Tuesday, October 9, 2018

You are the "whosoever"

A ringing of the phone disturbed an afternoon nap in the mid 1990's. A long day at school and even longer nights filled with despair and feelings of failure had left me exhausted. I heard the phone ring. I can remember it to this day. I rolled over and fell back asleep until I felt a tug at my pants leg. My mom had discovered what I had hidden from nearly everyone. I wanted to die. Most didn't realize it. Someone had seen the marks, made a call, and there I sat explaining to the one who gave birth to me why I no longer wanted to be a part of this world.

For so long, I hid the turmoil inside, or at least I thought I did. Looking back, I didn't hide it as well as I thought. My thoughts were that I was worthless, that I was no more important to the world than a grain of sand. I knew my family and friends loved me, but inside, I convinced myself that it was because they had to, as if it were some automated response that they had to have. Church was a staple in my life and I could quote Scripture like nobody else. What was wrong with me?

By the grace of God, I was pointed in a direction to get help, the help I needed to live another day, to have another chance to understand. Until this week, this is a topic I have kept buried pretty deep within, rarely sharing a moment that remains raw over twenty years later. As I prepared to speak to a group of students this week, the story came out. Unplanned. Completely God orchestrated.

As I looked at the group of students, I remembered where I was in my life at their age. I was awkward at times (socially), funny one moment but highly idiotic the next, trying to be who the world told me to be, never really achieving those standards. I wanted to be someone, but always felt like no one. I had made nearly every mistake known to man at such an early age and every time I tried to climb my way out of the hole I had dug, another bad decision was made, another descent to the bottom of what seemed like a bottomless pit. The students stood there and I begged God, "Speak to them and tell them that they matter. Show them how much they mean to You."

Tonight, I sit writing this blog in the hopes that someone will read these words and understand what I understood in my college apartment in 1998. Here is what I mean. God brought me through the depression and kept me going day after day. In 1998, though, He put it all together. I had known John 3:16 from the time I was a child. I had recited it in church and other places what seemed like a million times. I knew the verse, but I didn't truly know the One who spoke those words.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16 NKJV) That night, I got it. Whosoever. As Jesus talked to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, He was speaking to someone who was part of a group that looked down at others for a variety of reasons. The Pharisees flaunted their holiness and scoffed at those who were unable to keep the law as well as they did. Jesus showed the difference, in just a word, between religion and faith. Religion looked to keep others out while faith welcomed them in. While the Pharisees looked at what was wrong with others, Jesus showed that His focus was on making the fallen right with God.

Whosoever. No exclusion to who could come to Him. The murderers could come and find salvation. Those who had wrecked every area of life could come and find true life. Those who came to Him would find a new way of life, turning from sinfulness to walk in righteousness, and He welcomed them. The outcasts, the overlooked, the sinners, the sick, those who thought they were perfect, those who knew their lives were train wrecks, the broken, and the hurting - the whosoevers - He had come for all.

Where you are right now is not out of the reach of an Almighty God. Regardless of the life you have lived, the cross is there, its' shadow cast right to where you are, begging you to come and walk in new life. You see, if you want to know how valuable you are, three nails tell the story. You are the whosoever that Jesus would die for. You and I, enemies of God without Christ due to our sinfulness, are redeemed and given new life through the sacrifice of Christ. For Christ, you are enough. To God, you are valuable. And greater still, though we have all done so much wrong in our lives, He wants us!

You are given the opportunity to walk in a new life with Jesus, regardless of yesterday. You have been given a chance at a different tomorrow and a different eternity, if only you will understand that you are a whosoever, that you were one that He came to save.

I watched those students as God dealt with their hearts. I trembled as I stood before them and He dealt with mine. God calls out to you, offering you what the world cannot give. What does it take? Understanding that we are a bunch of "whosoevers" that need a Savior.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Mission is Clear

Last week, we did something we had never tried before. Our church, a rural church in the heart of North Carolina, hosted a writer's conference, the North Carolina Christian Writer's Conference. Admittedly, I feared that we would fall short in our attempts to make the conference what it needed to be, but when God is in control, there is nothing to fear. The conference was a success as writers from all over the United States came and worshipped together, learned how to grow in their craft, and were focused on reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ.

As I watched people bustle from classes to appointments to meals to worship, I noticed a joy, an atmosphere of encouragement and excitement, that is often missing in the world today. There were dreams and ideas, hopes of fulfilling a calling that had been placed upon those lives from before they had drawn their first breaths. Silently, I prayed for each person, those attending the conference, those on faculty, and those who were working behind the scenes, and in the midst of the prayer, I uttered those words, "Lord, this is church." People from different places, various backgrounds and races, all joined together for the cause of Christ, focused on the message of the gospel.

Then, it hit me. Shouldn't this be the atmosphere and the overall environment of the church today? Rather than the constant complaining, bickering, and focus on what we want on a weekly basis, what might happen if a group of people, united by the cross of Christ, unified in their mission, came together with the expressed purpose of glorifying God and changing the world for Christ? The church might then fulfill its purpose and reach a world that is lost and facing a Christ-less eternity.

Here is a passage I read that tied in with what I was observing at the conference, a passage that speaks not only to writers but to every follower of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Romans, he posed the questions that all of us must answer and then address by our actions. Paul wrote, "But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things." (Romans 10:14-15 HCSB) We are all called and we have been given the message. The cross of Christ, the gift of salvation, the assurance of eternal life, these things are our message and when we see the beauty in the call, we focus on the joy of being called, the dream of reaching a lost soul, the blessing of being used by the Lord.

An atmosphere of excitement exists when those joined together recognize the beauty of the presence of the Lord and embrace the mission that has been laid out before them. It becomes a place of joy because it is not about us, it is all about Jesus. We have the greatest gift in the world that we can share, knowing that sharing the gift of gospel is pouring into someone's life that which quenches the thirst of the soul. The mission is crystal clear and when the mission is in focus, we find a joy that is unspeakable as we live for more than ourselves. The beautiful feet are the ones that are in motion, carrying the gospel throughout a world that needs it so desperately.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

In a Stable, in Snow Camp

Today, I decided to do something far out of the norm for me. My life is pretty much scheduled, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. Expectations exist and even with the greatest Superman effort that can be mustered up for the day, I will still have things that fail to get done in a day. We all have that experience, don’t we? Today, I begged God to reveal Himself, His presence with me, knowing that such an experience is more fulfilling than anything else in the world.

Leave it to the Lord to take me off the normal path to be reminded He is anything but ordinary. I took a few minutes today to go to Cedar Rock Park, a place in our area. The intention was to get about ten minutes of fresh air before continuing on, but the Lord was answering a prayer. I climbed out of the truck and started towards a path to the waterfall when something caught my eye. I have been to the park a hundred times and never saw this old building, an old barn-looking structure.

And there it was…a stable, in the middle of Snow Camp, NC…the very thing I had prayed for. The reminder of His presence stood before me as I looked at the old structure and remembered that a stable in Bethlehem was where Christ was born. The reminder, in a place unexpected, was that He came, that His Spirit is here, and we have a reason to rejoice.

My devotional book, A Midnight Clear, is being shopped right now. I have had that project on my mind quite a bit lately as it seeks to reconnect us with the real meaning of Christmas and the real message of Christmas – God with us, Immanuel has come. As Matthew wrote, “See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23 HCSB) The message is not confined to a simple season, to a month of the year, but is ever the reminder that we need every day. He came. He came to walk amongst us.

He came in a place that seemed unusual for a king, but isn’t that how God works? He does things in His way! In a place where I had been repeatedly, He answered my prayer by reminding He was there. If our eyes are open, if our hearts are receptive, the reminders of His presence are all around. Sometimes, He uses a stable, in the middle of Snow Camp, to remind us that He is with us.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Time Has Come

I love seeing towns that have clocks located in the downtown areas. Recently, I was able to see two different clocks, one in West Jefferson and one in Black Mountain. The beauty of the clock is that they remind us of time. The clock tells the precise moment. The clock reminds that a day is nearing its completion, that each passing second can never be reclaimed. Many people pass by the clocks without even noticing anymore, their time kept by their phone or their watch. Just the same as we pass by these clocks day by day, we neglect the moment we are in just as frequently.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Horace's Odes - "Carpe Diem". Its meaning is to seize the day, to take hold of the moment. So often, we are living in a moment that will come ten years from now or a moment that happened ten years ago, neglecting the present moment, the gift of God that is the breath we have just taken. The danger of living solely in the past is that we are holding on to that which cannot be changed. The trouble with living for what we are going to do ten years from now is that ten years from now is not guaranteed. What we have is this moment and eternity, so we ask the question "What are we doing right now?"

If you know anything about me, you know my love for Christmas. We are roughly four months away from Christmas, but I am already in the spirit! As I saw those clocks recently, I thought about a verse in Luke, one that comes in the midst of the story of the birth of Christ, a verse that speaks of a moment when everything changed. Luke wrote, "While they were there, the time came for her to give birth." (Luke 2:6 HCSB) Mary and Joseph had gotten to the place where Scripture said that Jesus would be born, Bethlehem, and the time had come. The moment changed everything then, and continues to change everything now.

The time has come for your life as well. As I weigh what tomorrow will bring, I am reminded that this moment is what I have and this moment has come for a reason. You, too, have this moment to do something, to reach for something greater, to achieve something that you thought was unattainable. Walking through life without thinking about the moment we are in is a life that finds great waste and regret at its conclusion. God has given you this moment for a reason and has placed you where you are for a reason. He has equipped us and now, the time has come to do something, to recognize what could be and make it happen.

On a night in Bethlehem, God came in the form of Christ the Son at the precise moment that He had chosen for such a monumental moment. Everything had led up to that moment. The moment had been chosen and at that moment, it happened. Everything in our lives has led to this moment and now,

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Going in Circles?

I drove around Black Mountain and Asheville, NC recently. By the grace of God, I had GPS on my phone. I could find the places I needed to find with the push of a button, guiding me each step of the way. Before GPS, we used paper maps to get where we needed to go. If we didn’t have a paper map, we simply twisted and turned until we stumbled upon something.

Ever feel like you are wandering in the wilderness in your life? Recently, I have felt that way. Seems like every twist and every turn leads to more wooded areas, a deeper dive into nowhere. Being in such a place can be frustrating and can lead us to wonder why we cannot find our way out of the wilderness and back to a place where a destination is in sight. In fact, even earlier today, I asked my wife, “Why is it that I fail at everything in life?” The question posed was not a true assessment of my life but was a statement towards the idea that I feel like I am constantly running in circles.

You have probably been in the same place at some time in your life. Life can be frustrating and overwhelming when it feels like we are going nowhere or that every road seems to lead to further desolation or disappointment. But there is hope. There is hope in the Lord. As I thought about these things today, I turned to the place I needed to turn to find peace for my soul. There it was – “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. I have solemnly sworn to keep Your righteous judgments. I am severely afflicted; Lord, give me life through Your word.” (Psalm 119:105-107 HCSB)

The GPS of life is the Word of God, leading us out of the darkness and the wilderness by illuminating the path that the Lord has cleared for us. When we are wandering around in circles, often it is due to charting our own course and forgetting that we need God to lead us. When we begin to feel defeated and depleted, it often comes as we neglect to find the life that comes from immersing ourselves in the Word of God. The Bible guides us to the place where we were created to be and it breathes life into the depths of our souls as it reminds us that God is with us.

I share this with you tonight so that you understand that we all go through these feelings and through these struggles. I share this with you so that you and I can dive into the Word of God together, starting with the 119th Psalm and be swept away by a God who loves, who guides, and who puts back together the broken pieces of life. Tonight, will you continue wandering in the wilderness or will you go to the Word of God to allow God to lead you? Let’s get back on track together.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Not Too Far Gone

            Have you ever felt “too far gone”? Maybe, in the frustrations of life, we have even looked at others and said that they were too far gone, could not be helped, that where they had gone the love of God could not reach. Such a thought is so disheartening and is misguided. There are times where we think we cannot change, where we feel like what we have become is as good as it is going to get even though we wish for something more. As a pastor and a Christian writer, I can tell you that I have been in that place myself, agonizing over who I was while failing to see Who it was that called my name.

            Tax collectors were despised. They cheated their fellow citizens. They lied. They lined their own pockets at the expense of their neighbors. For a tax collector, life was about what was gained, never about what could be given. Zacchaeus was such a man, small in stature, grand in power, and wealthy. His concern was what he could gain and he was hated, as were the rest of his colleagues. Zacchaeus needed change in his life but those around, even the most religious of those around him, believed that nothing good could come from him…until Jesus came to town.

            One day, the crowds bustled in his town. A sense of wonder and awe led to the people stopping their normal routines to go to the streets to catch a glimpse of the One who was passing through. Zacchaeus, vertically-challenged we will say, could not see over the crowd, so he climbed in a tree to see this man named Jesus. No one else cared if Zacchaeus was there or not, but Jesus did. In the midst of a crowd, He called out Zacchaeus, the one the others despised, and wanted to go to his house.

            With a word, Zacchaeus’ world changed. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5 HCSB) Jesus called his name and called him into a new life. If you read the passage, you will see what the world thought about Jesus calling out to Zacchaeus. Luke wrote, “All who saw it began to complain, ‘He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man!’” (Luke 19:7 HCSB) The world said that Zacchaeus was too far gone. The world said that the love of Christ could not and should not reach into the place where Zacchaeus was, but the lesson is this: what matters is not what the world thinks, but rather what Jesus thinks.

            If you are reading these words today, know that you are not too far gone. Jesus is calling your name, calling you into a new life. He is reaching into the place where you are and telling you that He has a place He wants to take you that is far greater than what you have known. Zacchaeus responded to the call of Jesus by coming down from the tree, welcoming Him, then pledged, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much.” (Luke 19:8) Change had come and as Jesus proclaimed, salvation had come that day.

            Change comes when we respond to the call of Christ as He calls us to walk closer with Him and as we seek His will over our own will. The world said Zacchaeus was too far gone, but sitting the tree that day, he was at the exact place where Jesus could reach him. Listen to the voice of the Lord. He’s calling your name and His call means that you, like Zacchaeus, are not too far gone.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Seek Him - Just Seek Him

Money. Health. Family issues and issues with our children. Friendships that are struggles. Controversies at work. The current events of the world. Will we be financially stable at the end of our lives or will we lose our jobs and struggle to find employment? The health of family members. The car won't start. Everywhere we turn, there are things to worry about.

I am not immune to the shackles of worry. If I am honest, worry rules large portions of my life. Most of the worry that I find meandering through my brain on a daily basis are the very things that I have no control over in life. Isn't it ironic that we believe in a God who is in control, yet we rarely trust Him enough to let go and let Him control things? We long to maneuver, to dictate, to assemble some sort of cohesion that rarely sticks beyond a minute, only to realize that we were never in control to begin with and that the Lord, who is in control, is more than capable of working things out according to His plan.

As I struggle with worry myself, I share my thoughts on this blog with you, in the hopes that, as I write these words, I help myself and that I am able to help you as well. If two things are accomplished, then the greatest accomplishment of this post will be that the Lord is glorified and in that, we have all been successful. A passage of Scripture that speaks to dealing with worry is found in the words that Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount. As He spoke of worrying about food and clothes, He instructed those listening to do something other than worry about those things. He said, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you." (Matthew 6:33 HCSB) Rather than worrying about what we cannot control, we should focus our lives on bringing glory to God, seeking the Lord, and allowing the Lord to be in charge.

Know this about worry - it drains you, it distracts you, and if left unchecked, it will destroy you. Worry drains us as it causes our minds to be filled with the scenarios and the "what if" questions that rarely see the light of day. The mental exhaustion leads to physical exhaustion and in that, we are unable to fulfill the things that God has called us to do. Worry distracts us away from the love of God and a loving God being in control and places ourselves in a position we are not equipped to be in. We cannot control things and that is the grace and mercy of God. He holds the world in place. He simultaneously holds us together. Finally, it destroys us because it lead us to make decisions that will rob us and deplete us because we trusted our understanding rather than leaning on the Lord and His understanding.

Here is what the kingdom of God and His righteousness brings to us - peace. We have peace in our soul as we know that whatever may arise on earth, our home is in heaven with Christ. We have peace in the understanding that God is working things out in our lives through the circumstances so that we have a better understanding of Him as a result. We have peace because we have trust, not in what we can do but a trust in the Lord because of what He has already done and will do. Here is something to remember about allowing God to lead us - Psalm 23 - "He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name's sake." (Psalm 23:2-3 HCSB) Seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness leads us to a place where He is leading, we are following, and life is fulfilling.

So, today, we have a choice to make. We can either worry about everything or we can trust God and seek Him regardless of what storms are raging around us. We will never discover more fulfillment in our lives than those times when we are God-seeking and righteousness pursuing. Conversely, we will never find the blessing of experiencing the fullness of God when we are shackled by worry. So, which will it be today?

One of my friends, a guy I have known all of my life, has a way of getting my attention. He is filled with wisdom. He and his wife are genuinely invested in my life. He knows me and he knows that, when I am shackled by worry, my face shows it. Every time I get in such a rut, he comes to me and says, "Why pray when you can worry?" The intent of the question is to redirect my focus. Rather than worrying about what could be, I am called to seek the One who was, who is, and who is to come. So today, we can pray and seek the kingdom of God or we can worry? I think we will accomplish much more in prayer than we will ever accomplish by worrying.

May God bless you today as you seek Him in your life. Know that seeking God will always lead you to a place where the fullness of life is found and where joy is experienced in a lasting way.