happiness does not lie in natural wisdom and knowledge, or in worldly wealth; or in the mere externals of religion, but in God and the worship of Him.
Ecclesiastes shows us the experiences of a man who had tried everything under the sun to satisfy his heart and who had learned that it was all vanity. After years of searching, Solomon now sees that it was useless to seek for pleasure in those things that are temporal at best. In Ecclesiastes we learn that without Christ we cannot be satisfied even if we possess the whole world. Throughout the book we find Solomon, led by the Holy Spirit, penning words that are both powerful and practical. With rich poetic language he gives us insight into how it is we should live our lives in this present world.
Here we find practical living at its best. As you read this letter, the world is making ready for a new year. It will be a year that will bring with it many challenges and opportunities. It will be a year that will undoubtedly be different than those before it. It is at this time that many people make “New Year’s Resolutions”. They decide that they are going to lose weight or save more money or worry less; and the list goes on and on. But resolutions are limited.
Yet for the Christian, there are some positive aspects to making “New Year’s Resolutions”. There is something to be gained from setting goals for ourselves and striving to achieve them; so long as they are pleasing to the Lord. The Scriptures give us numerous examples of people who did just such a thing. They vowed a vow unto the Lord and trusted in Him and His Spirit to give them the strength to bring it to pass. As we enter into this New Year, we as believers in Christ should look to the One who holds all of our tomorrows in His capable hands. As we look to Him, let us be faithful to do those things that He has called us to do.
It is my prayer that 2017 will be one of the greatest years that Calvary Baptist Church has ever experienced. Will you join with me as we labor together in our Master’s vineyard and as we await the harvest that He will bring? I pray that God will continue to bless you and your family in the coming year.
Working on Christmas?
All day long a thought has been rolling over and over in my head. “I wonder how many people have to work on Christmas day?” For many, Christmas, and perhaps even days surrounding it, are days that their place of business has scheduled for time off. The office closes, the children have gone home from school, the plant is in “shut-down” mode. Time can now be spent with family and friends and food and football and, and, and . . . well you get the picture. But at the heart of the holiday for many is the simple fact that they don’t have to get up and go to work. They can finally take it easy for several days in a row.
But what about those that must work through Christmas? We need to remember the fireman, the soldier, the highway patrolman, the ER doctor and nurses – all of those that are there for us when we need them, when things do not go as planned. Oh, how appreciative we should be for all of these and many more.
But working on Christmas is really nothing new. Historically there have always been people who either had to or choose to work on December 25th. Obviously the types of professions that I mentioned earlier would count. Yet my mind goes back to the first Christmas. There were certainly shepherds who were working. The wise men were busy at their jobs. There was an innkeeper, a host of angels, and a young couple from Nazareth who were all working hard that night.
And there was Another who was at work that first Christmas. He had, in fact, been working from before the foundation of the world to bring this night, this series of miracles, this birth to come to pass. Laboring in ways clearly seen as well as those totally invisible to the human eye, God was continuing the work of redemption that started before the fall of Adam.
Hearts were empty, lives were hollow, eyes were blind, and souls were lost. Into this sea of spiritual chaos came Immanuel. Working in hearts, laboring in lives, saving souls – God worked, and worked, and worked.
And He still works today. On Christmas, God wants to work in all of our hearts and lives. He wants to mold us more into the image of His Son. He desires to do so much, if we will only let Him.
Will you give Him “permission” to work on you this Christmas?
History tells us that almost 400 years ago a small group of settlers from England and other parts of Europe began a long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean. After many months of travel on the seas, their battered ship finally reached the shores of North America. There they embarked on an even greater journey as they stepped foot on Plymouth Rock.
102 people had made the voyage across the ocean to begin a new life in America. It was to be a life dedicated and founded upon the principles of Freedom; political, economic, and most importantly religious freedom. They quickly began constructing shelters in preparation for the long, hard winter that would soon be upon them. They faced trouble from the very start and paid a high price for the privilege of worshipping God freely. 44 settlers died before spring and only 58 people survived to plant the spring crops. And yet, not a single Pilgrim returned to England when the Mayflower set sail.
God had given them courage and had blessed them with an abundant harvest. The Governor of the colony then proclaimed that there should be a time of thanksgiving. So it was that the remaining colonists, along with some 80 Native Americans would meet together for a time of giving thanks. According to The World Book Encyclopedia, the Pilgrims devoted the day to preaching, praying, singing, and then eating. For them, Thanksgiving Day was centered on the Lord and on giving thanks to Him for His many blessings.
On November 24th many of us will sit down at a table filled with the foods of the Thanksgiving season. There we will pause and give thanks to God for the meal that He has set before us and for the hands that have prepared it. We will spend the day laughing and talking with our family members as we enjoy this very special holiday. But if we are not very careful, we could find ourselves focusing on our material possessions and miss the most important reasons as to why we should be Thankful.
It is clear from history that we as Americans have a rich heritage and that we have so much to be thankful for. However, as Christians, we have a greater and higher purpose of giving thanks. Throughout The Word of God we are exhorted and instructed to give thanks and to praise God for His many blessings. “. . . come before his presence with thanksgiving. - Psalm 95:2”. “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. - Psalm 100:4”.
Therefore it is of paramount importance that we understand an important truth. It has been by the hand of a good and gracious God that we have been given so many blessings. And furthermore, every day, not just Thanksgiving Day, should be a day of giving thanks! We should focus our attention on the blessings that God has given to us. Blessings and benefits that none of us deserved, but that were richly bestowed upon us when we accepted Christ as our Savior.
My heart overflows with thanks this month as I see all that God has done, is doing, and as I anticipate all that He will continue to do in the future. He has richly blessed me, and my family, in that we are a part of such a loving, caring, giving church family here at Calvary. I don’t believe I will ever be able to repay or convey all that is in my heart. Thank you for allowing me the privilege and the honor of being the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. May God continue to bless you and your home during this Thanksgiving season.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. - Romans 12:1-2
Where am I going? Why am I here? What up ahead will I find? These three questions are often asked by those who are believers in Christ; yet they can all be summed up with one question - What is The Will of God for My Life? Since the beginning of time man has tried in vain to answer these questions on his own through the futile efforts of intellect and experience. And while some believe the answer to be light years away it is in fact as close as the mention of a single name. That name is Jesus and He, along with His Father and the Spirit of God, has a perfect plan for the life of every individual.
While it may seem to be redundant, God does indeed have a purpose for our lives and He does want us to know it! He has revealed His plan for our lives in The Word of God. It begins with salvation. In order to be in the perfect will of God, one must first have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not enough to know Christ in an intellectual sense, you must have met and acknowledged Him as your personal Lord and Savior.
The next step in finding and doing God’s Will for your life is to be Spirit-filled. By having received the presence of the Holy Spirit at salvation, we now have access to an enormous supply of
power from God. Once we yield our every decision to the control of the Spirit, we will have the courage to face any challenge that presents itself. The only way an individual can accomplish this is to be saturated with the things of Christ and to be a constant student of The Word of God.
Thirdly, the Christian searching for God’s will for their life must be sanctified. In other words, they must be pure. In doing this, the believer learns to control their own body as well as their very thoughts. This then leads the child of God to the position of being submissive. As we submit ourselves to Him and to His purpose for our lives, we will soon find that the path ahead of us becomes clearer.
As I write to you this month, I pray that you will spend time in earnest prayer to the Lord for His Will for your life. It is of paramount importance that we seek to live for Him, worship Him, and serve Him faithfully; knowing His Will for our lives until He returns for His bride. Along the way, we will continue to rejoice in all that He has done, is doing, and will continue to do; for these are truly exciting days in which to live and in which to be a part of His work here at Calvary Baptist Church.
Thank you once again for the overwhelming joy that floods my heart to be a part of this wonderful church family.
Another summer is past and school is getting ready to begin. Soon the sounds of children on buses will be heard all throughout the county. It always seems as if there are tons of changes from one year to the next. There are new styles of clothes and shoes that are worn. And just as soon as one person wears the new fad, then it seems that everyone must have the same thing, or even something a little better.
But fashions are not the only things that change from year to year; there are also new challenges as the difficulty of the work increases. The books are heavier and the subject matter is even weightier than the books. The word problems are much harder and at times it appears that the chemical equations will never balance. Life just became that much more difficult because of all of the changes that are taking place.
Yes, styles and schedules have changed since last year, and so have the faces around us. There are people we have never met that now sit next to us in class. If the truth were known, they are just as nervous and anxious as we are. They have the same fears and frustrations that plague our lives from day to day. But there is one thing that should make a difference in the lives of those who are saved. We know Jesus. This should make a lasting difference in our lives and should bring peace to our hearts.
Oh I know that it sounds like I am addressing this letter to those of you who are attending school. But in all actuality, we who are saved are all students in the school of the Savior. There are lessons that we are to be learning. There are tests that will come to us from time to time. And yes, there will be times when we fail to learn what is being taught. But how blessed it is to realize that in the midst of an ever changing world there is one thing that never changes. Jesus is the same; yesterday and today and forever. He never changes.
However, while He never changes, He does desire to see changes made in us. We should be growing in our Christian life, we should be maturing as believers and we should be reaching out to others like never before. Every week brings with it the possibility of reaching out to countless homes and families through the many ministries of Calvary Baptist Church. God has given us an awesome task to perform. As we strive to complete that task, let us commit to doing it in a way that will always bring glory and honor to Him. As the new school year begins, and as new ministry opportunities present themselves; let us all commit to a spirit of service that will be pleasing to our Master and Savior.
Tonya and I want to thank you for what you mean to us and for your continued love and support. Thanks again for all that you are doing for the cause of Christ. It is my prayer that God will continue to bless you richly for your love and labor for Him.
Often, as I sit and begin to write to you every month, I have a great difficulty knowing exactly where to begin. So much has taken place over the last few weeks that it seems impossible to categorize all of the events in a few short lines. And then when I stop long enough to take a quick look at the calendar, I find that in just a few weeks school will be starting. Soon buses will be traveling up and down the roads of our county and children will be running through the halls of our schools. Everywhere one looks there are signs that it is “Back to School” time. Stores stock their shelves and advertise the sale that they are having on those much needed items, and moms and dads are busy making sure their children are prepared for another year of proper instruction.
All of this has caused me to give some serious thought to how these matters apply to our lives on a spiritual level. Paul told Timothy to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;” Obviously, the act of acquiring knowledge in areas that pertain to our walk with Christ should be of great importance to the Christian. We are given various mandates in Scripture and are also told that we are to pass on these lessons that we have learned to “faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
But just what have we learned? Have we learned to trust Christ in the ways that He has told us to in His Word? Do we trust Him to take care of our finances, our families, and our future? Are we walking with Him by faith or by sight? Are we too busy with the hectic schedules that we keep to spend time as Mary did at the feet of the Master? Are we listening to His every Word, and by doing such learning what is needed in order to make us into the faithful servants that we should be?
All of these questions are ones that must be answered by each individual Christian. So what are your answers? In approaching these issues, we must also be careful that we not approach the act of gleaning information from the position of feeling that we have already arrived and have nothing more to learn. There are still mountains of lessons that must be learned in order to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
So as our children get prepared to head back to school and hit the books, I pray that we will hit our knees and put our noses in The Book; praying that God will give us what we need as we serve Him.
The trees are budding, the birds are singing, and the flowers are beginning to bloom. All of this can mean only one thing - spring has finally arrived. There is something special about this time of the year. The remnants of a cold and harsh winter are all seemingly washed away by the bright rays of sunshine and beautiful days that are filled with laughter and activity. It is as if the entire earth is waking up from a long and deep sleep; waking up to realize that a new day has dawned and life has begun anew.
Such scenes of rich beauty surely testify to the power and majesty of a holy God. I am continually amazed when I stop and think about all of the ways in which the Lord has blessed us. Just looking around at the breath-taking scenes that He has painted on the canvas of His world remind me once again of His love and His grace. To think that the Composer and Conductor of the Universe has His eyes upon the flight and activities of the sparrows of the field; knowing exactly when one of them falls to the ground. And yet, He is never too busy to take care of the needs of His children. What a comfort it is to know that God does indeed see every tear, hear every prayer, and knows every thought that burdens our hearts.
In this time when so much evil is present in this world, it is important to keep in mind that God is still in control. There has not been a single event that has escaped His attention. He is watching, directing, and guiding the course that the world is taking as every action will in the end bring glory and honor to Him.
As the forces of darkness gather and unleash their assault on the body of Christ, we have been commissioned to be faithful soldiers of the Cross. It is our duty to lift the blood-stained banner high; to announce to the world that the rallying point has always been and will forever be the Cross of Calvary. It is to this place, the Cross, that we must point a lost and dying world. It is only here that they can receive pardon and forgiveness of their sins. Through the shed blood of Christ they can have their names written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life” and they too can make Heaven their eternal home.
During this upcoming month, let us all commit ourselves to the faithful and loyal service to our Commander in Chief - Jesus Christ. May we strive to never take our eyes off of Him. May we all follow His directives and commands as we live for Him and as we look for His soon return.
Thanks again for your prayers for me and my family. We love you all and thank God for you. May God continue to bless you.
Greetings in the wonderful name of our risen Lord and Savior. It is such a joy to be able to sit and write to you this month. As I ponder what the Lord has been doing in the hearts and lives of people here at Calvary over the last few weeks, I am amazed at all of the ways that God has blessed as well as how He has given peace and direction. How great it is to know that we serve the God of all of the universe. There is nothing that is outside of His control or His sight. He sees our needs and knows the burdens that we carry. That is why we are told “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”
As we enter this new month there is much to keep in mind. God has a work for each of us to do in His kingdom. Regardless of age, education, or even ability, the Lord desires that we place ourselves at His disposal to be used as He would see fit; for it is not ability that the Lord seeks, but availability. As we give ourselves totally over to Him and as His Spirit leads, there is no end to what God can do in and with and through our lives. Oh how wonderful it is to see a group of people united together in the service of the Savior!
The month of March is certainly filled with various activities and events here at Calvary. Easter is this month and I am excited about worshipping together on that morning as we have the joy of celebrating a risen, living, soon returning Savior. We are starting a new ministry geared especially toward the men of our church as we will meet for a prayer breakfast on March 12 at 8:30am. This will be an important time of fellowship, edification, and encouragement. (Don’t worry guys, there will also be food!) It is my prayer that this will be something that all of the men of the church will put on their calendar and will look forward to attending. Not to be outdone, the children, youth and seniors will also have several opportunities for fellowship and activities.
March is also the month when we focus on our annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. I want to encourage you to begin praying now about what the Lord would have you give so that those who have never heard the Gospel can hear the most wonderful news that can ever be shared. We must never forget that missionaries can only go and share as we are obedient in our support of them.
There is certainly much about which to pray and there are many places in which to serve. My desire is that the Lord will continue to knit the hearts of His people together in love for Him and for one another. Thanks again for all of the prayers and support that you so freely give to me and to my family. We love you all and pray for you each day. God bless.
Those words remind us of two important facts. The first is that we serve an awesome God. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above anything that we could ask or even think. His eye is constantly on His children and on their needs; nothing goes unnoticed. Even though He takes care of the birds in the field and keeps the planets in their orbits in space, He is never too busy to take care of me and you. He is great and is greatly to be praised for His marvelous works.
But that phrase also reminds us of another important fact. Not only do we serve a great and awesome God who is overseeing the lives of His children, supplying their needs, and keeping them safe and secure; but those who serve Him should attempt great things for Him based on how great He is. It is amazing how often we speak of these matters, yet how seldom we act on them. As His children and His followers we should search for ways to do mighty things in His name. However, the actions of His people should be done in a way that directs all of the attention, affection, and admiration to the One who has enabled us with the strength to attempt and/or accomplish this great feat. Far too often many fail to give credit to the only One to whom it is due. Without Him we can do nothing!
But with Him we are able to move mountains. This year at Calvary is going to be filled with numerous activities and events designed to promote fellowship within our local assembly while at the same time reaching out to those who do not attend church. We already have various special days scheduled on the church calendar through December and are looking to reach out in a way like never before. But it is important that we reach out in a way that consistently shows the compassion that Christ has for the lost, the wounded, and the weary. Our goal in reaching out is that others will reach up to the One who stands ready to meet their every need.
That is why I would like to encourage every person who actively attends Calvary Baptist Church to become involved in this outreach in some capacity. There are many ways in which each of you could be involved this year. When we stop long enough to examine the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, and what it has done to us, it should impact us in a way that will make it clear that there are still millions upon millions of people who have never heard and who need to be told the same simple message that Jesus Saves! Will you help us tell the glorious story?
Once again, Tonya and I would like to thank you all for your prayer, love, and support for us as we labor for the Lord here at Calvary. Our prayer for you and for your family is that the Lord will continue to bless you as you seek to serve and follow Him in your daily life. As He does, let us all labor faithfully together, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Thanks again and God Bless.
Calvary Baptist Church
301 W. First Ave. Lenoir City, TN.