Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Monday, December 22, 2014

Learn from it First, then Let it Go!

Ok, ok. I'll admit it. Yes...I watched it. Yes...I watched it...and I liked it! happy now. Now everybody knows I watched the movie Frozen, and I liked it! Ok, so I have daughters, and I thought they were both just past the age of liking those kind of movies. I thought that over the years I had paid my dues, having watched all the princesses in action that Disney could round up. I've seen Ariel the Mermaid, Belle (the beauty of Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine from Aladdin, Pocahontus, Mulan, Raponzel, and probably some others I'm leaving out. I've even seen them all together skating with Disney on ice. So I thought all that was behind me, until this movie came out. My girls wanted to see it, so daddy went to see it. Don't get me wrong, the others were good, and I enjoyed watching them with my babies. But I figured, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. So I was looking forward to getting a quick nap. But it was actually good. In fact really good. But, now the only thing is, I can't get that song out of my head. What song? Oh, you know what song! Sing it with me now. (1 anda 2 anda) "Let it gooooo...Let it gooooo...." Yeah. I knew that you knew what I was talking about. I don't even know what she says after that. Just "Let it goooooo....Let it gooooo.....".
The whole world seems to be adopting that chant as our cry to deal with the past, and the hurt, and the pain, and whatever it is holding us back, and to just "Let it goooo....Let it gooooo....". And that's cool. In fact that's biblical. The Apostle Paul wrote "...forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14). Jesus himself said in Luke 9:62 "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." So it's good for us to "Let it goooooo....Let it gooooo.....". But....before you do. Let me give you a piece of advice. Before you let it go, you need to learn from it. Because if you don't, you're likely to pick it right back up again. (Purposeful pause to let that sink in). Let me say it again. Before you let it go, you need to learn from it. Because if you don't, you're likely to pick it right back up again.
Come on, let's be honest. How many of us have gotten ourselves into a bad situation, prayed for God to help us, got out, let it go, only to later find ourselves right back in the same situation? All of us! For some it was a bad relationship. You let it go, then later picked up another bad relationship. Some it was bad financial decisions. Got in debt, got in trouble, got out, let it go; then went right back and spent money you had no business spending on stuff you had no business buying. Might even be someone reading this who committed a crime, spent time in jail, got out, let it go, then later committed another crime. Hey I could stay here all day coming up with examples, but let me let you fill in your own blanks here. "I did __________; it caused ________ in my life; I asked God to help me not to _________ ever again; I let it go; and before I knew it I had _____________ again."
Look. God allows us to go through difficult situations in our lives, not so He can prove how weak or stupid we are; not because He enjoys seeing us suffer. No! He allows those things to come our way so they will make us stronger, wiser, and closer to Him. In fact the scriptures teach that we should be thankful for those growing opportunities. Romans 5: 3-4 "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope". But we can't just let it go and not learn from it. Otherwise our lives would become a constant rerun of the same bad movie.
So if you are in the midst of something right now, pray this little prayer.
"Lord, I am going through a tough time. If You will help me to get past it, I don't want to ever go through it again. So make my eyes wise to see where I am wrong, what I can do differently, and how I can grow from this experience. Then Father, help let it go! In Jesus name. Amen!"
Now you can go about the rest of your day singing your song...."Let it goooooo....Let it gooooo....."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Love that Chases

Have you ever had to chase after someone that you loved? You saw them, you knew them, and you loved them. But...they didn't love you back. They really had no notion of loving you and at best only wanted to be friends; and you knew that. Yet, you chased them. You saw not even the hint of love returned. Unlike you, they didn't feel happy when you walked into the room. They didn't feel sad when you walked out. They weren't thinking of you when you weren't around; in fact they barely thought of you when you were. And you as much figured that. But you were driven by your love for them and a hope that one day they'd feel the same way. And so, you chased them. It's amazing the endurance we can find in our heart and our legs when we are motivated by love.
Usually in the movies the guy eventually gets the girl and the girl gets the guy. But not always so in real life. Some of you reading this right now are thinking of the one that got away even though it's been years since you gave up the chase. Some of you would start the chase all over again if given the chance, because that's just how love is. And if you think that the romantic, passion-driven love that we are capable of producing on our own will motivate a chase, then you need to hear about the power of the unconditional, unrelenting love that only God can give. Let me explain with a personal story.
See the bible I'm holding in this picture? That's the bible that was given to me when I graduated from high school in 1989 by the church I was a member of growing up, Mt. Bethel. Ironically, in this picture I was using that bible as an illustration when speaking at a baccalaureate service a few years ago. That's not my "preaching bible", but it's very special to me, and I keep it close by. When I was given that bible, I wasn't saved. I thought it was nice of the church to give it to me, but honestly I was more impressed by the monetary gift I received. I took it home and laid it down somewhere in my room. A few months later I went off to college. I really don't remember packing it, but that bible managed to follow me there. While at ECU (Go Pirates!), I stayed in two different dorms, and an apartment, and that bible came along with me. Granted, I don't remember opening it one single time. I graduated, moved back home for a while, got married the next year and moved into our own house. In all of that moving, I never remember packing the bible, but it managed to show up every time. About two years after I got married, I started to feel the pull of God on my heart, and I finally surrendered. And when that desire to read God's word hit me, I didn't have to look far for a bible to read. It was right there all the time. Now when I look at that Bible, you know what verse I think about? "Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.- Psalm 23:6 (NLT)
You see, I believe God was chasing me. God loves me so much that He pursued me for all those years. Long before I ever loved Him, He already loved me. Long before I ever reached out to Him, He was reaching out to me. He had been trying to send me messages all of my life to let me know how much He loves me and all that He has done for me. Yet up until that Sunday in 1997, I ignored every one. During the times I wasn't thinking of Him, didn't want to talk to Him, and certainly wasn't following Him, He was chasing after me. Now that is some kind of love! And one day I finally realized that, stopped running and gave in.
And guess what! God loves you that much too. So if you haven't turned to Him, know that He is still chasing after you. And He will until the world ends or you finally give in.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Won't Go Back, I Can't Go Back!

Most of my morning commutes to work are pretty boring and monotonous. I've been at my job for 13 years, pretty much driving the same way errr day. But every now and then the Lord will sprinkle a little excitement in there to keep it interesting. Well, day before yesterday, He did just that. I was driving along with a line of a few cars in front of me. I was approaching this sharp curve, people from around here know it as dead man's curve. I noticed the car in front of me, and then the cars in front of it, hitting their brakes, way too abruptly to be braking for the curve. Without knowing why, I figured it was a good reason, so I hit my brakes too. That's when I noticed a momma deer with two young deer following behind her. They weren't babies, but still young enough to be closely following their momma. They were crossing the road from the left side to the right. They were looking real jittery like they had been on the run for a while. It's deer season, so I'm sure they had been. I was so glad that all of us were able to slow down in time for them to safely cross over. This would have been a much different post had we not.
Well after they cautiously crossed the road and safely reached the other side, they shifted back into high gear to find their way back into the woods. But, they quickly found a pasture fence blocking them. All three stopped at it, and I imagined the momma deer saying something like "You've got to be kidding me. Dogs on my butt, almost hit by cars, and now this?! Can a doe get a break?". To which I mentally replied "I know the feeling sista girl...story of my life."
All of us were slowly creeping by thinking they may turn around and come back across. But I think she started singing that William McDowell song to herself "I won't go back..I can't go the way it used to be". And let me tell you. Sista girl bent her knees slightly, and leaped right over that fence, which was about 4 or 5 feet tall. No running start or nothing. I was like..."Go head then!". But her babies were like..."Hey, what about us?". They both approached it, sized it up, and I guess figured they didn't yet have it like momma. But I believe they heard momma singing, "I won't go back...I can't go back.." (You can tell I grew up on lots of cartoons with talking animals). So they both got down on their bellies, and one after the other scurried under that fence. That bottom strand of high tensile wire couldn't have been more than 12 inches off the ground. I've never seen a deer get down like that, literally or figuratively speaking.
Well, if you've been reading my posts for any amount of time, then you know I'm always looking and listening for God in everyday experiences. And what I learned from that experience is that..."I won't go back...I can't go back...". Hey, I know we all go through rough times in our lives. I know you've faced many days like I have where it felt like the dogs were on your butt, the car horns were blowing, and a fence popped up from nowhere blocking your path; even if we are Christians. The children of Israel faced it too. God sent Moses to deliver them, yet no sooner than they passed the "Thanks for Visiting Egypt" sign, Pharaoh was hot on their tails, there were mountains on both sides, and the Red Sea in front of them. Then the people started crying and complaining and saying to Moses, "Why you bring us out here only to die". Moses prayed to God, asking what he should do. And the Lord spoke these words very directly and firmly to Moses, "Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." (Exodus 14:15)
We've got to do like the Lord showed Moses and Israel. We have to learn to let our faith in God overshadow our fear of the unknown. We've got to remember that everything God has promised is ahead of us and not behind us. We've got to keep telling ourselves that the past is called the past for a very good reason. Then we should take a cue from that momma deer and keep moving forward no matter what. So, I've decided that whether I'm able to go over, or I have to crawl under, either way..."I won't go back...I can't go back...".

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I Don't Want You to See Who I Really Am!

Suppose it was perfectly acceptable for you to walk out of the house today, heading to work or school or wherever you are heading, ...totally naked. Of course pretending for a moment that it was warm enough to bare all, but what if there were no laws against it, and your work or school dress code allowed it. Would you? My guess would be many of you would not. I know I wouldn't. That's because the reason most of us wear clothes is not just because laws or social norms require them, but more so because there's a lot about our bodies we don't want others to see. So we cover it up. And even with the parts of us that are not generally concealed by clothing, if we don't like how it looks, we try to cover it in other ways. Blemishes on your face? Ladies cover with make up or men might grow a beard. Hair thinning? Put a hat on it. Legs spotty or veiny? Wear long pants, skirt to your ankles or pantyhose. I could go on with examples, but you get the idea. And the idea is that we have come up with many ways to conceal what we really look like and...who we really are.

That effort runs much deeper when it comes to our character flaws and personality imperfections. And even deeper than that when we talk about our spiritual shortcomings. Just like how we dress over our mess, we can work just as hard to hide our sinful thoughts, words and actions. Many of us can even conceal it, and at least think, talk and act right long enough to sit in church for a few hours each week. And the folks sitting around us are none the wiser. They have no clue of the violent thoughts you've been thinking. Couldn't imagine the curse words you sometimes mumble low enough where no one hears you. Would never guess how many of your waking and sleeping hours you spend lusting after someone who belongs to someone else or material possessions you don't possess. No one knows that because we have gotten good at covering it up.

But there are not enough clothes or proper talk or christian-like conduct that could ever hide it from God. He sees all and He knows all. I know, cramps up my stomach too. But this is the thing. He knows it, but He still loves us. And because He loves us, He is not going to leave us that way. If we will surrender to Him and obey Him, He won't help us cover up what we're not proud of...He'll fix it. And not just patch it up either. He will change our whole lives and give us a brand new start and take us to places we never ever could reach without Him. Just read this beautiful prayer written by King David.

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, Sovereign Lord, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty! Do you deal with everyone this way, O Sovereign Lord?  “What more can I say to you? You know what your servant is really like, Sovereign Lord." 2 Samuel 7:18-20 (NLT)

David prayed this just after God reminded him of how he brought him from tending sheep to be a mighty King. Then God made a covenant with David, an eternal promise, to make his lineage a great dynasty.

When others looked at David, what they saw was a mighty King, strong in battle, able leader, and righteous servant. But what they couldn't see was the lust that he harbored in his heart. The lust that would later, in chapter 11, lead him to sleep with another man's wife, get her pregnant, then come up with a scheme to have her husband killed on the battlefield. But at this point, he is hiding that lust very well. Everyone else still saw David with all of his spiritual clothes on. But God saw him for who he really was. Which is why David said, "You know what your servant is really like".

Look don't get any ideas about my question earlier. Go ahead and put your clothes on. And go ahead and put on your makeup or your hat or your wig or your pantyhose, or whatever you put on to hide whatever it is you don't want us to see. And when you go to church this Sunday, don't feel like you have to tell everyone what you've been thinking, saying or doing. We don't have to see everything or know everything about you. But always remember, God sees it all, and God knows who you really are....and He still loves you!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You Hate Me? But You Don't Even Know Me!

Ok...sensitive subject...deep breath...ok go...RACISM! I know right. Makes me queezy too. But real issue? I think so. Still exists? I think so. Things gotten better? I think so. Still need the Lord's help in doing away with it? I know so. Well the other day I heard a very interesting interview on the radio of a man named Daryl Davis, an African American musician who met a member of the KKK in a bar where he was playing. The guy liked his music; said he played just like Jerry Lee Lewis. He started inviting some of his fellow klan members to hear him, and they liked his music too. Some of them would sit and talk to Daryl after his set, while some wouldn't even shake his hand. Daryl and his "buddy" from the klan kept in touch as he would show up to hear him whenever he was back in that bar. Long story short, after having lost touch for a few years, Daryl looked up his buddy just to see how he was doing. Lo and behold he had quit the klan. He said that after getting to know Daryl, he no longer could find good reason to continue being a part of it.

Daryl, who'd become interested in what the klan believes in and why they believe in it, started writing a book about it. He talked his buddy into giving him the phone number of the grand dragon of the KKK. He wanted to interview him. (Oh yeah I said long story short) Well they had a tense first meeting, but gained respect for each other. Davis developed something of a friendship with this high-ranking klan member, who later became the Imperial Wizard. But what fascinates me most about this story is the reason Daryl pursued this topic so obsessively. He said that he was trying to understand how a person who had never met him could hate him. How someone who knew nothing about him could despise his very existence.

I think that pretty much sums up the evil that is embedded in racism. To think that someone would hate me simply because I'm Native American; or you because you're African American; or you because you're Caucasian; or you because you're Asian, or Mexican, or biracial, or because they don't know what you are. And though in the US race-based hate has been a cancer in our society for a long time, we certainly don't hold a monopoly on it. People hate other people they don't even know all over the world, and not always based on race. Just ask the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, or the Jews and the Palestinians in the Middle East. The branches of the hate tree reach far and its roots run deep. In fact they run all the way back to the garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve encountered the first racist ever known to mankind; satan. Oh, he doesn't just hate the black race, or the white race, or the Indian race, or the Asian race. No, he's pretty much equal opportunity with his hate. He hates the human race. And if you think that the death, pain and suffering that racism has caused in this world is terrible, then you don't even want to know what our great adversary has in mind for all of us. And remember, he hated you before he ever knew you.
So what can we do about that kind of hate? How can we guard ourselves against that kind of evil?
Well, we can't. But God can. We should be encouraged by God's word that tells us "It has come at last; salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth, the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony." (Revelation 12:10-11)

You see, Jesus is in charge and He will protect us. But we have to believe in Him and what He did on the Cross (the blood of the Lamb), and we have to tell others about it (the word of our testimony). Peace summits are great, but ultimately they won't work. We can sing We are the World until we're blue in the face, but that won't stop it. As Rev. Billy Graham said, the only force greater than the evil in this world [including racism] is the love of God. And remember, "Greater is he that is in me, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4)

Try Jesus!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Row, Row, Row Your Boat!

Did I tell you about the time I fell out of a canoe? Well it was the one and only time I have ever been canoeing, and of course I fell out of the boat. It was several years ago that I participated in a regional leadership program. The program not only included various workshops and training sessions, but we also had team-building activities, one of which was to pair up and canoe down the Tar River. I had never been canoeing before, and thought it would be a great experience for me, even though I was a little nervous.
So the instructor gave us the how-to's and the what-not's, fitted us with a life jacket and then pointed us to our canoes. The lady that was sharing the boat with me, it was her first time too; she was in the front and I was in the back. I thought it would be a better spot for me, but later found out it was more responsibility than I was ready for because it was my job to steer it. But, I figured it couldn't be that bad because it was in the middle of a dry summer and the instructor said the river was really low and slow, and in some places we may even have to get out and carry the boat for a short distance.
Well God's word says there is nothing too hard for Him, but sometimes I think there is nothing that easy for Eric. It was a long canoe, with enough room between me and her that two other people could have joined us. And that made coordinating our paddling difficult. About halfway through our trip down the river, somehow she shifted too far one way, and I shifted too far the other, and when we both tried to straighten ourselves up, we leaned too far the same way and....the boat tipped over. Now, through most of the trip, the river was barely deep enough to get my knees wet were I walking across it. But, wouldn't you know that where we fell in was one of the few spots that was about shoulder deep.
So then was the challenge of getting back in the canoe. The instructor had told us what to do if we happened to fall in, but I barely paid attention because I thought how hard could that be. Well I found out exactly how hard. I am so glad the instructor paddled over to coach us back in the boat. We first had to flip it back over, then, with the boat now at eye level, had to reach across to the opposite side, grab on and pull ourselves in with this funny kicking, wiggling, don't pull too hard cause you'll be right back in the water motion. And to my surprise, somehow we did it. We were soaking wet, and my partner was piping mad, but..we made it.
I think God reminded me of that story because being on this Christian journey is a lot like that experience on the river. Sometimes, even when life seems slow and easy, it can throw you for a loop and we can find ourselves neck-deep in water. But even with the reality of that, I thank the Lord that when I gave my life to Him, He didn't just let me set sail solo. He gave me all my brothers and sisters in Christ who have turned their boats around and are now paddling in the same direction as me. In particular, those who are in my church family are in the same boat. As was on that day on the Tar River, we don't always see eye to eye, and we sometimes have a hard time coordinating our strokes; but we're at least going in the same direction in the same boat. So if we float, we float together, and if we tip it over sometimes, we're at least in the water together.
I know that no church could ever be perfect because it will always be filled with imperfect people. But if you are a part of a local church family, then you need to thank God for the blessings of the Body of Christ. It's so good to know that we are never in this river alone.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Momma's Voice and the Light on the Porch

As it's starting to get dark earlier now, it reminds me of when I was little our play time outside got cut short this time of the year. The rule was no matter where we went out to play or what we were playing, we had to be home before it got dark. Of course getting dark is not something that happens in a moment, but darkness gradually creeps in. But when my momma laid down that law, we knew exactly what she meant. She meant that when the outside light on the pole came on, it was dark, and my behind better already be in the house. I remember that no matter what we were playing or how loud we were when playing it, the faint hum of that light coming on would drown everything out and send us running home.

I remember playing ball at the elementary school right down from my house. It was the only thing close to a playground in our neighborhood and both young and not so young people would gather there after hours to play basketball. Well, there was one rare time that I was out there by myself. I was enjoying having the court alone, and was really into my own imaginary game. I was probably doing my usual "3,2,1..and Magic scores the winning shot!" (of course I was playing the part of Magic). But in all that fun, I did not hear the hum of that light coming on. But what did grab my attention was the voice of my none-too-pleased mother calling my name from our back porch. It was at those times that I wished my name was anything but Eric.

But suddenly when I heard her calling my name, not only in that moment did I realize I was in trouble, but I also realized how dark it had gotten. I guess since my eyes were gradually adjusting as the light gradually dimmed, I hadn't noticed. So now I had to walk home, or run home since momma was still calling my name, in the dark. The further I went, the darker it got, and the more scared I became. By the time I was halfway home, I could barely see two feet in front of me, and the walk home that was probably a tenth of a mile seemed like ten miles. I started hearing all kinds of noises and seeing all kinds of shadows that my mind quickly fashioned into the most horrific monster it could dream up. So I knew I needed to make it home and fast. So it came to me that I should focus on the light on my back porch and my mother's voice. By following them, I was able to make it back. And even though I knew there was a scolding waiting for me, I didn't mind because I was just glad to be home.

You know, that reminds me that sometimes in life, or even just sometimes in my mind, I stray away from home. I step away from where God wants me to be. Somehow I lead myself to believe it's ok because I'm not that far from home. But I have seen how this world around me can grow dark real quick. And there have been times when I finally realized that I had strayed, it had already gotten so dark that it was hard to find my way back. But the Lord is reminding me through this story that when that happens I need to do now what what I did then. I will follow the light and listen for God's voice. No matter how dark this world gets, it will never drown out the light of God's word. In Psalm 119:105, it reads "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path". I see it and so I will follow it. And no matter what noises are out there, I believe God's word that says "My sheep hear my voice" John 10:27. I will focus on God's voice, and when I hear it I will follow it.

If you have found yourself far from God, I want you to know that you are not as far as you think. Even though you can be far from Him, He is always near to you. Read His word! Listen for His voice! And go back home! It's just like following momma's voice and the light on the back porch.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Do You Need a Touch from Jesus?

I'm sure this whole Ebola outbreak has been on your mind as much as it has been mine. We can't help but to think and talk about it all the time, because it's constantly on the news. The updates are always that it's spreading more and more people have died. I heard one health official make an attempt to minimize the outbreak, and perhaps minimize our fears, by comparing it to other deadly outbreaks in history. Like the Bubonic Plague pandemic in the 14th century that killed millions, possibly hundreds of millions. I suppose when you line this Ebola outbreak up side by side with The Black Death, as it was called, or even the Spanish Flu, or Cholera, it does seem minor by comparison. But even if Ebola has only killed thousands where others have killed millions, to the people who lost someone they love to the virus, it is the worst epidemic to ever hit the planet. Not to mention our heart pounds harder when we read about a killer virus in the newspaper as opposed to a history book.
A few days ago I read a story online about a 9 year old girl in Liberia who was standing in the street weeping (pic in comments). She had just lost her mother to Ebola, and no one would get close to comfort her because they feared she was infected. So she cried alone while even the people who love her kept their distance. That breaks my heart. I have two daughters, and I can't stand even just the thought of them crying alone without me or anyone else getting close enough to comfort them.
That makes me think of the story of Jesus healing the man with leprosy. Leprosy has been around for a long time; perhaps since near the beginning of time. It has claimed the lives of millions of people, and still today there are over 200,000 cases annually. It is contagious, and without treatment it leads to death. In Jesus' time, lepers were cast out of society, ostracized by even the people who loved them. Most were sent to leper colonies. Those who lived anywhere near others, they were often made to wear a bell around their necks so people would hear them coming and get out of the way. Can you imagine what it would be like to suffer something so bad for so long and no one would come close enough to comfort you? Jesus could. That's why when approached by a man with leprosy, the burden of His heart overpowered the concern in His head, and He reached out and touched the man when no one else would (Matthew 8:1-4).
Do you ever feel alone and rejected? Ever feel like your issues are so messy no one wants to get close? Or maybe you feel like what you've got going on is so complicated, you know people would give you that look if you told them? you just keep it to yourself. And you suffer...alone. Well I hope that you and that 9 year old Liberian girl will know that you never have to suffer alone. Just call on Jesus and you will see that He will never hesitate to approach you and whatever kind of stuff you have going on in your life. Jesus experienced loneliness and rejection so that we don't have to. If you really open up your faith and believe, then you will feel His hug though you can't see His arms.
And while you're praying, let's pray about this Ebola outbreak. While we wait for them to get a handle on its spread, while we wait for a cure, while that little girl waits for a hug, let's give it to over to Jesus who can fix anything.
Now go and hug somebody today. They probably really need one!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Turn on Your Headlights!

A few mornings ago, the fog was so thick when I left home for work I could barely see a few tenths of a mile down the road in front of me. I had to take my time, move forward carefully, be prepared to stop, and make sure my lights were on.
Life can be like that sometimes. Our way can be foggy and unclear, and it's hard to see where we're going. That's why we need to read the Bible and rely on God. God said that His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). In many areas the Word provides a clear view of what is right and wrong; the way to go and the way to avoid. On many issues the yes or no is as clear as a bright, sunny day.
But in some areas, the Bible is not so clear. With some questions the way is kind of foggy. As a preacher, the questions I get hit most often with are not the clear ones, but the foggy ones. Like no one has ever asked, "Pastor I hate a certain person, and I want to kill them. Is that wrong?". That's pretty clear in the Bible. But on other questions, the answer is not so obvious, either because what the Bible speaks on it is unclear, or it doesn't speak on it at all.
So the way I try to approach those kinds of issues is to handle it like you would with driving on a foggy morning. Take your time, move forward carefully, be prepared to stop, and make sure your lights are on. In particular I want to talk about making sure your lights are on. And the two headlights I use are two questions I ask myself. 1) Is my motivation sinful? 2) Will it give God's name glorify or shame? Let's test it out.
Ask me about something you are not sure if it's ok with God. I see your hand; you there eating and getting crumbs all over your computer...Ok, good question. "Is it a sin to buy lottery tickets?" Let's turn on the headlights. 1) Is your motivation sinful? 2) Will it give God's name glorify or shame? I think you have your answer. Next question. You there still wearing Christmas pajamas in September... Ok, another good question. "Can my boyfriend and I go to 'third base' and still be pure until marriage?" Let's turn on the headlights. 1) Is your motivation sinful? 2) Will it give God's name glorify or shame? I think you have your answer. (And by the way, if you're rounding third base really fast, it's easy trip and fall into home plate without even meaning to.) Next question. You there with your forehead knotted up because you don't like the answers to the first two questions...Ok, that's a fair question that many people have. "Can't I just make my own decisions. As long as I'm not hurting anyone, it should be ok right?". Let's turn on the headlights...even when you don't want to see what they reveal, turn them on. 1) Is your motivation sinful? 2) Will it give God's name glorify or shame? Whether you like it or not, I think you have your answer.
Look, there is only one place where we can find the answers to all of our questions, and that's the Bible. Some are obvious, but some need a little light to see. The real question is, once we know the answer, will we obey. Don't get me wrong, I struggle with finding some of the answers, and accepting some of those I do find. That's why I think we should pray about it.
Father, we thank you for sharing Your light in this foggy world. There is no telling where we'd end up without You showing us the way. We pray Lord that You will help us see Your truth when the answers are not so clear. And most of all, we ask that when we find the answers, You give us the strength to obey them. We are so grateful that Your Son has risen and His light is burning away all of the fog and chasing away all of the darkness that was consuming us. And it's in His name that we pray. Amen!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God is Straightening out My Lines!

While growing up working on the farm, one of my regular jobs in the summer and fall was mowing the pastures. As young as 11 or 12, I was mowing with a bush-hog pulled behind my dad's Farmall 140 tractor (some of you know what that is). I remember the first time out to mow, daddy told me that he wanted me to mow in straight lines. He likes his work to be neat, even his farm work. That was a challenge because the pasture is not flat, but rolling hills with trees and ditches to mow around. I asked him how I could do that. He walked up beside the tractor as I was sitting on it backed up on one side of the field. He said "Just look all the way across the pasture to the woods on the other side" as he pointed. "Pick the tallest tree you can see and keep your eyes on it." Then he looked at me "Don't be looking around to see what's going over here or over there; you will lose your tree. And don't look back to see how you're doing, you can do that when you get to the other side. Just keep your eye on that tree and drive this tractor straight to it." Then he walked off to do other things and left me to my mowing.

So I picked my tree, revved up the throttle, let up off the clutch, and started mowing my line. Being a curious little boy with a short attention span, I had to look back to see if his method was working. Low and behold, it was (who knew parents could actually know what they're talking about from time to time). I made it all the way to the other side and turned the tractor around. I was disappointed to see that my line was pretty straight except for the part where I looked back. There was a very obvious curve. So I started again, picked my tree on the opposite side of the farm, and mowed my line. This time I didn't look around, and I didn't look back. And from the other side, I saw that my line was pretty doggone straight. So after several hours, I could look across that pasture and see I had done a good job.

Now as an adult, and more so as a Christian, I can look back at that lesson and see that it has much greater implications than just on a neatly mowed field.God's word gives us pretty much the same advice on how to live our lives. This world and living in it is by no means a flat field. There are lots of hills and valleys and ditches to go around. And we can either choose to just try to live it on a whim, take it as it comes and hope for the best. Or we can set our eyes upon the tallest tree on the horizon, which is the Cross of Christ. If we will open the eyes of our hearts, we'll see that our Heavenly Father has said to all of us what my father said to me. He said we are to focus on the cross and the sacrifice Jesus gave for us. We shouldn't waste time looking around worrying ourselves over the troubles that surround us or comparing ourselves to what others are doing. And He clearly said "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" Luke 9:62

Surely even since I have been saved, I have never been able to mow perfectly straight lines in my life. And if there is anyone who has, I'd like to meet him because His name has to be Jesus. But I can see my lines are a lot straighter than how they used to be. And I have that blessed assurance that one day I will meet my Heavenly Father, and He will look at my field and say ..."Well Done"!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Don't Feel Like Running!

Those of you who have been following my posts for some time might remember that I try to be something of a novice runner. I've been jogging off and on for several years (sad to say more off than on). Right now I'm on. I used to run outdoors mostly, but now I do most of my running on a treadmill. But look, I'm certainly not bringing this up because I'm trying to get you to think more highly of me than you ought to. Trust me. It's not that impressive. Not to mention, my weight is not where I want it to be, and my clothes don't fit like I'd like them to, and I definitely have as many insecurities about myself as I do things to brag about. But....I'm working on it! I do my best to take the emotional energy I could be burning by whining and complaining about it, and use it to do something about it.
With that said, let me get to my point.
Yesterday morning I got up early enough to run before church. As I dragged my sleepy behind out the bed and eventually out the door, I thought about how much I was dreading what I was about to do. I would think that by now, it would be easy for me. After all I've been jogging for a long time (off and on), and run at least 3 times per week, often more. During the week on my lunch break I run for 30 minutes non-stop at the gym. When I run at home, I run 2 to 3 miles. I have even completed a 5k race (3.1 miles if you didn't know). Yet, I realized that it never gets easy, and I never enjoy it. I have pushed myself to run longer and faster, and my legs and lungs feel stronger, but it never gets easy to me. Some people can jog with their buddies and have a conversation while doing it. I can't. In order to finish my run, I can't waste one single breath on doing anything else. I think I mentioned in a post some time back that just about every time I run, something different hurts at the outset and I have to run through it.
Don't get me wrong. I definitely enjoy the benefits of running; the physical and mental affects, and the feeling of accomplishment. But I never "get the urge" to go for a run. Sure I get a craving for something particular to eat, or I might get in a mood to do a certain thing, but I have never rolled out of the bed and said "Wow, I sure do feel like going for a run today"...Never! On the contrary, I always have to coach myself into doing it. But...I do it! Though I don't feel like doing it, and it's hard for me, I know it's good for me, so...I do it!
Similarly so, I have found that there are lots of things we are called to do as Christians that are not easy. The Bible is filled with the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots. And honestly, some of them are things that I never feel like doing. Come on now, tell the truth. Have you ever felt like turning the other cheek? Heck no, I haven't! You ever felt like loving your enemies? Does it come naturally for you to think of the good for others before yourself? You ever roll out the bed and thought "I sure do feel like sacrificing my desires to be obedient to God today?" I haven't.
But you know what I've learned as I've matured as a Christian? I've learned that I do what God says, not because I feel like it or its easy to do; I do it because He said so. And I do it because I trust Him and I know it will be good for me, even when it's not good to me. I used to expect that there would come a time that I would feel like doing everything God says, or the time where every Godly thing would feel joyous and easy. Some things do. But many never will. Not as long as we're living inside this body that has a tilt towards sin. The Apostle Paul said it like this, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" Romans 7:18. So even though I huff and puff and sweat and ache...I run. And even though I don't always understand and seldom feel like it...I obey.
Let's pray together, shall we...
Lord, I know my heart leans towards you, but my flesh often tries to push away. I may have gotten the wrong idea and unrealistically expected this Christian life to always be easy. But I understand now what you meant in Romans 12:1 where You urge me to offer my body as a living sacrifice. Father, give me the power to do good even when it doesn't feel good. You are worthy of that sacrifice. I love You. In Jesus name. Amen!"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Before the Planting, there must be the Plowing

As a country boy who grew up working on a farm, I love this time of the year seeing the tractors in the field breaking up the land to prepare for planting. It's almost like waking up the soil by saying "Get up, it's time to rise from your winter slumber and prepare for the harvest." And the heavy equipment they have now to turn that dirt over makes the little Farmall Cub tractor we had look like a toy. Now they have giant, air-conditioned beasts with dual tires, front and back, that pull plows as wide as a house. Just with one pass, that land is totally tilled.

The other day I was watching one of those mechanical mammoths tearing up some land and I thought...if fields had feelings they would probably be crying. The weight of those wheels; the pain of those plows; coming in when its totally at rest and turning it's world upside down...literally. If those fields were like us, I'm sure they'd want the harvest, and they wouldn't mind the planting. But it's the plowing that they could do without.

Well obviously, those fields are not like us. But we are quite like those fields. We get comfortable when our world gets cozy. We like the quiet seasons in our life when nothing is changing. Sure, nothing is growing, but at least we don't have to worry about the people and situations that surround our lives being any different than they were the day before. Oh we want the harvest in our lives, we just don't want to go through what it takes to get it. But, there could be no growing if there was no sowing; and there could be no sowing if there was no plowing.

Look, don't curse every bad thing you go through. Sometimes God is using those things like a plow to soften the soil of your heart so that He can plant good seed there. I know it's tough; I know it's painful. But hold on! Galatians 5:9 says "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." It won't last forever because it's a season. And when you reach the harvest, you'll realize it was worth the plowing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pulling Green Peaches

When I was about 10 years old, my friend and next door neighbor Chris and I were outside playing. We obviously had gotten tired of playing our normal games because we decided to see who could throw something over this packhouse in our backyard (for you city-slickers, that's just a simple barn where you kept feed, seeds, tools, etc). We were looking around for something to throw and I guess we had chunked just about all the rocks in the yard already. The only thing I could find to throw was a green, unripened peach hanging on the peach tree. Now my dad loves to plant fruit trees around the yard, and there were two peach trees near the packhouse. It wasn't like I had never heard my dad say with a stern voice "Now, don't yall be messing with those peach trees" before, so I don't know what caused my temporarily lapse in judgment.
So I proceeded to make my first attempt to throw the peach over the packhouse. Oh, did I mention that my dad had just paid someone a couple hundred bucks to paint this packhouse a nice, bright white? Oh did I also mention that at age 10 if my arms could at all have been considered guns, then they would have been cap guns? So needless to say my attempt to throw the peach over the packhouse was a vain one. That green peach smacked right on the side of that nice, white wall. Again, still in my temporary lapse of sanity, I thought it was funny that it left a perfectly round, green mark on the side of that building. I looked at Chris and he was chuckling too. Later I realized it was because he knew I was gonna get it, and he couldn't wait to watch. So, still copping an insanity plea, I grabbed another peach and threw it; and another and another. Til that barn was a nice green, polka dotted pavilion. It was all smiles and giggles until I heard that back screen door open, and my mother call my name with a not-so-pleased tone. I mean, I only have four letters in my name, but she dragged it out like it was 24..."EeeRrrrrriiiiiC!"But the C on the end snapped like a whip, and I knew it was foreshadowing the pain to come.
So, Chris laughed and ran home, I got called in the house, momma spanked me and sent me to my room. As I marched down the hall, I heard the dreaded words echoing behind me..."Just wait til your daddy gets home...gets home...gets home....". So I sat in my room dreading to hear his truck drive up. Soon it did. I heard talking in the kitchen. It was all low mumbling until I heard my name. I waited. And waited...and waited. Finally momma called me to come up front. Going back up the hall was like dead man walking. I turned the corner, bracing myself. I think I was even squinting like I thought my dads yells were going to put my eye out or something. When I turned, they were all sitting at the table, food out, and plates set. My dad looked at me and said "Come on let's eat." Wha...What? Had the governor called? Was there new evidence discovered? Did Chris feel sorry for me and confess to the crime? Whatever it was, I didn't say a word. I just sat my grateful behind down at the table and waited for the potatoes to be passed.
I shared that story not so you can laugh at me getting a whooping for being stupid, though the folks in church seemed to enjoy my pain. But I share that to highlight a truth about God. And the truth is, God is always intolerant of our sins and yet He is also always gracious to forgive us of them. Like I deserved to get that spanking from my mom, and truthfully deserved one from my dad too. My parents could not tolerate that behavior from me, nor can God from us. I mean, imagine how bad we would be if the Lord never held us to His standards of right and wrong. I shudder to think. But at the same time, because I am a believer in Christ, and through Him a son of God, I know there is always grace and mercy available which I don't deserve. See, while I was in my room, I didn't feel so much like a beloved son of my mom and dad. In fact, I felt like an isolated outsider awaiting banishment from our home. But I wasn't. I was still their son, and they still loved me, and they still saved a place at the table for me.
Romans 8:15 says "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." But this only applies to those who have been adopted to God through faith and confession in Christ. Don't you want a Father like that? If you don't already have it, then I ask...what are you waiting for? There could be a place at the table for you too!

Friday, May 2, 2014

I've Got the Power!

I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of different kinds of projects in my professional career, but one of the most interesting has been this landfill gas project. Edgecombe County Government, my employer, now has this pretty cool contraption that takes landfill gas and turns it into electricity. This is how it works. Trash is piled up at the landfill and covered up with dirt. Then more trash on top of that and more dirt. Over and over until you’ve got this mountain of trash and dirt. As the trash decays, it produces gas, methane gas to be more specific. It’s the same gas you produce (if you know what I mean). Well that gas is flammable (I know you’ve seen it in the movies, but don’t go and test it out on your own). Vent pipes are put all over the landfill, they’re all connected to a huge vacuum, and the gas is sucked to a central location. That gas is then used as the fuel to run two huge engines that turn generators which produce electricity. And it’s a lot of electricity; enough to power several neighborhoods for years. And you’re thinking “Amazing!”. I know, right! It’s taking that stinky, offensive gas that normally would float up to the atmosphere and damage our ozone layer, and turning it into power. 

Let me switch gears on you for a second. The other day someone said something hurtful to me. I don’t know if they meant to hurt me with the comment, but it hurt nonetheless. What was shaping up to be a good day, all of a sudden got pretty gloomy. I kept churning that comment over and over in my head, and that lead to other negative thoughts, and it put me on a short path to a pity party. But God brought that landfill gas project to mind. He used it to remind me that I can take that stinky, offensive comment that would normally eat away at my attitude, and instead turn it into power. And that is what I did.

Joseph in the Old Testament was beaten by his jealous brothers, thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery. Later he spent time in prison over a false accusation. Yet still he rose to second in command in all of Egypt. Eventually his brothers would have to come to Egypt to survive a famine. And do you know what Joseph said when he saw his brothers again? In Genesis 50:20 he said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” With God’s help, you and I can do like Joseph and take those stinky, offensive things people say and do to us and turned it into power. Not just the power to live through what happens to us, but also the power to forgive for what happens to us.

So when that stinky stuff comes your way, lean on God and say to yourself "I've got the power"!  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's the Mix of My Ministry?

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18-19
At one point in my life, I had the aspirations of becoming a DJ. Yes, you heard me right..a DJ. I have always been a lover of music. Ever since I was a little boy, I loved listening,  dancing, and singing to music, new and old. Even as a kid, I loved all kinds of music. The gospel music my mom spun on the record player; the soul and disco my older siblings pushed into the 8 track tape player; the pop, rock and even country I listened to on the radio.  When I was a senior in high school, I took a part-time job at a roller skating rink. At some point, I moved from skate rental to working the front door and...Dj'ing (Aaaahh Yeah, 1-2, 1-2). I soon found the power that one can wield from behind the turn tables. One of the best feelings was picking a song that as soon as the beat dropped everybody did the "Ooooooohhh" thing and looked up at me with a smile and a thumbs up, or whatever the equivalent of a thumbs up was in the late 80's. And conversely, one of the worst feelings was to play a song that cleared the floor. So I quickly learned that as a DJ you are always on a quest for the right song and the right sound to get the right crowd. Cause come on, no DJ wants to be the one known for clearing the floor.

Well as time passed, I turned in my head phones, went to college, got a job, got married, started a family, and got called to the ministry. One of those was never a part of my plan by the way. But now as a pastor, I realize that we and DJ's have something in common. Every Sunday, we get the chance to move the crowd, either in our out. Even those in the some churches can get the congregation to wave their hands in the air and wave them like they just don't care. (Us baptist preachers are secretly envious of that). Nevertheless, all of us to varying degrees can affect the people not just by the things we say, the scriptures we read or the prayers we pray. Also by the things we lead our church in, the ministries we start, the programs we allow, the outreach we do, etc. It is a heavy responsibility which is why it requires a high calling. 

But we have to be careful to shake off the spirit of the DJ, if you will, because it is real easy to find ourselves as the pastors playing into the reaction of the crowd.  As we make adjustments to the mix of our ministry, we have a natural tendency to play up what pleases. We can get caught up in gauging our success and failure purely by the numbers that show up. 

I'm concerned because I see some churches cranking up the praise and worship, the social programs, and the fancy facilities, while turning back deep bible teaching and lost soul-reaching. I mean, let's be honest. The work of ministry that Jesus describes in Luke 4 isn't always exciting and usually requires sacrifice. Sharing the gospel, healing the brokenhearted, delivering the captive, and preaching the return of Christ won't always get the crowd jumping. In fact it will straight-up run some people away. Then we as pastors get nervous when we see the numbers, especially when compared to other churches, and we are tempted to tamper with the mix of our ministry. 

I have been through it, and sometimes still face it. I think, "What if we had a band?"; or "I think we should do more social programs.", or "What if I dressed cooler". Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things, if God is leading me to it, and it's not at the expense of the other foundational components of ministry. But if in order to turn up those things I might have to dial back what matters most ministry; then God is not pleased. 

To my fellow pulpit-pounders, I pray for you while I pray for myself. Let us be faithful to God, and let Him measure the success of our work. Let's encourage one another to not play to the crowd; to be patient while waiting for the seeds we plant to bear fruit, even if we don't get to see it until we reach glory. Let's constantly allow God to evaluate where we are in answering our call by asking ourselves the questions..."What's the mix of my ministry?".