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.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cascading from the Creator

Recently, we have had an abundance of rain. It has been like biblical proportions of rain here. Understand, I am not complaining. I'm just stating a fact that at the end of last week, I was studying ark construction. The incredible amount of rainfall led to a sight that always takes my breath away. I love waterfalls and I am blessed as each day, when I go to work, I pass a waterfall on the way. When the pond is low, no water flows over the rocks. But in times of increased rain, the pond level rises, and the waterfall becomes a reality.
Today, as I passed by the waterfall, I stopped for a minute to take a picture or two. For a moment, I sat there and stared, then a verse from Malachi hit me, reminding me of what God has promised to those to give to Him. As the Lord spoke to and through Malachi, he spoke of those withholding their tithes and contributions to Him. He asked how long the people would continue to rob Him. Such was a convicting question to be faced with.

The Lord continued and promised a blessing to those who gave to Him. His words were beautiful and the promise was to be fulfilling. The Lord said, "See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure." (Malachi 3:10 HCSB) The Lord challenged them to give to Him as they were instructed to do and He would bless them in a huge way. What would lead to the pouring out of the blessing was a change of heart through repentance and a change of action through transformation.

I don't know about you, but I would like my life to be like a waterfall, where the blessings of God and the love of God cannot be contained within but is spilling over causing all to look and see. Rather than having everything contained inside, I want it to be rushing out of my life like those waters rushed over the rocks of that dam today. What will lead to such an existence? Giving all I am to the Lord and believing that He will do what He has said He will do.

When we believe in God's promises and when we have experienced the love of God, there is nothing that we want to withhold from Him for what He offers is of far greater value than anything that we have. The floodgates are there. God has promised to open them. What remains to be seen is if we will repent of holding back in the past and experience a transformation of our lives that leads us to give it all to the Lord. When we do, the beauty of that waterfall is witnessed in our lives as the Lord opens the floodgates of heaven and it pours out of our lives and reaches into the lives of those around us.

What are you holding back today? Wouldn't you love to experience the blessings of the Lord in a way like never before? Have enough faith to believe that God will indeed do what He promised to do and you will feel the blessings of God as they cascade down from the Creator.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Editing Our Lives

The rough draft is finished. To reach such a place is an amazing feeling. The rough draft was printed today, all 263 pages of it, and now, I sit tonight with the job of reading it, adding to it, taking away from it, and polishing it to make sure the message is clear. Such is the job of an author. The message has to be heard. The message has to be clear. The work is done when everything is said how it needs to be said and the audience can hear the truth of that message and hopefully, it resonates within them.

Today, you have a rough draft written in your life. Whether you are a teenager or a senior citizen, a rough draft of what you have been has been written. Because the Lord has given you today, you get the chance to edit that rough draft, to add to what has been written, and to take away that which you know doesn't belong.

So often, people live life as if there is no possibility of change. Sometimes, we live our lives without thinking about the message we are sending to other people. Here is the truth - we can make changes. The draft is there and it is up to us, and to the Lord, to rewrite that draft, adding the things of God that need to be added, while cutting out the things of the world that do not help to reinforce our message.

Here is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. As he concludes his first letter to them, he instructs them, “Don’t despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 HCSB) Rewrite. Edit. Make the message of your life loud and clear by the words that are written on the pages of your life, the words written by the actions you take from this day forward.

We have all made mistakes. We have those chapters that we wish were never written because of the pain that we experienced, the pain that we caused, and the shame of what was. But remember, who you were yesterday is not who you are today. You have a rough draft today, one that can be changed if you are willing to make the changes that need to be made. As Paul said, hold on to the good things and get rid of the things that are eating away at your life and your message.
           
What is the message of your life and are people hearing that message clearly? We all have things that need to be edited out of our lives. There are the silent sins, the selfish desires, the idols that we set up in our lives, and the blatant things that others see that fail to lead them closer to God. The beauty is that you have a chance to clarify that message this very moment, and when your message is that Christ is Lord, He will help you to edit your life in a manner that is pleasing to Him.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Is There Evidence?

I love watching television dramas, especially those involving court cases or detective work. There are some cases where the detectives have to dig deep and look everywhere to find the evidence needed to bring charges against someone. For others, it is an open and shut case, no real stretch to find the evidence of what had taken place.

As I was reading to our church Sunday night, a verse of Scripture hit me in a way that I have never noticed before. Here is the passage and here is what opened my eyes. John wrote, "My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples." (John 15:8 HCSB) We know that we are called to produce fruit. Scripture says it more than once. We are to desire to glorify God in our lives. These are things that most everyone knows, especially those who have spent more than a month in church. What caught me was the end of the verse.

Notice what Jesus said. God is glorified not only by the fruit that is produced in our lives, but also by the proof that we are disciples of Christ. Think about it. Anyone can say that they are a believer. Anyone can attend a service. Anyone can sing a hymn or a praise and worship song and furthermore, anyone can say a prayer. What is to be seen is whether or not there is evidence, or proof, that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

There was a saying I heard years ago that said "If someone accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?" Such was the heart of Jesus' words in this passage. Not that we simply say we are Christians, as acknowledgment of our faith is important, but do we live what we say we believe? Are we living what we are proclaiming? Is it a lifestyle or just another box to check off on some form we are filling out?

As we live in a day and time of increasing "convenient Christianity", a type of faith that is used only when it is necessary or needed, the Lord is looking for evidence. He is looking to see if the cross is etched into our hearts and if the Spirit is flowing through our veins. The Lord is looking to see if our lives show marks of being crucified with Christ or if they are a reflection of the world without any real transformation. Convenient Christianity turns out to be costly when we stand before God. Being a true disciple of Christ brings reward when we are face-to-face with the Lord.

Tonight, I pose this question to myself and to anyone who is reading these words. Is there evidence of your faith beyond what you say? If you were on trial by a jury of your peers, would they convict you of being a Christian or would the verdict be that there was not enough evidence to convict? Jesus did not say that God would be glorified if we said that we are Christians, then walk on with our lives. Jesus said that God would be glorified if we proved to be disciples of His, that the evidence was there to substantiate the claim that we are followers of Christ, that we have, in Paul's words "been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20 HCSB) That is the evidence that the Lord is looking for today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

To Pull Away

As you who are part of my world know, life has been hectic and somewhat tough here recently. The great part is that I love my hectic life. The tough part has been that my hectic life allows little room for me to take a breath when needed, to grieve when something or someone is loss, to find clarity when chaos abounds. If we're all completely honest, we have found ourselves in those situations far too often. When we do, we often tell ourselves to just push through, to occupy our minds even more, and then, after an even greater depletion of what is inside leads to exhaustion, we will be okay.

Sound familiar to you? We live in such a fast-paced world. I remember when I was younger, there seemed to be more time for a cookout, to sit out on the porch and stare off in the distance, to enjoy a movie, or to simply relax. With the ever-increasing demands of life, we are run so much that we allow decades to pass without realizing that we never stopped to live. What a dangerous time we live in, don't you think?

I have long thought my job was to outwork everyone else, to keep going even when everything inside said to stop. This week, it all changed. A day that was scheduled from the morning through the late evening was changed to a day where I could go play golf with my uncle and cousin. What seemed to have to be done on Friday is no longer on the schedule, as Friday will be a day when I pull away. No cell phone. No internet other than a few postings on social media. No email. I have to get myself taken care of before I can possibly take care of someone else.

I was reading recently about a time when Jesus pulled away in Luke 6. The preceding verses revealed a couple of altercations with the Pharisees, once over what the disciples were doing on the Sabbath and then, a disagreement with Pharisees because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Then, in verse 12, Luke noted, "During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God." (Luke 6:12 HCSB) He took time to remove Himself from what was going on to connect with the Father. Jesus needed that time and as I once heard a friend say, "If Jesus needed time to connect with the Father, how much more time do we need to connect with the Father?" What my friend was saying was that if Jesus needed a whole night of connection with the Father, we needed even more time invested in connecting with the Father.

What I found even more encouraging was located in Luke 5. This was not a one-time pulling away from everything by Jesus. In fact, it was more common than we might have imagined. Luke 5 tells us how the crowds heard of Jesus and sought to find healing through His words and actions. Then, Luke pointed out, "Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed." (Luke 5:16 HCSB) Notice that word often in that verse. Were there legitimate needs in those crowds? Of course there were. But the need to connect with the Father was also present.

Sometimes, pulling away for a few hours or a day or even a week is as important as answering phone calls, emails, texts, or having meetings. The world will always have needs. In fact, in our world today, you will see that most people cannot see beyond their own needs to recognize that you have needs as well. Taking a breath away from the crowd and from the circumstances allows us to be refreshed by Christ and reconnect with the Lord so that we are, in fact, better equipped to help those around us. We can be run into the ground by trying to do everything and be everything, only to find that when we are completely depleted, we are no longer able to do what truly needs to be done.

I'm going to the mountains to breathe and to grieve. We should all find time to pull away as, when we look at Scripture, that is what Jesus did. May you find time this week to connect with God, away from everything else, so He can refresh you like no one else can do.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Can I Just Stay in Bed?

Today was a day. Honestly, the past four have been. Today, I struggled as I gave the message at my grandfather's funeral. He was my hero. He was larger than life but was a simple man of deep faith who loved me and loved Jesus. Being his pastor, as well as his grandson, made today one of those moments when you try to get through the pain and grieve later.

For the past four days since he passed away, I haven't wanted to get out of bed. I wanted to stay inside, lay in my bed, and be away from it all. Life wouldn't allow it. There were places to be, things to be done, and my grandmother needed us in this time in her life. So, I trudged out of bed each day, tried to force a smile and tried to do the best I could to do what I could for others though I could barely take another step myself.

Today, as I prepared for the funeral, I received three rejection letters for book proposals. As I thought about the struggle of never seeing my grandfather again on this earthly plain and I thought about the rejections, if I had my way, I would have laid back in bed, covered my head with the sheets and blankets, and allowed myself a chance to call it a day. But, I couldn't. I had to keep going. I had a funeral to speak at and I had other responsibilities.

As the time came for the funeral, I tried to focus on the family, tried to encourage them and support them and grieve the loss myself simultaneously. You see, I wanted to go to sleep. I wanted life to stop, for the day to give mercy, for the next lethal blow to my life and my future to be avoided. I looked at my bed as I got ready for the funeral. "If only I could lay down, I would be able to sleep and forget it all for awhile." Such thoughts nearly drove me to the bed. I was ready to give up on life.

Then, it happened. I am the type that if I make a commitment, I will do all that I can to fulfill it unless it simply cannot be fulfilled. So I went to the funeral. Paw Paw was gone. I had experienced the rejections. The question in my mind was, "What is going on, God?"

I stood in front of over three hundred people and talked to them about Jesus. I told of the faith of the man who had affected so many lives and I told of the love that God has for each person there. I shared from the gospel of John, the 23rd Psalm, 1 Corinthians, and Romans. For thirty minutes, I had a chance to share Jesus. Had I just said "no more" or just stayed in bed, what an opportunity would have been lost!

There are so many times in life where we feel like waving the surrender flag and saying, "I'm going to lay down and never get up again." There are those moments when a wave crashes over you and before you catch your breath, another is pummeling you and leaving you beaten, battered, bruised, and bloodied. Do you give up? Do you just stay down so the next one cannot crash over you? Do you just scream, "I can't do this anymore"? Such would be the easy way out. Such would be the way that leads to regrets later.

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul writes in the fourth chapter, "Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up." (2 Corinthians 4:1 HCSB) As I read those words, I thought about where I had been in my past. To even be here today is an act of mercy by God. To be given the ministry that I have been given is an even greater act of mercy by God. I read on. Scripture has a way of drawing us to a place where our emptiness finds fulfillment, where our depleted selves find renewed passion. Paul wrote, "We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) Oh, the strength that comes from the Word of God. Then, again, Paul wrote, "Therefore we do not give up." (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Life will give you a series of events that will lead you to a place where you say, "I don't think I am going to get up again." But faith leads you to get up again, lean upon the strength of the Lord, and to know that there will be moments that present themselves that are inexplicably inspired by God, where you can proclaim the reason you have hope. I wanted to stay in bed, but the Lord wanted me to talk to over 300 people about the love of Jesus, the cross of Christ, and the life that is found in Jesus' victory over the grave. I am so glad I didn't just stay in bed!

In Memory of Clifton Clapp - July 23rd, 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Faith or Failure


The bottom line. An “A” means passing, while “F” is failing. First place is winning, last place is losing. The number of people means more effective. In our culture today, we have unlimited numbers of ways to measure success and failure. The longevity of something prides itself as success, while the brevity of something immediately points to failure. What is concerning is when these same thought processes, these same ways of measuring success and failure, are applied to our faith. But so often, they are.

I am not the pastor of a megachurch. I am the pastor of a medium-sized congregation in rural North Carolina. I serve a group of people who have the heart of God, the faith of mountain-movers, the love that is rarely seen in a world self-absorbed, and the work ethic of world-changers. It is indeed a blessing. I serve as their enigmatic leader, who is constantly one misstep away from a nervous breakdown. Yet, they love me anyways.

Today, I kept thinking about different things in ministry over the years and measuring them according to the standards that I mentioned to open this blog. This program gets an “A” because it has lasted for five years. The attempt at that ministry was a failure because it didn’t do what I thought it would do and was shut down. Even more dangerous than that assessment came when I started to do the same with the ministry I have had over nearly two decades and started assessing myself in the same manner.

On my way home tonight, the idea of failure overly fresh in the mind, the Lord reminded me of the cross. On crucifixion day, the cross seemed to be the sign of failure. Jesus, the leader of the group of disciples now fearing an equal fate, was dead. Jesus, the opposition as the Pharisees saw Him, had been overcome. Jesus, the very One Satan wanted to see gone, was gone. To have looked at the cross at that moment would have been to see something the world regarded as a failure. Here, the Rebel who had come had taken His rebellion too far and paid the ultimate price. The cross – the place that appeared to be a great “failure” but was anything but. You see, you can’t have an empty tomb without a cross before it.

You are wondering where this is going. When it comes to faith, we cannot measure things by results, for in the workings of faith, there are results that are unseen. We cannot simply assess things by numbers, by giving it a grade on appearance, by judging it through the worldly lens of winning and losing. There is no failure in faith when faithfulness has been taken to its extreme. When we are working out things in faith, rather than asking if we failed, we are presented with this question from the Lord – “Were you faithful?” Faithfulness to God is never a failure, even if the results appear to be a failure in our eyes. Our goal is to be faithful to God and allow Him to work about the results.

Philippians 2:8 tells us “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on a cross.” He was faithful. What could have been seen as failure to the world, was seen as faithfulness in the eyes of God.

This is a reminder to you, and myself, to avoid seeing yourself, or your efforts for the Lord, as a failure. God can see what we cannot see and God can do what we cannot do. Satan is the one who likes to label us as failures and longs for us to give up because we have appeared to fail. God tells us just to remain faithful to Him and watch Him work through that faith. Whether it is a ministry you are involved in, or a work you are writing, or an idea God has planted in your mind, remain faithful and it will never be a failure. What may seem like a cross today might just lead to an empty tomb a few days from now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

You are Enough

This week, I learned a valuable lesson, taught to me by a five-year-old little girl who possesses a heart of pure gold. Yes, I am biased. She's one of my little princesses. But this week, that little angel made her daddy stop and realize what is really important in life.

I am a pastor. I am an author. I am pursuing my Master's Degree to make me a better pastor and working hard to become a better writer. I am a husband and father, a son and a brother. In the course of a week, I switch gears constantly, trying to achieve the next thing set before me and set an example for the ones who look to me. As Sunday night wound down, fighting the mental exhaustion of another week, I sat at the computer trying to write a paper for class. That's when it happened.

My daughter asked me, "Daddy, what happens if you don't finish your paper tonight?". I said that I would get a failing grade, but she didn't understand what that meant. So, I thought for a minute about how to explain it to where she would understand the importance of me finishing my assignment. I told her, "You know how you get a sticker when you do good on your schoolwork? Well, if Daddy doesn't get this turned in on time, he won't get his sticker."

She was behind me, so I could not see her face when I said those words. I focused on the papers in front of me, ensuring I would fulfill the requirements of the professor and in turn, keep a GPA that was without blemish. For some reason, in each stage of life, I find myself trying to prove to the world and to other people that I am indeed enough. A minute or two later, a little hand appeared and a heart-shaped sticker had been applied to my shirt from a 5-year-old, her way of telling me that I am enough for her.

I nearly cried. The rigors of life are tough for all of us. We strive to be something in this world and do all that we can to make a difference in the life of someone else. We long to hear the words, "You are enough" but are often faced with little acknowledgement of what has been done and an immediate response of the next thing we must accomplish. Before long, we are overwhelmed as the requests just keep coming, the demands just keep mounting. Then, in a moment of utter exhaustion and weakness, someone says, "You are enough for me".

As Christians, the Bible is such a sticker sent to us by the Lord, the very One who created us. It is the reminder that we were important enough to God that He would send His Son to die for us. You want a verse that tells you such a fact? Here goes - "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 HCSB) As mentioned in the verse - we were broken, separated and decimated by sin, yet God said we were enough to send His Son to the cross to die for us. His love is proven by the cross. As we look at the cross, it screams out to us that God loves us so much. The world may tell you that you are not enough, but the cross says that you are.

I keep that sticker in my wallet now to remind me that, though I may not be what everyone else in the world wants me to be, to my little girl I am enough. I keep my Bible with me as a constant reminder that the Lord says I am enough. I keep a tiny wooden cross in my pocket to remind me that the love of God is more than enough for me.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Overlooking the Valley

Every time I go there, I get a lump in my throat. The place reminds me of how I failed. The town's welcome sign is a reminder that it was here that everything fell apart. Today, I had to go back, but this time was different.
Often, we are told that pastors need to be careful of being too transparent. Perhaps that is true. Maybe we should keep up a cloak of perfection to keep the respect of the people we are guiding. Not me, though. I'm not built that way. If anything, I feel that the more transparent I am, the more real I am. I long for people to listen to me, not because I am the "perfect" Christian, but because I follow a perfect Savior.
Today, I went back. Normally, I'd pull my hat low and hope to avoid anyone who may remember me, but let's be honest, after nearly fifteen years, few would even know it was me anymore. Is it to avoid a chance run-in or is it more about the shame? Definitely the shame. I have carried it for a decade and a half. Today, I never pulled the hat down low. I refused to hurry away to avoid some awkward interaction that may/may not happen. Instead, I went to the mountain, overlooking the valley where I fled when my world collapsed.
I thought about Peter. As he denied Christ three times, he had failed. He was forgiven and restored by Jesus, but I always wonder how often he thought about the courtyard where he denied knowing Jesus. When he walked by the courtyard, did he feel the pain that came the night he refused to acknowledge his allegiance to Jesus? Did the shame hit again that the One who was being beaten and would be nailed to a cross was dying for him? Could he hear his own words from that night repeatedly in his ears, ever the reminder of the day he failed?
I drove to the top of the mountain today, but today was different. As I drove, I kept thinking about how far my life has come since that time. Not because I am any good, understand that. My life has progressed because of the mercies of God and the power of the Lord. Period. He could have left me in the valley but today, He led me to the mountaintop. From the time of my life's collapse to today, one verse continued to minister to me and push me forward - "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin." Proverbs 24:16. I had fallen. God had picked me up. He dusted me off, redeemed me, and restored me just as He restored Peter after the courtyard.
Did I know that I had been forgiven? Yes. Scripture is clear on the forgiveness of sin. However, I continued all these years to carry the shame. Not today. The cross held more than just the sin on the day that Jesus died for us. The shame was nailed there as well, the shame that I do not have to carry anymore. In Christ, I am a new creation. Today, His mercies are new. And I am no longer in that valley - I am on the mountaintop.
Before I left today, it began to snow lightly. Ever the excited snow-lover, I stood and watched as the flakes descended from heaven to the earth below. And then He taught me more about His grace. Psalm 51:7 says, "Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." Isaiah 1:18 says, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow." The Lord knows I can be a slow learner, but those snowflakes assured that I would get the message today, a message He sent on a mountaintop that overlooked a once overwhelming valley.
Why does this matter to you? Because the same God who restored my life to something greater than it ever would have been, the same Lord who is the defining force of my life, is the same one who will do the same for you. You may be in the valley, but if the Lord is allowed to take over, He can take you to the mountaintop as well and when you arrive at the pinnacle, you will know that it was the work of His hands that lifted you to such a height. And at that place, you will truthfully sing, "It is well with my soul."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Shrugging or Sobbing?

Paul's desire to reach the lost has never been in question. He planted churches, completed missionary journeys that baffle our minds today, leaving a footprint of faith that exists until today. He wrote to the Philippians a letter that gives great verses that empower believers. Yet, when he reaches what we know as the end of the third chapter, he writes a phrase that has spoken to my heart so deeply that I have written a book based on the verse. He wrote, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ." (Philippians 3:18 NKJV)
Tears flowed as the words were written. Tears came as the realization set in even more, without the cross those souls were doomed. For Paul, it was personal. For Paul, it wasn't simply that they were of a different mindset. To him, the gut-wrenching truth said that those people were a breath away from a Christ-less eternity and it brought tears to his eyes.
Jesus had a similar experience. As the time came for Christ to go to the cross, to die for the sins of humanity, He came to Jerusalem and wept for a city and a people that were misguided and lost. Luke records it this way: "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:41-42 NKJV)
David Jeremiah said that Jesus wept for three reasons: "1) the great privileges that were being abused; 2) the great possibilities that had been rejected; and 3)the great punishment He knew was coming on the city and its people." The state of their soul distressed the Savior in such a way that it brought tears to His eyes. What they had needed stood in front of them yet they could not see. 
So, looking at these Scriptures, we ask ourselves, "What is our reaction to the lost nature of the souls around us?" Are we truly moved by the reality of that which awaits those who reject Christ or is it not that big of a deal to us? Those who shrug their shoulders in response to someone's dive towards hell never understood how Jesus viewed those souls. One who can shrug their shoulders fail to understand that the Great Commission is more than a good suggestion. Are we moved to tears as we watch Satan shackle the lives of others and if so, what will we do about it? The ones whose souls are moved in such a way by the lost nature of another are the ones who will not stop in their quest to take the gospel to those who need it the most. Those who are untouched by the lost nature of others are content in religious activities without committal to the cross. Now that leads to the ultimate question - "Am I moved to tears or can I shrug it off as not my problem?" The answer to that tells the depth of our understanding of Jesus.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Transformation

Most of our lives, we simply try to fit in. Look at our clothes. We try to keep up with a style that is ever-changing. Look at our pursuit of possession. We sell our souls to have what everyone else has only to find that it requires twice the effort to obtain it and maintain it. We are so fearful of being left behind, of being behind the times, that we forget all the while that we are not called to look like the world nor pursue the quests of the world.

Growing up, my mother would buy me shirts with various Christian symbols and verses on them. Rarely did I even pay attention to what was on the shirt. I wore it because it was clean. However, one day, I took note of the shirt I had chosen to wear. The slogan of the shirt was "Dare To Be Different" and underneath that logo was printed Romans 12:2. I had never read the verse before, but curiosity led me to open a Bible and see what I was promoting that day.

The words were a call from God for me to change. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2 ESV) I was wearing something that said I was called out, something that said I was different, while I was seeking to fit in with the world around me.

Conforming. We see it all around us today. We see it in the choices we make, the words that we speak, the schedules we set, and the company we keep. Living like Christ often means little more to us than going to church and not doing the "BIG" sins, rather than looking like the biblical call to die to ourselves and live for Him. Have we experienced a transformation? Are there signs of change within our lives?

Today, I helped to deliver the message at the funeral of a young lady who passed away at the age of twenty-four. So young. So full of life. Yet, she is no longer on this earth. Her life had been touched by the Lord and now, I sit here tonight and look for the evidence that my life has experienced a transformation by the hands of the Lord. Is my faith something of words, like a T-shirt I put on and take off, or is my faith the condition of my heart, the very fabric of who I am?

Be not conformed to this world. Those words force us to examine our lives and ask are we living more for the world or for Christ. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Have our minds experienced a transformation away from the mind of the flesh to a place where we approach life with the mind of Christ?

By God's grace, we have this moment. We have a chance to change. The Lord listens for the prayer that comes from the depths of the heart that cries out, "Change my heart, Lord." For when that prayer is prayed, the transformation begins!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Using Your Platform

As writers and leaders, we are constantly challenged to increase our platform, to reach others with the message that we have been given. As an author, I have spent the previous month truly focusing on expanding my platform, hoping the Lord would open new doors, assist in making new connections, giving an opening for the message to reach more people. He did. Now, what do we do with such a platform?

Each day, we come into contact with a variety of people. Co-workers, fellow church members, friends, family members, social media friends/followers, acquaintances at our favorite restaurants and those we have come to know at the local gas station, and even strangers on the street are all placed in our lives and in our paths by the directive hand of God. There are no coincidences and as these interactions take place on a daily and weekly basis, what message are they receiving from our lives?

Having a platform, which we all have been blessed with whether it be fifteen people or thousands of individuals, means that we are responsible/accountable for the message that comes from our lives. What do they see in us? What do they hear from us? The message which our lives tell will live on long after these lives have ended on earth.

Joshua was in a place of leadership. He had a platform. As a leader, he ensured that those following, those who saw him as a leader, knew the direction of his life and the message was clear. In Joshua 24, we read, "Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:14-15 NKJV)

His message was clear. He was going to serve the Lord, and his house would do the same. The people had a choice, but regardless of the choice they made, Joshua would proclaim that there was only one God and that was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He used his platform to proclaim truth and in that truth, to point the people to where they needed to be. He challenged those who listened, he gave them a message that said they could not serve the gods in Egypt, nor the gods of the Amorites, and simultaneously serve the Lord. So, they had to choose. No matter what choice they made, he was not going to change his allegiance, which belonged to the Lord.

Our message must be clear. Our message must point people in an eternal direction. Our message must also be backed by a life of consistency. When we use our platform for such a purpose, when we use our influence for the Lord, then we see the Lord increase that influence, opening new doors and new opportunities for His message to be shared. As we have been given these opportunities, let's be sure to use them for His glory, that others may come to know Him and walk more closely with Him.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Beginning

Morning broke on a New Year, and with the rising of the sun were the hatchlings of the mind as to what could be in this year. For most, we are planning what vacations we will take, putting financial goals for the year on paper, while setting reminders of important dates. Yes, a new beginning is here and as we gaze upon the possibilities, we hope to squeeze every ounce of life we can out of this year.

As we prepare for what will be, we must also ask ourselves the question, "What are my faith goals this year?" To fail to set goals for our faith is to set aside God as we pursue all that which the world has dangled in front of our eyes. Yes, it is important to get physically healthier this year, but becoming spiritually healthier is just as important. It is important to invest our finances for the future but an investment in the kingdom of God is of far greater value. The time spent relaxing, away from the cares of life is necessary, as is time alone with God that is consistent and valued.

Proverbs 29:18 reads, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18 KJV) Without a vision for our faith for this year, we will suffer and those around us will suffer. You may wonder how others will suffer. Think about this for a moment. We are not our best when we neglect to connect with the Lord. What results is that we are not the reflection of God that we need to be to a world that is lost and we are less likely to lead our families and impact our friends as we should. When our relationship with God is not priority, all of our other relationships suffer in some manner.

So, how do we set a vision for this year for our faith? Here are a few suggestions. Making the growth of our spiritual life a priority is a wise decision, so let's look at a few areas that can help us grow in 2018.

1 - Personal Quiet Time - To get alone with God is important. To plan it is even more important. Whatever we do not set aside time for, we will neglect to find time for. Even if it is ten minutes in the morning, any additional time spent with God will lead us to grow in Him.

2 - Family Faith Activities - Immediately, we think of church events. What are we doing the rest of the week? Is there a night each month when we can watch a faith-based movie? Scheduling a time of devotion will also help the family grow in faith. Finding a family ministry activity is also something that will glorify the Lord and help our family's spiritual growth during the year. Some ideas to consider:
  • Visiting widows in your area
  • Family outings to shop for Operation Christmas Child
  • Randomly making dinners for others and delivering them
  • Leading a coat drive/canned food drive
3 - Cultivate the environment - Controlling the environment which we exist in can drastically affect our lives. Our choice in music can lead us closer to God, refocusing our minds on Him, or it can be the noise of the world that fails to lead us to growth in the Lord. What we watch on television, what books we read, and the choice of movies we watch are all things that we can control and if our desire is to grow closer to God, we have to change the environment around us as much as possible.

I pray that this year is a year where we will have a vision for growing in the Lord and make Him our priority. We have to remember that if there is no vision, we will fail to grow and all will suffer. Happy 2018! May God bless you as you grow in Him.