Friday, December 21, 2018

Not today, Satan. Never Again.

You can’t do it. You will never succeed. You will fail.

Such is the sound of the thoughts that run through my mind daily. With each success in life, there is the subtle reminder of every failure that I have endured, every pain I have ever caused, every sin I have ever committed. The whispers in my mind are from the enemy, an accusatory voice that longs to see me muddle through another year, to waste another week, and to be distracted for another day. This week, I found something, a truth that had been there all along, but I had neglected to see.

I thought about 2019 coming up, and thought, “Well, I guess I should just wait until the New Year to start.” Immediately, I recognized the source of the thought. Waiting to start until 2019 was a waste of nearly two weeks. I was about to do exactly what Satan wanted me to do. I was about to wait another day, make another excuse, waste another house.

No more. The clock is ticking, and I am tired of wasting the time I have been given.

I saw a church sign recently that spoke to this truth. The sign read, “Today is God’s gift to you. How you use it is your gift to God.” How true is such a statement? God has given us today, but Satan tries to convince us to waste it, to be distracted away from our calling, and live in the regret of another day that only produced unfulfilled potential.

Joshua reached such a place with the people of Israel. The lack of commitment and the turning towards God, then away from God, then back to God was overwhelming. As the Lord spoke through Joshua, Joshua informed the people that he had made a choice for the course of the rest of his life and his family, then turned to the people to challenge them to do the same.

Today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when a New Year comes.

He said to them that they should choose to follow the Lord. Then, he gave them the alternate options, after he told of all that the Lord had done for them. Joshua put it to them. He demanded an immediate response. He said, “But if it does not please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship.” (Joshua 24:15 HCSB)

Today. This moment a decision is made, and that decision should influence every moment that follows. Satan says we have tomorrow. God warns that nothing is guaranteed as far as time on earth. Which voice will you follow today? Which is the voice of truth in your ears? For those who choose to listen to the doubts and indecision of a voice of distraction, they will always say they will do it tomorrow. But, today. Today, a choice is being made. God whispers, telling us to give Him all that we have, and He will work through it. The Lord tells us to have faith in His ability to work and in His ability to produce fruit from the seeds we plant.

I will be the best disciple, pastor, husband, father, son, writer, and friend that I can be starting today. I choose to give it all to the Lord and to stop listening to the voice of the deceiver who says I will never be enough. Why? The cross says that I am enough, and Scripture says that I must make a choice. Joshua said, “As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.” (Joshua 24:15 HCSB) Which choice will you make today? God has gifted you this day, now what will you do with it? I have chosen to forsake the world and follow the Lord, allowing Him to work through me to change the world. How amazing would it be if we all made such a decision? Things might just change around us!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Sword or Submission

Not too long ago, I was listening to a message by Adrian Rogers. If you have never heard a message by Adrian Rogers, stop what you are doing now and listen to one of his messages. He was a gifted pastor and the particular message was sent to me by one of the members of my congregation. I listened intently and was blown away by the message. In it, he spoke of Peter and where Peter went wrong and when Peter got it right, a message most of us can identify with if we are honest. Where it went wrong for Peter was when his will became more important that the Lord’s will. Luke captured the moment, “Then one of them struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. But Jesus responded, ‘No more of this!’ And touching his ear, He healed him.” (Luke 22:50-51 HCSB)

What Peter did, pulling out the sward and defending Jesus, seemed to be the right thing to do. Rather than sit idly by, he took action, but the issue came when his will for Jesus became more motivation than God’s will for Jesus. Jesus had come to be the sacrifice, to give up His life for Peter, James, John, the priest’s slave, you, me, etc. Peter stepped in the way and what he did was actually to strike the one who had no power in the situation. The slave was only doing what he was mandated to do but Peter’s defiance for the will of God led to error because Peter simply could not see what God was doing, though Jesus had warned repeatedly that this very day was coming.

I thought about this truth during the winter storm and the life shutdown that follows when more than an inch of snow falls in North Carolina. Are we seeking our will or God’s will? Though something may seem harmless or even admirable, it is nothing if it not aligned with the will of God. Even the most innocent acts can be sinful if the motives for the acts are anything but pure and set on the will of God.

Do you know what never catches the Lord by surprise? The motives of the heart are never a surprise. He knows what we are thinking, what we are seeking to accomplish, and even more importantly, He knows why. The Bible says this, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord evaluates the motives.” (Proverbs 16:2 HCSB) What does that mean? God knows deep down why we are doing the things we do. Yes, they may seem right to us, but the question is are they being done for the Lord and according to His will?

So, it comes to the question of why? Is it about Jesus or is it about us? Is it about Jesus’ will or is it more about our way and our will? Peter seemed to do what was right but all along he was wrong, and time revealed where he went wrong. Time will always tell the motives behind what we do, but we can be sure that God already knows. As a year begins to wind down, now is the chance to get it right by doing things God’s way and in accordance with God’s will. A great place to start is by looking at what is being produced by what we are doing. If it is of God, it is producing more of a reflection of God and less of a focus on ourselves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Two months away...the time is drawing near

The leaves are beginning to change here in North Carolina, as are the seasons. A month ago, the temperatures were in the nineties, now they are considerably cooler. Tonight, I saw the date as it changed on my phone, telling me that the twenty-fifth day of October has arrived. For me, that signals two months until Christmas.

Christmas is no small celebration in my home. Already, I am planning for the holiday movies, excited that they begin one day from today. Hallmark Channel will stay on and throughout the season, I will write more about what the season means, how it impacts those who look deeper into the cause for celebration, and will dream of the day one of these projects is in your hands. As we speak, I have three manuscripts complete, one screenplay complete and in the hands of a director, and have begun work on another screenplay. All of these are about Christmas. Each speaks to the majestic nature of celebrating the arrival of the King of majesty.

As I think about the excitement, I am reminded of the response of John the Baptist, before he was born, when Mary approached Elizabeth. Mary was carrying the Son of God and as she drew near to Elizabeth, Luke wrote, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit." (Luke 1:41) Elizabeth even tells Mary of what took place a few verses later. Elizabeth said, "For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me!" (Luke 1:44 HCSB) Even the baby rejoiced at the nearness of Christ, being in the presence of the Son of God.

People often wonder why Christmas means so much to me. This is why. He came. Did He have to? No. But He did. Humanity needed a Savior, so the Son of God came, in the form of man, and as the celebration of Christmas draws closer, joy grows as we celebrate the coming of the Lord. As the season draws near, we find joy in the fact that God did not turn His back on us, but came to walk among us and in that, peace comes to the soul.

Your day today might be filled with anxiousness. You may have a day that is filled with worry and you may be in a season that is anything but pleasant to endure. Perhaps there is sadness that is overwhelming, or doubts that are drowning out hope. Your life, at this very moment, could be lonesome. But know this. Christmas is on its way and the message of Christmas resonates throughout the year, in every season and in every situation - Immanuel - "God is with us".

Just the mere mention of the name of Jesus, just a few moments in the presence of the Lord, and joy comes to our weary souls. The joy comes from His presence and from His sacrifice. Joy comes in knowing that we are not alone and that we do not have to do this life on our own. He came. His very feet traveled this sod as God sent His Son to a stable in Bethlehem.

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,